Marta Bausells

Marta Bausells is a writer, freelance journalist, and editor currently living in London by way of Barcelona. She's a European Editor-at-Large at Literary Hub, she enjoys talking to strangers on the tube, and very soon, she'll be joining ELLE UK as Literary Editor. Her work has appeared online and in print in The Guardian, The Observer, VICE, Literary Review, Little White Lies, Electric Literature and more.

Thank you Marta for sharing your experience and wisdom.

Marta Bausells | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance writer.

I started out as a reporter for a newspaper back in my hometown of Barcelona. I was still in college and the newspaper was new (in fact, it launched shortly after I joined), so the whole experience was a true baptism by fire. Like any start-up, it was a small-ish team and everyone did everything. I learned a lot there – not just journalism skills but also to develop the first layers of the thick skin that, I immediately learned, was necessary to work in the media today. A couple of years later, I got a job at the Guardian as community moderator. Moderating comments is a tough job – you see the uglier side of the internet, all day every day, and have to actively deal with it. It was technically a step down from what I was doing before, but I knew it was where I wanted to be. It was at the Guardian, and in London, and for a long time I practically had to pinch myself every time I walked into the building. 
After a year I got a role on the Cities desk, and from there moved to the Arts and Culture and Books desks. Many ups and downs later, I found myself a bit stuck in a role I’d been doing for two years and from which there were little chances to move on or upwards for complicated, structural reasons. I had learned an unimaginable amount and worked with incredible editors, and was terrified of leaving – if you’re in one of the top companies in your field, surely leaving can only be a step down? But that’s also one of the fear-based vicious circles that can get you stuck for years. 
The bottomline is: do what is right for you. While I wasn’t the most confident person at times, I had always known I wanted to write so I always freelanced a bit on the side on evenings and weekends. So when the moment came and the right conditions materialized for me to be able to make the leap, I did it – it’s now been a year, and it has all been a rollercoaster, but I couldn’t be happier! 
Marta Bausells | Freelance Wisdom
Marta Bausells | Freelance Wisdom

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

My first clients were editors and media I had worked or collaborated with during my different jobs over the years. I have found that people tend to be quite open to strangers sending them ideas (if often too busy to pay attention to your emails). It is good to have been published and be able to show it, but what really matters is whether your pitch is good. In that sense, I did benefit from already knowing how to pitch to editors. I also got good work out of sending out-of-the-blue emails to people I didn’t know at all, but equally had many good ideas ignored or rejected (which, by the way, still happens all the time – it is part of the writer’s job!)

Do you have any tips for being your most productive? 

For me, the key has been to be honest with myself, prioritize and give myself deadlines. In the past, I constantly set myself up for failure through unrealistic expectations. Days only have 24 hours and you should spend some of them sleeping (really!) and ideally some having some kind of “a life,” so having a ridiculous to-do list with 50 items, however important they all are, won’t help you. And you’ll lose money in the process. 
I make a lot of lists and stay on top of my (now digital) calendar. I decide what I absolutely must (or really care about) getting done and plan around that, starting on it first. I give myself realistic deadlines (every two hours or so) followed by short breaks (take deep breaths, drink some water, go for a walk – they are miraculous). That way I am more focused (because I know a break is coming, and that I have to finish the task because something else comes after). It is a good system to free yourself from getting overwhelmed and to avoid stretching time (the more time you feel you have, the longer any given task will take).
I set specific times of the day to check my inbox to avoid spending my entire life only doing emails (I feel like I’d be capable of that?). Also, I put my phone well far from me and I have recently started disconnecting the Internet – or Facebook and Twitter, with apps like Self Control.
There really are hundreds of tips out there, but you have to find what works for you. Ironically, there is the pretty big danger of falling into an internet rabbit hole of productivity tips, morning routine recommendations, etc. Avoid it at all costs! It will only make you feel worse about your hard work and push you to compare yourself to other people – will it really help you to know that some super-humans have meditated, gone for a run and made a smoothie by the time you’re hitting snooze for the third time? 
Marta Bausells | Freelance Wisdom
Read this article that Marta co-wrote for The Guardian right here. 

Read this article that Marta co-wrote for The Guardian right here

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelance writer so far?

Learning to say no. I have been known to suffer from “FOMO,” and work isn’t an exception. I am slowly learning to turn down opportunities that don’t make sense for me – because of the rate, or because they will stop me from doing work I really care about or that will get me closer to my long-term goals, or a combination of the two. Without wanting to go into the debate around working for free and the cases in which one might be okay with it, I have to pay rent and live in an expensive city, and equally importantly, my work and my time are worth more than air and a pat on the back. 

