After 10 years of designing for someone else Heather Hale decided to give freelance a try. Hale House is her freelance endeavor where she works as a graphic designer specializing in branding and illustration with a retro flare. She is also the Creative Director at May Designs (which recently launched a collection at Target), previously worked for Hallmark Cards, and is a mother of two.
We found her work through our Creative Lady Directory and love how she describes design as really being all about relationships.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom Heather!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance graphic designer.
Ok. The older I get, the more I appreciate how rare this story is, but I knew I wanted to be an artist in KINDERGARTEN. I dressed up for career day in a smock, beret and paint palette in hand at age 6. I come from a family of painters (mom, grandfather, aunt) so it makes sense, but as I got older I knew that I wanted my career as an artist to be lucrative and graphic design seemed like the right fit! After 10 years working for other people (Hallmark Cards and most recently May Designs) I decided to give freelance a try!
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
Whew! This was so intimidating to me! I knew I could do the work and I knew what kind of clients I wanted, but I did not know how people were going to find me. There were a couple of things I did in the beginning that really helped me to attract dreamy clients.
1. I wrote out goals on my wall calendar each month: revenue goal, marketing goal, and IN PERSON MEETING goal... ha! hello, introvert! Yes, I had to make a very conscious and calculated effort to meet people. I didn't put any pressure on the meeting and it didn't even have to be a prospective client. Working full time and being a mom had me in my car, in the office or home with kids... I just had to get connected with other humans again. This naturally led to so many opportunities. Telling your story and staying top of mind is important.
2. When I finally got brave enough to charge what I'm worth, the serious clients started finding me! Pricing my work was so uncomfortable! So many emotions wrapped up in a fee. Fear and Shame "What if this is too much?" "What if they think I'm ridiculous" ...I was lucky enough to find a business consultant who wanted to trade services and she really helped me shift my perspective. It all clicked and it totally makes sense that the clients who are willing to pay more for a branding package are the clients who are going to take the process and "you" seriously. Ah! Thank you Katie Wussow.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
The thing that has been working for me recently is to stop and work when inspiration strikes... even if it's not a convenient time. Freelancing gives me the flexibility to meet my son for lunch and be home to greet my kids when they get home, but it also means that we're ordering pizza instead of mom cooking if inspiration strikes.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
I was surprised to find that I actually really enjoy setting meetings, monthly goals, accounting, invoicing. So weird. And the part that was the hardest was actually sitting down to do the work. There's something so terrifying about the beginning of the creative process for me. Staring at that blank art board is so intimidating, but I've learned to push through that initial feeling of resistance because it ALWAYS works out!
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
Relationships! All of my clients have become my friends and the community that I've created with other designers is so rich!
How has becoming a mom changed how you work and/or the types of projects you take on?
When I was first starting out I felt like I needed to say yes to every project. It was that classic scarcity mentality. "I'm going to say yes now, because what if I have no clients next month?" I noticed that a friend of mine was booking her clients out. Sometimes even months in advance. After seeing her do that, I started paying closer attention to client expectations for timeline and found that most people didn't even blink an eye at having to wait a month to get started. This was a game changer! It's given me more freedom in my schedule knowing that the next couple of months are taken care of. I can relax and have a better work/life balance.
How do you stay creatively inspired?
I believe it's important to invest in personal creative projects. No client influences or deadlines. Just fun! Earlier this year I decided it could be a good exercise to reinterpret old loteria cards (mexican bingo). So anytime I have a little bit of free time OR hit a slump, I pick another card to illustrate.
Since you are your own boss, and mother of two, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
Hire a maid! The clutter and mess in the house can be such a distraction when you're working from home. And practically speaking, the hours you spend cleaning would be better spent designing. Really anything you can delegate as you grow is a step in the right direction.
Any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?
War of Art by Steven Pressfield I sort of referenced this book in my answer to my greatest struggle.
"Art is a war - between ourselves and the forces of self-sabotage that would stop us from doing our work. The artist is a warrior."
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Support system - family friends who love you
Professional community - other designers to share ideas, ask questions, talk through client frustrations
Drive passion - you have to really want it!