Linda Dieschbourg is one-half of the duo behind Kinlake, a full service creative studio that designs and lives on the go. We found Linda through our Creative Lady Directory and were instantly captivated by her story. If you've ever wanted to pick up, travel, and work while doing so, this interview is for you. Never considered it? We're pretty sure you'll be making plans for you next adventure after getting lost in her journey. Enjoy!
Tell me about your path to becoming first a freelance designer and then a digital nomad designer.
It all happened quite organically, although somewhere inside of me, I always knew I wanted to do something creative with my life! I had always been the awkward one in my classroom who was too busy daydreaming or sketching something. I went to a design school because I thought it would be cool to learn about making beautiful posters!
However, for me the real learning process & creative growth happened right when I started working on my own projects. On a day before I graduated, a friend of mine asked me to design their flyer. Then, an acquaintance asked me to design a poster. Then, I was getting hired to design graphic identities for people who heard about me. Little by little, I found myself being “self employed” and filling my days with meeting like-minded people, designing, and even doing huge mural illustrations. It was a blast, although I was terrified that it would end at some point, that it was too good to be true, and that this wasn’t “really” happening to me. Luckily, my life naturally took a turning point. I had to quit my day job because my project schedule was getting too busy - that made it all feel very official to me. It also felt so right and gave me the confidence to just pursue it.
Later, my husband (boyfriend at the time) quit his job as a designer in a small agency, and started freelancing as well. We quickly realized that since we were practically working in the same field, that we could just “work together” instead. That took some guts, because we each had our very own style & perception of things, but…we put our egos aside and went for it. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done, because we quickly realized we were just made to work as a team! There was so much more we could do, together.
Becoming a nomadic creative studio was also something that happened progressively. After we launched our studio together, we had travelled several times with our laptops (when we had to work during holidays) and even while we were in Luxembourg, we had always enjoyed changing environments and working from a coffee shop, instead of being stuck in one place. We realized that this “nomadicity” was crucial to our inspiration and our ideas. We just felt so much more creative when we were moving around.
So, little by little, we started connecting the dots on how to turn it into a work setup & lifestyle for the long run. We figured out a travel-friendly way to work and to connect with our clients as well as a flexible schedule and a portable creative setup. We analyzed our entire life expenses in a really nerdy way, compared different possible lifestyle situations, we put up our place on airbnb and experimented with that for a while…We also happened to meet many interesting people through the process (and during our travels) so this gave us the extra confidence to just do it full time.
I love everything about it: the ongoing inspiration, the newness of moving to new places, finding our balance & routine on the go while being immersed in different cultures, continuously recording ideas & thoughts and cultivating creativity daily… So far we’ve worked from incredible places from Europe all the way to Asia & Australia. Just as each of our projects has added to our growth, so too have each of those places has added an extra piece to the puzzle. It’s truly a journey.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
I still feel funny about it all (remember - I was kinda terrified and didn’t think this was “really” happening to me) but if I really have to take a step back and think it through, then I would say that I attracted the right people by simply sharing what I do. I mean this is where it can all start - people needed to see what I was capable of. And this is still valid these days - sharing what we do is a huge, huge part of our business.
When starting out as a freelancer, I think it’s very important to overcome your fear of “not being good enough”. Personally, from the moment I stopped being shy and started sharing some of my work from time to time, requests started coming in. At the beginning, not “all” of those were the right clients, but you need to start somewhere. They became the right clients when I started gaining some more confidence and started sharing more of the work that I WANTED to be hired to do again. For me this kind of work was: 1) Projects such as brand identities for small businesses, where I could be trusted as a creative and enjoy a long term relationship with this one inspiring person. 2) Any other creative experiments and arty missions where I could express myself through illustration, hand-lettering, and art direction.
Any project that I wasn’t truly proud of, and that I wouldn’t want to do again if I had to, I would simply not share. I still really believe in this principle: if you want to get hired to do what you love, then you must only share what you love to do. It’s kinda like curating & shaping your creative destiny :)
As Kinlake, you are one half of a design team. Can you tell us a bit about what it is like to work with your partner?
Working with David has been a blessing for me. If he wouldn’t have joined forces with me, I would have probably still managed to work by myself, but having a partner like him is definitely a huge bonus.
It’s just so good to have somebody by your side, who shares your vision and is there when you need some feedback. David and I work on everything together, so when either of us doesn’t feel very inspired or productive, we are always there to motivate each other, to brainstorm and throw ideas around. Creatively speaking this is also very interesting because our two perspectives always fuse in the process of designing something, so everything that we do feels like a balanced blend of our personalities. We each pull our inspiration from different places, but we meet somewhere in the middle. The style & ideas that come out of Kinlake really feel like a fusion of both of us. There’s my playful & handmade side, and then there’s his balanced, detail-oriented side. We just complete each other in every way! I think that in the 9 (almost 10) years we’ve been together, we always have been - we were just too cocky to admit it :)
Kinlake is “us”. Our spirit lives through it. It’s …like our brainchild, our creative baby.
