Each week, a Freelance Hero steps out from behind the social media profile pic to become a Featured Freelancer and share the story of freelance journey. This week’s Featured Freelancer is Cambridge-based, Graphic Designer, Karen Arnott, who is one of the more experienced freelancers in the group. This is Karen’s story…
What is your name and what do you do?
Hello, my name is Karen Arnott and I’m a graphic designer. I work with small businesses providing a range of web and graphic design services from brand and visual identity development right through to complete website builds.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve been freelancing for 12 years. Initially, it wasn’t a decision I actively made – I was happy in my role as Design Manager in a busy Marcom team. My team was relocated to the US just as I was about to go on maternity leave, so I chose to take redundancy instead of relocation. Many colleagues were made redundant around the same time and while I was getting used to being a mum, they were busy setting up businesses of their own. This lead to a ready-made client base because several of my ex-colleagues wanted me to design the visual identities for their fledgling companies.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
I started my freelance business while I would have been on maternity leave, and having received a redundancy package so there wasn’t urgent pressure to get it going financially. However, juggling clients and the needs of a young family was difficult at times. I’ve never had any negative input, friends and family have always been supportive because it’s been a very family-friendly career choice.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
Nothing official, the business has just grown organically.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
My client base is very eclectic – I definitely don’t fit into the niche market category! I have clients in a wide range of industry sectors including accounting, expert witness training, relocation specialists, boutique hotels, luxury serviced accommodation, human factors consultants and health food suppliers.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
The vast majority of my clients are referred to me by an existing client, so I think it’s because I provide quality creative design and good customer service. I’ve been told I have a great, ‘can-do’ attitude and often go the extra mile. I care about my clients’ businesses and don’t see any project as a one-off. I enjoy collaborating with them on their long-term business strategy.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
I didn’t have any initial expectations, but definitely seemed to work more hours to start with. With having a young family, this often entailed working until 2am on a regular basis. Now I feel more secure in the future of the business and have a much better work-life balance. I can structure my working day around the children’s school hours which works well.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
I couldn’t do my job without the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of products. I also use Dropbox for backups and sharing files with clients. It’s crucial for me to have a good cloud-based accounting system to keep track of finances. At the moment I use FreshBooks for this.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Research what you want to earn first. Too many designers start out charging too little for their services. Be confident in the value of your skillset and experience. Make sure you’re charging enough from the outset – it’s a lot easier than trying to significantly raise prices later. Charging enough means working out what you want to earn and how many billable hours you realistically have in a month/year and dividing this figure to get your ideal earning rates. Often people forget to account for non-billable time – marketing, accounts, admin, networking and holidays all need to be considered before you can work out how many billable hours you have. This website is quite useful for creatives to work out overhead costs and income potential: https://nppa.org/calculator
Next, I would say to simply get out there and start meeting people. Networking is often a dirty word, and you may need to try a few local groups before you find the one that suits you. Join online groups, like this one! (https://www.facebook.com/groups/freelanceheroes/) Joining a supportive, collaborative group is a huge benefit to those of us without in-house colleagues. Co-working spaces and meet-ups are also invaluable.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
The single most important one is that it’s crucial to look after yourself. You can’t run your own business long-term if you work yourself into the ground and burn out. Eat well, exercise, rest, take time away from your desk and make time to socialise with friends and family. If you don’t do this, you may as well go back to the 9-5 employed status. Looking after yourself mentally and physically will also ensure you’re able to run your business productively and this in turn will positively impact your bottom line.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
The freedom to choose when, where and how I work. And who with! I thoroughly enjoy working with such a wide range of clients, on varied projects – it keeps work interesting.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
Chasing invoices. It doesn’t happen often thankfully, but it’s frustrating when it does.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
To maintain an enjoyable work-life balance where I feel fulfilled creatively.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
To trust: my instincts when a project/client isn’t going to go well and to walk away; the value of my work, and; that I can make a living doing something I enjoy, on my terms.
You can connect with Karen in the Freelance Heroes Facebook Group, or at one of the following places:
Visit our other Featured Freelancers here and, if you’re a UK freelancer, join us in our Facebook group.