6 tips for creatives working full time and freelancing

6 tips for creatives working full time and freelancing

While the juggle of freelance and other commitments has been something I’ve been trying to balance for a little over five years, this past year was the first time I took on the responsibility of full time employment. This has been a hard transition for me, as I’ve had the tendency to bite off way more than I can chew. Literally and figuratively — I’ve been to the doctors a couple times this year because food keeps getting stuck in my throat! Serious there, but kidding aside, I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way that have been born out of some serious mistakes as well as taking notes on what was going well. If I can give you one over-arching tip, it’s to notice what’s going right, and to keep doing that.

Anyways, here are my 6 tips for creatives working full time and freelancing on the side:

1: Specialize

Since moving to Ohio, I have worked on all sorts of projects on the side. I’ve taken on styling and photography, copywriting, consulting, branding, web design…the list goes on. What I’ve been learning over this past year is that I feel best when I am working on shorter-term projects. For now, I’m trying to focus on contract lettering projects. I can concept and letter over my lunch breaks, and then come home to edit and send off finals and be done with a project within a week. Getting work out the door on my off time, while still having a weekend full of fun feels incredible. I give this up a little when I take on bigger projects that require full-days of work that I can only do on the weekends. I’ll take them on here and there, but for now my heart is with these lettering projects because of the flexibility they afford my schedule and the passion I have towards doing them.

2: Under promise, over-deliver, and over-estimate

Over-promised, missed deadlines, apologies, and guilt. Been there, and I’m through. Keep lofty goals to yourself, and tell your clients about half of what you hope to accomplish. It’s not deceitful, it’s just honest. I’d much rather the client be happy with what they 1: assume they are getting and 2: a little something extra, than to be promised something huge and grand and end up with something less than. This is a huge one that I’m still working on. I get ahead of myself, and I let my passions speak louder than what my time allows. Also, over-estimate the time that it will take you to complete a task. Unless you’re up against a strict client-given deadline for a certain deliverable, double up the time you think you could get it done in. If you get it done early, your client is happy, and you’re happy! If you run in to snags, you have that buffer time to smooth them out.

3: Learn to say no, to say yes

My 2013 goal was to learn to say no. It’s treated me well. When you’re working a full time job, you usually have the liberty to take on only the projects that you’re super passionate about. Your regular work pays the bills, and the freelance is a little something extra. When you’re taking on these extra projects, they should be fun. This is one of the huge perks of doing both! You get great creative projects to do at work, and you get different projects to balance out those other creative needs on the side. Say no to anything that doesn’t immediately have you saying heck yes! When you say no to the so-so, it opens your schedule to say yes to the thrilling projects when they do come along. It’s so worth it.

4: Connect with peers in and out of work

Working for a creative company, I’m lucky to have so many other people who are in this very same position. A group of us have a monthly sushi lunch where we catch up with our lives, and usually end up talking through the struggles and benefits of doing this working full time and freelancing thing. Being a blogger also lead me to finding one of my creative soul sisters at work, which has lead to us collaborating and chatting about so many things we tackle in life as creatives. Outside of work, it’s been important to me to connect to others through instagram, by leaving comments on others’ blogs, and to be active in the online creative community. I definietely had my moments where it was all too much, but a blog post here, a ‘great job’ comment there, it all adds up! All of this leads to a network of people that are there for you in different but necessary ways. These connections help keep me inspired, and they help me gauge some of that ‘what’s going right’ business. It’s too much burden to be a solitary creative. Reach out, open up, and find out the possibilities of what some of these creative relationships can do for you all!

5: Take smaller bites

This is something that I’ve been learning since I went to Pursue in April. One of the speakers (eeep, I can’t remember who! Giving myself a wrist-slap) showed us how writing out to-do lists for our to-do lists in teeny tiny steps actually helps you get more accomplished. Herm!? Yeah. So what you do is that for each task you have that seems a little daunting or that you can’t quite make yourself manage, you write out every tiny step that is put in to that to-do item. Maybe it’s as simple as buying a new calligraphy pen — yeah, lettering girl at heart here. For example:

1 – open safari

2 – google ‘calligraphy pen’

3 – browse for a calligraphy pen shop

4 – compare prices at different shops

5 – choose which one works for you

6 – put it in your cart

7 – get out your wallet

8 – type in your card info

9 – click purchase

10 – celebrate!