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

The freedom of being able to work from where I want, make my own schedule and be in control of my time. At this particular moment in my life, that is priceless. 
Samples of Marta's interviews for Subway Book Review. 

Samples of Marta's interviews for Subway Book Review

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients? 

You have to put your work out there. My website, Twitter and even Instagram have helped me a lot – from getting commissions out of the blue from editors who’d stumbled upon my website, to meeting someone I admired on Twitter or Instagram DMs and ending up collaborating. There are some brilliant people who get hired on name or talent alone, without curating their own online presence, but you can count them on one hand. 

What do you do to keep your creative juices flowing? 

Read, read, read. And take myself out of my comfort zone as often as possible. 
Marta Bausells | Freelance Wisdom
Marta's summer book recommendations.

Marta's summer book recommendations.

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

I once heard from someone who spent her birthday day every month doing invoices and life admin, as a “get my shit together” day (shoutout to the Call Your Girlfriend podcast). I am going to try that approach, as it sounds as good as any! I try to invoice for my work almost immediately as I file it (or at least that same week) so that there is never a big backlog. As for bookkeeping and taxes, I am still figuring out the best formula for me, which means I am almost certainly going to hire an accountant!

Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

Even if your line of work is your passion, you need to turn the work mode “off” from time to time – that is when a lot of the best ideas happen, by the way. Do whatever it takes to set boundaries, physical and mental, however out-there they seem. I even have two different background wallpapers in my laptop. Although of course, you really want to be as far from screens as possible when you’re not working. Get outside and see your friends and loved ones – schedule it in if you need to.
Regard exercise, sleep and healthy eating as essential, like you do breathing. I find that if I maintain this triad, my energy levels, motivation and focus are generally in good shape and my work benefits greatly. It’s so easy to fall into a stress spiral and put work before everything else – but I make an effort to be strict with boundaries. I also mix up the places where I work – I have a desk at home with plants and books that inspire me, but I also work in coffee shops I like and the British Library. Otherwise it can feel like I spent my whole life staring at the same four walls, and like work and life are one same continuum of different screens and pages. 
Finally, respect days off and holidays! And, in general: give yourself a break. 
Read Marta's full article for Literary Hub right here. 

Read Marta's full article for Literary Hub right here

Marta Bausells | Freelance Wisdom

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

Passion, work ethic, resilience. 
Marta Bausells | Freelance Wisdom

Portrait Photography by Liz Seabrook

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Alex Labriola

Looking to move abroad one day? Then this interview is for you!

Just a year ago Alex Labriola, the founder and creative director of Al Stampa, a design and illustration studio, moved her one-stop-shop for all branding needs and letterpress printing from Brooklyn to Amsterdam.

We are so inspired by this leap and impressed by her willingness to grow with this move. Thank you for sharing your journey Alex! 

Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.

Ever since I was little, I pictured myself having my own design studio in some capacity.  It was important for me, and critical in my opinion, to work for others for a large chunk of time and soak in as much as possible from those experiences. I have always enjoyed working for other people, and learning in a work environment.  I got to see how design and illustration can live in large corporate environments, as well as in-house within smaller companies.
I was designing, illustrating and hand letterpress-printing custom wedding invitations as a side business since 2010, and there came a time when I realized that this too was a way of branding, only for an event and not a company. I realized my passion was rooted in telling the story of a company, individual, or couple, and the brand of Al Stampa felt whole.
When my husband and I decided to take a leap and move to Amsterdam a year ago, I felt it was the best time for me to go out on my own completely and give it a go.  If not now, when?

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

I had made so many great relationships throughout my 10 year career working as a designer, art director, and creative director in the interiors, and hotel industries. I was able and courageous enough to send a mass email out to everyone to tell friends and old colleagues I was available for work.  I luckily have an amazing community of people who wanted me to succeed and refer me whenever possible.  I think one of the most important parts to consider before you take the leap into full-time freelance is not to burn any bridges, and always act like what you’re doing is important to you, even if you hate your job at the current moment.  Work ethic is work ethic at the end of the day, and it’s better to leave everyone with a great impression of you and how you work because you never know when you’ll work with them again, and in what capacity.  
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

Get dressed in the morning and make lists! I re-write my lists of to-do’s throughout the day, to clear my head and focus myself.  I also try to devote some of the day to other things like drawing around the house, soaking up some Pinterest time, or even taking a walk. It’s important to take time to build what you want, take time to be with your family and cook/eat a good dinner at night.  Always look to inspire yourself so you’re not pumping out uninformed work… How you take care of yourself comes through in how you live your life and the type of work you produce! It’s all connected.

