Chicago

Jillian Marsala

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!

Jillian Marsala | Freelance Wisdom

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! 
Jillian Marsala | Freelance Wisdom

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!
Jillian Marsala | Freelance Wisdom
Jillian Marsala | Freelance Wisdom

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.
Jillian Marsala | Freelance Wisdom

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.
Jillian Marsala | Freelance Wisdom
Jillian Marsala | Freelance Wisdom

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?!
Jillian Marsala | Freelance Wisdom

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!
Jillian Marsala | Freelance Wisdom

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

passion, patience, persistence
supercali, fragilistic, expialidocious
thrifty, clever, flexible
Jillian Marsala | Freelance Wisdom

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Mandy Lancia

Mandy Lancia is a lifestyle photographer, social media manager, consultant, stylist, and content creator based in Chicago. Although she steps into many different roles, her work remains consistent and her aesthetic calming. With her photographs we are reminded to appreciate movement, stillness, and the beauty of the moment. 

Mandy Lancia | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance photographer, stylist, and marketer.

I have always known that I wanted to pursue a career in a creative field. I studied communications and media at Northeastern University, so my courses covered marketing, PR and film production. While in school, I was working for a small plant shop as a social media manager, which allowed me to style, photograph and create content for various media platforms. With a background in event planning and commercial photography, I was able to create a position that allowed for a bit more freedom and creative exploration.
Pretty soon after graduating this past May, I moved to Chicago where I have been pursuing freelance work full time. While my heart still often longs for Boston on occasion, I found more creative realms and markets in Chicago that allow me to find consistent work that I enjoy. I suppose that I never really decided to become a full time freelancer, but the opportunities that I have encountered have put me on this path.

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

I have always been someone who tries to build relationships with people that I admire. With that being said, I truly admire small business owners with unique and inspiring visions. Many of the clients that I have worked with were not sought out; rather, after visiting shops multiple times and conversing with the owners, I was offered freelance work. Honestly, I couldn’t ask for anything better.
I am a strong believer in small businesses. Growing up with a single mother who owned a shop, I understand the dedication that goes into making a business successful and the steps that need to be taken in order to gain visibility and community. There is beauty in the strength of independent businesses, which is why I tend to work exclusively with small shops and brands that I love.
Mandy Lancia | Freelance Wisdom

What advice would you give to somebody starting out in photography/styling?

Just create. When I began this venture, I didn’t even really know that I began. I loved capturing images with a thoughtful and minimal aesthetic, which then led to a cohesive set of images that portrayed my style and personality. Always keep your eyes open for inspiration, whether it be a friend, a time of day or the movement of light through the window of the coffee shop you frequent. Just always be looking and learning from your surroundings. I think understanding and appreciating movement is of great help when it comes to styling. Even in a still image, the way that the objects, clothing or setting are placed, create an emotional response with viewers. There is a trend of styling beautiful images, but if you want to work in styling photographs, remember to create a moment, rather than just an image.
Mandy Lancia | Freelance Wisdom

"If you want to work in styling photographs, remember to create a moment, rather than just an image."


Mandy Lancia | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

  • Make lists and use a calendar. Freelancers can very easily become overloaded, so make sure to keep schedules and agendas to get the most time out of your day, without becoming overwhelmed.
  • Be open and curious. Productivity doesn’t necessarily apply to a specific project. When you are meeting someone new, talk about your interests and skills; while at a coffee shop, ask the person next to you if they are enjoying the publication they are reading. The act of reaching out and creating a relationship can lead to so much more than an interesting conversation. Many of the jobs I have taken on have come from conversing at an event or telling a friend that I am interested in showcasing female business owners.
  • Believe in yourself. In freelancing, you are your brand, your work, your vision.
Mandy Lancia | Freelance Wisdom

"Believe in yourself. In freelancing, you are your brand, your work, your vision."


Mandy Lancia | Freelance Wisdom

Can you tell us about your styling process?

When creating styled work for a client, I begin by asking them what they want their images to convey and where the images will be used. This gives me a sense of the backstory behind the scene I need to create. From there, I decide what products will be used in the shoot (this is my favorite part!) Through touching, moving and visualizing the products and the setting, I can then narrow down to the essential needs of shoot. Depending on the story being told, I then source additional objects to be used (i.e. florals, linens, plants). In terms of the actual styling, it is a fairly fluid and natural process. With the images that are in my mind, I am able to begin the creation, but the rest flows from there. As I have said before, movement is important in my process, so I tend to style objects of different heights, shapes and sizes in order to create a realistic environment.

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?

Having a consistent workflow, I would say, has been the greatest struggle. While I have only been freelancing full time for three months, I have seen weeks that are packed full of projects, while others are lacking. Since I am trying to sustain myself and make a living with this work, not having a set schedule can be a blessing and a curse all in one.
Mandy Lancia | Freelance Wisdom

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

My favorite aspect is the freedom that it gives me. I am able to work at any given time, while still allowing for personal projects or travel. I am extremely lucky to have created a career path that I wholeheartedly love. From styling a thoughtful, simple breakfast, to photographing a fall clothing line, to baking a cake for content creation, rarely does my work ever feel like work; rather, they are simply projects that I can fully delve into passionately, which I think comes across in the finished project.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

I truly think that showcasing my cohesive style attracts new clients. Whether it be through my Instagram feed, my website, or my personal project WITH/ANOTHER, people or businesses who are interested in working with me can understand the aesthetic, consistency and work ethic that links all of my projects.
Mandy Lancia | Freelance Wisdom

Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

Since I do feel super fortunate to have a career that doesn’t feel like work, I don’t necessarily feel as though my work and personal time are that separate. If I was not styling projects for work, I would be doing it for pleasure on my own time anyway. With that being said, it is difficult to turn my mind off from thinking of new ideas, projects or ways to showcase my work. I try to take some time to myself every morning before I really start my day through either a cup of coffee, yoga or simply listening to an inspiring podcast or album while I am getting ready.

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are: 

Dedication, passion, and curiosity

Get Social with Mandy

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