Shauna Haider is a Portland-based creative director, teacher and blogger whose clients include Forever 21, Nike, Smith Optics, Solestruck, Virgin Records and The Wall Street Journal. In 2013 she founded her boutique design studio Branch, which focuses on branding for small businesses. She also teaches an in-depth branding segment at The Blogcademy, a strategy-based workshop she cofounded in August 2012 with bloggers Gala Darling and Kat Williams. Shauna's insights on design and blogging have been featured on television segments including ABC News Australia, magazine including Computer Arts and Forever 21, and books including Work For Money, Design for Love and Super Identity.
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer and business owner.
I was a late bloomer when it came to discovering graphic design. I had an interest in fine art during high school but couldn’t figure out how to make a career out of it so I went to school for business instead. It was super practical but the thought of spending the rest of my life in corporate offices felt like a really bad fit.
I went back to school for graphic design in 2006 and from the first day, everything clicked. I finally felt like I’d found my calling and blogged about the school projects I was working on. Blogging wasn’t as saturated as it is now so the the clients began pouring in almost immediately.
By 2008, I was working at my first full-time design job which I loved but kept blogging and freelancing on the side, which led to some really big opportunities with Forever 21 and Virgin Records.
By 2013, I had a dream gig working on a branding team at a big agency but between blogging, freelancing and teaching a blogging workshop I’d co-founded called Blogcademy, something had to give. It made sense to funnel my freelance clients into a boutique design studio of my own since I’d decided I wanted to focus on projects for creative small businesses.
Branch launched in September 2013 and I’ve been happily running the studio ever since in Portland, Oregon. It’s my dream job but it took a lot of years of hard work to carve it out and make it a reality.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
I honestly didn’t have a grand plan. I just knew that the more content and work I shared, the more opportunities would come my way. Blogging let people know who I was and staying consistent helped build trust with my audience. Word of mouth was also really important — to this day, if I draw a spider diagram of my 10 best clients, most of them are somehow connected. It’s a good reminder that in-person relationships still matter most and those will help you more than spending all your time networking online.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Get an early start to your day. I like to get into work by 8 am before emails take over. I also recommend keeping a weekly calendar on your desk at all times so you can see exactly where you have gaps in time for calls and and extra projects.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
Saying no. It sounds basic, but when a bunch of great opportunities come your way at once, it’s hard to turn them down. I constantly have to remind myself that I am only one person, my studio is small and we can only handle so much — it’s impossible to help everyone one-on-one. Because of this, I’ve started launching more digital products like Project Prescription, a bundle of 15 customizable documents that helps designers establish a process that works with as little effort as possible.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
I love being my own boss, setting my own goals and creating my own schedule. I have so many bad memories of having to cancel plans with family because I couldn’t leave my agency jobs in the middle of a deadline. Now, even if I have a deadline, I give myself permission to meet my grandparents for lunch and then come back to work and put in a few more hours. Running my own business has been both the most rewarding and the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.
"Running my own business has been both the most rewarding and the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but I wouldn’t change it for anything."
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Even if you can’t afford it, get a CPA and make sure your taxes are done on time every year. If you want to eventually buy a house or expand your business, it’s important as someone who’s self-employed to take charge of your finances.
Also, think about how you can increase your business model to include multiple income streams. I’ve never done just one thing because it’s a bad idea to put all your eggs in one basket. When I started my studio, Branch, I simultaneously taught blogging workshops with Blogcademy. Now, I run Branch along with Project Prescription and have another 3 digital courses launching later this year. Diversify, diversify, diversify!
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
I am probably the absolute worst person to answer this because I love my job so much I never want to stop working! I would say to surround yourself with a spouse, family and friends who respect you for being you and want you to succeed. My husband, Joey is super supportive and lets me put in long hours because he knows it benefits both of us. Most of my close friends run their own businesses as well so they get it, too. There’s a saying that you’re a reflection of the 5 people you spend the most time with so choose wisely!
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Drive, focus and consistency.