What advice would you give someone who is considering joining forces with a spouse, friend, or colleague to design as a team?
Teaming up with the right person can feel amazing and so empowering .
I would say you HAVE to feel like you can be completely honest with each other - this is the foundation of any healthy relationship but it’s especially important when you have a business together. Any bullshit, or misunderstandings, or passive aggressive tendencies (instead of sheer transparency) can quickly brew up a massive shitstorm. So choose your partner wisely: it should be someone you should be able to really communicate with, at any time of the day, to say whatever is on your mind. Or that makes you feel like you could do that in the long run. Bonus points if you both like the same music, same food and enjoy sending each other funny cat videos in between ;)
Another tip I could give to people who are working as a team, is to be aware of each other’s strengths, weaknesses & boundaries. You can figure those out by experimenting with many different working styles to see what works for you: Experiment with your schedules. Experiment with delegating certain tasks to each of you or doing them together. Experiment with being away from each other or working in the same room. See what works for you, and have fun while at it.
Our personal story is a bit strange because we spend 24h a day together, we never shut up and we keep bouncing ideas around like there’s no tomorrow. That’s our thing, but you do you.
You and your partner are always on the go, living or traveling to new places. Do you have any tips for being your most productive in this nomadic setting?
Absolutely! For us, one of the keys to living a nomadic lifestyle and running our creative studio on the go is to actually travel very slow. This means that we usually spend at least 15 days in each location we travel to. When you work while travelling, it’s important to make time to find a good routine in each new place. The first few days are usually absolute discovery mode as we like to absorb as much as we can from our surroundings, explore our neighbourhood, adjust to the culture and so on. It’s only after a few days that we start to feel comfortable around a particular routine. Not just knowing when & where to work, but also how to organize our daily lives, like where to shop, where to eat etc - and what cool places to go to, to get inspired. Then around that, a routine starts to form and our schedule starts to stabilize - we know how to structure our days between designing, replying to emails, following-up with clients & looking for inspiration.
We also make sure that our accommodation has everything we need, so we can work/live comfortably. We’ve lived in lots of different kinds of places, from modern condos, to shared urban flats, to jungle shacks. But we always like to make sure that those are well located in an interesting neighbourhood, have a decent bed, a kitchen (as cooking is fun and it helps us stay within our budget) and have a reasonable wifi connection as well as table/desk where we can spend some time creating & working from our laptops. Friends around the world, Airbnb & even house-sitting help with that :)
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
We are quite picky about who we work with, and that’s generally a very good thing. For us it’s very important to only accept projects we believe in - we go a lot with our gut, and our heart. It’s so essential to our process because we are essentially cultivating long term relationships and we just love to be our client’s creative sidekicks. We are really passionate about their projects, so much that we sometimes find ourselves talking about them & sketching ideas in the middle of the night or on the way to somewhere. We LIVE for that. It means so much to us to work with amazingly kind & interesting people who really connect with us, who love what we do, and who we have a beautiful mutual feeling with. They are usually small business owners with great ideas. We are so grateful to help people like that with our creative skills.
Once every blue moon, though (thank goodness, really only in rare occasions) we have to deal with a client who …turns out to be complete and utter douchebag. It’s devastating when that happens, because we do everything we can to avoid it and stay as polite as humanely possible. But it’s really the worst thing for our confidence, as well as the transparency, creativity & meaning we are trying to cultivate in our lives.
However, a rainbow always comes after a (shit)storm. Any time this has ever happened, the incident gets followed by another beautiful project request by someone new that’s incredibly kind, who we fall so much in love with and who becomes our bestie. These are the relationships that we live for!
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
I have quite a few!
- Not having to take shit from anyone (even from the rare bad client, haha), because you are your own boss and you get to choose how things will unfold, from your day itself to your entire life & career. There’s nothing more empowering. Being your own boss also means you have to wear many hats and be in complete control of where you’re going. I really hate accounting, for example, but it makes me feel so good to know how we’re doing on a financial level, and be aware of what we can improve on a day-to-day basis.
- This comes hand in hand with …flexibility. Oh boy, it’s so amazing to be able to work whenever you want, where you want and however the hell you want. For the sake of structure, (and work/life balance) David and I usually stick to a 9 to 5 schedule anyhow, but we don’t have to feel guilty if things switch around a little bit: if we feel uninspired, if we feel like we want to sleep in a little more than usual, no worries. Also, that means we can technically decide to have a mid-afternoon coffee date with a friend if we want to, or go to the grocery store at midday when it’s least crowded, avoiding all possible traffic jams and not having to ask anyone a special permission to “leave early”. The day is ours.
