This week we have the pleasure of chatting with another Creative Lady Directory member, Juliet Meeks, a designer based in New Orleans, LA specializing in surface design, patterns, branding, and product design.
Juliet's journey to surface and pattern design has been full of inspiring shifts, from starting as an English major in college, to transitioning to a graphic design track in her senior year, to finding a calling with surface and pattern design through the 100 Day Project. This interview is a great reminder to give into the process and see where it takes you.
Thank you Juliet for sharing!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.
I started out in college as an art major, but by the second semester switched to English. I don't think I was ready to take art seriously as a career choice, but I don't regret my time as an English major at all. By senior year, a new digital media concentration within the English department got me taking graphic design classes. Design felt like the perfect way to marriage words and art - we even did a fun project typographically illustrating a poem by Pablo Neruda!
By graduation I was completely into graphic design as my career. It was tough finding a full-time job in a relatively small city (New Orleans) with not much experience, so I first did an unpaid summer internship at a local branding and web agency. I loved the branding, but web design was not my favorite. I then moved onto a second (paid!) internship with an independent designer. I was inspired by her freelance business but did not feel ready to do the same thing yet, and about one year after graduation I landed a full-time design gig at a local weekly newspaper. I stayed with them for two years, but one year in I started to realize I needed to do my own thing. I took a business plan class, saved money for almost a year, soaked in lots of blogs and podcasts, and took the leap!
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
I was working on freelance design projects even while I had my full-time job, though they weren't consistent. I got a great client because of my job, but then right when I quit they unfortunately hired an in-house designer. That would have been really helpful as the first 6 months were tough; luckily my previous job hired me during busy weeks as a contractor. Most of my clients in the beginning were referrals from friends, family, even my design professor. Then I started to get clients from people finding my website/blog, through local efforts like networking events, and finally more through Instagram.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Have healthy work habits; Make time to do whatever it is you need to do to feel like you are taking care of yourself. For me that is always enough sleep, appreciating the extra time I now have with my boyfriend and dog, yoga, and checking myself when it comes to work-related pressure.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
It is hard to have time to do everything you want to do, and unfortunately time is often tied to income as a freelancer. In order for me to have space to work on more personal creative projects, I'm setting up "passive" income avenues like online classes and royalty-based projects. These all take time, too, though! I also really enjoy designing and creating my own products, but these take money to produce as well so I'm very selective and working on creating even better designs with each new product.
What is your favorite thing about working for yourself?
It's having the flexibility in my schedule to spend more time with loved ones, take an afternoon off to recharge, or just run an errand when I need to!
It seems like the 100DayProject and 30DayProjects have played an important part in your career. Can you tell us more about those creative journeys and their impact?
When I started out as a full-time freelancer, my client projects were all brand design based. I still work on those types of projects, but the business plan class I took was all about designing my own line of pillows! I haven't made pillows yet, but I realize now that the crux of that intention was designing my own patterns and textiles. I wasn't even designing many patterns at the time, but I have always gravitated towards them. I knew I needed to create A LOT of work to figure out my design style, so on a whim I took an online watercolor class and immediately was excited to start #100DaysofPaintedPatterns on Instagram. The commitment was intense, but it was what I needed at the time. Looking back those patterns are simpler than my current work, but necessary for it to evolve. Since then I have finished a few 30 day challenges on Instagram, with another starting soon. I like the structure and 30 days feels like the perfect amount of time (but I suggest anyone to try 100 days, even if it's not every day!).
The impact of these challenges has been instrumental to my career. I feel encouraged to create lots of new work, which helps me get seen by potential clients on Instagram. I still remember the moment when Design*Sponge regrammed one of my early patterns; I know we should have validation from ourselves for our work but it helped me feel so inspired to keep going! Most of my surface design clients have come from Instagram, or snowballed because of previous clients or online press. I feel so lucky to create the work I have always wanted to make.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
I actually love these details! Here is what I'm currently using: For bookkeeping I use Freshbooks, Google Sheets, and TurboTax. I label all of my yearly expenses within my email since most of my receipts are emailed. HelloSign for contracts, CraftyBase for product costs and inventory, and Todoist is what I use every day for organizing my tasks and even working with branding clients on group tasks. I try to save 30% of all income to pay estimated taxes quarterly and as a cushion for when annual taxes come around.
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
This exists on a minimal level for me. My boyfriend is also creative, and we work in the same space, so we are both always ready to get to work on our projects. We have to make sure that we take time together to do fun things like just go to the museum or Aquarium. We do, however, take our dog on lots of walks and adventures! So I would say, you probably know what the balance should look like for you, so just take little steps that you can to get there.
How do you stay creatively inspired?
A vacation at least every few months, even just a drive to visit family, seems to do wonders when I get back. Once a month would be ideal!
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Self-direction, and a balance of confidence and modesty.