graphic design

Stitch Design Co.

Courtney Rowson and Amy Pastre are the creative directors and founding partners of Stitch Design Co., a multi-disciplinary studio of designers, developers and thinkers. As listeners and storytellers, they combine imaginative ideas with thoughtful design solutions to craft and cultivate brands. 

We are grateful that they both were able to take time away from their full design schedule to share more about their decision to form a design partnership, what they love about working together, and how they've managed the growth of their team overtime. 

Stitch Design Co. | Freelance Wisdom

Tell us about your paths to becoming the co-founding duo of Stitch Design Co. How did you decide to join forces and start a design firm together?

When we first moved to Charleston, the design community was relatively small. We met while working at an agency and quickly realized we shared similar interests both personally and professionally. We both had mutual respect for each other’s work and opinions. Over the course of the next few years, we continued on separate career paths but found ourselves bouncing ideas off of each other and talking about design and business. It was 5 years after we met that we decided to take the leap and form a company. 

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

At the time we started Stitch we had been independently working in Charleston each for 5 or 6 years. We both had fairly established networks, which we reached out to at the infancy of Stitch. We had a few key clients who put trust into our new company and we made sure not to let them down. We looked at the smallest job or client as a big opportunity and put lots of effort into every relationship and project that came our way. We started to share our work through submittals and our blog. Organically, people started to take notice and share. The more good work we were able to share the better our client base became.
Stitch Design Co. | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive? 

We have a daily job sheet which acts as a “to-do” list. This job sheet helps to keep the big deadlines in focus as well as the small tasks that pop up everyday on our radar. Identifying what has to happen each day vs. what we need to be thinking of a few weeks out helps us to create focus and priority within each work day. 

What do you two love about working within a partnership?

There is always someone who can help solve a problem when the answer isn’t clear (which it rarely is in business). There is strength in numbers. We have found that two heads (and now 9 heads) are better than one.
Stitch Design Co. | Freelance Wisdom
Stitch Design Co. | Freelance Wisdom

What has been your greatest struggle as business owners so far?

We are fortunate enough to have a steady stream of inquiries. And while it would be very easy to say yes and quickly grow our staff and business, we are trying to grow in other ways. We have found that it is often times harder to stay small and be selective with the clients that we work with.

When did you two make the decision to grow your team and how has that growth been?

We have slowly added to our team overtime. Our first hire was a project coordinator. We were noticing that we needed help organizing our deadlines and keeping track of our projects so it felt like the first natural hire. It’s typically an organic decision based on our feeling about the work flow in our studio as well as any feedback that we are getting from our clients. We always try to look introspectively and find ways to improve our studio and client experiences.
Stitch Design Co. | Freelance Wisdom

As your team has grown how have your roles within Stitch evolved?

We still work similarly to when we started the company and are involved in all projects that flow through our studio. We work very collaboratively internally with our team, something we’ve tried to always make a part of our process.

Since you are both creative directors, how do you split up your work load?

Most projects begin with both of us heavily involved in the discovery and brand creation. As we mentioned previously, we work very closely and collaboratively, often times sitting together and brainstorming until we come up with a smart solution. Although we are in a much larger building, not much has changed since the day we opened our doors. We still share an office and sit side-by-side, working and re-working a design solution until we get it just right.
Stitch Design Co. | Freelance Wisdom
Stitch Design Co. | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any advice for handling communication as a partnership and as leaders of a design team?

Communication is the key to a successful partnership. In the beginning, we talked morning, noon and night – constantly checking in to make sure we were handling a client situation correctly or checking in to make sure we were growing in the right way. Our husbands kindly suggested that maybe we had a problem!  While we still constantly communicate, we have found a better work/life balance through the years and really try and focus on those types of questions while we’re in the studio. We also both try hard to make work as non-emotional as possible, which makes communication much easier.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

We are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating goals for ourselves as well as for Stitch. We work hard to make sure that our outward communication is in alignment with the clients that we are attracting. We believe in identifying future potential in Stitch and projecting ourselves forward in order to attract the client base we are most connected to. We have always believed that we are as good as our last project which constantly helps us do our best work. When we are focused doing our best work everything else seems to fall in place.
Stitch Design Co. | Freelance Wisdom
Stitch Design Co. | Freelance Wisdom

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

We’re lucky enough to have a job that isn’t life or death! Typically, graphic design can wait. 

