We are so excited to speak with Chelsea Fullerton Jones and Emma Brooks this week! These lovely ladies are the graphic design duo behind Hands-On!, a digital design shop that sells affordable, fully-customizable design templates that are ready for you to open and edit, all on your own. If you're in a design partnership and curious how other partnerships work, if you're looking to perhaps collaborate with someone in the future, or if you just need some good advice and inspiration, this interview is for you, enjoy!
Tell me about your paths to becoming freelance designers.
CFJ: I graduated with a BFA in design at UT in Austin and immediately began freelancing. I did part-time contract work for another small design firm, Viewers Like You, and the other time was spent finding my own client projects. After several years I launched Go Forth and transitioned to my own studio full-time. My years with Viewers Like You were invaluable, as they taught me how to run a small business and successfully manage projects without losing my mind.
EB: When I finished my BFA program at Oklahoma State, I moved to Berkeley, California with my boyfriend (now husband). He was accepted into their PhD program and I…. had nothing lined up, yikes! My game plan was to apply to any and every job I could get my hands on. I had high hopes that someone would appreciate my teeny-tiny portfolio and major lack of experience. Surely some super hip San Francisco design studio would hire me, right?? Wrong. I couldn’t find a job and was literally down to a couple hundred dollars. From there, I spread the word that I was taking on projects and slowly (very very slowly) built up my client base and launched Emmadime. I also opened up a little online knitting shop to help pay the bills. It was a rough year but I made it through the dip and haven’t looked back since.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
CFJ: Even if it’s just 4 projects in your portfolio, only present the kind of work you want to do. It’s better to have a small collection of fantastic work than a ton of projects of things you’re not proud of or don’t want to offer anymore. That’s going to attract your dream customer and dream project. And to get those first projects, try emailing business owners who you’d like to work for. There’s a good chance they’re in need of some design help.
EB: My blog ( currently under construction ) played a huge role in my overall exposure. I was posting every single day about anything and everything. I also started a series called Lovely Lady that featured creatives and their personal style. This was the first time I experienced the magic of cross-promotion.
"To get those first projects, try emailing business owners who you’d like to work for. There’s a good chance they’re in need of some design help."
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
CFJ: Knock out some small tasks first, which will give you momentum to keep working on larger tasks. Try and limit the amount of instagram/snapchat/text/email checking you do during the day. It’s a challenge, but worth that extra chunk of time!
EB: At the end of each work day, I create a very focused to-do list for the next morning. Waking up to a solid plan always feels like I’ve already won one for the day! This positive momentum usually keeps me on a chipper productive path.
"At the end of each work day, I create a very focused to-do list for the next morning. Waking up to a solid plan always feels like I’ve already won one for the day! This positive momentum usually keeps me on a chipper productive path."
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
CFJ: When a client isn’t over the moon about the designs I create, I’m hard on myself, wondering what I could’ve done differently. Sometimes they’re not going to love what you do. I’ve learned you have to do your best to make something they love, overdeliver, don’t take it personally, and then accept the outcome and move on.
EB: If I’m being honest, Money! Talking about money, saving money, making money, anything money related, ha. I’ve learned that in order for me to enjoy my work, I have to not only feel valued but I need to be compensated fairly too. I know this sounds obvious but negotiating my rate is such a pain-point within my business. People crave great design but have a hard time paying good money for it.
You two recently collaborated to bring Hands-On!, a digital design shop, to life. What inspired you to join forces and design together?
Both: The idea to collaborate formed during a conversation about shared frustrations and dreams! We were craving a new experience — one that still involved design and helping people but wasn’t limited to the more involved custom projects we had been taking on for so long. We were also at a point in our friendship where we knew it would be an incredibly fun and effortless collaboration. We finish each other's sentences on a daily basis. If that’s not a sign that we’re a good fit, I don’t know what is.
Do you have any advice for handling communication as a partnership that works together from different states? Are there any tools that you use to make this easier?
Both: We obviously use all of the normal, more obvious tools that are available: gmail, chat, google docs, phone calls... We did our very best to stay organized but there is so much information to share when you’re starting a business, it was pretty out of control at first! We also started sending video recordings to each other, to make sure we were on the same page and clearly communicating what was in our head. Phone calls and video chats are obviously good for this too but sometimes our schedules wouldn’t match up and we needed to capture thoughts right away. We just shifted to Slack and are obsessed! It’s a great way to chat about multiple topics at one time.
What is your favorite thing about working as a freelance team? Least favorite?
Both: Favorite — An idea is much stronger with two people building and editing it. Least Favorite — The distance. Communication can be difficult and being in the same city would allow for more friend time.
How do you work to keep your working relationship from interfering with your friendship?
Both: When we visit each other ( which doesn’t happen enough ), we allow for plenty of fun breaks for friend time, no business talk. Champagne, pedicures, and movies.
When we’re apart, we’re always talking, whether it’s about the business or personal stuff. We just recently put a new rule in place that we can’t text each other about work — only friend, real life talk :) As of last week, we decided to get on the phone every single morning to chat about the day’s tasks. We slip friend chat into these calls, too. You HAVE to make time for it!
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Both: Selling a product is new to both of us and we’re learning a lot as we go. We share a handful of google spreadsheets that cover everything from expenses to Instagram growth. To be honest, it’s easy to put off the nitty-gritty business details ( we’re guilty of this! ) We learned the hard way that it’s crucial to have a clear plan and to collect and analyze data about your sales and customers.
"To be honest, it’s easy to put off the nitty-gritty business details ( we’re guilty of this! ) We learned the hard way that it’s crucial to have a clear plan and to collect and analyze data about your sales and customers."
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
Both: Consistent Instagramming ( daily, if you can! ) and a newsletter that covers three categories. 1) Personal and fun 2) Valuable advice or resources 3) Details about your existing or new products.
Since you are your own bosses, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
Both: We’re working towards evenings and weekends off but anyone who freelances and works from home knows how tough that can be.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Both: Self-Motivating / Passionate / Organized