1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
When I was wrapping up my 4-year enlistment in the United States Marine Corps. I had already studied illustration for two years before I went in. When I started looking into returning to school, I found the graphic design program. I knew that I wanted to do something creative, but I also wanted to find a job. Fine art just seemed like a lot of time slumped over an easel not making any money. Most of my credits transferred over to the gd program so I wouldn’t need to start over completely.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
Professionally, I started rather quickly. I got an internship during my last semester of design school that turned into a job for a few months. The internship/first job was at a well-known ad agency here in Connecticut. I was able to land a better position at another shop after about six months. Been working ever since. My biggest hurdle for my side business has always been finding time. It’s hard to find work, meet clients and produce work around a fulltime job and the responsibilities that come with having a family. I overcame this by fully committing to the life of a creative. I’m sacrificing a lot to do this. I basically have no social life and I don’t sleep much. Two years of solid, hard work is starting to pay off though and I’m starting to see a light at the end of this tunnel. Hopefully I won’t need the fulltime job much longer.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
Just being an open, honest, genuine person. Most of my work comes from word-of-mouth within my network of friends and acquaintances. I’m super friendly and have a lot of friends locally. I attend networking events, I meet people and show a genuine interest in their lives. I’m not salesy or douchey in any way, I don’t even talk about my work. This strategy hasn’t brought me work immediately but its the honest connections I’ve made with people over the years that are starting to turn into business opportunities now.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
Many times a client comes looking for one thing like a logo but they haven’t thought of other things that they might need – social material, apparel, collateral, pitch decks. Clients sometimes see me as a specialist at one thing but I do my best to ask the right questions to figure out the thing they might need beyond what they originally came to me for. Once you get the client thinking about other possibilities, you can open the do to doing those other projects.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
A few times. Luckily this has never been a major issue. I combat this by making folks pay half upfront.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
Oof. I typically wake up between 4:30 – 5 am and pound a ton of coffee. If I have client work, or a personal project that’s been nagging me I’ll get a jump on it until about 7 am. If not, I’ll work out in my garage. I get the family ready for the day and out of the house by 9 and head to my day job. I’ll take client calls or emails during my lunch break, or if I have non, I’ll do some sketches on client work/personal projects. Get home around 5:30-7:30 Family time. Again if I have client work or personal design things to do I’ll pick those back up at around 8pm and work until 10 pm. If not, I’ll just hang out with my kids and wife more, do chores around the house. I don’t waste much time during the week. The weekends are much looser and I’ll spend more time with my kids. The winter is great because the weather is usually horrible, so I have plenty of time to kill.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
If you want to improve, just keep making stuff. All the time. If you want to learn something reverse engineer someone else’s work so you know how to do it. Don’t be afraid to start posting your work socially even if its crap. If you’re willing to be disciplined and consistent you’ll improve. Just show up and put in the work.
Steve is an award winning designer and founder and CEO of Raboin Design Company where he overseas the creative and strategic direction of the company. Steve’s experience has largely been in the insurance, finance, healthcare, craft beer and fitness fields.