Episode #1: Navigating the Realities of Freelance Design (Intro to the Podcast!)

Welcome to Earning by Design, a podcast brought to you by For the Creatives, dedicated to guiding graphic designers and creative freelancers towards building successful businesses from their passions. I’m your host, Lauren Gonzalez. With eight years of running a six-figure design business and over 14 years in the design industry itself, including both in-house corporate and freelance roles, I’m here to share insights and strategies to help you thrive in your design business.

My journey was not without its challenges, including finding well-paying clients and managing an overwhelming workload for very minimal return. But through perseverance and strategic planning, I was able to transform these obstacles into a rewarding business that allows me to work from home, set my own hours, and select projects that truly resonate with me. So in this podcast, my goal is to share this blueprint for success with you.

Every week, we’re going to be delving into a wealth of inspiration, practical education, and inside secrets of the design industry. Earning by Design is your companion whether you are embarking on your design career or you’re already an experienced designer. I will provide the tools and insights you need to stay competitive in the fast-paced world of graphic design.

So remember to subscribe and join me weekly. I’m going to be hosting expert interviews and giving you a peek into the workings of my own design business, all with the aim to equip you with the knowledge and strategies to carve your own path to success in the design world. Hello! I am very excited to be starting this new podcast, Earning by Design, and I’m going to, in this episode, give you a bit of a background on who I am and we’re also going to talk about the topic on expectations when you’re first starting to get into freelancing.

Because sometimes people aim way too high and then they don’t meet those expectations and then they give up way too soon. And so I want to just address that, but first before we get into that I want to just give you a background. My name is Lauren Gonzalez.

I have been an artist, a designer, really all my life I’ve been designing or drawing. I did win a contest for creating a greeting card when I was about seven by the LA Times, where I grew up in Los Angeles. And then though I really had a strong focus on getting into the world of animation.

And that was, I was always drawing, I was trying to get into CalArts, which is the character, well it was started by Walt Disney, that was actually a school created, founded by him. And they have a very strong character animation program, that’s where a lot of the Pixar executives and creators came out of. And I really wanted to be in the field of animation.

So that was my focus for most of my early teens and later teens and I did eventually get into CalArts. I went there for a year for character animation and I decided to pivot my focus to more of the production designer. I liked the bigger picture rather than the nitty-gritty drawing every single frame and everything.

I have so much respect for animators and it was a field that I always dreamed to be in. So I went then to Art Center of Design, which is also in Los Angeles in Pasadena. And long story short, I ended up getting into graphic design.

There’s a lot of different points and reasons why that I’m not going to get too deep into this episode, but I pivoted to the world of graphic design. And it was very interesting to see because when you look at an illustrator, which is really what I was for a long time, is very illustrator heavy with my hand. Not Adobe Illustrator.

Illustrator with my hand drawings, doing paintings. That was my big obsession and focus and what I wanted to do full-time. But when you look at the bigger picture of graphic design, it is almost like the illustration is a part of it.

It’s a component. And I was fascinated by that and how much and how much depth the world of graphic design had. And in putting the components of typography, the components of illustration, the components of visual, the components of all the compositional elements that I’d been learning in illustration, but into anything.

And how broad and far-reaching graphic design was. So it was a real privilege to be able to then scoot into that industry and that field. And I was able to, after school, get into working in different apprenticeships and did a little bit of freelancing.

And I then went to work for a publishing agency. And so in that role, I was first working under a creative director. There was a few other designers.

But I was able to experiment and just work in a breadth of projects. Everything from banner design to book design, catalogs, publications, brochures. I mean, CD cover art.

I did a bit of website dabbling in that. And that was the thing that I was basically expected to know everything. And I hadn’t really learned everything in school.

I dabbled in some things. So graphic design was my main focus when I was learning. And then I came into this world of having to be able to do anything.

So I had to learn really quickly, all sorts of design, which was very exciting. And I had the privilege to work under a really great designer or art director, who then I ended up taking over her job later on. And it was a very exciting time.

There were many aspects. I worked for there for six years. There was many aspects that led me to decide to go freelance.

I was getting burnt out. I wasn’t really interested to work for just one company all the time. I wanted to explore and work with other types of clients.

And I wanted to have a family. So I wanted to be able to work from home. For me, all I needed was my computer and my Wacom tablet.

I felt I could take on the world and be able to give any client what they would need to succeed as a business. I had so much confidence in myself. And I was really excited to get going.

The problem was, my portfolio was super, super limited, because I couldn’t really take anything I’d been doing for six years. And my portfolio pre-working was not up to the standards that I was now as a designer. So it was a bit of a learning curve as to what do I even put in my portfolio.