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

We all have off days.  The most important thing to do when this happens is to recognize that you need the bad days in life to revel in the good. Take a break and get inspired in a different way.  On days like these I’ll pick another form of creativity like cooking a beautiful dinner, or looking at a different medium of design, for instance old blues vinyl albums.  Break out of your process a little, to give your mind a break.
Another hard part I’ve found is making time for self promotion.  Luckily, most of my clients have come to me through referrals, or Instagram, but beyond that, it hasn’t been something I can focus on, and I would love to be able to this year!  
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

I used to hate mornings, and think “oh I’m just not a morning person” until I started working for myself, and now my favorite time of the entire day is a quiet early morning with coffee, my music, and my work space.  While it’s amazing to have my own schedule, and be able to bring my work with me anywhere, I work way more than I ever have because it’s just me, myself and I. Since it’s all for me, and my growth, I never dislike my work days, but the pressure is on!
I also love that I get to see my progress as a designer, illustrator and letterpress printer more clearly because I get to work every day at what I love, and invest all my time in being better each and every day.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients? 

Someone I admire greatly told me – create the work you want to be hired for.  This was the best advice and has been my inspiration every day.  I started to think less about how to get work, and just reveled in the days I was able to draw/design what I truly wanted to.  I started a little gif series on Instagram over the holidays that led to some really interesting work, and now I’ve started the #100dayalstampapatterns challenge where I work on an illustrated pattern a day for 100 days.  My dream is to create an illustrated wallpaper collection, and this challenge is meant to get me thinking about pattern on a daily basis, get the “not so good” work out of my system to clear space for the collection I hope to make in 2018.  It also allows others to see daily drawings that may inspire future work.
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom

You have taken your creative studio abroad to Amsterdam. Can you tell us more about that journey, the motivation behind it, and how you are finding it to be for your creative studio?

My husband and I had lived in Park Slope for 8 years and were both in a position where we were feeling a bit like time was getting away from us, and we were unsure of what our next move would be.  I was unhappy in my current work place, and had longed to go out on my own finally instead of keeping it a side-job, and we decided we needed a year to invest in ourselves.  My husband has Dutch citizenship, so we have always dreamed of living in Amsterdam. He applied for a Masters degree, and we crossed our fingers.  When he got in we were so happy, but terrified and unsure if it was the right move.  We packed up our life, and the three of us (Kitty Lou included), flew over to our new home.  Almost a year later, I couldn't imagine what our life would have been like without this move.  My business is blossoming every day, and we live exactly how we’ve always dreamed of living.  I pinch myself sometimes!
Being here is so inspiring for my business.  There is a huge letterpress culture, there are designers everywhere, and it’s the city of self-employment!  I found a letterpress studio to work in, and get to bike over, and  print amongst the canals whenever I can!  My studio is in our apartment, so I have a little nook next to French windows that open up to our quiet street in De Pijp.
All of my clients are still US based, which is great for me time-difference wise. I get to work all morning quietly, without email interruption, and then by 2 pm my time, I start to get feedback and client inquiries, which I work on for the remainder of the day.  
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom

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

I love the program Harvest, where I do all of my invoicing, timesheets, expenses, and client organization.  It lets me actually see how many hours it takes me to do certain things, so I am charging a fair rate.  It also allows me to see all out-standing payments, and all that’s been collected thus far so that I can better plan my finances, as well as sends automatic invoices to clients with whom I am on retainer. I also keep a separate excel of every project, all costs, vendors, quoted price and profits.  It helps for tax season deductions, and also helps me look back to compare vendor pricing, or quickly give a client a ball-park cost to initiate next steps.  I always send a highly detailed quote with all information and process for a signature, to have on file just in case (with friends too!) and then I follow up with the invoice.  I find this protects the client and myself throughout the process.  I feel the more organized you are, the more likely you won’t run into big problems.

Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

This year in particular has been all about investment of time, money, and confidence into Al Stampa.  My work creeps into every moment of my day, but I’m still in the honeymoon phase of building this to the level I want it to be at, so I don’t mind. Luckily my husband has been finishing up his Masters this year, so he’s been in the same ‘nose to the grindstone’ mode.  We definitely love to walk around our neighborhood, get a great glass of wine, and we cook amazing dinners to favorite playlists by Michael Antonia (our wedding dj) 5-6 nights a week.  That is part of the life we have built and we would never be as happy as we are right now if we didn’t give that time each day to each other. I also really believe that not taking time to do things you love, or see people you enjoy, will impact your work in a negative way. Conversations, outings to the movies or to a new neighborhood, give me inspiration for my work, so it’s important for me to keep that in mind when I want to stay in one night and work work work.  
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired? 

