Los Angeles

Kati Forner

Kati Forner is a Los Angeles based designer, with over 10 years of experience in print, digital, and production. After studying classical design and form at Arizona State University, Kati began her professional career in Chicago working with several design agencies. Three years ago, Kati brought her studio to Los Angeles where she is currently accepting new design opportunities. 

Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.

I started in college, studying Graphic Design at Arizona State. The program director was originally from Basel School of Design, so the curriculum was focused more on traditional design principles and less on learning the actual software needed for design execution. This principle-based structure played a huge role in me finding my design voice, and not always relying on the computer to find visual solutions.
A couple weeks after graduation I packed up, moved to Chicago, and began working at larger agencies with mostly stale corporate clients. It took me about 6 years to realize that wasn't for me. Between that and the rough Chicago winters, I made the decision to move to Los Angeles, where I wanted to work with smaller studios. I spent my first few years at a couple different shops. When you do not have the luxury of support staff, like say at a big agency, everyone has to wear many hats. That is honestly where I learned a lot about the business side of running a studio.
To be completely transparent, I had a bad experience with one studio that honestly pushed me to want to start my own thing. I didn't have a set plan, but I knew I could not carry on with the way things were. So, I took the leap completely unprepared. I was terrified. But, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made and I wish I would have done it sooner. However, my experience with large and small studios was crucial to getting me to where I am at now.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

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

With the quick decision to go out on my own, and with no plan in place, I had zero clients lined up. Not the smartest move, but it forced me to hustle. I reached out to businesses I wanted to design for and started putting my work out into the world, sharing on Behance and Instagram (something I had never done before). I gradually began to build up my portfolio with the few projects I was taking in, and those started to attract other like-minded clients.
I also consciously made the time to photograph and art direct every finished project, working on photoshoots with my partner, TJ Tambellini. I think this played a huge role in attracting new, interesting clients.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I try to stick to a schedule throughout the week. As a personal rule I try to take all meetings between 9:00-11:00, and then I can focus on concepting and design until I stop for the day. But having that uninterrupted design time is crucial to my personal process.

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

Definitely work/life balance. I truly love and am passionate about what I do. Because of that, I have a hard time taking breaks and saying no. For the first year or so I worked almost every weekend and 10-13 hour days. Not the greatest for my mental health, and it started to affect not only my work but my personal relationships as well. I'm still working on this, but I have learned the importance of, and am getting better at, setting boundaries and taking breaks. Obtaining more of that balance is a big goal of mine in 2018.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

Coming from the 9 to 5 world, the flexible freelance work schedule is obviously a perk. But as I mentioned before, in the beginning I felt like I was more strict with my schedule than if I was working at an agency. Over the last few months I’ve learned to embrace my situation more and allow myself more flexibility.
I also love the ability to choose the projects I'm passionate about and truly excited to bring to life, something I wasn’t able to do at first. Being able to work with more creative, artisanal brands has been so refreshing, especially thinking back to my more corporate agency days.
In addition, I am lucky enough to work with a majority of women business owners. Being able to play a small part in bringing their vision to life has been a super rewarding part of going out on my own.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

When you take on jobs that you are passionate about the final work shows. Then our portfolio resonates with other similar like-minded clients.
I also mentioned this before, but art directed photoshoots of finished collateral is an important investment. I know there are great mockups out there... but it makes for a much stronger presentation when you show the identity the way that you’ve intended it to be seen. Whether it's detail shots of the textured paper, or a custom sticker you created to seal an envelope, you made all of those decisions for a reason and when potential clients see these details it makes them want something equally as thoughtful. Working with you becomes even more appealing to them.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

Tell us about the biggest creative risk you’ve taken in your career and what you learned from it.

So far, taking the leap to start my own studio. I'm overly cautious in life so risk-taking doesn't come easy to me. However, I am planning to make some exciting changes this year so stay tuned!

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details? 

I use Harvest to keep track of my invoices, payments, and expenses. It's super useful and connects to Quickbooks seamlessly. I use Asana for scheduling and project management. I have also recently brought on a Producer to assist with larger projects so I can focus more on design and less on the project admin tasks.

How do you whet your creative appetite?

Stepping away from the computer and looking for inspiration outside of graphic design always works for me. To be able to understand what makes good composition and harmony not only in graphic design but also in architecture, interior design, music, cinema, photography, etc., makes for a well-rounded creative in my opinion.  
In addition, my partner is a photographer and musician with great taste (if I do say so myself :-)) so he is always exposing me to new and interesting things that I most likely would not find on my own.
And not to sound too cliche but travel is the absolute best thing to stir up creativity. In general, exposing myself to different and new perspectives always inspires.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

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

I know this is something that I still need to work on. However, setting boundaries and passing on projects I'm not passionate about has been working for me. In the beginning I basically took on every project that came my way and worked crazy hours in order to meet unrealistic deadlines. Burnout quickly set in; it's impossible to be creative and produce your best work when you're mentally exhausted. I made some changes last year including taking on fewer projects at a time, trying to work as little as possible during the weekends and keeping that time for myself. This has helped a ton.

