Ronny, Graphic Designer

Ronny Guavabean

Hi, my name is Ronny and I’m from Australia.

Actually, I’m a Swedish-born Australian now living in Bangkok with over 25 years experience in graphic design.

I’ve been freelancing for 20 years, and just recently became a digital nomad. The only difference is my home can be anywhere in the world… if I want it to be.

How did you become a freelancer?

About 20 years ago I met an agency (applying for a job), established a relationship, then bam!

These people kept me really busy: four-week, two-month & three-month contracts just kept rolling through. I’ve never looked back. It was exciting being involved with new technology, and especially using graphics.

Why did you become a freelancer?

I could see the need for designers in businesses, all of them will at some point need that service for startup or communication projects. But I also knew that it can get expensive for the clients with a third party involved. Think of it as an agency in between you and your business, and myself.

I decided to take the approach of acting like a fully contained ‘unit’ or ‘module’ that could be connected to any business to produce whatever ’collateral’ was needed in a short time at a much lower cost, thus avoiding the 3rd party markup.

Since then it’s been a natural progression. I’ve enjoyed new working environments, new tasks & new people. Now I’m a Digital Nomad, this allows additional focus on my lifestyle. I’m loving my Bangkok base at the moment.

Where did you find your first paid freelancing job?

Online if I remember well, a 3-month contract that led to 9 months of work.

What expectations did you have going into this kind of job? And how has it been the same or different from what you expected?

In the beginning, my goal was to use what I learned and get into television - my thing then was motion graphics. And that happened, I’ve had gigs with Australia’s premier networks, adapting static logos to animation stings or overlaying graphics with video, etc. Again the playing field has changed with the onset of desktop and/or online content, making it even more exciting.

The other thing I hoped to get was to travel and therefore learn and expand my horizons. In hindsight, if I look back I would have never been exposed to the projects I have been by just being in a static environment. So far I’m happy with the progress.

What’s your favorite thing about freelancing/working from home?

Missing peak hour is always good, no office politics, and saving huge amounts of money on lunch. But especially now, being a digital nomad so I can work anywhere in the world… remotely!

What's your LEAST favorite thing about freelancing/working from home?

All my favorite things are there, so sometimes it’s hard to stay focused. My cats often like to help and, as much as I love them, they aren’t very good.

How long did it take for you to feel like a "successful" freelancer? Until you were able to pay your bills regularly without worrying?

Immediately from the first phone call. If you can finish the task with everybody happy, you will get traction with repeat business.

How did you price your services when you were just starting out?

Twenty years ago in Australia, the general rate for an experienced designer was $25/hour (funny enough that hasn’t changed greatly). But my agent always handled that side of things. Now as a nomad, I’m sensitive to local culture - especially with subcontracting in mind - keeping in mind tax laws, etc.

What was your biggest struggle when you were just starting out?

The startup cost. Macs were really expensive then, my first ‘Freelance’ role was with a magazine which paid me a page rate, however, my first pro Mac workstation came to $26K including Quark software and high-end AGFA scanner. In 1999 I bought an Apple G3 300 laptop for $9999. Compared to now, mobile workstations are cheap - good hardware and good software are readily available.

Building repeat business was also important because it allows you to pre-plan a little better. With positive word of mouth, great jobs get you many referrals.

What do you know now, that you wish you knew back then?

Some people can be jerks, don’t take feedback personally. And regarding doing my work, I’m an aspiring perfectionist. I need to stop stressing out over little things that no one will see.

For workflow, don’t mix client communication time with production time unless if you need to. One phone call can eat 20 minutes out of your design space.

What's your favorite way to find new clients and job opportunities? What worked the best for you?

Agent(s). They will do the groundwork, they know you and the clients, and its OK for them to talk me up. I’m a lousy salesperson when it comes to myself, as I feel like I’m talking myself up. New work applications get easier because of your agent(s) as they do most of the groundwork for you, so your client is already prepped for your initial meeting.

What's one BIG lesson you learned the hard way on your freelancer journey?

Balance… I spent years messing up my weekends thinking about work, I’m not even joking.

I wish I had traveled more during my work years.

Don’t let the clients design for you, and it’s okay to talk yourself up!

Get your passport sorted out.

How do you stay motivated when work is tough or there aren’t enough jobs coming in?

That does get hard; you have to keep chipping away & every now and then a big bit falls off. During my slow periods, I work on myself - my portfolio or further my learning; that’s how I learned about Xcode, ColdFusion, etc.

What are your favorite tools for work? Any apps or programs you love?

Creative Suite Master, I use every part of it, including Mocha EA and Dreamweaver’s ColdFusion. I also like using MS Office as a communication/metadata gathering tool.

If you met a new freelancer who wanted to get into your line of work, what advice would you give them?

Get a good brief, and ask questions. The goal is to understand the job!

Learn how to take criticism, it comes in many forms; often it’s just people’s personal opinions, use your judgment, learn from it and grow.

Find the cash source! That’s your agent or the site that links you to work - use a reputable one.

Any tips or tricks for working with difficult clients?

Get a solid brief, make it watertight.

OK, I hope this isn’t bad advice, but I also fire clients. Apart from being demotivating, they will cost you money. I find different clients have different values; for example, for the same job you might find that one takes two hours and the other takes four hours - for the same rate!

Now that you've experienced all the ups and downs of being a freelancer, would you go back to a regular 9-5 job?

I don’t think so, I value freedom above everything. From this point, I work smarter not harder. Besides, I don’t miss the office/studio politics.

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