It’s easy to run out of superlatives when introducing each Featured Freelancer, which aren’t written as intro’s to “sell” the interview to you, but because each story has it’s own nuance and inspiration. This week’s interview goes to show how you can build a successful freelancing career, even when all around the rest of your life is gloomy and the clouds appear to be closing in.
Freelancing is a roller coaster itself and this article highlights just by how much. Enjoy!
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
I am Berenice Smith, I’m based in Cambridge and I am a graphic designer with over 25 years of professional experience. I specialise in books, branding, marketing and website design.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I have been freelancing on and off for ten years. It’s a complicated story but it’s one I really want to share.
I kept working in-house because we were going through IVF treatment due to complications conceiving a child. I have recurrent miscarriages.
As I had a late loss many years ago I was still hoping I’d make use of maternity benefits so I kept working around treatment which was really tough – having to do injections at work or in train toilets because they are specifically timed and coping with needle phobia. Not easy with an average of 120 injections per cycle. It probably would have been easier to be freelance then but we also had to pay for expensive treatment as it wasn’t available on the NHS in Cambridgeshire.
I had 6 rounds in total. I was hospitalised for ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome and went through counselling for PTSD because I was mentally and physically burnt out. I tentatively put a stop to this five years ago and thus became one of the 76% for whom IVF fails. This year I have to decide what to do with the last embryo in storage which is challenging. I decided not to adopt as it’s such a different route with its own complicated criteria with no guarantees.
On top of this I was made redundant (along with 400 colleagues) from my job as a senior designer just after our last cycle.
Throughout all of this being creative and being a designer has always been my love and my job. I’m so lucky to have this and in many ways it saved me along with drawing every day. So by way of therapy and distraction, I took a Masters degree in graphic design and typography to build on my professional experience and got itchy feet.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
The main motivation was to make what I could of a life that I wasn’t expecting to have, so I accept it’s very hard for family and friends to understand. My good friend of over twenty years and fellow FH, Sue Allerton is a great cheerleader.
I have many good friends who have been through similar experiences and are a great support, and rescue dog, Molly, who adores having me at home!
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
Apart from Freelance Heroes, I have been fortunate to draw on my own experiences in commissioning freelancers and seeing it from the ‘other side’! I also made use of The Design Trust and The Chartered Society of Designers. In my redundancy package I was given a training package so I went on as many UX based courses as possible to strength my skills in these areas. UX is a growing part of my work.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
Lovely! Seriously, I’ve had some great clients. Many of them have come back to me with different requests. They tend to reach me through recommendation and word of mouth.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
I like all my clients to come away having learned something about their business, design and/or the delivery too. I also pay attention to research and appropriateness from everything from colour, typography and illustration. Because I’ve worked on global projects for all ages, I have skills in research and getting good feedback so the design is appropriate for now and for the future. I have managed design and production studios and worked on weekly magazines, so I’m good on time management, schedules and costs too.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? e.g. Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
I have been guilty of doing too much of everything and paid the price by spending February and March ill with pneumonia which took ages to get over. So finding a balance is critical.
What I adore is quiet Cambridge – mid week dog walks when everyone else is at work or cycling along the riverside near my house early mornings is lovely. Or driving to the coast for a day at the beach. These are my rewards for working a weekend.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
Oh goodness this is a really difficult question! I guess Adobe Creative Cloud which actually is a lot of software. I’m keen to test out Affinity.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Be mindful of your worth. The race to the bottom is a terrible thing and if you need to gain experience then contact charities who will value your skills more than most Fiverr clients and probably give you good social media coverage too.
The other thing I wanted to add was payment terms! We have so many threads about this on Freelance Heroes and lots of big companies have inflexible policies, especially the big publishers, most of whom I’ve worked for, that cannot be moved however much one chases! Talk about the payment dates before agreeing terms to check that’s all okay with your income.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
I’m braver than I thought I was. I didn’t think I’d stand up on a stage and talk but having to explain the design research to a faculty of 800 students and staff during my Masters was a good experience. It made me realise I know all sorts of design stuff and was able to support and guide students on the course, which I continue to do.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
Learning. Going freelance means exploring so I’ve learned to code and more about people. I’ve had the change to curate an exhibition for the Cambridge University Press museum, won awards (Unsung Hero of Publishing 2018 and finalist for the Cambridgeshire Digital Awards 2017) and I’m working with the David Parr House in Cambridge. And being paid to do design! I have a lovely set of children’s books on the go and secretly I’d have done them for any price they are so much fun but I’m told Molly needs money for gravy bones.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
Everyone wants to be a designer. My heart sinks a little when I see people deciding to be a designer because they can do a quick course on it. It’s not that simple and it devalues good design which can take years to learn. I find that very sad.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
I’d like to grow Hello Lovely into a bigger cooperative agency with more collaboration. I also want to turn my daily drawings from my IVF journey into a book.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
My worth. When I went to speak at an event in May I was told by so many people that my work impacted on them in a positive way and I was so moved by this. We should always give praise where it’s required and leave those reviews, it means a lot. We are good at complaining so go and praise someone now!
To connect with Berenice, visit:
as well as the Freelance Heroes Facebook Group