Any special projects you are looking forward to?

I am working with a super amazing actress/model who is creating an equally as incredible lifestyle brand and I'm also working on the branding for a few fashion and beauty brands that I'm excited to share soon!
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

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

Crazy strong work ethic.
Passion for what you do.
Having a point of view.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

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W E B S I T E I N S T A G R A M

Cristie Stevens

Cristie Stevens is a collaborative Art Director and Graphic Designer based in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in creating and elevating lifestyle brands through brand identity, website design, and packaging and has worked for clients across the globe including: Hyatt and Marriot Hotels, Shiseido, Delonghi, Westfield, and Virgin Mobile.

We are so glad to have met Cristie through our Creative Lady Collective Facebook group and are especially excited to share her wonderful insights with you here today. Grab a notebook because you are going to want to write some of this down!

Cristie Stevens | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming an art director and graphic designer.

I was born in Australia but grew up in small New Zealand town located two hours south of Auckland. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved all things creative. At high school I took every creative class I could and would regularly skip maths, economics and science to develop photos, paint and practice my photoshop skills.
After studying Media Arts at university in New Zealand I landed my first design job at a digital agency where I was quickly thrown not only into design, but hands-on coding and developing for large scale web projects.
After 18 months I jumped at the opportunity to relocate to Sydney, Australia where a larger and more vibrant creative community exists. Initially I worked for a few churn and burn agencies where I wasn’t being creatively challenged. I was put through my paces and the experience helped me develop a sense of my strengths as a designer and the ideal type of work I wanted to do.
I managed to land my dream job at a high-end boutique digital agency working on clients such as The U.N, Westfield and Virgin Mobile. There I was mentored by Creative Director Jack DeCaluwe (currently Associate Creative Director at Instrument in Portland) who played an enormous role in shaping my creative skills. The agency folded during my second year there, falling victim to an industry wide downturn, leaving me to go it alone as a freelancer for the first time.
I spent some time freelancing for agencies and while the money was great, the work itself wasn’t feeding my creative appetite. A recruiter approached me with a senior position at Sydney brand agency, Squad Ink. They had the clients and projects I was dreaming of, plus the role was primarily focused on branding which is where I wanted to shift my focus. I was torn between the flexibility and financial gain of freelancing and the incredible opportunity to work on my dream projects. In the end it was an offer I couldn’t turn down and my time there offered me the opportunity to build premium hospitality, retail, food and beverage brands from the ground up.
Even while working at agencies I’ve always tried to work with a few select clients on a freelance basis. I think it’s important to build your own client relationships and test yourself outside of the agency model, even if you’re not planning to freelance in the immediate future.
Cristie Stevens | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

Automate, streamline, schedule and batch as many tasks as possible. I’ve just implemented Calendly so clients can choose from preselected time slots of availability, eliminating unnecessary email loops.
Keep your mundane tasks for when you have the lowest energy - usually the afternoon and try to prioritise your tasks. What are the most important things you need to do today? Narrowing down to a max of three things makes big projects less overwhelming. I’m still working on this but having a clear goal in mind of what you want to achieve on that day is a good way to prioritise.
Another thing I preach for being your most productive self is to take breaks. I’ve always made taking a lunch break a priority as part of my day and not just sitting inside while eating your lunch but getting outdoors, breathing the fresh air, getting sunlight and moving your body. I’m a huge fan of lunchtime exercise and try to make it to the gym or take a walk, even if only for 30 mins. I can’t tell you enough the world of difference this makes to my mental state - especially if i’m stuck on something. Giving yourself distance from a problem can really help to put things in perspective and spark new ideas.

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

My greatest struggle so far has been related to my health. Most people don’t view an office job as being hard on your body, when in actual fact it can be. I developed a chronic pain injury about three years ago due to the repetitive nature of my work and constant use of a mouse. While I’ve mostly recovered now, it’s still something I deal with every day. This has made working on personal projects after hours difficult because I know if I overdo it I could hurt myself again. It’s all about setting boundaries and being realistic with how much time I’m spending behind the computer.
I think an industry-wide challenge is the rise in design crowdsourcing platforms promising top creative work for $29.95 and the online entrepreneurial ‘guru’s’ preaching the virtues of these services to paying subscribers eager to hear how easily they can launch a successful brand for next to nothing in a matter of days.
It’s not that they’re a genuine threat. There’s a place for these services but the reality is nobody gets a well-thought-out brand for $30 yet the idea that exceptional design comes easy or virtually free persists. Filtering out the bargain hunters from those who understand the value of the deep creative thinking and strategy that goes into any worthwhile project is a constant battle.
Cristie Stevens | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any advice you can share with regards to attracting ideal clients?

