Audrey Elise is a designer with a knack for cultivating brands through thoughtful design and compelling storytelling. Over the years, she has worked with hundreds of different clients from a variety of industries including online shops, non-profits, brick and mortar vintage stores and photographers. A couple of years ago she found her niche, which is designing for fellow creative entrepreneurs.
We are so glad to be starting 2018 off with her interview as it is full of inspiring and motivating wisdom regarding new beginnings and leaning into discomfort. Enjoy!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.
I got into design way back in the Xanga / Livejournal days. I was a part of the personal blog scene in high school back when grunge design, having friends lists on your website and Panic! At the Disco were still cool. I mean, all of those things are still cool, but back then everyone thought they were cool too. Through that I came across a few amazing designers & illustrators - like Pawel Nolbert and Olly Moss. They had beautiful portfolios that included work for really big clients like The New York Times and Nike. With their portfolios they had contact pages for people to reach out and hire them. I thought that was awesome — and a pretty neat way to make a living. From then on I wanted to be a freelancer.
After graduating high school, I moved out, spent a few years figuring life out (like you do) and eventually opened a graphics shop on Etsy selling banners and logos for shops. I went through hundreds of clients on there — which was awesome because it allowed me to learn and grow, both as a designer and a business owner. It wasn’t long before I outgrew that, moved my entire business to a dedicated domain and left Etsy behind.
Along the way, I learned as much about the technical part of design as I could. Online articles, books, classes, podcasts — you name it. The design community is big and beautiful and there are so many resources out there to teach yourself design if you have the desire to learn.
I’ve been a full-time freelancer from the beginning, even back in the Etsy days.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
I did a lot of concept work in the beginning to showcase my skill, and I focused on presentation. If I could make my portfolio (the site itself and the case studies) better, I did. I went through a lot of iterations when I was just starting out. That’s one of the upsides of being new and knowing that not many are watching you — you have more freedom to explore and take risks.
I didn’t wait until I got the kind of projects that I wanted; I made concept projects that I would want to work on. Clients will hire you to do the work that’s in your portfolio, so it’s important to make sure your work reflects that.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
For the business side:
Invest in and utilize software made for small businesses. Freelance Wisdom’s resource page is a great place to start. Try out a few and see what works.
For the design side:
Make sure to maintain good file structure and never work destructively. Keep past iterations and working versions of all of your logo concepts. Organize as you go. Learn hotkeys. Hotkeys will save you so much time if you bite the bullet and learn them early on.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
Curating my Instagram feed.
Overall, paying my dues was probably the hardest part. In the beginning, there was definitely lots of ramen noodles and stressing about how I was going to pay rent. And that’s okay. You can’t come into any industry as a newcomer and expect to charge market rate. The important part is persevering through that season. Know that everyone has to pay their dues, one way or another. That season doesn’t last forever. If you love design, are relentlessly passionate about doing your best and ready to learn about how this whole “freelance” world works — you’ll make it. It’ll be hard, but with work ethic, talent and time — it’ll pay off.
On an ongoing basis, letting things go and being kind to yourself when things don’t go perfect. From working with big agencies to listening to incredible podcasts like Honest Designer’s Show, I’ve learned that everyone has projects that don’t quite go like you hoped. Plans change. Clients don’t end up signing the proposal. Feedback is delayed. Mid-project the business name changes. Sometimes you don’t nail the design. And you know — that’s okay. Everyone in every level of business in every industry has things that don’t go as planned. As long as you accept it, roll with it and learn from it — you’re doing okay.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
Building a career because I had a dream when I was 12 that I wanted to have a portfolio on the internet and people would hire me to do what I love.
Working until 2am, waking up at 10am, going on a brisk run, taking a few calls, catching a plane, landing in SFO at 10pm, sitting in an abandoned food court to answer a few quick e-mails and send out some invoices before my ride gets there. Not every day has that itinerary, but the flexibility to do so when I want to is awesome.
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
I don’t ever want to grow comfortable and coast. Sometimes it’s tempting to relax, especially when you’re getting consistent inquiries just by maintaining social media, but I firmly believe that comfort is the enemy of progress. I want to consistently get better and I want my latest project to be the best work I’ve ever done.
Tell us about the biggest creative risk you’ve taken in your career and what you learned from it.
I don’t know if “risk” is the right word, but not having my “process” written in blood as well as working with agencies. Both of these things have led to me accepting projects that are so far out of my comfort zone and what I typically show on my Instagram — and each time it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Clients are going to hire you to do work that is consistent with your portfolio but that’s not always the case when designing identities under Creative Directors. And sometimes it has been really intimidating to work on projects with huge corporate end clients in industries I have never touched — but discomfort means you’re growing. It challenges you and forces you to learn and do things you wouldn’t normally do. I love it.
Do you have any tips for closing out 2017 and setting yourself up for success in 2018?
Go back and review all the work you’ve done for 2017. When you’re in the thick of it, it can be hard to maintain perspective and appreciate everything you’ve made and accomplished.
And if your body of work isn’t as large or as good as you hoped, go into 2018 with the plan to do one small thing everyday to get you closer to your goals. It doesn’t matter how small. We’re all the culmination of the choices we make each day and the only way to get where you want to go is to actually take steps to get there — even if they’re baby steps.
Any special projects you are looking forward to?
Daily Logo Series 2018! Volume 02! I don’t know what I’m going to call it but I am PUMPED.