Nicole, Designer & Copywriter
Hi! I'm Nicole and I come from Cleveland, Ohio.
I continue to love it and thrive here. It's an extremely affordable city to live in and there is a vibrant art scene (not to mention the Cav's Lebron James). I work from home tuckered in with my cats with CNN or Beyoncé in the background.
What do you say when people ask "What do you do?"
I tell them I do a little bit of everything! Design, copywriting and marketing strategy.
How many years have you been freelancing?
Why did you get started with freelance work?
I have ADHD which means I get bored quickly! I knew that as a freelancer, I would have the chance to work with some amazing people, learn more skills and become the master of my own doing. I love my independence and knew I could make as much money as I wanted to based on how hard I was able to work. I figured out my shoestring budget and jumped right into a new but exciting adventure. I haven't looked back since!
Where did you find your first paid freelancing job?
I was asked to create a website for a client. This is really what turned me on to the joy of working independently.
How did you price your services when you were just starting out?
Too low. I knew I was good, but I was worried about getting work, so I took whatever I could get. I priced low because I was so 'grateful' they were willing to pay me at all! I started doing research on industry wages and learned that I could easily double my fee. I discovered that those who were willing to pay me for my work were my favorite jobs because the clients appreciated the value. The more I worked, the better my skills became and with each year I gained more and more confidence, increasing my fees to the point where I felt I was being fair, but able to support myself with less worry.
The biggest advice I can give is to make sure you find the balance between being a business owner and the skill set or service you provide. I saw myself as a designer and writer first and a business-person second. My fees increased as I learned to do the math and figure out exactly what I wanted to make. I would also recommend tracking your time effectively. This is the only way you can keep the jobs coming and get paid appropriately.
Most freelancers try several jobs before settling down. What jobs did you try before choosing your current occupation?
Before I became a freelancer, I studied Arts Administration at NYU while waiting A LOT of tables. I returned to Cleveland to work for a publicly-funded art gallery as a Communications Director. I wore many hats and this is where I learned how to design and code alongside my PR and copywriting responsibilities. I loved the work, particularly because I was able to be creative while supporting and promoting the work of international artists.
After five years, I moved on to a job in Healthcare and Integrative Therapies as Marketing Director, writing business proposals, designing and collaborating with the clinical team and sales force. But I quickly realized that my work here limited me and lacked the creative freedom I'd enjoyed previously.
A friend and fellow designer introduced me to Tara Zirker, CEO of Sunbeam Communications; an agency working with clients in the medical spa and entrepreneurial industries. For a short time I worked both jobs, but quickly fell in love with Tara, her agency and the inspiring opportunities she and her clients gave me.
I made the big move to full-time freelancing after I realized I got a better payoff and amazing opportunities when I worked hard for myself. I continued to work with Sunbeam Communications as creative director and took on some extra jobs to supplement my income.
To date, I still work with my favorite people from Sunbeam and have been blessed with the opportunity to design and write for the innovative budding company Successful Ads Club. I also partner with Tanny Raw who has an international audience interested in veganism.
Needless to say, I have been so lucky to continuously find great work!
I also founded a subscription design and copywriting business called Design Ohana. I have an AMAZING, talented and brilliant partner and friend, Liz, with whom I manage my business. Funny thing about freelancing in today's marketplace - you often interact with people that you may never meet in person, yet you know them (and they know you) better than most people in your "real" life because you speak with them daily. Liz (who I will hug someday) lives in Arizona and we are the perfect yin-and-yang, but we have yet to be in the same city.
What are your favorite things about freelancing and working from home?
I love that I can make my own schedule and work from anywhere in the world. Yes, I even took my laptop on a trip to China and Japan! I'm blessed because I can also be there for my family and friends and not have to answer to anyone when I decide I need a 'personal' day.
What's your LEAST favorite thing about freelancing and working from home?
When I first began, I was so fearful that I would run out of work. I was working 16 hour days, pulled many all-nighters and got myself worked up. The hardest part of freelancing can be striking that balance between how much you allow yourself to work and truly living the life you desire (the very reason you become a freelancer). It can be a real challenge to price out your work, too. In many cases, you can lose money and time if you don't quote something correctly. This takes some insight and learning and I still struggle with this!