I think a lot of attracting good clients is knowing who you want to work with and the type of work you want to do. Getting really specific about your dream client helps to clarify things in your mind and allows you to filter out people who may not align with your core values.
By narrowing down on your target you’re able to put your full attention into seeking out those clients rather than spreading yourself thin looking for just anyone. Plus, setting your intention sends out those good vibes to the universe. Energy flows where thoughts go.
You want to make it easy for potential clients to find you so sharing your best work on any platform they’re likely to be looking is super important. I used to be really shy about showing my work other than on my portfolio site but over time i’ve learnt that it’s not a bad thing to promote yourself a little - because if you don’t do it, no one will. Be your own champion.
Also, like attracts like. When potential clients see you’ve created a successful brand for a business similar to theirs it alleviates some of the anxiety they face about deciding if you’re the right person for the job. My advice to anyone hoping to change the direction or focus of their work is to create something for the market you hope to reach, whether that be a self-initiated brief or taking on a client at a lower rate than you would normally charge, knowing it will help get you more of the same work in the future.
Cristie Stevens | Freelance Wisdom
Cristie Stevens | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details? 

I’ve been fortunate to work in small design studios for most of my career which has allowed me to get pretty hands-on in all aspects of business and design.
Get organised
If you’re about to make the leap from full-time to freelance make sure you have some systems and processes in place right from the beginning. You’re going to need to invoice, send proposals, write contracts and track your time. Paying for a service such as HelloBonsai or AndCo is something I would recommend. They have all of the features you need to start out plus you get to see when a client has viewed your proposal or contract.
Manage your finances
Create bank accounts specifically for your business. Have an everyday account, a tax account and maybe even an expense or savings account. Making sure you put 20-30% of each job’s earnings into your tax account so when that time rolls around you don’t get caught out. If you use your business account to pay for all things work related it will make an accountant’s job much easier (and save you time) when it comes to doing your taxes.
Automate your accounting
There are a bunch of cloud accounting systems out there but the most commonly used are Freshbooks, Quickbooks and Xero. These will help you automate tedious tasks such as bank reconciliations and expenses.
Use contracts and get deposits
It’s super important to have a solid contract with every client (especially as a freelancer) to protect yourself if a bad situation arises. Sites like Docracy are great. You can use their AIGA master agreement if you need something a bit more formalised than HelloBonsai or AndCo’s contracts. Get a 30-50% deposit before starting any work with a client and negotiate kill fees should they unexpectedly cancel the project.

How do you whet your creative appetite?

Inspiration is all around us. Getting out from behind the screen to explore the world around me is always so much more satisfying than finding it on your computer. I’ve recently moved from Sydney to LA so everything is new for me. I have a deep love for mid-century modernist architecture and design, so California has been a huge source of inspiration. I also get way too excited walking into foreign supermarkets and seeing the different products on the shelves.
Cristie Stevens | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

My advice to any freelancer would be to enjoy the downtime as scary as it may be. Use it wisely to regroup, recharge and refocus your energy on your next move. Being your own boss is amazing but it’s also super hard at times - you not only bear the weight and responsibility of running a business and all the decisions that go with that, but also the financial instability. If you’re able to create a source of passive income it can help take some of the pressure off. Knowing your rent is covered each month can have an enormous impact of your state-of-mind.

Are there any projects on which you're ruminating that you'd like to make time for someday?

I’ve slowly been writing a book for the past 8 months but finding the time to make space for it has been tough. I’ll get there one day.
Cristie Stevens | Freelance Wisdom
Cristie Stevens | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?

I’m really into business and self-development podcasts. I’m sure it’s been said repeatedly but the Being Boss podcast is great. Kathleen and Emily are so generous with their content which is genuinely helpful for any creative. I also enjoy The Side Hustle Show by Nick Loper - it’s so interesting hearing how people are making passive income on the side of their full-time gig. Pat Flynn’s, Smart Passive Income and Tara Gentile’s Profit. Power. Pursuit are also good ones.

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be an effective self-directed creative are:

Persistence - Keep on keepin’ on. Persist in making good work, whether it be for a client or for yourself. Persist in showing your value, learning new skills, and knowing your worth.
Resilience - It’s hard not to take things personally. Keeping a calm, level-head and always remaining professional will get you far and keep your reputation in good standing. Learn from your mistakes and use these lessons to make things better the next time around.
Initiative - Work won't always fall on your lap so use your downtime to create self-initiated projects that could benefit you in the long run. Also, getting out from behind your screen to meet with as many people as you can is a great way to make connections and can lead to new and unexpected opportunities.
Cristie Stevens | Freelance Wisdom
Cristie Stevens | Freelance Wisdom

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Liz Kuball

This week we are excited to talk with Liz Kuball, a photographer based in Los Angeles with roots along the shores of Lake Michigan. Her work has been exhibited across the United States and editioned through 20x200. Liz's clients include the Ace Hotel, Condé Nast TravelerThe New York Times, Refinery29, and The Wall Street Journal. AND we are so lucky to have her as a member of our Creative Lady Directory!

