Freelance Alliance Spotlight: Little Bulldog Design
What freelance services do you offer?
I offer retail graphic design services such as branding, point-of- sale, wayfinding and campaign as well as print-based graphic design services including branding, identity, stationery, brochures, leaflets, posters etc.
How long have you been freelancing and what did you do before you became a freelancer?
I have been freelancing for 18 months. For the two years prior to that I was a graphic designer in a retail design agency and for the 3 years prior to that I was an in-house designer and studio manager. Prior to that I worked in an international media and advertising company.
What triggered your decision to go freelance?
The desire to focus more on actual design work and less on office politics. When you are contracted for a project you are able to work more efficiently and dynamically as your client will always be aware of the time and money involved. Being freelance also allows you to juggle several projects at the same time so if one is dragging on a bit then another will probably be in the exciting concept or final stages.
Did anyone influence your decision to start your own business?
I don't think anyone really influenced me to go freelance, I think I just gained enough experience and confidence both client-side and agency-side to take the leap.
Being on your own, are there any difficult gaps to fill, knowledge or skills wise?
I think there is a danger of becoming isolated to what is happening in the industry in general. I am lucky to have worked in an agency and kept in touch with many designers who are still working in big agencies so I try to keep up to date with what they're doing and what is happening in the industry press. If you're working from home, I think it's important to have a network of designers who you can run things past when you've been looking at something for too long. With retail design, I am very grateful to have gained a lot of knowledge and experience before going freelance, but I also gain a lot from the agencies that I currently work closely with.
What were your goals when you started your business? Have they changed?
My main goal to be honest was to never work in an office again as I think in a lot of cases it can make it impossible to be creative. I still hope to never return to a typical permanent role, but now I think I would be very happy to team up with a couple of my former colleagues in a more casual working relationship.
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?
I had a couple of months last year when it seemed like I had no work. That combined with trying to get my head around how the taxes would work was quite stressful. But I don't think I have been through anything nearly as stressful as I did while working in an agency. I think the knowledge that you are in a position to get on and solve the problems yourself really helps. I have learned that there is really no downtime - there are loads of things you can do to boost your business such as working on your portfolio, networking sites and personal projects - plus there's always your accounts to do.
What are the best mistakes you've made? (i.e. those you've learned valuable lessons from.)
Probably the best mistake I've made in terms of a learning curve is sometimes keeping things too casual. As a freelancer, dealings can sometimes be very open and casual, but it is essential to have a solid working relationship so even when a client is very friendly, communication needs to be kept professional and clear at all times. Most importantly you have to keep a physical trail of your clients’ feedback and approvals. You don't want to be in put in the hotseat when a project goes wrong and you haven't got any proof of your client's comments because they were given over the phone rather than by email. I always try to repeat client's feedback in an email or reply directly to their emails so that their is a constant chain of communication.
What is your most triumphant moment so far?
This would probably have to be when a prospective client agreed on a fee for initial concept work then on the day of my deadline contacted me requesting the work for free. I stuck to my beliefs and refused to give up the work and with the backing of the interiors agency I was working with, the client went back to their original agreement. They loved the concepts and it went through to artwork and subsequent projects with a mutual respect on both parts.
Looking back on your freelancing career now, is there anything that you would do differently?
I would probably find out more about taxes, insurance, contracts etc beforehand.
What things do you find personally rewarding and satisfying as a freelancer? What are the rewards, risks, and trade-offs?
I have found that people take me more seriously and I am able to build better relationships with my clients than I could in an agency environment. This has allowed me to learn more about all stages of the design process and become more aware of the client's concerns and needs. I have also found that as a freelancer, I feel more confident exploring different techniques and styles - e.g. hand-drawing and lettering - that I wouldn't have considered when working in a retail agency. The main risk is with new clients and whether you will be paid for your work - hopefully they will understand that you are one person who cannot afford financially or time-wise to lose valuable ideas and days.
What have you been working on recently?
I have a few ongoing projects at the moment including a signage system for private hospitals, branding for a new concept hair salon, rebranding for a high-street digital technology store and corporate literature for a financial software provider.
To see more of Joanne’s work take a look at her Little Bulldog Design profile on Freelance Alliance.
1st October 2008