Meet Jamie Starcevich, a graphic designer and the owner of Spruce Rd., a boutique design studio. At Spruce Rd. Jamie and her team specialize in establishing brand identity systems for organizations that leave lasting impressions on their audience. This encompasses everything from the logo, typography, color, pattern, print collateral and web design. Jamie and her team consistently push beyond aesthetics, and develop creative solutions. Read on for some wonderful freelance insights.
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance graphic designer.
Early in my graphic design pursuit, I was confident I would never pursue a freelance career. Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, and I saw the countless hours they worked (and still work!), and just knew that wasn't a lifestyle I wanted for myself or my family. I remember my professor was convinced I would own my own studio one day, and I just laughed at the notion — confident that wouldn't ever be the case!
Yet, here I am today SO thankful that freelancing is the path I took. Before recognizing that freelancing isn't so bad, I worked mostly as an in-house designer (for a church and then for a university). This is what built such a strong foundation for me and gave me unique perspective into holistic branding beyond design. Don't underestimate those in-house designers — I learned a TON from my co-workers there, and gained valuable experience!
Following a few years of in-house jobs and freelancing on the side, I worked at a design studio, unable to freelance due to my contract. Long story short, I was uncomfortable with the business practices there and left after a few short months. Knowing we were leaving the city in less than a year, I didn't want to commit to another full-time job — so I took the jump and started Spruce Rd. full swing (with no overlap)! Not the path I'd recommend for everyone, but so thankful it's the road I've taken.
Since opening Spruce Rd., I now work with a team of freelance designers + illustrators on client projects and love where this journey has taken me!
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
Blogging! Throughout my years of in-house design, I was diligently researching how freelancers were able to work with such dreamy clients. One common thread I found was through their blogs. I took note, and decided to make the commitment to blogging right out the gate with Spruce Rd. Soon enough my posts were shared on Pinterest, and clients were coming my way.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
It's really different for everyone, and changes based on circumstances. Right now, I've found I need to get out of the house to be productive. Whether that is at a coffee shop, Panera or a co-working space. I think there's something to be said with associating a certain place with your focus. For me, that place is not in my home.
"I think there's something to be said with associating a certain place with your focus. For me, that place is not in my home."
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
The greatest struggle is my overwhelming desire to do #allthethings at once. I'm such an idea person, and when I get a new idea for an offering, class or product I want to drop everything and work on it right then. Instead, I know it isn't wise to rush these things, so I take a much longer term approach to my brand. It is a struggle to have this constant itch to move forward, yet knowing that I need to finish what I've started first.
Because I know this about myself, I've built in one day a week dedicated solely to side projects. No client work, emails or social media, and just pure brainstorm or execution on these wild ideas. Sometimes they don't make the light of day, but that part of my process is so crucial to me so I embrace it to prevent frustration.
"I've built in one day a week dedicated solely to side projects. No client work, emails or social media, and just pure brainstorm or execution on these wild ideas. Sometimes they don't make the light of day, but that part of my process is so crucial to me so I embrace it to prevent frustration."
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
My absolute favorite aspect of freelancing is the freedom in exploring new ideas, concepts and strategies for my business. When working as an employee, I always had to fall within an established process or system. Not to say those systems were terrible, but I definitely have a unique + narrowed perspective when it comes to the branding process. It's a much better fit for me to dictate the standards than to follow a pre-set path.
I've really enjoyed exploring new avenues for Spruce Rd., such as collaborating with other freelancers, offering classes, and shaping our branding process. I no longer feel stifled by existing systems and theories, and instead feel rejuvenated in the exploration.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Rather than list a series of apps I use and love, I would mostly recommend focusing on your process and find systems to help streamline it. With so many new bookkeeping, project management and social media apps it can get overwhelming. Instead, create your own process first and find the app that simplifies it for you, rather than trying to create a process around an app. Your clear processes are what will bring the most ease in your business.
Aside from setting clear systems, I highly recommend collaboration. Through working with an accountant, an assistant and freelance designers, I've allowed more breathing room for myself. Not only has this relieved me, it's opened doors to new clients and allowed Spruce Rd. to grow tremendously. It truly is a win/win/win for myself, my team and the clients.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Focus, endurance and humility — with humility at the top of the list.