Freelance Alliance Spotlight: How to profit from having fun

Emma Patterson is an Australian-born designer, now living and working in London. Emma is a long-standing member of Freelance Alliance and here she reveals how she's carved a niche for her skills.

Q: Tell us a bit about what you do, when you started out and what drives you.

I am a designer who specialises in fun! That may sound corny, but it’s true as I generally accept work that involves designing for children or creating fun colourful graphics. I find that the more fun stuff I display in my portfolio, the more fun projects I am asked to do! Having fun and designing things that make people smile is what drives me.

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I have a history in product design which lead me into the toy industry. I have recently set up my own limited design company called 'Icklem'. Now that I have a good understanding of product development as well as experience in designing for retail, I find that I can help my clients form strong identities for their new products or ventures.

Q: How do you find clients? Do you market yourself to any particular types of client, if so why and how?

90% of my clients actually find me on Freelance Alliance. I have had a profile on there for the last couple of years advertising myself as a freelance graphic designer. From this I have been contacted by a wide variety of clients asking me to work on a variety of projects - some really great and others nightmarish (those are the ones you learn the most from: a lack of good communication and understanding is often the root of issues. If both the client and designer are on the same page there is little that should go wrong if both parties are fair).

I have recently opened another profile under my business name hoping to target those clients who have just started up a new venture and need my creative services to form a product or corporate identity. Ideally the venture will have something to do with FUN or children as that is the style I prefer to work on. I have recently launched my own Icklem website www.icklem.com outlining my services, so it will be interesting to see if it is any competition for my Freelance Alliance profiles!

It certainly helps if you specialise in a specific area. Being Australian has often landed me new work. Many of my main clients have contacted me because they have seen a great brand in Oz (there is a lot of really new and different stuff there) that they would like to use as inspiration for something they are planning to launch in the UK. They approach me hoping that I know of these brands that they admire, but they also must see from my profile and website that I have worked in a similar style before. It goes to show that specialising in something, even 'being Australian' helps to bring in new work!

Q: What lessons can you pass on, to those starting out, regarding finding the ‘right’ clients to work with?

My all-time LEAST favourite client is one that gives a brief that is nothing but big fluffy words, expecting you to design a brochure that will somehow change the world with its amazing-ness... and then if you don't produce a concept that somehow matches whatever mysterious expectations they have, they don't feel like they need to pay you for the hours you both agreed you would spend preparing the concepts! Fortunately this has only happened to me twice. There will always be subjectivity in design, and I now I avoid clients where I anticipate there will be a difference in opinion on what works. If I am going to have a strong working relationship with client it is very important that we have the same taste and vision for the brand.

Q: Businesses have been through a tough time recently, how has yours fared? Plus, any tips for others?

I would have to say that my business is booming! In some ways I believe the downturn has actually benefited freelancers. Companies aren't able to support as many full time employees as previously and are looking for freelancers to complete the essential work on a non-committal basis. Also many people who have been made redundant have decided to take the opportunity to start-up their own ventures. These people are my key clients! 

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My tips to other freelance designers are stay positive and never let an opportunity pass you by! When you work from home it is easy to get depressed by tough times and awful weather, but you can fight this by staying in touch with the industry, networking both online and off... and don't say no to the occasional in-office job where you can meet people and eat office birthday cake! Also in these tough times, it is possible to have a client who is having financial problems and not getting paid, or being left wondering where your client went, is never fun. So make sure you think about that; research the client and agree stage payments etc. before agreeing to work with a client.

Q: When it comes to deciding to place a brief with an agency or a freelance, what benefits does a freelance creative offer clients?

There are the obvious benefits when compared to an agency like costs, communication, and speed but more specifically I like to think that thanks to me being the 'creative manager' of my clients’ projects ensures clarity of message in the end result. Often in agencies by the time 5 different people have worked on the same brief, things get diluted, resulting in a sterile and less-than-amazing final product. When there is just one creative person to extract the clients needs and materialise them, I feel that less gets lost in translation and its easier for all of the resulting materials to speak one strong message.

Q: What have you been working on recently?

Recently I have had the pleasure of designing some greeting cards for Moonpig.com.The Moonpig gig enables me to panic less about my income. I am working a couple of days a week with them while I manage my own clients during the other days. My main client lists consists of a children's stationery brand, a craft kit range, a custom childrens' gifts company and a preschool toy company. For these clients I do everything from identity (logos etc) to product development and packaging. I have also designed a lot of websites lately, although I was never really into web design I have learned A LOT. It is my goal to be a good all-rounder so that I can manage ALL of my clients' creative needs.

Q: What's in store for your freelance business next and any plans for the rest of 2011?

For my design business, Icklem, the plan is to accumulate more good contacts with talented designers who can help me with work overflow. I want to promote my business by interviewing interesting industry people for my blog and running little fun events and projects around London. My latest idea is a 'make a stranger smile' campaign which I hope to kick off in the next month. Eventually I want to secure a few really fantastic clients who I can work continually with on big ideas.

If everything goes REALLY well I might even consider forming a team and renting some space to run the business from. Now that would be really exciting!

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Q: In 15 words or less, what makes for a happy freelancing lifestyle?

Getting up before 8am, regular exercise and a focus on networking to keep yourself in-the-loop!




Feb 15, 2011
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