- Variety! We experience it a lot as a consequence to pursuing creativity.
David and I do this in a broad sense and like to fill our days with lots of different activities that inspire us. And even though we specialise in certain things through our studio (such as art direction & branding) our services and the work we do varies so much every day. No day is the same. On a single day, we may spend the morning brainstorming & sketching ideas around a client’s brand, then whip up a creative lunch, spend the afternoon designing a quirky website or meeting someone new on skype, go on an inspiring walk where we will take loads of photos or forage flowers to create some DIY decor with… maybe even edit some photos for our blog in between, or pin some ideas for personal projects and travels. We never, ever get bored.
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients while you're constantly on the road?
As I mentioned before, sharing a lot of what we do is a huge part of our business. This doesn’t necessarily mean sharing only “studio” related stuff such as projects, sketches and so on, but also sharing a lot about us and our lives.
We do not only want people to see us as a “design studio” but as a couple of interesting, creative people that they can connect with. We want to be open and make people feel like they can get to know us personally. Our blog and our social media take a lot of work to maintain, but they have helped a lot in attracting an interesting audience of like-minded people, including some lovely clients who have become our best friends, regardless of where they are in the world. Many of our clients are still from Luxembourg (our home base) and we’ve met them in person, but these days we make meaningful connections with people globally, from the rest of Europe & the US for example. Being on the road doesn’t affect our work relationship at all because we have the right tools & process to handle all of our projects, independently of location. And our clients actually love to follow our travels :)
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Haaah the nitty gritty. The shitty bits ;)
I guess that in the long run, the goal as a business owner is to delegate anything that you hate doing or are really shitty at - such as …accounting. We had that taken care of from the very start and have a lovely accountant who is super supportive of our business and who always answers all of our questions. She’s also been very understanding of us wanting to be nomadic and these days we handle everything with her remotely - through Dropbox. That helps us keep a structure on our end, but also saves us a lot of time (not to mention physical SPACE) from having to give her our folders in person.
While traveling, we also have a “system” to take care of the mail that comes to our physical business address. We did request many of our bills to be paperless and sent right to our email inbox so we can access them from anywhere. Even though I believe it will be easier in the future, most of our mail still works in an old school way. So for that stuff, we have thankfully have David’s mom to help out. She’s like our little secretary, and we pay her with delicious dinners whenever we’re back home, haha! Every once or twice a month, she scans our mail & sends it to us by email. We file anything that is important, and anything that sounds like Chinese to us gets sent right to our accountant, so we can focus on the fun parts of our job :)
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
Yeeees. For goodness sake: have your weekends!!
The glorification of “busy” is …bad. We’re always told that being busy (even too busy) is a good thing. I see plenty of freelancers going on about their hustle, about working all day every day, not having a personal life etc. I’m sorry to break it to you but this is crap. It mostly means: bad management. And it doesn’t have to be like that.
Don’t say “yes” to everything and structure your work in a reasonable way. Plan your work, but plan your time off too. Put those projects in the calendar, but make room for those long brunches, yoga sessions, or netflix binging evenings, or afternoons of doing nothing. It’s not laziness, it’s self-care. A very necessary thing to re-boot and feed your creativity.
A book that really helped us find this kind of balance and to question what is noise and what is essential is called “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown. It makes you think of all the things that you fill your life with, from work to other responsibilities, so you can de-clutter it from what is just “busywork” and make more room for what truly matters and what truly keeps you a happy, balanced human being.
It seems like some changes are on the horizon for you two. Can you tell us a bit about what you have in the works?
Oh yes! Remember I mentioned that we had put our apartment up on Airbnb while we were traveling? Well… we just SOLD it. It was a tedious, exhausting process but here we are, officially with no mortgage on our back. That was just one of the essentialist things that we had to do, to move forward with our desire to have a creative lifestyle. I could say that this time in our lives is really all about “letting go”.
Right now we are fully on the road. We do however, have the intention to buy a small house that we’ll turn into a creative retreat. We spent some time thinking about where this could be. When we were in Japan, we almost thought we would end up moving there. But we made the decision that we will find it in Crete. It’s a very special place - literally where our soul lives. Every bold, eye-opening decision in our lives was taken while we’ve been there, amongst the energy of the mountains and that incredibly mesmerising scenery.
That little house will be a whole creative project on its own. We want to do a lot of things by ourselves, and decorate it in the most authentic way, to really make it feel like an inspirational sanctuary. The idea is to keep travelling most of the year, but have this place as our base, for whenever we are tired of travelling and want to experiment with slow living. Next year we’re planning to be back in Japan and explore a little more of Asia.
In the meantime, we’re also releasing some new personal projects, such as online courses very soon! The first ones will be about handlettering & photography. I’m so excited about that!
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Curiosity, intuition and a bit of craziness.