Bhavini Lakhani has been freelancing for 9 years after her graphic design role was removed from the agency she worked at. Read along as our latest Featured Freelancer talks all about her journey as a freelancer from being offered her first opportunity to the success she has become.
What is your name and what do you do?
My name’s Bhavini and I’m a freelancer print designer and branding expert.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve been freelancing since 2011. It wasn’t actually by choice! When I was coming towards the end of my maternity leave after having my first daughter, I found out that my graphic design role was removed from the agency I was working at. I was given the choice of retraining as a web designer and developer, or taking voluntary redundancy. I took the redundancy with the idea that I would look for a part time design job closer to home. But that job hunt never started. As soon as I knew about the redundancy, a friend of mine (who I worked with at the same agency I was made redundant from) asked if I wanted to take on some freelance work for the new company she was working with. I said yes, and since that first job it’s been one project after another via word of mouth. A few years back, a large company with a head office in MK headhunted me via LinkedIn, but even though the stability of a regular pay check was tempting, I turned it down so that I could focus on my freelancing and my own clients.
What strategy do you find most effective for attracting new clients?
It has to be word of mouth. I’ve never had a marketing strategy in place, or any kind of plans on how I’ll get new clients on board. My business has always grown via word of mouth – people I meet at in person and online networking events are happy to recommend me to people they know who are looking for a designer to work with. My friends and family tell their connections about what I do, and direct connections of mine might even decide to work with me immediately after meeting me, or possibly even 6-8 months after meeting me.
What app or social media platform could you not run your business without, and why?
I can’t run my business without the Adobe Creative Cloud apps. I’ve been using the Adobe Apps for as long as I can remember. When I first started freelancing it wasn’t subscription based – but instead you could buy the software with a one off fee. I know there are other apps and software on the market now that do similar things but I feel like Adobe is the industry standard. I think (personally for me) it would take too long to try and learn how something else works – when I’m working my fingers know where the short cuts are on the keyboard. Muscle memory means I can just work that bit more efficiently.
Do you research prospects before a call or meeting? If so, what information do you look for?
Sometimes I do. The information I look for can vary really. If I’m meeting someone who runs a Ltd company I’ll try and have a look at their financial situation via Companies House. But I try not to look into that too deeply! Usually I tend to have a look over any existing social media pages or website that the prospective client has – I like to get an idea of someones personality to see if we may be a good fit. But I try to take all of that online research with a pinch of salt and make my judgements once we’ve met in person…or via Zoom!!!
What do you do to help maintain positive mental wellbeing?
I workout every morning. I’m up quite early so that I can fit that in (5.15am) but the early start means that I make more of a conscious effort to not continue working late into the evening or night. I used to find it hard to know when to switch off in the evenings and sometimes I’d just carry on working for a few hours once the kids had gone to bed. But since I started getting up early, I’ve been much better with not working in the evenings. Doing some exercise in the mornings is also my me time – it sets me up nicely for the rest of the day. If I don’t get a workout in, I find I procrastinate a lot more! I also make sure I take regular breaks when I’m working. I try to not sit at my desk for hours at a time! Breaks can be a short 5 minutes to make a coffee, or something longer so that I can go for a walk before I pick the kids up from school.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than what you had first anticipated?
It’s not what I expected at all!!! It’s a lot harder than I ever imagined it would be. When I first started freelancing I worked a lot less than I expected to – that was almost 10 years ago. Now, the hours I work really depend on what projects I have on and I actually really like having some weeks where I’m not working as much as I did the week before!
What are the most common objections you’ve had from potential clients? How did/do you overcome them?
Price!!! The objections always come down to price in some way or another, and I think that’s due to people not realising the value that a well designed brochure, or a well thought out visual identity will bring to their business. If someone asks me to lower my prices because I’m out of budget, I’ll usually respond by telling them the price I’m charging is an accurate representation of the skills I bring to the table, and that it reflects my experience and expertise. I won’t negotiate on the price I’m charging, but I’m always happy to look at the scope of work and remove things from the project until I’m in budget. If someone asks me to come down on price because another designer has quote less, I very politely say I don’t compete on price.
Have you ever turned a prospect away? If so, why and how did you do it?
Yes, a couple of times now. I always talk to a client on the phone or via Zoom so that I can get a clearer idea of their project, and of them as a person. If the project, or the person, doesn’t feel like the right fit I’ll very nicely say that I don’t think I’m the right person for them to work with and wish them luck with their project. If I know someone who I think will be right for them, I’ll happily pass details on.I try to make sure that I follow my gut instinct – if something doesn’t feel right for any reason, it usually isn’t. The few times I’ve gone against my gut, the project (and the client) has always turned into a nightmare.
What do (would) you do when a client ghosts you?!
My terms of business (which a client signs before I start any work) state that if I don’t hear from the client for a number of days, then I have the right to cancel the project. If we get to that time, I’ll call the client and follow up the call with an email confirming what the next steps are. What happens from there is really dependant on what response (if any) I get.
Are your motivations now the same as they were when you started freelancing?
Yes. Although freelancing is hard, I really enjoy it. It suits what I want from life and that keeps me motivated.
What is it about being a freelancer that you enjoy most?
There are so many things I enjoy about it. I love the flexibility it gives me – I can do the school run every day, and enjoy all the sports days, the nativities and the class assemblies without asking for time off or making up any time I’ve missed. I also really love that freelancing means I can collaborate with other amazing freelancers – designers, copywriters, marketing specialists etc.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
I really don’t like trying sell my services. As I said before, most of my clients find me via recommendations and that keeps things ticking over nicely. But when things are looking really really quiet, and I think about how I can sell my services or promote myself I really struggle.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
I wish I’d known I don’t have to do everything myself. There are things I don’t know how to do, and at the start of my journey I would have tried to figure it out. But I’ve learned that working with people who specialise in things I don’t know how to do is a much better way to work.
What is your ONE top tip or piece of advice you would offer to other freelancers?
You’re not alone in this – reach out to others when you need help. Whether that’s on a difficult project, or something that isn’t work related…the freelance community is full amazing people willing and able to help.