Vanessa Wade

Vanessa Wade is the owner of Noirve Design Studio, a boutique design firm based in San Diego, CA, focusing on brand development and website design for small businesses. She has a knack for small details, clean and modern design. Vanessa loves collaborating with individuals who appreciate simplicity and strive to work hard. Since venturing out on her own 2 years ago as a small business owner, she has never worked harder, but she wouldn't trade that hard work for anything! 

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.

After relocating to San Diego right after college I worked at an advertising agency where I was able to build up my portfolio and soak up as much experience as I could in the design and marketing world. After work each night I’d come home and work on freelance projects to make a little bit of cash on the side and found myself way more excited about my freelance projects than I was about the work I was doing during the day. Eventually one night after a few glasses of wine I had a chat with my husband about what the next steps for me were in my career. For years I had talked about wanting to work for myself full-time but I had always been too scared of failing. I was finally in a place where I felt like freelance work was coming in slowly but regularly and like I could really try this freelancing full-time thing out. I think just realizing what that failure would mean really opened my eyes. If I failed I could just go out and get another job, not a big deal! So the next day I gave my notice at my job and spent that month reaching out to friends, old clients, and posting on my blog regularly to prep for the chaos that was to come. That was exactly two years ago. :)

"I think just realizing what that failure would mean really opened my eyes. If I failed I could just go out and get another job, not a big deal!"


In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

Blogging had helped me a lot when I was first starting to get the right clients. I was blogging a ton about my design projects, my life, my process and was also able to use blogging as a creative outlet to try different styles of design. This is where I was really able to grow and learn, and I think eventually potential clients were able to see this.

Do you have any tips for being your most productive? 

Definitely setting specific hours for work and writing a to-do list daily for myself. Some days are easier than others but if you don’t get everything done in one day don’t beat yourself up about it. Just get it done the next day! 

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?

Not taking feedback the wrong way! My feelings used to get SO hurt if my clients didn’t love something right away and I think stepping back and not being so attached to the work has helped me grow. Also learning to ask the right questions when a client is giving feedback has helped tremendously.

"Learning to ask the right questions when a client is giving feedback has helped tremendously."


What is your favorite thing about freelance?

I’ve met a lot of friends in San Diego who are working for themselves as well, and being able to meet up with them for coffee in the middle of a weekday to collaborate, discuss ideas, or even just have brunch, is the best. It really makes the long hours worth it.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

Word of mouth! When you go above and beyond to do great work for your clients they’ll continue to pass your info along. 

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?

Invest the money in a lawyer to write a solid contract for you. When I first started out I had used a contract I got off google and my current contract has saved me in so many ways. You definitely want to ensure you’re fully protected if a client tries to add more work onto a project that was never discussed or if a client tries to push a deadline out. Protect yourself!

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Drive, communication, being nice.

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Jen B. Peters

Jen B. Peters is a graphic designer, illustrator, and freelance creative based in Los Angeles, CA. By day she works for Mattson Creative (their client list includes Maroon 5, Billabong, Cartoon Network, and Universal), and by night you can find her painting, patterning, and getting her creative juices flowing. How does she balance it all? Read on for inspiration and a great list of productivity tips. Thank you Jen for sharing! 

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance graphic designer and illustrator.

I have always loved art and creating things but before college I didn’t even know graphic design was a career! I went to an arts high school and was in the media program which focused on photography and film. We had our traditional academic classes in the morning and the second half of the day was focused on our art area. I loved it and the creative freedom they gave us. Photography peaked my interest and I thought that I wanted to be a photojournalist. Transitioning to college I wasn’t sure if I wanted to major in fine art (which is what their photography program fell under). I talked to an advisor who recommended I try taking a variety of classes my first semester and also suggested a graphic design class. I took my first graphic design class and LOVED it, later declaring it as my major. After college I was hired at Mattson Creative, and have been there for six years now. I also do freelance design and illustration projects on the side. 

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

Almost all of my projects have come from referrals from people I know, or past clients I have worked with. I have also received great clients from posting work on social media. 

Do you have any tips for being your most productive? 