Kidding, kind of, on that celebration part, but honestly this does work. I’ve been breaking up to-do’s at work and it has been helping me manage things that seem a little daunting to me. By breaking up to-do’s for freelance, I’m able to get small aspects of work done on my lunch breaks that I would have otherwise spent worrying about how I was going to get the whole project done during the nights that week. Taking bite-sized pieces of work, and of food, is just the way to go for a more productive you.

6: Give yourself grace

This is the biggest one of all. I have extremely high expectations for myself, and it’s bitten me in the butt in the form of emotional sabotage waaaay too many times. Look at you, you’re basically working two jobs! That’s excellent! You did your dishes this week? CONGRATS. Learn to give yourself the opportunity to mess up, and learn in the process. Smile and solve when something does go wrong. The freaking out wont help the matter. I realize this is all simpler said than done, but it’s something I try and remember when I feel like I’m just going about life all wrong.


And that’s that! For those of you who are working full time and freelancing, do you have anything else to add? This is certainly a work in progress, and I know we’re all just trying to figure it out one day at a time. Hope this helps full time workers, freelancers, and anyone just trying to manage their work load.

PS: you’ve got this!


MOODBOARD | fitness guru

moodboard | for a fitness client | PINEGATE ROAD

Well here’s something bright and cheery to welcome you in to the new year! Working on this brand has been such a refreshing thing for me. Not only because of the vision my client has, but by how we’ve all been working together. While I rarely take on exchanges for design, I knew in my gut I had to take this opportunity and run with it — quite literally! My client will be working with me this next year to help me meet my health goals, and in return I’m helping her build out her online presence. She has a talented friend on board who is also going through her own personal health transformation, and it’s been pretty awesome combining our three visions so far. This project is for the mind, body, and soul and I couldn’t be happier about kicking it off at the start of this new year.

core brand values | for a fitness client | PINEGATE ROAD

This is the first time that I’ve shared keywords with you all. They are such an important part of how design decisions are made throughout the process. They are gleaned from the core of the client’s vision for the overall brand. This is where I’m so glad that I hunkered down and finished that communications minor in undergrad! hah. Having words and their associated meaning to transcend into design aspects is incredibly valuable. That’s what can transform a brand that’s not bad to a brand people genuinely want to connect with.

Throughout all of our conversations, I noted themes and picked out words that kept popping up. After some final exploration, they were placed in three different categories and the strongest keyword was picked for each to stand as a core value for the project. Certain aspects about the project were introduced at the very beginning of our collaboration, but it’s in this process that the design decisions start to have something to lean on. If a design element is created, it better be for a reason that falls back to one of these core brand values, or it’s watering down the brand experience.

For this moodboard, we have a mix of bright colors that play with the idea of empowerment. You can’t shy away from these hues. Using sans-serif typography as well as geometric shapes will keep things clean, simple, and relatable. Using these same shapes and lines to possibly create a larger design element would add to the feeling of connection. My client is trying to build community with her ventures, so showing this visually would be a fun addition! Elements will be used in a way that flow, change perspective, or have an essence of moving through eachother. This relates to the transformative nature of fitness, and how my client uses her talents to help others transform their lives.

Oooh man am I excited about this one!


traverser number ten

TRAVERSER: french for — to pass, to cross, to traverse, to span.

ONE—I spent a kind of stupid time looking up how to make baked alaska the other day. Ice cream + ovens + dessert? I’m in. This also makes me want to have a dinner party and wear a cute little apron over a cocktail dress. Anyone? anyone? no? ok.

TWO—You guys, this concept! This design! What? I’m in.

THREE—Ever since blog and web design became a thing that I work on occasionally, I’ve been on the hunt for unique user experiences in the web environment. The grid system on this site is slightly quirky and just right. And those pretty scarves they’re selling? That doesn’t hurt one bit.

