Amy and Jennifer Hood of Hoodzpah are a Los Angeles-based twin sister creative duo specializing in branding and design. Their unique aesthetic pulls inspiration from vintage textures, tattoo lettering, and rock n' roll. Past clients include Google, the Tribeca Film Festival, and Column Five, Hot Wheels, and more. They are also co-authors of the e-book "Starting a Design Business," and are currently teaching a course at Laguna College of Art & Design on how they started their design firm.
What made you decide to pursue a freelance career?
We started out on our own at first due to necessity. The magazine we had been working at folded, as many at that time were. We were left hunting for a job and were up against some serious odds. We were very young in the industry (only 3 years experience) and we had learned design on the job, not in school. Most companies would't even look at our portfolio until we sent a resume in showing a degree and at least 5 years experience. After duking it out on Monster.com with designers who looked much better on paper than we did - all in the name of jobs we weren’t that thrilled about - we put our foots down. We had always been entrepreneurial and both had our own side businesses for years, so we decided we would form our own design firm. Friends had been asking us for years if we were taking on freelance projects. God was clearly telling us that this was our chance to jump in and give it a go.
How did you attract your first good clients?
Honestly, it’s ALL about who you know. We have met so many amazing and talented people in our lives - many of which we are lucky enough to call friends. When we first started Hoodzpah, we had no marketing budget. So we immediately adopted social media as our means of getting our work out into the world. We posted our work to Facebook, instagram, dribbble, pinterest and our website. We wanted everyone to know we were open for business and that we could make some pretty bitchin’ work. Social media was pivotal to our growth in the formative months. As we posted and shared, all of our friends began emailing and calling about their employers or current projects that they needed logos and branding and websites for. It just so happened that we had some friends doing some pretty amazing things and they invited us to help them. After that, word of mouth spread and now we work with friends and strangers alike. These days, we get so so many great leads for quality clients through dribbble as well.
If you work from home, do you have any tips for being your most productive?
We have a live-in/work-in scenario. The bottom floor of our beach house is Hoodzpah HQ, the top floor is home, and on the roof you’ll find our kiddy pool/conference room. We wouldn’t have it any other way. For us, we find that it’s harder to step away from the computer than to get started. Our first year in business we worked every weekend and we’ve slowly gotten down to a M-F scenario. But it’s hard! Especially when you do what you love. There’s the temptation to never stop, or to feel guilty when you just turn off for the weekend, but it’s essential to staying sane, keeping friends, and refreshing creatively. When we get stuck or land a case of cabin fever, we’ll just take our laptops to the nearest coffee shop or to a friend’s co-working space (usually Batch or CostaMakers) to get a new perspective, a change of scenery. We’ve found that a change of scenery does wonders for creative block. Other tips to being productive? We time track as much as possible using Toggl. Besides helping us gauge how much time goes into jobs we do regularly, it helps us stay focused. When you see that ticker adding hours up, you’re less likely to mosey over to Instagram on your phone and get sucked into the eternal scroll and double-tap black hole. And lastly, coffee.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
The greatest struggle in forging out on your own as a designer is learning the business side of things. We’re creative beings that don’t want to have to worry about contracts and licensing and invoices and quoting. But unfortunately, being good at all those things is KEY to being a successful small business owner/freelancer and maintaining your sanity. We started out very naive about business and have had to learn the hard way on a few things. It’s why we ended up writing a book on how we started our business: So that hopefully we could help other freelancers/small business owners avoid some of the pitfalls that arise when going out on your own. We’ve found that when it comes to running a business, you have to have a mentor. We have quite a few who have always been so accommodating in listening to our questions and offering guidance. They are people who have been where we are, grown on and up, and are now doing the things we hope to be doing in a few years. So they can help us with pricing, judging how to handle certain client relations issues, and growth ideas.
"Having a mentor is crucial. You need that outside perspective of someone who knows where you’re coming from."
What is your favorite thing about being a freelancer?
The freedom! If you need to take a break and walk to the beach to clear your mind or mull over ideas, no big deal! You run the show! It’s also really nice having the power to choose what you work on.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
For invoicing, always take a downpayment. We use Xero and love it for our accounting, payroll and invoicing. A great free app that has a great interface, super rich features, and great add-ons to paypal for online payments, is Wave. For contracts, we like using Helloing to get e-signatures and safely file away all our signed docs in the cloud. It makes signing contracts easier, faster, less painful. It pulls in the contracts we’ve drafted in Google docs and then let’s people e-sign. We have contract templates we’ve created in Google docs for common jobs we do, and then we customize them to fit any specific client needs, then upload to Helloing, send to client. Boom. Done. We like to do our own day-to-day accounting because it’s really easy with Xero and helps us stay on track of how much we’re making, if we’re meeting our budget goals, etc. Then we have a CPA do all our taxes and the work that we can’t wrap our brains around. We use Trigger to help with our project management. It integrates with Xero, our accounting and invoicing software. It let’s us keep track of all our active clients and leads, track our active and archived projects, assign tasks to our team and subcontractors, set deadlines and time goals, etc. It’s been great so far. We’ve only been using it a few months, but really like it so far.
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
As much as you can, don’t work the weekends! We’ve been going to a lot of conferences recently, and we realized that there is this strange battle for who is the biggest workaholic. You constantly hear people one-upping each other on how many hours they worked consecutively to launch their app (one guy said almost 72 hours?!). That is not how it should be! We should work to live, not the other way around. There is definitely a period of paying your dues. No doubt. You’ll have to work weekends for a while probably. But don’t let that become status quo. You should be slowly raising your rates and improving your work to attract better and bigger clients that know the appropriate cost and timeframe for quality work. This will allow you to take weekends off from design to experience life and the world around you! The more you live your life, the more well rounded you become, and the better designer you become. Don’t get stuck just hanging out with designers and developers only. Remember how real people live, because those people are who you are designing for. To train yourself to respect your off-time, train your clients to respect your off-time too. Let them know in your initial contract that you don’t work weekends, remind them of this fact when starting a project, and don’t make a habit of emailing them on weekends or off hours, or you’ll project a double standard. And last thing, do at least one active thing for yourself! Move around. Work on your posture. Get your heart rate up. Designers are so sedentary. Being active will make you feel better, and the endorphins might cook up some great ideas. So get out there and sweat a little!
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance designer are:
Organization, Self Discipline, Good Work Ethic.
Hope you enjoyed my interview with the talented ladies of Hoodzpah!