We are so excited to bring you our first interview with a Creative Lady Directory freelancer, Laura Prpich.
After 10 years exploring different facets of the design world, Laura branched out on her own to start Caribou Creative, a comprehensive design studio based in Courtenay, British Columbia. At Caribou Creative, Laura works with individuals and businesses to bring ideas to life through strategic communication and thoughtful design. Her work has been featured in How Magazine, Hello Canada, Apartment Therapy, Oh So Beautiful Paper, The Dieline, Packaging Of The World, and last year she took home the Industry Of Excellence award from the Vancouver Island Wedding Awards.
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.
I knew straight out of art school that I wanted to be my own boss one day, so I spent the first 10 years of my career exploring as many facets of design as I could. I started in a print-house gaining knowledge about prepress, production and different print methods, which at the time felt tedious and boring, but turned out to be one of the most valuable learning experiences for my career. I worked in architecture, for a few big ad agencies with unlimited client budgets, I did apparel design for the skateboarding industry, painted murals for a bit, you name it, I probably did it in some capacity at some point!
When I made the decision to move to Vancouver Island in 2010 (for no other reason than to surf and enjoy the balmy west coast life), I felt the time was right to start my own gig. Not knowing a single person in town really helped me to be vulnerable and put myself out there 100%. I had nothing to fall back on, it needed to work, and it was me that was going to make it happen -so I just did it.
It’s been almost 7 years now, and while it didn’t come without a lot of hard work, learned lessons and a few tears, there is no greater reward (I think) than waking up every morning with a big smile on my face, excited to hunker down and create.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
Well, shit, I know this sounds cliche, but I think I got a lucky break.
My VERY first client was a couple looking for a custom wedding invitation. I came up with a poster design that folded into itself to make an envelope which caught the attention of How Magazine and was published in the following issue. This caused a big stir for my brand new business, and as a result word spread quickly. As well, the gentleman I did the invitation for works for the Government and was able to get me a 3 year contract designing an Atlas (which was an amazing project!), so whenever I felt the ‘freelance struggle’ or things were slow, it was nice to have this contract to fall back on and give me a sense of security.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
I think I have the opposite problem from most, sometimes I don’t know when to quit! Because I work from home, it’s so easy for me to sneak back into my studio at night and answer a few emails or finish up a project. I used to feel guilty for kicking back and watching a movie with a glass of wine when I had looming client deadlines, but now I force myself to take weekends off, go for lunch mid-day with a girlfriend if she calls, and take impromptu trips with my husband. And honestly, my work is so much better as a result of the downtime. It’s hard as a creative to ‘be on’ at all times, and I’ve learned to accomplish more in less time as a result. So my advice? Take breaks :)
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
People seeing value in what I do. It used to frustrate me to no end when potential clients would try to minimize what I do, the time it should take me to do it, and the price they think they should pay for it. In the beginning, I admittedly waffled with this because I let my insecurities get the best of me. But now I have a take it or leave it attitude. I know my worth, my clients have seen the results and no one questions my process anymore.
I used to think I had to educate the world on why design is important, but now I simply choose to work with people that already see this. And fortunately, I think we live in a time where social media is doing the soapboxing for us, making clearer than ever why branding is important.
"I used to think I had to educate the world on why design is important, but now I simply choose to work with people that already see this."
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
When the surf is up I can duck out for a few hours, or go to the dentist on a Tuesday morning without asking permission, or if I wanna listen to George Jones on repeat and not brush my hair for two days while I work that’s okay too. I haven’t used an alarm clock in years (even though I do tend to wake up at 6:30am every morning), but having that choice to sleep in if I need it? The best.
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
I’ve subconsciously fallen into this niche of working for small indie businesses, which is perfect because it’s something I’m really passionate about. I think for me, just putting my work out there and sharing my process is what attracts the right clients to come along. Any client is ‘ideal’ to me if they can see the value of good design and trust in me, my work and my capabilities.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given that has helped fuel your creativity and work so far in your career?
“Know your worth.”
Simply put, countless people have expressed this to me over the years, and I’ve seen it written in many forms, but man, what a game changer this can be as a freelance designer when it finally rings true.
“Know your worth.”
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Keeping track of my finances is my least favourite part of the job, but I find that compiling all of my invoices, bills and receipts into a spread sheet at the end of each month helps me to stay on top of my projected goals, keeps me aware of how much I’m going to owe during tax season, lets me figure how much I blew on fonts (guilty pleasure) and if I ever get audited, I can confidently submit all the paperwork easily. I hate it, but it makes me feel at ease (and slightly grown-up) to get it done.
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
I am hesitant to offer any advice in this area, because it’s the one thing that I struggle the hardest with. Part of me feels that if this is how I want to spend my life and I love what I’m doing I shouldn’t feel guilty about putting in 12-16 hour days. But another part of me thinks that spending time with the people I love, getting outside more and taking time away from my work will only result in the more creative, conscious and educated designer that I strive to become.
So for now, I just take it day by day :)
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Self worth, vulnerability & a damn thick skin.