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August 27, 2014

Freelance Ladies: 10 (More) Things I've Learned

In my first post on this topic, I gave you guys a little background on my path to freelance and how I got started with this little business of mine. It was a series of happy accidents and a lot of hard work that got me to where I am now, and I've learned a thing or two along the way. I'm always so thankful to others who share their tidbits of wisdom about how they work efficiently on their own, so I'd like to do the same. I definitely have even more to learn, but that's why this adventure is fun -- there's never a dull moment!

Without further ado, here are 10 more things I've learned about being a small business owner and freelance artist:

1. Photography is important. It took me a long time to realize this -- but to be fair, I was working with a super small budget when I first started my business, and I didn't have the cash for a fancy camera or cash to pay a photographer to shoot photos of my products. Over time I saved and bought my first DSLR, but it turns out that the iPhone takes photos that are just as fab most of the time! So that's my dirty secret -- I take the majority of my product photos with a little natural light and my iPhone. Styling is a whole other story. I feel like I've come a long way with my styling skills. Taking Anna Naphtali's class at Field Trip was huge for me -- I learned so much! One thing that's stuck with me when styling photos is when in doubt, less is more. This is a really in-depth blog topic for another day, so I've started writing a post on styling photographs for later. Stay tuned. 

2. You can be your own PR rep. I've attended two of Amy Flurry's workshops about DIY PR in the past year, and I wrote a post not too long ago about her advice, book and Pitch Wheel because I've found all to be incredibly helpful. In a nutshell, Amy will tell you that you don't have to hire a professional to spread the news about your business or product line -- you can do it all by yourself. It might take a little extra time and effort, but you can reach out to magazine editors and other media outlets -- all you need to do is seek out the important people (advice on how to do this can be found in Amy's book! Book plug!) and send them a good pitch e-mail with a couple of photos. 

3. Waking up to your internal alarm clock is OK. Ever since I lost my job and this freelance journey began, I've struggled with when I should start my day. At first, I was staying up late and then sleeping late. I quickly realized this wasn't going to work -- the majority of the world doesn't run on this kind of schedule. After I got married, I started getting back on a "normal" schedule and setting my alarm for 7:00 in the morning, like I did when I had a regular 9-5. This worked fine for awhile, but when I really sat down and thought about it, what works best for me is waking up when I wake up. Usually this is around 8:00 am -- sometimes earlier. Bottom line is, I'm happier and more productive when I don't wake up to those irritating alarm chimes. Do what works best for you.

4. iPhone notifications are better turned off. My phone used to be set-up to alert me whenever I received a new e-mail, someone wrote on my Facebook wall or liked my pins and Instagram photos. My phone was going off all the time, and it started driving me insane. The minute I turned off my notifications, my phone stopped buzzing, and I instantly felt more at ease. I realized quickly that I do better when I'm not "plugged in" 24-hours a day. Of course, I still roll through my Instagram feed all day long...let's be honest. I'm hopelessly addicted to that app. But I like being able to take a step back from all the others when I'm away from my desk -- it definitely helps me stay sane.

5. Don't feel guilty if you need a break. I think everyone would be happier and work harder if they could identify when they need a break to work-out, recharge or relax and listen to what their bodies and minds are telling them to do. I've found that I work better in the morning, but I need a couple of hours off in the afternoon to stay focused. I may come back and work until 7 pm to make up for lost time, but the important thing is, my working hours are all productive hours. 

6. Seek out the apps and desktop programs that will make your life easier. If we're talking staying organized with projects and deadlines, I use Excel (I use it at a very basic level). I live by the Adobe Creative suite for projects -- mainly Illustrator and Photoshop. iPhone apps are great too -- lately Genius Scan has saved my life with the move. We didn't have Internet right away, so my wireless scanner was acting up. When I didn't have patience to mess with it, I just used the Genius Scan app to quickly send documents and sketches to clients. It's awesome to use when I'm in a pinch. 

7. It's alright to work in your pajamas, but...'ll probably feel more put-together and "with it" if you work in actual clothes. But if I'm going to be honest, I don't practice what I'm preaching when it comes to this one. I work in a t-shirt and comfortable shorts the majority of the time -- and I'm pretty happy that way. Of course, if I were to have a meeting with a client or the gal who works on my website, I try to pull it together a little more and look my best. Working behind my desk all day, though? T-shirt and shorts...maybe even my pajamas. Just keeping it real. 

8. An inspiring workspace with the right desk (and chair!) will make you happy. I'm learning that there is so much truth in this now that I'm in our temporary apartment -- my sawhorse desk was too big for the space, so we had to take it apart and store it while we're here. I'm working between a few different spaces at the moment in a couple of different rooms to do various tasks, and I've found I definitely work slower and not as effectively this way. It kind of kills my creative vibe at times, too, but I have to make it work for now!

If you can manage it, brighten the walls in your creative space to something light and bright -- white, light grey, or maybe another super diluted shade of color. Natural light is your friend -- it does wonders for the room and for you (sunlight makes us all happy!) Chaos naturally comes with a creative territory most of the time, but a little organization goes a long way. I work best in a neat and tidy space, with supplies stored in a place where I can quickly find them. For me, my mail sorter serves this purpose -- it keeps everything out of sight in baskets, but each one contains a specific utensil or shipping material. I know just where everything is, and my days run more smoothly because of it. Finally, make sure your chair is comfortable. Working in the wrong chair will just make you grouchy -- and your tush sore.

9. Weekends are better spent away from the office. Long ago I made it a priority to take the weekends off. This means staying away from e-mail, Etsy notifications and in general, my desk. This is hard to do in an age where we have access to work by phone 24 hours a day, and even harder when your office is in your house. But your loved ones want to spend time with you, and it's not OK to be plugged in all the time! You'll be a happier person if you take Saturday and Sunday off, no matter how much you love your job. Promise.

10. Never stop learning! No matter how much you already know, things are always changing, and new skills help you stay current and edgy in today's past-paced design world. My favorite online "continuing education" sites are Nicole's Classes and Skillshare. Skillshare has been teaching me all kinds of crazy things about Illustrator, and I'm loving it. Skillshare is different from Nicole's Classes in that you learn at your own pace -- and the cost is better, too. I'm also a big fan for signing up for creative summits and gatherings in your area -- I talk a little more about this and my favorites here. A few of my talented gal pals in Athens are putting on a creative summit in October, which is so awesome! I'm bummed I can't attend because I'll en route to a wedding, but I know it will be fantastic. For those of you who live nearby, be sure to check it out!

So in a nutshell, these are a few more things I've learned freelance-wise over time. You can see previous posts on this topic here and here. If you have any nuggets of wisdom to add, please do in the comments!

xo -- Natty

Photos by Kaitie Bryant


  1. Thank you for writing this, Natty. I'm an introvert and don't often talk with other artists. So many are very private (hoarders?!) about sharing any of their skills, sources, tricks, etc. I appreciate your sharing the sources you noted, above. Can't wait to put them on my Christmas list!

  2. Love this series! So helpful to hear from others in the creative world (and that I'm not the only one wearing my pajamas)! ;)


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