I put up a website mainly of illustrations. I started doing some Etsy and selling some greeting cards on Etsy, which did sell, but the profit margin was so little I was basically paying to be selling. So that didn’t work very well.

But I was pregnant and I wanted to try some different options. And that’s what I wanted to, what I intend to do in this podcast, in this whole podcast, not obviously just this episode, is to really give you realistic expectations and strategies. Because I went from expecting clients to come to me no matter what, and come and just be flooding me if I just put up a website.

But here I was, and barely even making $100 a month, and I had no idea what to do. I got freaked out. I thought about going back to a job, but I had this very, very clear vision of what I wanted my life to be like.

I wanted to be home with my children when I had kids. I wanted to work on my own schedule. And I didn’t want to have the the nine-to-five office life that I had just left.

And that was what drove me, and drove me really intensely to make it work. So I did get some referrals of clients here and there. But it took a long time, and I didn’t know what to charge.

So I would go months. I think I went about three months the first time without sending an invoice to the client, because I was so nervous about getting paid. When they asked me what my rates were, I said I had to research for like a whole week what should I be charging, because they wanted to do it hourly.

And it was really all about whatever the client wanted. I did it even if I had to work, you know, hours and hours and hours for $50. It was really ridiculous the way that things were.

But I didn’t know any better. I didn’t have any framework. I didn’t even know to research.

I just was winging it and based. I had my computer, my iMac, and my Wacom. And I was, like I said, thought that I could conquer the world.

So later on, or as time went on, I started to notice I would get some referrals from a specific industry, and things started to just move a lot better. And I started to get more clients and get more clients. I was able to go from charging very low to now I’m able to be charging over $10,000, $20,000 for projects.

I am making a great living with my computer and my Wacom. I’ve been able to not miss any of my, both of my kids now, the oldest is seven, and my youngest is turning five in January. I’ve been able to be there for them.

I go to school activities. I get to be and greet them when they come home, pick them up from school. It’s the, what graphic design my business has given me is something I am forever indebted to because I did not want to have that nine-to-five life.

And so I wanted to also share that with others. What was my journey? How did I get here? Because that’s something that I feel is important to give back. There’s a lot of struggling designers out there, not sure how to make ends meet, that would give anything to trade in their in-house job or a job working something completely different than the creative field for working from home and being a creative and choosing the projects they want.

And I feel very blessed to be in this position to have gotten to this point. But at the same time, it took a lot of work. It’s not something that happened within a month period or even a few months.

And that’s where I want to set the expectations correctly. I started my YouTube channel back in 2020, because I wanted to give back to the community. And that took off with a lot about freelance.

And that was my primary focus. But I noticed there’s a huge population of people looking to learn graphic design on YouTube, as opposed to really freelance. So I felt the podcast was a great way to talk more about the marketing side, talk about the freelance side, and be able to have this platform to go longer time period.

You know, YouTube videos are generally pretty short. So I’m excited about what this is going to bring to you and give you more insights. I’ll be able to go more behind the scenes in my business.

I’m planning to interview experts all over in the field related to design, people outside of the design field that can help give us some insights as well. So I really want to give that a lot of value to you. And I want to talk about also the expectations because expectation, it’s going into something, you know, when you’re little, and you have your expectations super high, maybe for Christmas, and you think you’re going to get this exact toy that you want.

And then you wake up on Christmas, and you and it’s not there. And so that just ruins Christmas that day, maybe I’ve had that happen to me before, when I was little. And that’s what I feel a lot of people get really over overexcited about going into the world of freelance and working for themselves, because who doesn’t want to work for themselves, right? Having that boss over your head, having all the constant people requesting designs in house, it’s it gets overwhelming.

Especially at one point, I was the only designer in house, I didn’t enjoy that I didn’t enjoy getting requests at late at night to have something done the next day. And how I it was all my fault. If if something wasn’t selling, I just didn’t like that I wanted to be able to feel more in control of my life.

So the expectations that I had were much higher than they than it was. And I was disappointed when I went out and I noticed that clients don’t just come magically to you. And with the the world as it is, where there are more and more people getting into the design industry, it’s important that you set your expectations very specifically and not too high, right off the bat.

That doesn’t mean you should just not aim to the stars as to where you want to get to. But you have to be realistic in the approach and the timeline. I think that someone could set up their business correctly within six months to a year and be getting that consistent clients by the end of that point.

But when you first just go in and you think, okay, I’m going to put up some work on Instagram, and I’m going to put it on my website. And then you post a few times and nobody signs up to be your client. And then you just give up after that.

