Jennifer Pace Duran is a Scottsdale, Arizona-based freelance designer. She runs her own boutique design studio specializing in design, branding, creative direction, digital direction, digital design, non-profit marketing and visual storytelling. She also currently serves as the Design for Good Chair for AIGA Arizona.
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.
It was probably pretty clear to my parents that I would end up in some sort of creative field. Growing up I loved anything and everything that had to do with art, from creating extravagant housing complexes out of cereal boxes for my Beanie Babies to painting and writing stories–I was always doing something creative. After taking a graphic design class in high school, I knew design was what I wanted to do. I double majored in Graphic Design and Interactive Media Studies in college and was beginning to look for jobs when the economy crashed. Very few agencies and companies were hiring, so I decided to take the leap and build my freelance career. Starting out freelancing right after college is definitely not the easiest path but you quickly learn more than just design skills. I freelanced for about 3 years full-time and then found an opportunity of working in-house at the Boys & Girls Clubs that I couldn’t pass up. I continued to freelance on the side while working at the Boys & Girls Clubs and after almost 4 years there and I have recently jumped back to freelancing full-time.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
In the beginning, I was lucky to find all my clients by word of mouth from friends and family. Relationships are important and you need to get out and meet new people. Because someone always knows someone who knows someone who needs a designer :)
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
The best way for me to stay productive is breaking my day up into chunks of time. I usually wake up early everyday and work for a couple of hours. Then I take a break to go to the gym and eat lunch, then back to work after that. I also try to tackle the business tasks like financing, emails, proposals, etc. first thing in the morning, so my afternoons are more focused on designing and the creative side of my business.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
The dreaded taxes and finance side of running your own business has always been a struggle, because as a creative that is the last thing I want to be doing. I am definitely more organized than I was in the beginning, so it doesn’t seem as daunting as before and tools like FreshBooks have been a huge help.
Lately though one of my struggles has been my confidence. I’m at the point in my career where I am redefining myself as a designer and it has been difficult figuring that out. We are in an industry that is full of inspiring creatives (especially women) that I really admire and I am impressed with what they are creating. But sometimes constantly looking at what others are doing leads to self-doubt and questioning your ability to do what they do. I think we all experience this at some point (and most likely several different points throughout our careers) but I think that is why it is important to surround yourself with people who support you and can be your cheerleader when you are down and even when you are up.
"Sometimes constantly looking at what others are doing leads to self-doubt and questioning your ability to do what they do. I think we all experience this at some point... that is why it is important to surround yourself with people who support you and can be your cheerleader."
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
My favorite thing about freelance is it is always an adventure – different projects, different clients, new struggles, same headaches…but it is so rewarding. At the end of the day you can see everything that you have created and built. Be proud of it. It is hard work!
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
Like I said before, meeting new people and staying in touch with old coworkers, friends, etc. is extremely beneficial, but even after 7 years I am still figuring it out. I look at my business and my design skills as always a work in progress and am constantly tweaking how I market and position myself as a designer.
Being a part of different professional organizations, like AIGA can help with networking. I am on the board for AIGA Arizona as their Design for Good Chair, where I focus on creating youth design initiatives and other design for good projects. Volunteering your time shows your passion and people have started to see me as a designer known for doing work with nonprofits and social impact organizations.
Starting side projects is another way to attract ideal clients. I am currently doing a 100 Day Project where I am working on my illustration and pattern design skills. Not only do I love working with nonprofits, but I am also trying to focus half of my business on surface design and stationery work.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Stay organized and remember you are running a business. In the beginning, I got screwed over because I was afraid of talking about money and writing contracts. I ended up in a bad situation with a client and learned pretty quickly that to protect myself and my work I needed a contract. Not only did I learn that, but I also learned how to fire my first client.
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
My husband would say I’m the worst person to give advice on maintaining a work-life balance, because if it weren’t for him and our life together I would be working and designing all day every day. I am extremely passionate about design and I constantly want to be creating something. But I need to remember to tell myself to slow down and enjoy the small things in life like hiking, exploring, playing games, reading books and even binge watching shows on Netflix. Balance is the key to staying sane and staying inspired.
Fill in the blank: The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Passion, courage, and determination.