This week we have the sincere pleasure of chatting with California-based graphic designer Liz Grant. Liz is passionate about creating thoughtful design that has a touch of simplicity and the unexpected. This passion comes through in her work and in the words she so kindly and openly shared with us. We recommend taking a break so you can sit down and soak in all this goodness.
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance graphic designer.
After graduating with my B.S. in Graphic Design, I first worked for a college in Washington as one of their in-house designers. At the time, I was long-distance dating my husband who was attending law school in California. Since long distance wasn’t ideal, I started looking for design jobs in California, and was hired by a software company as their designer. During the recession the software company did not have enough full-time work, so I was unexpectedly transitioned to part-time employment. That was when freelance sort of became an option more out of necessity than a deep desire. Now, I had of course done small projects here and there for people on the side, but nothing on a consistent basis. I began networking on social media, started collaborating more with other designers, and created an online portfolio. I found some amazing designers through twitter that had the same passion for design and started forming friendships and working relationships with them. By doing these simple things I started getting freelance work. I certainly didn’t go into the field of design with the intention of becoming a freelance designer, but I am so lucky life veered me in that direction because I truly love the work I do.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
Word of mouth. Referrals have been huge for me since the start. Doing good work for each and every client you have, no matter how big or small, is so important when running a small business. You never know who may be referred your way by past clients, so treating them well is crazy important. I also have had clients find me through Instagram, Twitter and even Pinterest. Social media is such a great tool for bringing in clients who connect with your work, value your aesthetic style, and want you as an individual because of what you personally bring to the table.
"Doing good work for each and every client you have, no matter how big or small, is so important when running a small business. You never know who may be referred your way by past clients, so treating them well is crazy important."
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
I really think it is vital to find when, how, and where your productivity and creativity is best fostered. Whether that be the time of the day or your environment, through trial and error, try to nail down what works best for you. Some feel creative in the wee hours of night, while others enjoy knocking out their work before the sun comes up and the day really begins. Some work best in shared office spaces with the energy that comes from being around others, while others prefer the quiet solitude of a personal home office. Find the best formula that breeds creativity and productivity.
For me personally, I have found that I work best in the mornings. Focus has to be one of the biggest keys to productivity. My mind is the most focused at the start of the day so that is when I work on items that need my creative attention the most. I like knowing I have gotten something done early on, just in case the rest of the day gets away from me. I usually try to tackle the most important items on my TeuxDeux list and do my best to try to avoid the productivity killer of social media. But as you all know, that is always a challenge. During those hours in the day where you know you aren’t the most creative, maybe prioritize admin items, and email responses. Don’t try to force creativity, let it come to you in an organic way. I try to make sure I allow for time to create an array of bad content, so that I am not stressed out and have time for that good content to come to fruition.
After having a babe, I have had to be much more flexible with my ideal work time. I have just finally started to get back into a creative groove again after the transition of having a baby this past year, and I have rediscovered my productivity vibes in the early evening after he goes to bed as well. I am definitely not taking on the amount of projects, or working the amount of hours I use to. I do get some babysitting assistance from my in-laws, who we recently moved closer too. That time is limited, however, so I have to really try to prioritize and work as efficiently as possible within those hours. I know eventually I may want to hire someone to help with babysitting allowing me to get more done on a daily basis, but I am also trying to be present while he is this age. I know these days where I get to be home with him are numbered and before I know it he will be in school and I will have more hours to focus on work, but for now I am trying embrace these days.
I will say I have definitely become much more selective in the work that I take on in this season of life. I only have so many hours to create, and I want to work with folks who value my work as a designer. If I am going to be sitting at my computer, I want it to be for the purpose of creating work I am proud of. I truly want to be evolving as a designer, and taking on the type of projects that propel me forward and into areas that challenge me creatively. Taking breaks, walking away from the computer when you are forcing creativity, getting out into nature, these are just a few ways I have found that helps me to work more efficiently and create in a more productive manner.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
Learning to say no. I use to say yes to everything. Now, at the start I don’t think this is a negative. When you are first starting out into the world of freelance design I think taking on work where it is offered is a way to hone your skills and build your portfolio. But, once you are more established in your field, I think saying yes to everything can start to really kill your creativity. After a good amount of trial and error, I have figured out that it pays to take the time to get to know a potential client before taking on a project. I am not a good fit for every client, and in the same way every client is not a good fit for me. Ask the right questions right at the start. Figure out what projects are truly in your wheelhouse and which ones you should pass along to someone who is a better fit. Early on in the conversation I analyze whether the project is something I want to take on, if I am the best fit for the specific needs of the project, and if the design direction lines up with my own aesthetic. Having those different elements align helps me to feel inspired and create the best outcome and final product for my clients.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
The flexibility and versatility that comes with working for yourself in an area you feel passionate about. Choosing projects and clients that I connect with drives me. Those first stages of concepting the design direction and creating a mess on your artboard are always crazy. At different times you think, nothing is working how you want it to work. But, then when you finally land on something and find a visual solution you know truly represents their brand, that is the best feeling.
"Those first stages of concepting the design direction and creating a mess on your artboard are always crazy. At different times you think, nothing is working how you want it to work. But, then when you finally land on something and find a visual solution you know truly represents their brand, that is the best feeling."
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
I think presenting a cohesive vibe through your social media presence is pretty crucial. Try to use a similar voice throughout your online presence. I hate to use the word ‘authentic’ because it can sound so cliche, but presenting your truest self will bring in the type of clients who will want to work with you. Also, lately I have been doing my best to try to post more recent work in my portfolio. It is so easy to work for clients and never take the time to work for myself. I find it so much more challenging making time for my own brand. But, I think it is really important as designers to put the work we create out into the world, showing the kind of work you want is necessary to bringing in more clients that speak the same language visually as you do. What you put out you get back. If you don’t want to do anymore wedding suites, stop posting those. If you want to design book covers, start a personal project and challenge yourself to put it out for your audience to view. Whatever you put out there, that is what is going to resonate with people. So show only the best and the type of work you want to be doing more of.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Hire people who know what they are doing and who have strengths in areas that you may not be as solid in. This allows more time for you to focus on the aspects of your business that are your strengths. For example, I hired someone right at the start to help me set up and teach me the basics of Quickbooks. I had no idea what I was doing, and spending that time learning how to account for items correctly and how to invoice clients was such a lifesaver. I also have decided to pay someone to do my taxes each year. Just doing these two things has saved me a ton of headaches and made things much more organized once tax season comes around every year.
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
This is the constant struggle. I honestly don’t think there is an exact perfect formula to finding a work-life balance. I think at different times in your life the balance shifts between both, if that makes sense. Before I had a baby, I used to work super late at night, through the weekends, but it wasn’t exactly necessary and I wasn’t working all that efficiently. About two years ago I started to slow down, and started trying to work better and smarter. Of course anyone who has little ones knows how your time changes once those babes come into your life. Priorities shift and your days are not just your own. This can totally be an amazing time and a positive thing if you try to flow with this change and learn a new way of how to work, and be flexible with it all. You really have to prioritize differently by working better, creating more efficiently, and doing it all on a bit less sleep. I really want my little boy to grow up seeing his mama happily pursuing something she is passionate about, hopefully it will inspire him in some small way to find something he loves and feels a purpose in and then work for it.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Organization, Good Communication, Drive.