That is what is not going to make you successful as a business owner, and as a freelance designer, because that’s where you got to reframe also the word freelancer. I know a lot of people don’t even like being called freelancers. But essentially, you are a business owner, which means you aren’t just the creative side of things.

You also have to take on and put on this hat of I am do have to really think bigger. And not just about what’s the next post or what is the the next passion project I’m going to put out, you have to think long term, what is the business that you want to have in one year from now, two years from now, five years from now, and think with who is the target audience? How are you going to reach them? Where are they online? And do these initial internal branding points. Before you start complaining that you’re not getting anywhere and you’re not doing things.

It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes persistence. I worked for about two to three years, and was working weekends was working late at night when my kids were sleeping in naptime. In the middle of the night, I was working all the time on to figure things out.

And I am not saying you need to do that. I don’t. I know the whole hustling culture isn’t looked down on.

And I don’t I don’t want you to have that. And that’s what I want to give you in this podcast is some frameworks, some different tips, and some help that can give you and lead you in the right direction so that you don’t have to go through those struggling times. And you don’t have to figure it all out.

And you can have the confidence to charge higher prices right off the bat instead of waiting years to charge over $1,000, which is what I did. So expectations going into it, I want you to really if you take away something from this episode is gain that patience, be willing to have something take time. Don’t don’t feel that just because the next designer over has 100,000 followers on Instagram and is getting a bunch of people engaged, that they are being successful or that you will not get there.

First off, you don’t know if all of those of all the engagement is actually getting them clients because I can tell you I don’t use Instagram at all for my design business and I have consistency in my clients. I have already January through June lined up with projects of next year, which I feel incredibly excited about. And that’s and if you look on my Principium Studio, which is the name of my design business, if you look on my Instagram, I barely post there because that’s not where my ideal clients are.

That’s not where I’ve grown to to get people coming to me. So don’t just take what the engagement you see on the outside as the make or break of if somebody if you’re not at that level, then you’re not going to be having a successful business because it takes a lot more than just the social presence. While that is super important to in some specific areas and industries to get known when nobody knows about you, you have to go out and and allow people to find you.

It doesn’t necessarily translate or or mean that that designer who has that a million subscribers or followers is having a successful business. So just make sure you stay in your own lane. You don’t compare your own chapter one or chapter zero to somebody else’s chapter 20 or 30 or 40.

Everybody’s at a different stage. You don’t know the the the background of what they’re doing, how how they’re getting clients. And a lot of times people don’t want to share that.

And here on this podcast, I am going to share that. I’m going to talk about where I got my first clients. I’m going to talk about where I got my second clients, my third clients, how I was able to get that consistency.

What did I need to do to get there? And I’m going to take you through that journey. And I’m super excited to also revisit these times, because for me, it’s it’s going to be something that I I think I’ll learn from as and I would love it if you send me a direct message on Instagram and let me know what specific freelance topics you would like to know about. Because here in the podcast, I want to make that space for everyone.

I want to be able to give this podcast to you so that you can have the tools you need to succeed. So thank you so much. And I am excited for what we have together to share in this feature of this podcast.

And moving forward, I wish you all the best in your business and that you will set your expectations correctly because you don’t want to aim too high and then fall. You want to have that gradual increase that when you look back, you realize you had that patience, you had that persistence and you had that dedication. Thanks so much again.

I’ll talk to you next time. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Earning by Design. If you found value today, I would be incredibly grateful if you could leave a review on your favorite podcast platform.

Your feedback not only helps this podcast to grow, but it also helps to get in front of more designers who need help too. So thank you sincerely for being here and for more resources to help you succeed in the world of design, please visit ForTheCreatives.com. That’s the number four, TheCreatives.com. We offer a variety of courses, programs, and free resources all tailored to enhance your design skills and your business knowledge. Also, be sure to follow me on Instagram at ForTheCreatives for more updates and tips.

And if you haven’t already, join my growing community of over 100,000 subscribers on the ForTheCreatives YouTube channel that has more content all designed to fuel your creativity and your professional growth. Until next time, keep creating, keep exploring, and continue to push the boundaries of your own creative journey. I’ll be here to guide and inspire you every step of the way.

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Welcome to my new podcast for graphic designers

Welcome to my new podcast for designers looking to making a career out of their creative skills! When creatives are getting started in their business, there are often many expectations of instant growth and making income right away. But that is usually not the case and there can be too many feelings of failure right out the gate. In this episode, I give you advice I wish I knew starting out so that I didn’t set my expectations too high only to get disappointed for the first few years.

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