Thank you Liz for sharing your captivating photos and empowering insights. 

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance photographer.

I majored in English, worked in house for a publishing company as a copyeditor for a couple years, and then went freelance. Editing was never a job I wanted. As a freelancer, I stuck with editing a lot longer than I would have if I'd stayed in house, because I enjoyed a lot of the perks of freelancing (mainly, the freedom to live where I want and set my own hours). For a while, I thought I wanted to be a writer, and I went to grad school for writing in my late 20s, but I wasn't feeling it and I was floundering a bit. I took an independent study course toward the end of my time in grad school, and at the beginning of the semester, the professor told me he wanted to put together a reading list for me, to try to give the semester some focus. He asked what I was interested in. I said, "I've always been interested in photography," and that changed everything. He had me reading Susan Sontag and Janet Malcolm and thinking and writing about photography, and by the end of the semester, I knew I wanted to be a photographer, not a writer.
After I got out of grad school, while continuing to work as an editor, I started teaching myself how to use a camera and also studied the history of photography. I took a couple classes at a local community college, but really just started taking lots and lots of pictures and looking at the work of other photographers. I started a blog in 2007 and fell into the fine art photoblog community. I started showing my work in group shows and editioned a couple prints through 20x200. But something still wasn't right. I didn't like the split between my day job and the thing I loved to do. For years, I had worried that if I made photography my job, I would hate it because I had hated my day job for so many years. But finally, in 2014, I decided I would start going after photo assignments.
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

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

I started by making a list of all the publications I wanted to shoot for. Most of the publications were places I had in mind already, but I also looked at the client lists of photographers whose work I admired and felt some connection to or thought shared a similar aesthetic. I did test shoots (basically, self-assigned stories along the lines of what I hoped to be assigned someday), and I shared those images with the photo editors I wanted to work with. I put together a print portfolio, and I went to San Francisco with it, and then to New York. Slowly, I started getting assignments. I started sending out postcards once a month, with handwritten notes on the back. I went to New York again, this time with a much better book, and took more meetings.
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

Can you tell us a bit about what your photography process looks like?

For my personal work, it's largely about heading out the door with my camera, usually on foot, but sometimes behind the wheel of my car, and just looking for photos. If I'm doing it right, I'm not in my head too much. Thinking is my greatest roadblock. Being in my head too much, second-guessing myself and what I'm doing, can be debilitating if I let it.
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelance photographer so far?

Having confidence in myself, not allowing self-doubt to creep in, focusing on my own work, not getting distracted by what other photographers are doing.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

The freedom.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

It's really more of the same: making good work and getting it out there. If I feel like I'm not getting the clients or assignments I want, I never forget that it's because my work just isn't there yet, and that means I need to work harder and shoot more. Never losing sight of that means I'm solely responsible for my failures. I think some people have trouble with that, but I find it comforting, because it means it's within my control. If I make great work, the clients will follow.
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

Liz Kuball | Freelance Wisdom
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

Do you have advice regarding choosing the clients with which you work?

For editorial photography, I think it's really about knowing your work, and knowing the magazines and newspapers that would be a good fit for you. I don't think it hurts to go after clients who might not at first glance seem like a good fit for your work, but then you should be able to talk to those editors about why you're approaching them.

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?

Because I've been a freelancer since I was in my mid-20s, I feel like these details are second nature to me. I don't have an accountant. I do all my own taxes (using TurboTax). I keep a spreadsheet of all my assignments, how much I invoiced for, and when I invoiced. I keep another spreadsheet of all my expenses and scan all my receipts. I save a percentage of every check I get for estimated taxes. (The first year I freelanced, I didn't know I was supposed to pay estimated taxes, and I've never made that mistake again!) The past few years, I've used YNAB for my budgeting, and that's made a huge difference just in terms of not stressing about money and making sure that I always have enough to cover the kinds of expenses that crop up unexpectedly.
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

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

I often hear from friends that they wouldn't be able to work from home. They think they'd never get any work done. For me, that's never been an issue. In terms of making sure I don't work too much, when I was editing, that wasn't hard because I didn't love the job, so I just did as much as I needed to do to pay my bills. As a photographer, I actually don't even want a work-life balance. I want photography to be my life, so I never feel like I'm working too much. I love it! I just want more!

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

Usually, it has nothing to do with looking at photographs. I'll see a movie or read a book or take a trip, and that gives me new ideas. 
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

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

Confidence, discipline, and an open mind.
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

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