After working full time for the London School of Economics for over 15 years Claire decided it was time to stop working for others and become her own boss. Since then she has had a successful freelancing career; and has some top advice for you to keep that work coming in.
Read on to find out:
What is your name and what do you do?
My name is Claire Harrison and I run a business called West9 Design; it’s been running a bit over 3 years now. I’m a graphic designer by trade and do branding for small businesses, charities and not-for-profits. This can include print design and websites too.
When did you become a freelancer?
I was at the London School of Economics for over 15 years. I worked my way up to Art Director and ran the department for around 10 years before leaving. They were very good, allowing me to work flexibly whilst my kids were growing up. I went down to 4 days with a day from home. It worked really well for me for a number of years.
It got to a point in 2018 that I just knew I wanted to do this [freelancing] and that I didn’t want to go for another job. I felt a bit more financially secure to be able to take the risk of going out on my own, which is what put me off before.
I remember sitting in a pub in Dorset with my girls and sketching out ideas for names and logos. We eventually came up with West9 Design. I still had 6 months left to work at the LSE so I squirreled even more money away as I knew that if I was desperate for work, I’d panic and not find anything.
When I left I made sure to tell everyone what I was doing, in case they needed work done in future and they already had me in the back of their mind. I was partly prepared when I left; having listened to lots of podcasts – including Freelance Heroes! – and trying to get my head into that freelance zone and how to market myself.
What strategy do you find most effective for attracting new clients?
I don’t think I have a particular strategy. I like meeting people; I do a lot of networking online – Freelance Heroes, Being Freelance, Doing It For The Kids etc and I’ve also joined the Kingston Chamber of Commerce and Athena Wimbledon. I did a lot more online networking to begin with to get myself known and I think this year it’s starting to get some traction as it’s about playing the long game. It’s important to build that trust and so that people remember you when they (or someone they know) needs some branding or design work.
What app or social media platform could you not run your business without, and why?
My favourite app is Trello, where I do all my planning. I would use it for social media too where I’d plan out a couple months posts and attach the images. I also have a board for my workflow and if I have a big project on I’ll have a board for that too so that I can look at the project management side of it. It really helped me as I’m more of a visual person.
Do you research prospects before a call or meeting? If so, what information do you look for?
Normally I would have met them before but if it was an introductory call I would ask them a few questions and check out their website; get as much as I can from that but I would usually get that information from the call itself. I would want to know the size of the business, where they’re based, who their audience are, that kind of thing. I tend to work with service-based businesses so if they are very product-based I can recommend them to someone more equipped for that type of industry.
I also like to know what their expectations are, as some businesses look for in-house freelance designers and while I would take on a few like that, I wouldn’t want to do it full time. I enjoy the branding projects and where you can be a bit more creative. I am also wary of businesses that go straight into interview mode when meeting me – I am not applying for a full-time job, for me it’s about collaboration and mutual trust, and so “no” I won’t do free work for you – after all I won’t be getting employee perks.
What do you do to help maintain positive mental wellbeing?
I try to keep fit and run a couple times a week. I finally got a dog last year, after putting it off for ages and relenting to the pressure from the kids. This means lots of walks and is great for socialising and just getting some distance from work. You end up meeting lots of neighbours and it opens up this whole new social group. It’s lovely. I’m quite a social creature and like getting to know people so I get a lot out of networking too, whether it be formal groups of coffee dates.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
I’ve really enjoyed the type of work I’ve done so far. I’ve had some really interesting projects and creatively I feel like I’ve done my best work in the last few years.
I used to have a 3 day weekend but it’s hard to work specific hours now and keep on top of work. But there are two sides to this, as I can take a break in the week for other things like shopping. I tend to not work evenings to give my day more structure. You just need to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t take over everything – find your own boundaries.
What are the most common objections you’ve had from potential clients? How did/do you overcome them?
I have different levels of packages that I offer to suit different clients and I try to assess their budget early on and scope to guide them – this avoids them expressing concerns about price. The other issue that arises is timescales not being realistic e.g. a client wanting a brochure designed and printed to a very high standard in 2 weeks. All you can do is be honest and explain what is possible, whether that is to extend the timeline or reduce the scope of work.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
I like being my own boss. The thought of answering to someone again fills me with dread! It all starts and ends with me and what I do. I like the fact I can collaborate if I want, I enjoy the creative freedom, and I get to vet my clients like they vet me.
I love it!
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
Tax returns…? I actually have an accountant to help with that as I’m a limited company so there is even more work involved. I could probably do it but it would take ages and I would much rather someone else do it. Writing is another area that I’m not comfortable with. I have written blogs (with help of a proofreader) but am now working with a copywriter to do the work for me.
What is your ONE top tip or piece of advice you would offer to other freelancers?
Here’s a tip: Most of my work has come through people I’ve known; people I might have worked with, friends, friends or friends. The one thing I would say is tell everyone what you’re doing. Make sure you link up with everyone you’ve worked with on LinkedIn so you’ve got yourself a little address book. I’ve had work through a lot of people like that where perhaps ex-colleagues have moved companies and they think of you when they need some design work. People pick me because I’m familiar, they trust me and they know I’ll do a good job. It’s often the people that you think won’t have any connection or need for design work that end up knowing someone else that needs help. Pop up on social media and in networking groups and it will help to make sure you’re in the back of people’s minds.
Don’t keep it a secret!
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