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

Time management, listening skills, problem solving.
Stitch Design Co. | Freelance Wisdom

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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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Jody Worthington

Jody Worthington is an accomplished designer and art director with 15 years of experience in print and digital design. Since 2013 Jody has been running her own one-woman studio working with national brands, PR and marketing firms, non-profits and universities, retailers, small businesses, publishers, and restaurants. The variety in her experiences over her long career has led to a depth and breadth of freelance wisdom that we are so excited to share.

Enjoy!

Jody Worthington | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer and art director.

My path to graphic design was a winding one! As a kid, I had a knack for turning any school assignment into a vaguely relevant art project or comic strip. We moved around a lot (a handful of US states, Holland, Australia, and England), so I was the new kid about every three years. I became weirdly fascinated with all the different cliques at each school, and would draw them in my notebooks. One day my 10th grade World History teacher caught me drawing “The Stoners” and passed my book around so everyone could see. Super embarrassing, but I think he was secretly impressed, and that led to me becoming an illustrator for our school newspaper. From there, I learned Quark (oh, the good old days!) and switched gears to editorial design. I loved it!
But in college, I decided to major in “Digital Motion Graphics.” This was back when people were really jazzed on the concept of multimedia, but no one—not even the professors—knew how to integrate it with graphic design. So, I learned a lot about Flash animation and Final Cut Pro, but had no clue what “typography” meant.
After graduation I moved to New Orleans. I had lived there for a couple years in middle school, and had always felt a deep connection to its eclectic jumble of cultures, brass bands in the street, the scent of magnolias, shrimp poboys, and the “how’s ya mom” hospitality. It was not exactly a hub for multimedia job opportunities, though. I didn’t feel qualified for anything that was available, but somehow landed a print design gig at Gambit Weekly and scrambled to learn on the job.
When hurricane Katrina hit, everything collapsed. I evacuated to Houston at the eleventh hour, and what was meant to be a quick stay turned into weeks, then months. While in Houston, I met my husband Tyler and was hired at boutique design agency, and before I knew it three years had passed. Over the next few years I jumped from editorial design, to stationery, to advertising, to branding. When I moved to San Francisco in 2008, I found myself in a corporate-y in-house design job and began taking on freelance clients as a way to stay sane. In 2009 I started working for Minted (which, at the time, was a brand-new scrappy little startup) and was able to move through a number of interesting roles, including product development and design, marketing, and merchandising.
By 2012, I had a steady roster of freelance clients and went part-time at Minted. For an entire year, I struggled with the decision to go solo. It was a slow band-aid rip. I made all sorts of excuses not to. I thought I would get lonely. I thought I didn’t have enough discipline. I wouldn’t have admitted it, but I was really afraid of disappointing myself. But—total cliché—I finally recognized that life really is short and didn’t want to regret playing it safe. My dad had recently passed away after a 9-month battle with cancer, and the world suddenly felt different.
Jody Worthington | Freelance Wisdom
Jody Worthington | Freelance Wisdom

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

My first few clients were connections made through friends and former co-workers. I was not picky and took every job that came my way, which of course led to some regrettable situations (ahem, “learning experiences”). But for the most part, things progressed steadily. One-off clients would end up coming back for more long-term partnerships, and things grew naturally from there.
For those beginning their freelance journey, I highly recommend finding one nonprofit to work with. Make sure they value good design and that you believe in their mission. Pro bono work (not to be confused with spec work!) can be so rewarding—you’re a part of something impactful, you make professional connections, and you usually have a good amount of creative freedom. I did a lot of work for 826 Valencia in San Francisco, designing books and event branding. Working with them was such a cool experience, and although it was unpaid, aligning with such a high-profile organization helped my work gain visibility, which led to new clients who found me online. Currently, I’d say 80 percent of my new business comes from referrals, and 20 percent from people finding my work online (I owe you one, Pinterest!).

