Lauren Ledbetter is a Nashville-based graphic designer specializing in branding and creative direction. She works with photographers, musicians, and small businesses to develop meaningful brand experiences. She is also passionate about illustration and hand lettering, set design and prop hunting, and web design.
What made you decide to pursue a freelance career?
I was working as an Art Director at a small record label before I went out on my own full time. The idea of the position was perfect - a marriage between music and design. Both undeniably draw people in and make us feel connected to something deep in our souls. I had a deep yearning to work with these musicians to visually represent their music. Unfortunately, the position was a corporate one, and my desire to truly know and authentically represent artists was slightly squandered. While I was in this position I started a list of questions I’d ask if it were up to me. I realized very quickly that these questions held value. These questions became the ideal formula for getting to know clients + the passion behind their business venture. When a brand is thoughtful, it evokes a positive emotional response. Branding is all about making an emotional connection. The only way to accomplish this is by asking the deep digging questions that get to the heart of the story behind a brand. I developed the Brand Workshop, took a leap of faith, and the rest is history!
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
I knew that in order to speak into other people’s brands - I needed to be my own brand expert first and foremost. That meant honing in on exactly who I WANTED to be working with. I’m drawn to people with passion and positive energy. What I found was that I desire to know PEOPLE most, and the rest flows from there. Ultimately, I attracted my first great clients by feeling connected to their passions!
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Give yourself grace. I personally am the most productive in the mid morning until about 5 each day. I wake up, have some quiet time, go to yoga, savor my coffee and get to work with a clear head. If I try to work late into the night, I burn out and find myself with a serious case of creative block. Knowing my limits gives me the ability to walk away. It’s just not reasonable to expect to be on your creative game all day, every day! Additionally, I’m inspired by the outdoors so I know when I need to go for a hike and step away from the computer to get recharged.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
My greatest struggle thus far has been knowing how much I can handle. I tend to take on way too much and I get in over my head. There’s where that grace element comes in again- knowing your limits and accepting them is the only way to navigate owning your own business. In the last year I’ve combatted this with limiting the number of projects I take on each month. I’ve created rules for myself and I stick to them.
What is your favorite thing about being a freelancer?
Honestly, everything. Doing it well means learning to laugh at yourself A LOT and knowing that everything is a learning curve. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of self criticism and burn out when you’re seemingly alone behind a computer screen all day! That’s no way to do life! I have a project manager named Jordan who works with me and we work really hard. We know that at the end of the day people + relationships and living life well trumps all - so we drink champagne just because it’s Tuesday, break out in dance parties, and encourage each other to dream big. Ultimately I’m really grateful to be doing design on my own and there’s no reason NOT to be joyful!"
"We know that at the end of the day people + relationships and living life well trumps all - so we drink champagne just because it’s Tuesday, break out in dance parties, and encourage each other to dream big."
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
I hired someone to help me with all the stuff I was CLUELESS about. No shame. He works with me to manage taxes, and made sure my business was set up correctly. I prefer to surround myself with dreamers, so we talk a lot about quality of life and what to hand off to other people. That’s the best advice I’ve been given - if it drains you, figure out a way to hire someone to help you!
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
I keep my work life and my home life completely separate - even though the studio is attached to my house. The best kept secret is - TRY your darnedest to separate the two! Earlier in the year I wrote a blog series called “Intentionally Wild” about brand growth and I touched on this a little:
Create an inspiring space. Whether it’s your office, a desk by a window, or a corner of your bedroom, having a set apart place where you can zone in on your work is important. Put up photos and clippings that pertain to your brand or simply keep your favorite working music and scented candle nearby. Do whatever it takes for you to carve out a place to hone in.
Embrace a daily routine. Developing a rhythm will help you sustain good energy levels so you can focus on building your brand. A daily routine is also a great method to schedule uninterrupted time in your “create space.” This will also help you push through creative blocks. Remember, frequency sparks creativity. “Your mind must know it has to get down to work.” - Pearl S. Buck
Nurture your art. Create a beautiful life for yourself that makes you grow in joy and gratefulness. Don’t work to please or impress others. Practice consistently, break rules and make time to do the projects you love, even if they don’t immediately yield income. If you keep working at it and believe in the beauty to come, it will grow.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Knowing your worth, Passion, Grace