We are excited to introduce you to Creative Lady Directory member Jill Mars, an illustrating, graphic-designing, photo-taking, hand-lettering, doodle-making, rollerblading, board-gaming, problem-solving, 90's-nostalgia-ing kid at heart from Chicago!
We love her vibrant and playful designs and deeply appreciate the thoughtful wisdom she shares in this interview. You may want to pull out a notebook for this one, enjoy!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance graphic designer and illustrator.
The place is Manhattan, NY. The year is 2001 and the Twin Towers are still standing strong. I snap some photos on my disposable camera of skyscrapers, McDonald’s Golden Arches, and a cobranded Absolut Vodka/IKEA, three-dimensional billboard from the top of a double decker bus. The billboard shows a life-sized studio apartment in the shape of the Absolut Bottle that is filled with furniture. I am a 9-year-old tourist who is completely captivated and infatuated with what I see.
You could say that I took that double decker bus all the way to art school and never looked back after that. Upon graduation I started working right away at a design agency downtown and from there on worked in-house at the Museum of Science and Industry, dabbled in the startup/tech world, made quite a few mistakes along the way and learned a lot about myself! Out of a need to be independent, and a desire to do work that makes me happy and fulfilled as possible, I took a leap of faith into the wondrous and wishy-washy world of freelance!
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
Word of mouth, self-promotion and networking are three of the most organic and authentic ways I was able to attract my first good clients. As a freelancer, you are more than just a designer. You are your own publicist, marketing team, accountant, and face of your brand. Creating awareness around who you are and the services you offer are key. There is no shame in savvy, strategic, self-promotion. There are tasteful ways to showcase your work and your personality which may result in a new contact or project. Be open to meeting new people and learning from them. You never know where it will lead.
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
Everyoneʼs definition of an “ideal client” runs the gamut. My ideal client sees the value in what I do, trusts in my capabilities, and recognizes the benefits and impact thoughtful design can have on one's business. I realize that not every client will fit this exact description but at the end of the day I try to pursue the ones that do.
Being flexible, honest, and genuine also goes a long way in attracting ideal clients. Help them help you. If they are not sure what they need or what you can do for them, extend an invitation to jump on a call or meet up to go over how you can best work together and benefit one another. A little goes a long way and speaks to the type of professional you are.
I also try to showcase the work that I love or aspire to do with self-initiated passion projects and put them out into the world. Do the same and the work and (hopefully) the clients you want will follow as a result!
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Make a deal with yourself. If you successfully work X amount of hours (without checking social media, treat yourself to a walk outside, a coffee, or a bath (I donʼt have a nice tub, but you might!), then get back to it! Set a timer. Create to-do lists and check off each item as you finish them! Itʼs really satisfying.
Another thing that works wonders when youʼre feeling stuck or unproductive is to switch up what youʼre working on. Jumping between different projects not only helps your mind reset but gets new ideas flowing.
Last but not least, phone a friend. Sometimes connecting to someone helps you feel inspired and ready to tackle even the least glamorous of work.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
Self-doubt and self-comparison. Both of these go hand in hand and I am working diligently on not letting either. happen. ever. With social media itʼs so easy to compare yourself to others even when the person you might be comparing yourself to has been in the game ten years longer than you have. The quote “Self-comparison is the thief of joy” holds true—So letʼs quit comparing and keep creating for ourselves!
What is one thing you wish you knew when you were just starting out?
Itʼs ok to ask for help. Whether it be from a fellow freelancer, a friend, or a family member. Secondly, itʼs ok to fail. It doesnʼt mean youʼre not good enough. It just means youʼre learning as you go and will be better because of it. We are all like perfectly sound musical instruments that need a bit of fine tuning before we can perform to our full creative capabilities.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
*Answer still loading* Ask me again in another 6 months. IN ALL seriousness it really comes down to how organized you are and want to be. What works for one person doesnʼt always work for someone else. If numbers and spreadsheets give you anxiety and cold sweats then get that accountant girl!
How do you whet your creative appetite?
Bookstores. Running. Coffee shops paired with people watching. Laughing (a lot), non-creative activities and things that allow me to turn my brain off, AKA the occasional trash TV show. All of these things when done right lead to killer personal projects and solid freelance flow. They also help me get out of my own head! Who would have thought?!
Do you have any advice for maintaining work-life balance?
HECK YES! Separate your designated “work space” from your “living space”. But Jill, I live in ( studio—Been there. Even if you can create an office of sorts with a divider wall or makeshift curtain (StuDIY) where you can “clock in and out”, creating that distinction will make all the difference in the world. There will always be more to do. The sooner you make peace with that the sooner you will get the work-life balance youʼve always desired.
Any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?
Music: Alabama Shakes. Always Alabama Shakes, Chance the Rapper (Chicago represent!) Bahamas, Big Thief, Frank Ocean, Shakey Graves, Bob Dylan, Vance Joy, The Beatles, Elvis Presley... the list goes on.
Podcast: Creative Pep Talk and Women of Illustration
Book Recommendations: I LOVE books! When Iʼm not reading them, I am usually looking at their cover designs. I prefer Audible for commuting reasons and am currently listening to Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson. Childrenʼs books are near and dear to my heart—I have quite the collection going!
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
passion, patience, persistence
supercali, fragilistic, expialidocious
thrifty, clever, flexible