Freelance Alliance Spotlight - illustrator, Samantha Mabley

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

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I am a freelance Illustrator/Designer, originally from 'down South,' near the seaside. After completing my 'Illustration with Animation' degree in Bristol, I spent six months sitting in a shed at the bottom of my parent’s garden, pretending it was a magnificent studio and trying to break into the greetings card company scene! After feeling like I was getting nowhere and couldn't handle anymore rejection, I packed my bags for the big smoky city of London and decided becoming an estate agent was the way forward! After three months of never having time for art due to the very long hours, I quit and thought I would give my dream job, freelancing, one more go.

This time round I was told about Freelance Alliance from another fellow designer who swore by it. So, I handed over my £5 pounds a month and I have never looked back! I am now living off freelancing and loving every minute of it. It can be tough at times, with the odd tricky client or dry patch of work, but, all in all I wouldn't change it for the world! I have met so many interesting people and designed so many varied pieces, ranging from packaging design, logos, brochures, party invites and bespoke illustrations. Every day is different and it brings along new challenges.

My main driver at the moment is my recent realisation that I can earn a living off being creative and doing the job I love.

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

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The majority of my new clients come from Freelance Alliance. Another important way I get new work is through word-of-mouth and recommendations from people I have previously worked for. I believe it is very important to put 100% into every project I do, no matter what it is. This way, I only get good gossip spread around about me and my name is remembered in a positive light when a new project comes up.

Other important things to consider, are having a blog and trying to update it as much as possible to keep it fresh and exciting. Blogs are a great way to advertise work and give me added incentive to continue with my own projects when I have a gap in paid work. I don't know how freelancers coped before the internet existed; it really is important to have a large online presence.

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

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I spent my whole university life worrying that my work wasn't commercial enough to become a freelancer. Everyone who saw my work used words like 'quirky' or 'odd' to describe it. I now realise that it is good to be different and it doesn't matter if your style isn't 'in fashion' right now. Art trends change constantly and if my style is trendy this month, I will be old news next month. I realised I couldn't spend my life chasing after what was trendy at the time, as I would always be one step behind.

I am finally beginning to focus on what style I do best and through this, it has helped me to find the 'right' clients. Being happy with what I design, makes me able to sell my skills and knowledge confidently and clearly.

I am still very new to this game and every day I learn something different. The hardest clients to work with are definitely the ones who tell me I have free rein to design how I like and give me a very open brief. This is when alarm bells start to ring in my head, as generally these are fussiest clients around! I now deal with open briefs by trying to get as much input from them as early on as possible. I will try to sketch as many rough ideas near the beginning. This way they can visually see what direction I want to go in and if they are happy to give me the green light.

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

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I am still fairly new to this freelancing game, so I have never experienced a booming freelance market. Maybe this makes the tough times a bit easier for me as I can't compare it to better times. It also makes the future feel exciting as I look forward to being able to help more people out with their design work- things can only get better!

I guess the best tip I have is to stay positive - even when times are tougher than normal with less paid work. I feel it is important to keep my illustration designs flowing and use days where I don’t have paid work, to focus on personal projects. There is nothing wrong with a bit of 'me' time every now and then.

Q: What have you been working on recently?

I have recently just finished a logo design for a new jewellery company. It was a very enjoyable project to be involved in and it is a great feeling to know I have had a large part in moulding and shaping how a brand is going to be perceived. I am looking forward to walking into a high street shop and seeing my logo brought to life on the shelf! Until that day, I can't brag about it to my friends or put it in my portfolio as it is all very secretive until the launch.

As well as paid work, I try to make sure I have a personal project on the go at all times. I recently went on a bit of a museum bender, visiting lots of London exhibitions I had been meaning to see, but never quite had the time to. I was completely inspired by the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal green and I am currently working on a book, featuring illustrations of all the toys I fell in love with while I was there.

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

It is so hard to plan the rest of 2011 as I never know when I am going to land a new project, let alone what it will entail! I guess my goal is to just carry on surviving happily and meeting lots of wonderful new clients with exciting new briefs.

I am always trying to come up with new ways of advertising my services and there is always something more I can be doing to achieve that. I believe there should always be a 'To Do List' stuck on my studio wall and I should never be sitting twiddling my thumbs, waiting for a client to find me. With that in mind, I have a busy 2011 ahead so I better be off!

Q: Lastly then, in 15 words or less, what makes for a happy freelancing lifestyle?

Making sure I get enough fresh air, human interaction and cake-making time!

See more of Samantha's work and contact her here.




Aug 10, 2011
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