I’d say I’ve always been inspired by old movies, hand-lettering styles from the 40s-50s, and my endless collection of illustration and design books.  My sister, who is also an artist, has always given me amazing books every year for my birthday, because we are soul sisters; Charley Harper, Illustratus, David Weidman, Oliver Jeffers and the list goes on.  I take a lot of inspiration from old illustrators/designers/painters like Alvin Lustig, Saul Steinberg, Toulouse Lautrec’s sketches, vintage movie poster design, letterpress printers and hand painted signage. Travel is huge for me, and signage especially. I take lots of photos of signage from all over the world to inspire design, even though my designs are much more contemporary and clean.
Being in a new city this year has given me so much inspiration, from the signage, to the packaging, to the markets, and even the way people live.  I print all my letterpress work at a studio about 10 minutes away from my apartment, owned by a good friend now.  Having someone who has been printing for over 30 years, is a huge inspiration to me as well.  I learn so much from just talking to him about letterpress and other printers, seeing how he works, and meeting people through him.  It’s critical to get out of the house, away from the computer, and to soak in everything around you.

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

Ambition, Organization, Passion

 

Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom

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Lorna McCarthy

Lorna McCarthy is the owner and lead designer behind McCarthy & Co, a boutique design practice, focused on creating interiors that are authentic and emotive. Based in London, Lorna's speciality is applying an intuitive approach to each project. Studying History of Art has given Lorna a different approach to interior design, allowing an innate and in depth understanding of style, space, composition and colour which she applies to the creative direction of every project.

Although the past eight months haven't been the smoothest transition to being the fabulous, independent business woman that she expected, there's no doubt that her freelance experience so far has made her a better designer.

Lorna McCarthy | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance interior designer.

I became a freelance interior designer, not by mistake but certainly not planned. Although I had always aspired to go out on my own, it ended up happening a lot sooner and with a lot less preparation than I ever would have anticipated.
In school I studied history of art, after which I did a very short internship at a prestigious design studio. While I didn't actually learn anything while with them, it did allow me to include the name on my CV, following which I was lucky enough to be taken in by a small company. I am so thankful for this experience and my mentors there, as it enabled me to gain an understanding of design from the inside out - including, most importantly, the nitty gritty of how to manage clients, how to invoice effectively, what you need on an install (baby wipes and floristry scissors!); the every day stuff. Here I honed my skills in all aspects of interior design over the course of four years, going from the administrative side to eventually leading and managing my own projects.
I have never had formal training [in interior design] and learned entirely in the job. In the beginning I saw this as a draw back, but now I can appreciate that this without a doubt cemented my approach and application of interior design, and has given me such a thorough and pragmatic education, without which I wouldn't have had the capabilities or confidence to freelance. It's enabled me to develop an organic approach and way of doing things. On top of this I credit studying history of art as having developed my understanding of style, space, composition and colour, something which I apply to every project and is at the very heart of me as a designer.
After a while though I became quite jaded about the industry and as a result had actually walked away from interior design. But, I only ended up having a three month hiatus! My first freelance project was for an existing client who asked me to work for her independently, and I haven't looked back since!
As I had experience of running my own projects and have always been very independent [as a designer] going freelance felt like a natural progression, and for me I know that I'm at my best working independently. The freedom of being able to work in your own way, choose who you're working with and ultimately having control over the design process is very important to me, and I wouldn't want to design any other way.
Lorna McCarthy | Freelance Wisdom

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

Well, as I have only been established since the start of this year, I would say I'm still very much in the 'beginning' stages! But for me it has absolutely been establishing genuine relationships with clients, who then wanted to work with me independently. This, and word of mouth. In the beginning I thought it was all about your website, how you approach advertising yourself and 'who you know', but really, for me, it's come down to positive experience and word of mouth. Design is so personal so it's important that you and the client are a good fit; I wouldn't take on a project if I felt I wasn't suited to the client or the job. Forming authentic, personal relationships with both clients and suppliers is something that I want to continue as I grow; both of which are a huge source of inspiration for me.  

