Meg Summerfield is a graphic designer and blogger hailing from the small state of Rhode Island. Armed with her MFA in graphic design from SCAD and loads of Squarespace knowledge, she runs her own studio Meg Summerfield Creative, as well as her food blog Summerfield Delight. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Squarespace Design Guild, a membership group for designers who use the Squarespace platform.
We're loving the reminders she sprinkles throughout this interview to set our own paths. Thanks for sharing your wisdom Meg!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.
My path towards freelancing started back when I was a kid, designing brands for just about everything and anyone who had an idea. A sketchbook would come out of my backpack and naming and brand values would begin. I ended up going to Rice University for Architecture as an undergrad and knew pretty quickly I never wanted to cut foam core again in my life. As soon as I realized that I wanted to be a designer, I knew I would work better independently, but knew that I had to probably get my feet wet a bit. I went directly from undergrad into my MFA at SCAD to working remotely while designing full time for a high end photography studio.
Through the insane amount of work I was doing juggling custom work for the photo studio and my MFA I had a pretty big interest in taking my career to the "next level" when I graduated. I thought that it had to be "up" the food chain, so I started working in-house for a large handbag brand here in New England. The dream of working directly with high end magazines, vendors, getting my work seen at fashion week, in hundreds of thousands of homes was all flashy and fun, but I felt creatively like I was on an island far away from where I wanted to be. So in the evenings, I started my own food blog, it became my savior and that place where I learned to be a digital designer not just print, and got to know the online freelancing world much more. After leaving my in-house job, I worked for a few other blogs including Style Me Pretty before deciding to jump into full time last June 2016.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
By becoming involved in the community I wanted to be involved in! I originally attracted design clients for food blogs in Squarespace because I am a food blogger, and became involved with local food blogging community. I wasn't just a designer saying I could do x,y,z...I actually had a real life example that was tangible. It was better than any portfolio item I had at the time for showing clients my skills.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Don't be afraid to define your own rules. When it comes to being productive, you don't have to get up early, or work late nights if it goes against the lifestyle and productivity for your creativity. Scheduling admin/data times and sticking to those is key, but allowing yourself to work at weird hours when creativity strikes is key to letting yourself really become an artist and not make your freelance career feel stuck in the mud.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
Learning that others paths and methods aren't going to work for everyone! When I first started I looked up processes, methods, ideas for streamlining clients, but in the end, they never felt perfect for me. It took me a while to feel confident in "doing it my own way" - the entire reason I started this in the first place.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
My favorite thing about freelancing is the way that your career can mold and change over time. In the corporate world my answer for "where do you want to be in 5 years" was never one my interviewers loved, but it was the truth. I want to be creative in my every day life. Freelancing allows me the opportunity to keep that as a mainstay in my career path, and let the other parts be what moves around me.
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
I keep my portfolio pretty limited and not show all of my projects - just the ones that fit my ideal client. This is the norm these days, but I also make sure every other piece of paper the prospective client sees is branded that way. Contracts, proposals, media kits, process documents, questionnaires are all branded so that they feel immersed in the brand experience. If a client shows their friend the proposal, I want them to see my "style" from JUST that pdf.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
This is a common theme, but doing it YOUR way is so important! If you love your oldschool invoices than keep them, if you are terrible at email - hire someone! Don't feel like you have to use an automated invoicing software if you aren't behind it 100%. This is your business not someone else's!
Just over a year ago you launched Square Design Guild, a community resource and inspiration source for designers and artists using Squarespace. Can you tell us more about this project?
A few years ago I was trying to find others like myself, designing on Squarespace for their clients, and kept looking and looking and never finding the community of people to chat to, discuss options and learn tips and tricks from. One of my friends (Jamie from Spruce Rd) asked me to join her for one of her Lunch and Learn webinars and it was then I realized maybe it was ME who had to create the forum for us to come together. I am so glad I did because now we have an incredible community of over 70 designers who are incredible friends, designers and colleagues!
What do you do to stay creatively inspired?
Get away from all things creative! I find inspiration when I change what I'm doing 100%. Sitting on the beach, hiking, taking a long lunch (sans cell phones), and most of all cooking. I find the structure of a recipe, combined with my inability to not change a recipe allows for creativity and structure which bring me back to my "normal self". Disconnecting is the key to me being refreshed to find new inspiration.
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
Ask for help! Whether that's a VA, an accountant, a friend to vent, you don't need to hold the weight of your business on your shoulders by yourself. Delegating and finding emotional support will allow you to find your own path to what YOUR work-life balance looks like.
Are there any projects that you're ruminating on that you'd like to make time for someday?
Oh that makes my brain go into overdrive just asking that! I would love to really get back into food blogging one day. I put it on the back shelf for the past year or so, and wish I could dive into it with full force.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Independent, Fiercely Driven, and Ready to Learn at All Times.