REFLECTIONS | 4 | designing with the audience in mind

designing with the audience in mind | PINEGATE ROAD

This might be a “duh, Kelsey” kind of post, but I’m going to take a stab at it none the less. After seven years of calling myself a designer, It hasn’t been until this first job where I really and truly had to start thinking with the audience in mind. I was reading this article by Julie Zhuo about how to work with designers over my lunch break, hoping to glean some backwards information on how to work better as a designer working with others. While she is speaking generally, this quote was this lightning bolt to my brain about certain situations that I have been having a hard time pin-pointing at work: “designers may use their own experiences as a compass for what to focus on, when in fact they are not the target demographic.” Ta-da!

How simple is that scenerio, and how often do you find yourself slipping into that as a designer? I know working alone on projects in grad school, and freelancing on the side I had to rely on my own expertise to create. When I was able to pick the project, often-times I situated the target audience around someone similar to myself so that I had a true understanding of what to base decisions off of. Clients often come to me for a certain aesthetic or have a target audience that is based around the audience I’ve had most of my practice dealing with. Even when working for a financial institution, the target audience was a post-grad young professional looking to take control of their finances early on—aka, still ‘me’. All of this time spent creating projects for audiences similar to myself has actually trained me to rely on my personal aesthetics as a benchmark for ‘good’ design.

I don’t think this is a problem if you’re looking to build up your personal brand and you’re still meeting the needs of your client. It’s just a little different for me now. In the stationery world I’m designing for children, for mothers, for fathers, for people with a strict budget in mind, people who don’t value design as their main purchasing factor (gasp), and so many other possible contributing factors that are just new to me. In design critiques over the past couple weeks, I’ve been relying on my personal experiences and my own ideas about ‘good’ design to help guide my decisions and opinions. There had been something off, and I just couldn’t lay my finger on exactly how or why I should trust a design detail or aesthetic choice when I didn’t believe in it deep down. I know now that I wasn’t resonating with the audience. Directly stating this already has me in a better mind-set to move forward from. Here is where trusting in your team to make some of these over-arching decisions comes in, and where I resign myself to learning all over again. While I’ll still have my opinions and kooky ideas from time-to-time, I need to take a short while and learn to resonate with my new audience.

Have you ever had an instance where you had to learn to design or work for a new set of standards? Change is hard sometimes :) As always I appreciate your advice and our discussions around these usually new-to-me topics. Cheers to life-long learning!

MOODBOARD | a natural and modern mix

MOODBOARD | wedding photographer branding | PINEGATE ROAD

Just before leaving Savannah, I was able to connect with a new client. She’s a wedding photographer who is looking to invest in her future and needed a cohesive look that would really pull what she stands for as a photographer together. Drawn to natural elements, with a classic and simple elegance, her style was right up my personal alley. Love when that happens! There’s a pop of gold in there for some glam, but as a whole the brand is meant to feel earthy, yet airy, put-together, and tangible at it’s core.  There is a dichotomy between organic and natural elements with sleek and airy modern lines in the moodboard, and this dichotomy has been at the core of the branding development.

It’s always interesting to see how these come together. Some clients have their entire vision already set and need a designer to put it together and refine the details. Others have a killer aesthetic eye, but need a designer to create that designed vision. There are also a few who have goals and feelings but need the designer to help piece together all the bits and pieces to make the design work for their goals. It takes all kinds, and at this moodboard stage you can definitely get a sense of how the project is going to flow from there. In this instance, my client had already picked many of these pieces—killer eye, right? From there, I found patterns in her choices, added a few new elements, mapped out some color palettes, and helped identify the vision for the brand through keywords and phrases. These were used for decision-making guidelines as we worked through logo drafts. As I’ve been learning, it’s always nice to have a solid foundation of reasoning to why you’re making a design decision. It not only helps you grow into a better designer through critical thinking practices, it shows your clients and those you’re working with that you are making decisions based on design guidelines and in-depth thought rather than your personal sense of style or aesthetic. More to come on that thought though.

Anyways, happy Friday friends! I hope you get to enjoy a fun summer weekend. Eating berries in the park and taking a long walk perhaps? Yes, that’s seriously my idea of an amazing afternoon spent. Maybe a book could join that party. This is my first weekend off in quite a while and I’m going to spend this time catching up with some freelance work and unpacking those dreaded last boxes. It’s gotten to a point where I haven’t needed anything inside of them for the past couple weeks, so they have ended up just sitting there, mocking my inability to handle out-of-work tasks. I’m coming for you boxes!