Meet James, a TOP Cert graphic designer who understands the true art of good business!
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into freelancing?
I trained for four years to be a graphic designer in Halifax and York, after which I instantly tried to make it as a freelance which, as you might expect, didn’t take off quite as well as I would have liked. I didn’t have enough experience of the real working world, put all my eggs in too few baskets when it came to clients, and was generally a little naive. When one of my biggest clients passed away, I decided enough was enough and that it was time to follow my career instead.
What was your previous job before deciding to go freelance?
I found employment with my regional newspaper as a graphic designer and this work became my baptism of fire. Extremely short deadlines, demanding bosses, sales team and clients forged my ability to perform well under pressure and, a lot of the time, literally with somebody leaning over my shoulder.
After about five years, I decided that I had the work experience I’d needed but needed some life experience and so I quit my job and went to travel the world for six months (USA, Canada, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand) with the intention of setting up as a freelance again on my return. Unfortunately, I had way too much fun doing this and didn’t pick anywhere near enough peaches and nectarines and so came back with a bit of debt!
I’d been home for about four hours when the phone rang and my ex-boss offered me my old job. Needing the money, I took the position, five years later, I, along with all the other designers that worked there, was made redundant.
How did you come across PPH?
With an extensive background in advertising, promotional design, infographics, branding, publication design and point of sale – now definitely was the time! I started to trawl the net for potential clients.
I signed on with various freelancing and tendering sites, in fact, everyone I could find. Only two seemed to actually be getting me work – Freelancer and People Per Hour. I’d been freelance for about 6 months or so using both sites. One day somebody on another freelancing platform accepted a proposal from me for a considerable amount, then went silent. After a few weeks of trying to chase the client, I decided to give it up as a bad job. Freelancer still wanted their commission on the job though for the full amount even though the client had not even paid a deposit. The other platform were totally intractable on this point so I sacked them off.
With hindsight, this was a great move as it gave me more time focus on my PPH account, keep my prices nice and streamlined and be as responsive to clients as possible. This approach soon started to pay dividends.
What was your first job like on PPH?
From my first job on PPH (logo design I think) the experience has been spot on. Over the years I’ve seen quite a few changes to the PPH interface but one thing has always been the same – excellent support from the PPH team. They really get it and as a freelancer, you really do feel well supported.
It’s a while ago now but my overwhelming memory of my first job on PPH was “Well that went smoothly!” and up to press, it’s been very rare that there have been any hiccups.
What is a typical day like for you?
Honestly, I stand up from my desk twice a day, once to make a fresh pot of coffee and the second to take care of the inevitable outcome of drinking too much coffee.
My clients often say that they can’t believe how quickly I turn their jobs around and that they feel as though I’ve really gone out of my way to make sure they’re 100% happy. I take pride in this service and feel that being here for my clients as much as I can is the most important part of that.
How does freelancing compare to a 9-5?
The freedom that comes with freelancing is great and the work actually feels easier than when you’re working for someone else. Yes, there’s less security but that just keeps it exciting! I’ve never woken up and thought, “I don’t want to go to work today!”.
What does your future hold? Where would you like to take this?
I can see myself needing to employ staff in a few years time but don’t really want to become a victim of my own success. For now it feels right and has a natural progression to it. One step at a time!
What are your top 5 tips for freelancers who are new to PPH?
1. Don’t undersell yourself. I see too many freelancers trying to undercut everyone else – they never last. You have to earn a living after all. If you sell your work too cheap, you cheapen the work and this has a knock-on effect for the whole design community.
2. Don’t underestimate the amount of time a job will take. Rushing work unnecessarily doesn’t help anyone.
3. Make sure the funds are in place before carrying out the work. If nothing else this cuts down on any confusion. I’ve never had a client say that they don’t want to upload the funds in advance of the next stage so don’t be afraid to ask.
4. Keep your phone on you 24-7. Responding to messages quickly is key and this means that when you do sit down to work, you don’t have to spend hours reading messages first.
5. Sometimes a client will not want to take your advice. You have to state your opinion and then move on – you can’t win them all and sometimes giving the client what they want and not what you think they need is the way forward (despite what they tell you in college).
What are your top 5 design tips?
1. Try new styles – If you see somebody else’s work and think “I wonder how they did that?!” – find out! Professional curiosity will keep you current and interesting.
2. Remember it all ends up in the bin so don’t be too precious about your work. Other people’s opinions are always valid.
3. Never miss a deadline. If you’ve agreed a timescale, move heaven and earth to meet it, if you miss it, everyone loses!
4. Try different disciplines. Buy the camera, set-up the canvass and easel, learn to code, do the 3D design course, decoupage your ass off! Every new creative avenue you open, feeds back into your work.
What web browser do you use?
Google Chrome, for me it has the best balance of speed and security.
If you were an animal, which one would you be and why?
Chameleon. I always try to change my style to fit the job. Adaptability is everything!
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