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

If you start to procrastinate, ask yourself why! For me procrastination is such a dangerous habit, as it can have the potential completely de-rail a project as they tend to run to very tight deadlines. When I find myself procrastinating, at the root of it is usually feeling overwhelmed, or a lack of confidence to make a call or decision. If I'm honest about why I'm feeling the urge to procrastinate then I find I can overcome the hurdle that's driving my procrastination and get my productivity back on track.
Lorna McCarthy | Freelance Wisdom

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

My greatest struggle as a freelancer so far has to have been going through an unexpected identity crisis when I first started out, and after a good few months of 'what the f- am I doing?!', learning that it's okay to do things differently. Age was definitely a sticking point [I'm 25, which is young for this industry!]. In the beginning, although I didn't realise it, I had an idea in mind of how as an interior designer with my own company I should be approaching new clients and new projects. But in reality this was how I felt I should be approaching things, not taking into account my own personality, strengths and weaknesses. I was overlooking the very reason I wanted to become freelance - to do things differently and to offer an alternative to the run of the mill experience of interior design. Because my ethos rests largely on creating authentic relationships with both clients and suppliers, it follows suit that I am not the strongest networker. So following the path of what someone else is doing, even if it might be working well for them, is not going to be authentic to me or effective. I had to get comfortable with who I am and how I want to establish myself as a designer - for instance, outlining certain values like paying suppliers a fair price and not compromising on this. It's only been since accepting that it's okay to do things a little differently and in my own way that I've been able to find my feet as a freelancer, produce my best work and be able to stand firm behind myself as a designer. 
Another thing was the financial aspect. After a few months [of establishing my company] I started working in a local cafe alongside my interior design work, which although isn't always easy [managing both] it gives me the financial stability I need while I'm still finding my feet and establishing a client base. I think pride can rear it's ugly head when you're a freelancer; wanting to say yes, I'm doing amazingly well, to put out a facade of being fantastically busy. But the reality for a lot of people is that it can be a struggle in the beginning. This is something that I felt was important to touch on, because looking back I had an unrealistic idea when I first started out about how smoothly one project would flow into the next. I've learnt that it doesn't make you any less valid as a designer, or freelancer of any kind, to have a 'side job'; but rather, in my case, was simply a way to make it work.
Lorna McCarthy | Freelance Wisdom
Lorna McCarthy | Freelance Wisdom

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

For me as a creative, it's without a doubt the freedom and control to do things your own way, and not to have to compromise on this. Something that is hugely important to me is supporting small businesses and craftspeople, and working for a company where someone else ultimately makes the decisions I wasn't able to do this. It's been so rewarding to choose each and every supplier I work with, to pay a fair price and to know that I am supporting someone's livelihood, not just imports from China. 
From a creative perspective, I need to be accountable and responsible for all design choices which again, in interior design isn't possible if you're working under someone else. Because I'm a total control freak (only in design might I add, nothing else!) I love that I'm able to have complete control over every decision. For me, it makes the whole design process from start to finish so much more enjoyable and rewarding, and ultimately better. I love to completely immerse myself in a project and find I'm able to do this working for myself in a way that I was never able to before. Being able to make the choice about who you're working for and what you're working on more than outweighs any of the negative aspects to freelancing I've experienced so far!

If you could design for anyone, who would it be?

To be honest I am incredibly lucky with the clients I have, but as I'm soon to be relocating to Falmouth [in Cornwall, UK] in spirit of that a dream project for me at the moment would be a Cornish boutique hotel or cafe! 

Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

The work/life balance is something I try my best to create boundaries around. While design is a huge part of me, my entire identity isn't 'interior designer' and so I try to make sure I leave time for nurturing relationships and other interests outside of design. As I'm a bit of a magpie the sourcing side of me never switches off, but when it comes to everything else I do try to set boundaries and adhere to them. Although the odd late night is at times necessary, I try on the whole to keep my evenings after dinner work free as best I can. This keeps me sane and happy, both things I value!
Lorna McCarthy | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

Always be on the look out for inspiration, whether it be a natural landscape, new supplier or rooting through a secondhand shop. I'm constantly open to being inspired, and I find living in that way enables me to draw on inspiration organically when it comes to putting together a design concept.

Freelance work can be isolating. Do you have any tips or tricks for combating these lonely feelings?

Isolation is something that I definitely struggled with, particularly in the beginning. As I had just moved to London when I first started my company, McCarthy & Co, I found it hard not being a part of a community. I think isolation can be a problem for freelancers, particularly if you're going through a challenging time. For me, it did gradually get better as I found my groove and became more confident and focused. As I am frequently liaising with suppliers and clients that usually helps to dispel any feelings of loneliness, but if isolation does start to creep in then I'll make the time to arrange to meet a friend mid week for a coffee and a catch up.

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

Passion, belief and determination. Not knowing when you're going to get in the next project isn't easy, so it's imperative that you have determination and believe in yourself and your abilities. To me as a designer, belief is something which is absolutely crucial. If I don't believe in myself, my ideas and my work, then how can I expect a client to? I’m Christian, so belief is integral to me, and this applies to my work as well. And passion speaks for itself!

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