Welcome back and Happy New Year!
This week we are chatting with Aimee Guzman, a Creative Lady Directory member, graphic designer, brand strategist, and founder of Little Trailer Studio in Los Angeles. We love her clean lines, soft color palette, and general optimism and spontaneity. Thank you for sharing with us Aimee!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer and strategist.
I'm going to break this question down in three parts in order to give you more of the full picture.
I received my degree in theater and LGBTQ studies (yes that's a thing!) from UCSB but a few years into the "real world" I realized I liked graphic design. So after getting fired from my corporate job I figured that was the perfect opportunity to explore more of my creative side and my curiosity in design and I decided to do that in Mexico City. While hanging out there for a summer I volunteered at a travel magazine called Travesias and that's where I was really exposed to design. After spending a few weeks there I saw how cool it would be to have a career where I get to argue with coworkers about fonts.
So once I came back from Mexico City the next thing was how to get a career in design. I completely felt like I was starting over and I thought I was too old to do that (keep in mind I was only 23 at the time). But I felt that having a career that I knew I would love was worth the wait. Design isn't a career where you can just switch over, you need a portfolio and the easiest way I thought to do that was to go back to school. I had many people telling me to just teach myself by watching youtube videos but I know my learning style and I knew that having a nicely laid out curriculum would be less overwhelming and more my style. While I was in school I got a design job on campus, I became president of the design club and pretty much surrounded myself with all things design.
My first official design job was working as an in-house designer at Pressed Juicery. It was extremely fast paced and I enjoyed working in the marketing department because it showed me the role that design plays in a larger message and a business' goals. I liked the environment, the free juice, and the whole world of wellness that I was exposed to but after a short while I felt that it was time to move on. When I started looking for potential jobs I didn't really see anything out there that fit the type of clients I wanted to work with or the type of design I wanted to do. And keeping it real, I didn't feel that my portfolio was up to par for the jobs I was attracted to. So my plan was to quit and then freelance for a while until my portfolio was good enough to get my dream job. Along the way I thought to myself "hey maybe I should give this freelance thing a real shot and open my own studio." So I quit my job without really knowing what services I would offer but I was really ready for the next chapter of my career. So I took the plunge and never looked back!
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
I'm still in that process now. I think the more specific I've gotten with what I want my position to be in the market and who I want to attract is when things started falling in to place. I recently redesigned my website and got clearer on my services and approach to branding and that for sure has given me more visibility with the right type of clients.
Can you tell us a bit more about your brand strategy process?
My process revolves asking a lot of questions and getting to the core of a business. It's easy for clients to say "make my brand look like that brand over there" or "so-and-so is doing xyz on their Instagram so I'll just do that." And we've all been there right? But I help clients set the foundation so that every business decision stems from who they are and what their clients need from them. We get really specific on who their customer is, determine brand attributes, the brand voice, what makes their biz special and different from the rest. After doing extensive discovery session I get to work on the visuals which is the fun part! My clients love seeing how strategy gets translated into something you can actually see.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Figure out when you are most creative and design your schedule around that. For example, I used to start my day by reading blogs and just perusing the internet, but now I get straight to work and save my reading/social media time for when I need a break. Another thing I do is have my phone on silent and on the other side of the room. That way I'm not interrupted and don't have the temptation to check my social media every half hour.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
My greatest struggle has been figuring out what type of business model works for me. Do I want to be a soloprenuer forever? Do I want to grow a team? What are my offerings? That type of stuff.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
My favorite thing is knowing that all my successes are mine and all of my failures are mine. It used to bother me when higher-ups at previous jobs would make bad decisions that affected me but I had no input in. And I like that my success is dependent on me just having the courage to do it!
"My favorite thing is knowing that all my successes are mine and all of my failures are mine."
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
One thing I've started doing is create work that I feel represents my aesthetic even if it's not actual client work. I also think about what my ideal client (I've named her Elena) is going through and what does she need to see, think, hear in order to trust that I'm the best choice for her! Then I design my marketing strategy around that. ;-) Also the new website has definitely helped!
What do you do to stay creatively inspired?
Having a social life and traveling keeps me the most inspired. Even being a tourist in my own city gets me inspired. The other day I took the bus around Santa Monica with a camera and just took a bunch of pics like a tourist. When I came home I had the cutest idea for a little owl logo that was inspired by a hotel I came across. For me personally it really is about having little adventures like that and pretending like I'm in a Wes Anderson movie.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
I just started using 17 hats for sending quotes and one thing I love about it is that the client can approve the quote, sign and give their deposit all at once. They can even add add-ons to the quote. So for example, let's say they want to add on an email template and social media banners, I've already set a price for that so they can easily check those little boxes and they get automatically added to the quote!
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
I want my business to succeed but I also don't want to work so hard that I resent my business so for that reason I don't work on weekends unless I really really really really have to and I don't take my laptop with me when I travel for the holidays. I also don't check my email when I'm out and about. Basically all the stuff that I didn't like about my previous jobs I make sure I don't do in my own business. Ultimately you have to decide where your boundaries are and stick to them because once you let things slide it's too easy to get stuck in bad habits. And I make a real effort to leave my apartment on weekends and hang out with non-business friends.