Listen to your body
Take breaks! For many years I was terrible about this. If work was really busyI would go hours without standing up. This started to take a toll on my body and I had really bad hip pain. Recently I have made much more of an effort to make taking breaks more of a priority and it has made such difference. I find I am much more productive when I take a quick walk at lunch, or a break for food. Getting away from the computer even for a couple of minutes helps me to re-charge. I also downloaded an app called Stand Up! which literally reminds you every 45 minutes to stand up.
Set goals and make to do lists 
I find that if I have a list of what I need to get done I feel much less overwhelmed and can better manage my time. I like to make my to-do lists on a notepad at my desk so I can physically cross things off as I finish them.
Focus and turn off distractions
Remove your biggest distraction. Moving my phone to the other room guarantees I don’t mindlessly start checking Instagram.
Stay Inspired  
I have found that an amazing way to stay inspired is to start personal projects (projects that are just for fun). I have done two daily projects now and I couldn’t recommend them more. Last year I completed a 100 day project drawing a new plant every day. Although they can be time consuming, these types of projects are so worth it. There is something so rewarding about pushing yourself to make something every day, even on days when you are not feeling super 'creative'. I always end these projects feeling more inspired having discovered some new method or style that I hadn’t tried before. When I am feeling in a rut, I love to challenge myself to make a new pattern, or create an illustration for Instagram, just for FUN. It takes the pressure off and allows creativity to flow freely. Some of my favorite work has come from these types of projects. It is also an amazing way to attract clients since it shows a style that you love and enjoy working in. 

"There is something so rewarding about pushing yourself to make something every day, even on days when you are not feeling super 'creative'. I always end these projects feeling more inspired having discovered some new method or style that I hadn’t tried before."


What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?

My biggest struggle so far has been the business side of freelance. Dealing with money and especially deciding how much to charge for a project is not a strength of mine. This has definitely become easier with time, but it is still my least favorite part of the job!

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

I love the variety of projects freelance provides. Being able to help people define and grow their brands, projects, and ideas is so rewarding. 

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

I have found that social media, especially Instagram, is an amazing way to share work with a wide audience. When I am busy I tend to let Instagram slide and not post as often as I would like. It's a recent goal of mine to start focusing more on sharing my work, as I know it is the best way to continue to attract new clients

Since you work for Mattson Creative Los Angeles and freelance on the side, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance? 

I am still working on this one! Since I work 9 hours a day at Mattson Creative, I have to fit in freelance projects at night and on the weekends. At times it can be challenge, but the freelance projects I take on are rewarding and inspiring! I have found that I have to be conscious of how many projects I take on at a time. This allows me to better manage my time and not feel burned out. My freelance projects have not been my main source of income, so I have been able to be more selective about what I choose to take on. I have found it is important to carve out "me time" even during a busy day, by reading a book, calling a friend, or hanging with my husband. It’s not sustainable to be busy all the time.

"Remove your biggest distraction. Moving my phone to the other room guarantees I don’t mindlessly start checking Instagram."


The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Confidence, drive, and a desire to keep learning and growing.

Jessica Hische

This week we had the pleasure of speaking with lettering bad-ass Jessica Hische. Jessica has been working on her own as a letterer, illustrator, type designer, and relentless procrastiworker since 2009 and has worked for (and continues to work for) a lot of wonderful clients like Wes Anderson and Penguin Books. In September of 2015 she published her first book In Progress: See Inside a Lettering Artist's Sketchbook and Process, from Pencil to Vector. When she's not manipulating beziers or working on fun projects in San Francisco, you can find her at the airport en route to a speaking engagement. To top it all off she welcomed her daughter Ramona Mae into the world last April! We so enjoyed chatting with her about how she balances life and work and continues to make time to create for the love of it. 

Hello Jessica, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! Can you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming a freelance lettering artist?

Sure! My dream of being freelance started when I lived in Philadelphia and was surrounded by freelance illustrators. I really loved how their work lives and personal lives seemed incredibly intertwined. I starting sending out promos and picking up freelance clients, then moved to New York to work for Louise Fili full time (pursuing my freelance dreams at night). It was under Louise's tutelage that my love of lettering really flourished, and it was during that time that my freelance career began to pick up. Eventually, it made financial sense to leave my day job (as emotionally hard as it was to branch out on my own and away from my mentor). At the time, my freelance work was mostly illustration, but as I incorporated lettering more and more into my illustration work, clients began calling for just lettering. I worked really hard, stayed involved in the creative community (both in person in NYC and online), and created passion projects in my free time that helped me find an audience (or really helped an audience find me).