Looking back to when you were just getting started - what tool, tip, or resource do you wish was available to you back then? What would've made your journey into freelancing MUCH easier?
I was told early on that time management is essential. I was spending way too much time on projects and losing money. A mentor taught me how to block out hours for work and separate these blocks by the type of work that needed to be done. This kept me on track and focused so that I could get ahead of the ball and improve the quality of my work.
I would also advise any new freelancer to do the research on industry pay and always think of yourself as a business owner first.
What's your favorite way to find new clients and job opportunities? What worked the best for you?
I enjoy working with peers in design and copywriting. This has led to a number of referrals — a HUGE source of my work.
What are the top 5 tools you use most often in your daily work?
Freshbooks, Adobe Suite, Slack, background music, and my bullet journal.
In your opinion, what's the most important quality or trait for a freelancer to have?
The ability to make sound decisions about the work you take. Most importantly, you have to be able to say 'no' when the timing or pay isn't right. Being clear and consistent with deadlines when speaking to clients is essential. There is nothing more embarrassing than turning something in late (and I've certainly done this).
What does your average Monday look like?
On Mondays, I typically schedule calls and block out time for my clients. I also block out time to schedule the rest of the week.
On average, how many hours do you work on a regular weekday?
Six to eight hours.
How do you stay motivated and focused when you don't feel like working?
I take short breaks. I like to clean, so I'll do the dishes, vacuum, then get back to work. These little refreshers break up the day and make me feel more whole by the end of the evening.
What's the scariest thing about freelancing? How did you overcome this?
Not having enough work and failing my clients. I was able to overcome this based on the fact that, to this day, I often have to schedule out my projects at least a month in advance. I learned the work will come if you continue to do your best and make clients happy. This is how I get referrals and how I know my clients are happy because they come back for more. I also found a way to create packages that keep clients on retainer. This absolutely helps with consistency. Plus, a good support group in the form of your peers and family always helps!
Now that you've experienced all the ups and downs of being a freelancer, would you go back to a regular 9-5 job?
If you could work from anywhere, what would be your dream work location?
I would be pretty darn happy to be working from NYC, Paris, London, or Tokyo.
Do you have any work routines or habits that boost your productivity?
Blocking out my time for design, copywriting and business upkeep.
What do you wish other people knew about freelancing?
While many people think it's a glamorous job, the work is tough and you can rely on no one but yourself to get it done. I don't think that's a secret, but in some cases people in your life can overestimate how much free time you actually have. I get calls from my friends and family during 'work' hours and I'm like ... "So sorry, but I'm on deadline and it's in the middle of the day!". I also get "You're always working."
Your best interview tip?
Exude modest confidence and ask the right questions. Listen carefully to the client, always.
What advice would you give other people who are just getting started, but are still unsure about freelancing?
Know your value and plan ahead. Figure out what it takes to live, pay bills and sustain the work. Take the time you need to get a cushion of savings and stick to your Google Sheets and strategies.
Also, build a network of peers with whom you can collaborate and get inspired by (hello GUAVABEAN Freelancer Group!). Improve your craft by pushing your skills and asking others for brainstorms and good, old-fashioned help.
How long did it take for you to feel like a "successful" freelancer. Until you were able to pay your bills regularly without worrying?
I was successful when I offered to volunteer some of my services. This way I could build a portfolio and do some work for organizations that I wanted to support in some charitable way. I felt most successful when I was reminded of my talents by clients who truly believed in my work and always returned for more. This gave me the confidence to charge fees that represented my value and this allowed me to take on only the work I wanted.
If you could go back to your early days as a freelancer and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
You are good at what you do. Don't doubt that. And save 30% for taxes.
What would you say to someone who asks "How can I find jobs if I don't have much experience yet?"
Keep learning! Always look at what others are doing so that you can keep up and really get ahead of the curve. Always improve your craft even if you have to create mock clients to get the practice and portfolio going.
Any last words of advice or suggestions?
The world and workforce are changing. There are so many more people working independently. Build a supportive community and get to know others working as freelancers. There's always something to learn in terms of tools, strategies and honing in on your craft.
Most importantly, love what you do and do it really well.
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