Applying Freelance Techniques In An Agency Setting.

A group of agency designers walks into a panel about freelancing…

Ok, so this is not the beginning of a long-winded and inevitably un-funny joke, but is the start of an unlikely learning experience. Senior Brand Design Alexa Games invited her design team – Senior Brand Designer Nick Smith and Brand Designer Kristin Bural to attend the American Advertising Federation’s panel on freelancing. The panel, Freelance like a Boss, took a look at life as a creative freelancer, covering topics on getting paid to “turning your passion into your everyday reality.” The panelists included Allen Laseter (Animator/Filmmaker), Cody Twitchell (Sound Designer), Kate Parrish (Writer/Content Marketer/Brand Storyteller), and Micah Kandros (Designer/Photographer).

While our designers aren’t responsible for hustling to get their next design project, there is significant overlap in freelance work and working successfully in an agency setting like Proof. I sat down with our three wildly-talented designers to ask them what they took away from the panel – in their own words.

What made you interested in attending this panel?

AG: Attending creative events as a design team helps to keep us motivated and inspired, and the line-up of speakers was what initially drew my interest in attending the event. There were some incredibly talented creatives speaking on the panel, and being able to take a peek behind the curtain and learn more about their own distinct creative processes was very appealing.

NS: Learning from fellow designers and creatives in your community is always pertinent. The insights of others, though sometimes surprising but often times relatable, can create real-world solutions if you find yourself in the same situation.

KB: Before starting at Proof, I was a full-time freelancer in Nashville. Looking back, doing freelance helped lay the foundation for my skill set. Attending this panel after being at Proof a year-and-a-half helped illuminate areas that my skills as a freelancer married my skills adopted at Proof.

Who was your favorite panelist and why?

AG: Allen Laseter was my favorite panelist. First and foremost, his work is incredible (I’ve recently started learning the basics of motion design, and his work is inspirational), but I appreciated his insights about taking time to focus on your own creative passion projects. He considers taking time every day to work on passion projects a “creative warm up” that provides an opportunity to creative exploration, helps to develop new skill sets, and ultimately makes your client projects stronger. Allowing yourself the time to try out new illustration style or learn a new photo editing technique isn’t something we typically have time for during the busy, day-to-day schedule at Proof—so making time for this creative space to learn and grow is important.

NS: Micah Kandros brings years of experience, in and outside agencies. His insight on having a routine and sticking to it really resonated with me. As an agency that allows for remote working, it’s often easy to remain in bed until noon and then finally get up at lunch. Or you may go to a coffee shop one day and not the other. Whereas sticking to a strict routine of this coffee shop every remote day might be impossible, having small things you do daily to get started will help with productivity.

KB: Paulina Wisniewski was my favorite panelist. Although I’ve met her before outside of the design community, she was so thoughtful and articulate: putting great emphasis on independently creating work that you crave to do. Paulina believes that if you use your social media to showcase work you love to do, the right client will find you. She cares deeply about pulling inspiration from nature and from other designers that we aspire to be like.

What did you learn about the importance of social media?

AG: Showcasing our work in a strategic, intentional manner is important to visually communicate the many aspects of the branding process. Social media is incredibly important in this sense—Instagram is often the first touchpoint we have with potential clients. It’s key that we use this platform to display the range of our creative capabilities. We work with clients from different industries (each with their own distinct aesthetic), so this is a great way for us to showcase our creative range as well.

NS: It can be a great tool to gain new clients or generate new leads. One panelist spoke about their curated feed like it was the exact representation of the work they have done, and also want to get. They recounted that they’ve only had clients/new work driven from social media since they’ve been more specific curating their posts. At Proof, we spend every Tuesday and Thursday working remotely, much like a freelancer.

KB: In a creative industry like branding, showcasing your work in a curated, intelligent way is pivotal for successful engagement on social media. Creating an aesthetic that reflects your company as a whole is largely the first specimen of work that potential clients see. If your work is exceptional, people will follow.

What tools and reminders did you learn about structure?

AG: Keeping structure in your creative life is important, even when working remotely. The flexibility for heads-down time while working from home, or feeling inspired by the vibe of your favorite coffee shop is great to keep you feeling fresh and creatively inspired, but maintaining the same habits and structure on remote days is important to keep rhythm necessary for producing killer creative work.

NS: Other than having a routine, don’t isolate yourself and don’t be afraid to reach out to teammates for help. If you find yourself getting stuck, pick up the phone and call someone. It may only take a few minutes to explain the situation to someone and they can lend a helping hand. In this way, you’ll avoid burning hours and make deadlines.

KB: With my extroverted personality, I was reminded of the importance of getting out of my house and going to a coffee shop or a library. Even being surrounded by the buzz and bustle of an establishment can help me gravitate out of my own way and into a more creative and innovative headspace.

What was your number one take away from the panel?

AG: Preventing isolation and burnout is important in any setting where you’re working alone for a long period of time. Whether its a remote day at Proof or a project that requires a few hours of heads-down focused time, knowing when to reach out to your team for an outside perspective or opinion makes creative projects much stronger. The design team at Proof is very collaborative and this is something we always do, but it’s easy to feel creatively isolated when you’re “in the zone” or working on a challenging project. Attending the panel was a great reminder that we are strongest when we work as a team.

NS: Keep learning. Find other outlets for designing and most of all keep designing for yourself. We all love client work, but sometimes it’s best to sit down for a couple of hours and design a mock homepage or logo that’s really cool, even though it may never produce revenue. Also, just have fun, because designing should be!

KB: For me, I think being reminded that as creatives, we should share our unfinished work for critiques, & feedback. Sometimes the only obstacle in the way of completing a successful project is our stubbornness to touch base with others during the process stage.

Why is it important for Proof to be a part of these conversations?

AG: Nashville has a robust population of talented creatives, and making connections within our local community is a great way for our design team to stay on our toes and learn new and perspectives that we can take back to our work at Proof. Not only did we learn from the insights shared by the panels, but had the opportunity to network with other design teams at local agencies. The organic conversations that happen at events like these also act as a great way to stay creatively motivated and inspired.

NS: As a team of creative badasses, we can always learn and grow with the community. Nashville is a unique city in the creative world. We have everything from brand design to sound design to architectural brilliance and much more. Learning about processes of other successful and thriving individuals/companies can shed a little light for our own internal processes. Also, surrounding yourself with creatives, not only in the branding community, we can find other ways to stay inspired and make some awesome friends along the way.

KB: Being in the creative field, design is always shifting, expanding, and innovating. Going to panels and events that feature current innovators in our industry is insanely important. Be going to events that hold these types of conversations, we are stepping into a bigger picture of what is happening in the design world, as well as keeping ourselves up-to-date on what is happening in our community.

A big thank you to AAF for hosting this panel and facilitating this conversation. Another big thank you to the panelists for taking the time to share their wisdom. And of course, to our designers, thank you for being you: talented, eager, curious, and articulate.

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