Freelance Alliance Spotlight - Stuart Slack

What freelance services do you offer?

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I'm a graphic designer with a background in corporate and retail design. I offer services related primarily to identity and branding, which includes logo design, stationery, brochureware, marketing and promotional materials and new media application. It may also involve packaging, interior design, signage, vehicle livery and exhibition work. I can work on projects from conception to completion which means that I can oversee a project all the way though to the finished article. Sometimes this means sitting there at the end of the print rollers and checking against the proofs or getting to the exhibition early to make sure the sign goes up the right way round. I'm a creative thinker but with the experience to know what is commercially viable and what works. Often clients cannot afford the kind of marketing that is required to know what is best for their company so it's important to have a good knowledge of those types of research and the experience of working in those fields.

How long have you been freelancing and what did you do before you became a freelancer?

I was freelancing for about 5 years before getting a full time position as a senior designer and then decided to move back into freelancing after a couple of years there. Before I decided to become a freelancer I set up a design company with a friend and after a year realised I had a lot to learn about running a business and even more about design, so I started working as a junior designer in a design studio and made my way from there until I felt I had a strong enough portfolio to give freelancing a go.

What triggered your decision to go freelance?

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A number of factors really. While I enjoyed working on larger projects that I would not normally be able to work on I found that my creative freedom was often difficult to exercise. Often internal politics and egos get in the way of good design and that can be incredibly frustrating. I like being able to have full creative control to ensure that things don't get overlooked and the quality of design is the best it can be considering time and budget constraints. You are also at the mercy of one client i.e. you're employer and I realized that long term I wanted to be in a position where I had my own clients, therefore spreading that risk.

Being on your own, are there any difficult gaps to fill, knowledge or skills wise?

Well there are always gaps and there is always someone better than you out there, but it terms of graphic design I think my grasp of identity and branding is very strong and I have most of the bases covered. You have to be able to learn and adapt and you pick up skills as you go along. There are times when I'm copywriter, art director, illustrator, you name it, but if the project requires those skills to be of a certain calibre then I'll bring someone else in. For example, I'm a very good web designer but I'm not a programmer so when websites come my way I partner with others to ensure that the best skill sets come to bear on that project. Its the same in regards to marketing or public relations I would usually work with someone else to manage that.

What were your goals when you started your business? Have they changed?

My goals have always been to provide a very good design service to my clients or agencies without compromising my ideals and being able to offer that service at a price that is good value for money. I want to produce first rate solutions that go beyond client expectations not to mention my own but more importantly to ensure that as a result of my work there is the potential for good business growth. Being able to see your work enable a company to establish and maintain a professional and trusted brand image is very rewarding.

Were there any crisis points early on? Any moments when you wondered if the pressure of making your business a financial success outweighed the benefits of independence?

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Yes, its very difficult starting out, sometimes you have to work pro bono just to prove you can do it. As you build a portolio and gain experience you see the pitfalls of being your own boss and wearing all the hats and you implement things that make life easier. I think that in this industry we can often be the first to suffer in economic hiccups and that can be stressful but I believe there is more stability and independence in freelancing, if you can make it work.

What are the best mistakes you’ve made? (i.e. those you’ve learned valuable lessons from.)

Taking short cuts early on in the design process because of time or budget constraints always hurts later on. For example, logo design has to start on paper first, it just doesn't work if you go straight to Illustrator but there are times when I've done that and then have to live with the result even though I know it's not right. The client may be over the moon with it but you always know it deserved better and it grates a little every time you are working on it after that. I also ensure that longer projects are staged both in terms of sign off and payment which is the result of another lesson I've had to learn, and I would recommend all freelance designers do that if they can.

What is your most triumphant moment so far?

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In terms of design my most triumphant moment was being able to illustrate for Active's direct marketing campaign and Brandraphica's communication platform. I love to illustrate and having the opportunity to incorporate that into my design is really cool. Especially when you see the finished print work stacked up high and ready to go. You feel like saying to anyone nearby ' I drew that!'. In terms of business, then I would say I've yet to have a truly triumphant moment, but when I eventually get into Creative Review then I'll open the champagne.

Looking back on your freelancing career now, is there anything that you would do differently?

Oh definitely... having to wear all the hats, especially the ones you're not so good at can be really time consuming and very frustrating if it goes wrong. I used to do my own accounts but was never very good at it so I have an accountant now which saves me so much time I wonder why I didn't do it much earlier. I also think I would have been more confident than I was in certain situations. As a freelancer you don't get the encouragement that you might in a studio, or someone to bounce ideas off and challenge what you're doing in the same way so you have to find your own confidence in yourself and your work.

What things do you find personally rewarding and satisfying as a freelancer? What have been the rewards, risks, and trade-offs?

Flexibility and creative control. Being able to evolve my working week around other aspects of life, like my family for example, is a huge bonus. Sometimes of course it means you work longer hours or the occasional all-nigther but on the whole it's more balanced. I also love being able to listen to the music that inspires me too, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin and Goldfrapp can really get me in the mood. The trade off for me is not being able to work with big brand names directly as they usually require a larger agency or studio to fulfill their requirements.

What have you been working on recently?

I've been working on a couple of identities which are still in progress, one for an image consultant and the other for a networking group.

To contact Stuart, or to see more of his work, go to his Freelance Alliance profile here.

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Jul 7, 2010
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