Our latest Featured Freelancer, Christian Tait, has been freelancing for seven years. Becoming as freelancer has allowed him to work more flexibly, meaning more time with his family and no longer having to ask someone else for time off to achieve that work-life balance. Read all about Christian’s story..
What is your name and what do you do?
My name is Christian Tait and I’m owner and graphic designer at Creative Cadence Ltd. I work with small business owners and sole marketing managers within larger businesses, to help them communicate better with their customers and clients through designing great brand identities, marketing materials and websites.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve run this freelance business for seven years, although I had been freelance for a couple of other shorter stints in between previous full-time graphic design positions.
I decided to become a freelancer for the flexibility, to work with a wider variety of clients in different sectors and because there was something in my heart that had always wanted to run my own business. My two kids were aged 5 and 7 when I went freelance. It sounds a small thing, but I got tired of having to ask permission in my last full-time job, if I needed to do the school-run, or attend a school event, or even book holidays off. In my full-time agency work, I’d always got to work with a variety of clients, but the agencies always specialised in certain sectors. So, I’d end up spending years working in just the financial services, or technology, or internal comms sectors. In my business now, I can be working with a technology client one week, a researcher the next or a florist after that – or often a variety of different clients at the same time – much more interesting!
What app or social media platform could you not run your business without, and why?
Probably DropBox (as an app). I work across a desktop computer and a laptop, as well as sometimes sharing images or documents on my phone or ipad. DropBox means that everything is always there, and up to date, on whichever device I need. I pay for a subscription, it’s so essential. I also use it as one of my project management tools, as it’s so easy to create shared folders with clients and suppliers such as web developers, copywriters and photographers.
Do you research prospects before a call or meeting? If so, what information do you look for?
Yes, I do. Depends on the client and job, but I would always take a general look at their website, in terms of what they do, who the team are, where they’re based and to get a feel for the kind of company they are – especially by reading some of their articles or blog posts. I’d also take a look at their personal LinkedIn profile to get an idea of the kind of person they are, things they comment on or write about, and their LinkedIn company page if they have one.
What do you do to help maintain positive mental wellbeing?
Even more important in current times! I work from home, along with my wife (who runs a separate illustration business), and, as the kids are old enough to take themselves to school now, that could mean I could spend days without leaving the house if I’m busy. So, I try to make sure I get some outdoor time every day – a walk, or lunch in the garden at the bare minimum.
I also try to do something more physical a couple of times a week – which might be a longer walk, swimming at the local pool, or a cycle ride. I also try to limit work hours. I’m much better in the mornings, so I start work around 8.00am when the kids leave for school, but then, by around 4.00pm my brain is often fried, so I either finish for the day, or try to do some simpler admin tasks at that point. I try to do the bulk of the creative work in the mornings or early afternoon.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than what you had first anticipated?
It’s actually pretty much what I expected, as I’d freelanced a bit prior to starting this business. What shocks me though, still, is how much work can affect your mood, depending on the project I’m working on, the type of client (difficult to work with or not!) or simply whether I feel in the mood to work! I’m pretty conscientious, but some days are just more difficult than others.
The past two years I’ve very much tried to remember that I’m the one running the business, not my clients. I now say, ‘No’ more often, work to my deadlines (within reason) and hardly ever work in the evenings or weekends, apart from the odd bit of admin or social media. I also mostly work a four-day week, spending Fridays volunteering at my local wetlands nature reserve (which goes back to question 6 about wellbeing. Volunteering outdoors, all day, once a week really helps with that!)
What are the most common objections you’ve had from potential clients? How did/do you overcome them?
Probably the old classic around pricing! I don’t think I’m ridiculously expensive, bearing in mind my 25 years graphic design experience, but I still get the odd objection, or request to re-quote and ‘see what I can do with the cost’. I might flex, depending on the size of the job, but not too much. I’ve been lucky enough, even in current times, to always generally have work coming through, for clients that are prepared to pay the rate I ask for. So, if a client or two don’t want to pay that rate, I politely decline them.
Have you ever turned a prospect away? If so, why and how did you do it?
If you’d have asked me this question three years ago, I possibly would have said ‘no, I haven’t’. However, three years ago, I made a conscious decision to really assess a prospective client and their requirements before jumping in. So now, yes, I have turned prospects away. Often it will be because of the small budget they have (which is what I say to them), but sometimes it will be because I don’t quite get the right feeling from them when I meet or talk to them.
They might not fully know what they want yet, need to think more about their project, or I simply get an odd feeling about the whole thing! In that case, I politely say something like, ‘I don’t feel we’re quite the right fit’. I always offer to suggest other designers they could get in touch with though.
What do (would) you do when a client ghosts you?!
I’m lucky to have rarely had this, but weirdly, I’m going through it at the moment with a new client! I’ll start with an email or two, then try to call them and talk things through. Other than that, I’m not sure yet! Also depends what stage the project is at. If I’m done some design work and money is owed, then obviously chase harder. If we’re only at initial conversation stage, then I’ll chase for a few weeks, making sure not to be a pain in the neck to them, but then just leave it, as I figure they’re obviously not interested and it’s using my energy up too.
Are your motivations now the same as they were when you started freelancing?
They’ve possibly changed a touch to be honest. I’ve never been about making as much money as humanly possible. A comfortable enough amount to get by on is more important to me than working evenings and weekends. My free time is much more valuable. I’m glad I work doing something that I enjoy (and that I studied at college to do) but I’d much rather not be working to be honest with you! I think it’s about working smarter too. I’ve worked for 4 days a week (with the volunteering on a Friday) for nearly two years now and not noticed a significant drop in income / turnover … and I’m much happier for it!
What is it about being a freelancer that you enjoy most?
Freedom and flexibility … completely! Work from home, work when I want, not having to ask permission of others to do things or work in the way I want to.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
Always the ‘not quite knowing’ where the next gig is going to come from. I’m really lucky rarely to have had any large gaps without any work, but I still worry as projects come to an end and the ‘projects in progress’ list is getting shorter.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
I wish I’d known more about the financial side of running a Limited company and the need for a good accountant (sorry … is that two things?!). When I first started out, I picked an accountant, purely because they were local to me, rather than asking for recommendations from other freelancers or looking into their skills / reputation. Basically, my first accountant was crap, quite old school, wanted everything on paper and didn’t offer much help up in between the standard yearly accounts.
The new accountant I moved to was shocked at how bad he was and my own accounts were in a bit of a state! It was quite a painful process to get everything in line again, but it’s been a dream since … SO much easier and they’re really helpful too, always ready to answer any question, no matter how stupid I think it might be!
What is your ONE top tip or piece of advice you would offer to other freelancers?
‘You don’t have to attend networking events if you don’t want to.’ Truth out … I’m quite shy and would describe myself as ‘introverted’. When I first started the business, I caused myself a lot of stress, and spent a lot of time and money, on face-to-face networking events. They absolutely work for a lot of people … but they also DON’T work for a lot of people (me included).
Try some events, but if they’re really not your thing, for whatever reason, then don’t do them, don’t waste your precious time and money – there’s nothing to be ashamed about. I’ve got way more new business through social media, keeping in touch with old clients and people I’ve worked with and word-of-mouth recommendations than I ever got from any networking events.