Meet Vicky Hughes, a civil servant come freelance illustrator convert. After feeling the joy that working creatively can bring, Vicky ditched the tech industry burnout and started to work for herself, creating whimsical design for small businesses to make their branding stand out from the rest.
Hear from Vicky and follow through links to see examples of her work:
What is your name and what do you do?
👋 I’m Vicky, an illustrator living in Leeds. I work with “growing brands” as I call them, meaning small businesses and startups. My favourite briefs are to do with branding and marketing – jazzing up designs with some hand-drawn characters and artwork! I also do a bit of editorial illustration for magazines and blogs.
How long have you been running your business/freelancing and why did you start?
Just before Covid. I’m still not sure if it was good or bad timing! After following a sensible route and working up the Civil Service and then tech industry career ladder, I was suffering with anxiety and burnout. I spent evenings winding down with creative endeavours, such as drawing, painting, and piano lessons. Through that I slowly discovered the world of illustration and fell in love with it. In 2019 I quit my job and went back to Uni (Camberwell), at the same time as starting my business.
Finding clients is one of the biggest concerns for people starting out working for themselves. Where did you find your very first client or customer? Where do you mostly find them now?
My first client was my old employer, Geckoboard, a tech startup in Shoreditch. I worked with them on their rebrand, adding illustration to their website and marketing. In general, most of my work comes through word of mouth and recommendations. I also put my name and portfolio on pretty much any directory I can find, and that brings in a fair few enquiries! So my 2 tips would be: use your existing network, and build your reputation.
Who would you love to have as a dream client and why?
My dream job would be adding illustration to the branding for a festival. My illustrations are all about joie de vivre and play; festivals are the perfect fit. It would be pure character-filled goodness! So, my dream client would be a design agency I could collaborate with on that.
What app or social media platform could you not run your business without, and why?
At the moment LinkedIn would be my social media of choice! And my favourite app is Sunsama, it’s really helped with clearing my head and prioritising what to work on.
Is working for yourself what you expected? How do you manage a healthy work-life balance?
Yes, because my fiancé has always been self-employed so I’d been aware of his experience. Because I had a full-time job I’m quite good at turning off in the evening. And, because of my experience with burnout and anxiety, I’m cautious not to overwork myself. It’s important to know what your early warning signs are before you make yourself unwell. Sometimes I do have to work all weekend – for example Christmas markets – but then I’ll take a few days off straight away.
My best advice would be to find what brings you calm, and gets rid of that headache you’ve been brewing for weeks! Sometimes for me I just need to watch an hour of trash telly in the middle of the day, to give my thinking mind a break. Although yoga and meditation have their place, I’ve stopped pressuring myself to always do the idealised self-care, if it’s not what I need at that moment. Work-life balance only exists if you stop thinking about ‘work’ during ‘life’.
What has been your favourite project to date?
Illustrating the entirety of Doorstep Discoveries, a local tourism magazine for Wakefield Council. They were lovely to work with and I love seeing my work in print! See it here.
What is your biggest win of the last 12 months?
Being approached by two different small businesses, and asked to add illustrations to their branding and marketing. It’s a lovely feeling when the message and niche you’re putting out there starts coming back to you. Working with small businesses is ace, because they’re all so unique and run with such love.
What is it about running your business/being a freelancer that you most and least enjoy?
Most: Managing my own schedule. I find it almost impossible to sit still in the same place all day looking at the screen. I like to switch between my home office and my studio in Leeds, with space to take breaks whenever I want.
Least: The doom feeling when a project ends and you don’t have the next one lined up yet. Deep down I know I will get commissioned again, but sometimes it is hard to shake the scaries…!
If you were given a free £1000 to spend on your business, what would you spend it on?
Lining up a set of sessions with my creative business coach, Sophie – Ink & Bear. I absolutely need that sounding board, support and accountability every few months, to keep me going. Every freelancer should have a mentor or coach of some kind!
What is your ONE top tip or piece of advice you would offer to other freelancers/small business owners?
A few years ago I was told to spend 40% of my time on illustration, 40% of my time on marketing, 10% on admin and 10% on development. I try to stick to that and it’s made me realise that’s a LOT of time on marketing, more than I would naturally do!
And finally, is there anything you’d like to shout about right now?
Next year I want to work with more small businesses on their branding and marketing. Adding playful illustrated characters or icons makes designs and brands more friendly, human and is a way to bring out your small biz uniqueness and character – check out more info here!