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

I worked with an artist rep from very early on, and he was great at putting my work in front of creative directors and art buyers. Above all though, I think most of my best projects came from referrals, either from past clients or people who had met me through the creative community.

You are a relatively new mom to your beautiful daughter Ramona. How has becoming a mom changed how you work and/or the types of projects you take on?

It's definitely made me a more disciplined worker—I can't let myself screw around during the work day anymore because I know I can make up the time at night or on the weekend. Work/Life Balance used to mean working whenever I wanted to and living somewhere in those hours too—now it means making sure I devote my full self to work in the hours that I'm at my office so I can devote myself fully to my daughter when I'm at home. There have been some definite roadblocks—I find myself taking on "safer" work or being afraid to say yes to very ambitious projects (which would potentially require a lot of last minute late nights or weekend work), and saying yes to speaking gigs is...complicated. All in all though I have been really happy with the flexibility that a freelance career provides with transitioning to be a parent, and only get frustrated when I end up picking up a lot of our household slack because of my flexibility.

You often self-describe as a "procastiworker" now that you have a baby, do you feel that you have time to pursue self-created work?

I do! Though I have to remind myself more often that that work is "worth it". When you have less hours in your day to devote to any kind of client / creative work, you tend to judge yourself pretty harshly if that work isn't pushing you forward or directly contributing to your career. I've had to forgive myself a lot for working on things just because I felt like working on them, not because I knew they would make me money or would bring in more client work.

Since having a baby I feel like I have a much harder time remembering things and focusing, curious what your tips are for being your most productive?

Once we got through sleep training and I could get more than 2 hours of sleep at a time, things got A LOT easier. I also found that in general after I stopped breastfeeding it was a night and day difference in terms of productivity (if/when we have another baby, I'm going to stop breastfeeding a lot sooner—it was brutal to work / pump at the same time). As far as general productivity tips, my biggest tip is to try to not let menial tasks take over your life. It's very easy to spend an entire day on the phone with customer services, organizing things, poking around in email, etc. I try to do all of my weekly emailing on one day ("Admin Mondays") and only reply back to urgent emails at other times during the week.

"As far as general productivity tips, my biggest tip is to try to not let menial tasks take over your life...I try to do all of my weekly emailing on one day ("Admin Mondays") and only reply back to urgent emails at other times during the week."


What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancing mom so far?

One of the things that's been hardest for me is realizing that I can't really post photos of my daughter (publicly) online, because clients assume I'm only working part time or am still out on leave. I was getting far too many emails from potential clients that started with "I don't know if you're back at work yet but..." and for every one of those emails I know that plenty of potential clients were just not reaching out at all. I never really worked hard at promoting myself prior to having a baby (my day to day life posts did a lot of that work for me, because my life was so centered around work), but now I try to make more of an effort and when I do I feel the effects immediately. I have plenty of male friends who do not need to censor their personal lives with their kids online because no one would ever assume they were not working, and the double standard is infuriating.

You have always been a strong advocate for fair pricing and the value of creative talent, have you found as a woman that you need to work harder to explain your value?

I didn't get this feeling until relatively recently, but I do feel that clients tend to push back a little harder or balk a little louder when women ask for high sums of money on projects. I do have the problem of being "an explainer" for all things. If I turn down a project, I feel like I need to explain why. If I turn down a speaking engagement, I feel like I need to justify it with a conflict. It's something I struggle with—I should be able to ask for something or say no to something and not have to explain my motivations, because those motivations shouldn't matter if my decision is final.

"I should be able to ask for something or say no to something and not have to explain my motivations, because those motivations shouldn't matter if my decision is final."


As you know well, freelancers are just as much small business owners as we are creatives, what are three tips for managing the nitty-gritty components of your business?

Hire people to do the things that you're bad at.

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