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

This one is hard. I’m always tweaking my approach. I used to force myself into a 9-5 routine, but after a couple years I realized that didn’t work for me. Nowadays, every day is different—sometimes I don’t even get started until noon. I think it’s important to work around your natural highs and lows. For instance, I definitely work best in the afternoon and evening, so I try not to schedule meetings or calls in the morning. You just can’t force productivity—at least, not if you want great results. That said, the pressure of deadlines is my number one motivator, so I’m super-duper productive the night before a due date!
Jody Worthington | Freelance Wisdom

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

Finding time and energy to learn new skills and maintain old ones. I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many Skillshare classes I’ve signed up for that I haven’t even started! One example: my illustration skills are so rusty these days. Whenever I try to get back into a sketching routine, I wind up frustrated because my hand won’t do what I want it to do, and I either give up or rush through it.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

Connecting with interesting clients, flexible hours, and getting to work with my husband Tyler! I also love the variety of work that comes with each new project. Brand identity is my focus, but with that comes the opportunity to design packaging, retail interiors, residential welcome centers, maps, magazines, to name a few. I’m not sure if my nomadic background is to blame, but I have a strong compulsion to constantly switch things up, working with different aesthetics, materials, and formats.
Jody Worthington | Freelance Wisdom
Jody Worthington | Freelance Wisdom

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

For new clients, I definitely found that refining my website helped attract more exciting jobs with clients looking for a partnership rather than a commodity. Understandably, many potential clients can’t imagine what you’re capable of until they see it. So, rather than trying to convey “Hey! I can do a lot of things. Trust me, I’m good!” I’ve curated my portfolio to say “Hey! This is what I like to do, so holler if you like it too!”
For clients with ideal budgets—this is something I really had to work up to. I used to feel awkward talking to colleagues and other freelancers about pricing, but I strongly believe that the more we open up and share our pricing methods, the more we all can grow. Knowing your worth involves knowing what your peers and competitors are worth! I’m so thankful for resources like the Pricing & Ethical Guidelines Handbook and online communities such as the Creative Lady Collective. We’re all in it together!

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

Freshbooks is fantastic for everyday things like tracking time, invoicing, estimates, and expenses. I’ve been using them for years and only just discovered their iPhone app. It’s so convenient for keeping up with expenses. You just snap a photo of each receipt and enter the details on your phone. I can’t tell you how happy I was to get rid of my overflowing nightmare of a receipt box.
For file management, it’s Dropbox all day every day. And Creative Cloud has been blowing my mind with its new magical capabilities. I have all my devices synced—it’s thrilling to beam something from your iPad straight to Illustrator.
For estimating time, here’s a piece of advice that changed my life. Rather than thinking of small, bill-by-the-hour jobs in terms of hours/minutes, think of them in terms of half-days and full-days. In reality, it’s very rare that a project would only take 2 hours. If you spec out that work as a half-day instead, you will be allowed to slow down, be more careful, and to incorporate adequate project management.
Jody Worthington | Freelance Wisdom
Jody Worthington | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

I get out and walk. If I have time, I’ll make up an errand (“Oh look, we need dog food!”) and head over to one of the many high streets here in Oakland. I just like to soak in the retail signage and storefront displays, browse in a bookstore, or just get coffee.

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

Be flexible but know when to switch off. For me, the balance is more like a constantly moving see-saw. My work is so intertwined with everyday life that I don’t really try to separate it. Tyler is the same way, and we don’t have kids, so it’s pretty natural. That’s not to say we are workaholics (I think that’s a dangerous aspiration)—I just mean that we don’t force ourselves into a set schedule. We skip from work to non-work pretty seamlessly. We don’t typically take long, faraway vacations, but every few weeks there will be a 2-3 day trip somewhere. Whether it’s Texas to see family, or a quick local getaway with our pup Rucci, leaving town is sometimes the only way I can truly switch off.
Jody Worthington | Freelance Wisdom

Can you tell us a bit about The Blume Saloon?

Yes! It’s a weekly podcast I started back in March with a good friend, Alison Michael. It’s a sort-of book club, with lots of tangents and comedy thrown in. Every week, we discuss a few chapters of a cherished Judy Blume novel. We’re really into dramatic readings, doing research on life and culture in the 1970s, and making up songs. We like to share our own adolescent anecdotes, to the point of TMI. We record every week, and I do the editing/producing.
It has been such a nice escape, a way to be creative that has absolutely nothing to do with design. Neither of us had any podcasting experience, but figured we had nothing to lose, so we went for it! Failure’s a lot easier to handle when you have no idea what you’re doing. The whole “fearless novice” thing was an important reminder for me not to let my expertise in graphic design be paralyzing. We now have a decent following that seems to be growing, and have received letters from some lovely listeners all over the globe. It’s so much fun. You can listen here.

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

Intuition, adaptability, curiosity.
Jody Worthington | Freelance Wisdom

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