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I am looking for more people who would be interested in taking part in Freelancer Focus please see this post for details if you are interested. I am also interested in design case studies too.

Freelance DesignerFreelancer Focus is a regular feature, where freelance designers are invited to answer a series of questions about themselves and freelancing. This week Michael McAlister (pictured left) is the freelance designer in question. If you would like to take part please read my previous post. Any designer or illustrator can also take part in Design Case Studies.

1. Your name?
Michael McAlister

2. Where are you are based (Country/Area)?
USA – Chicago, IL / Milwaukee, WI

3. What type of work do you do? (design for print, web, multimedia etc)
I design mostly identity. Logos, stationary work, and anything else a new company might need. I also do web and print design.

4. How many years had you been working in the design industry before you went freelance?
I was working a day job for 4 years before I decided it was time for change.

5. How long have you been freelancing?
I have been full-time freelancing for almost 5 months. I have been doing freelance at night for 3 or 4 years.

6. Why did you decide to go freelance?
I was at a point in job where everything was very stale and the pay wasn’t worth the work I did for the company. They didn’t appreciate the creative direction of anything. They would literally bring me marketing materials from other companies and ask me to copy them!

7. How did you market yourself (find design work/new clients) in the beginning – (online portfolio/brochure/direct mail/email/phone etc)?
I started out doing a little bit of local work so I didn’t need much marketing. Shortly after, I started working strictly online. About the same time, I found SitePoint and that really helped me out a lot. I won enough contests to keep me afloat and at the same time got my name out by word of mouth.

8. How do you market yourself (find design work) now?
I still don’t have to do too much marketing. Working through SitePoint has gotten me a few solid clients that pay me to do continuous work. I do pass out business cards whenever the chance presents itself (and sometimes when it doesn’t!)

9. How did you decide what to charge? What was the process?
This was the hardest part of freelancing for me. I was always so stuck because I desperately needed the jobs. I would try to reason with myself like “If I charge less, they may be more likely to give me more work.” I guess I was sort of right in the end. You really have to take in every aspect of the situation and decide off that. Don’t dip too far down below the average design rates. I did a lot of research on the net to find what people were charging, and tried to follow that. I still have a hard time with rates.

10. Do you work from home/have an office/work inhouse at design agencies?
I work out of my bedroom, couch and any coffee shop with free internet now. I had an office a few months ago but had to downgrade for a short period of time. Can’t wait for a few more months to get my office and all my stuff back into it! The workspace has to be really clean though, otherwise I can’t get anything done.

11. How do you organise your workload, do you work long hours?
It is currently 3:12 am., you tell me 😀 . I work extremely long hours. I’m trying to get on a better schedule but right now I work from about 12pm-4 or 5 am. I work on and off though, so it’s not SO bad. I would like to get on a schedule where I get up around 9 am. That way it’s not like a dayjob, but still have some structure in my life 😀 .

12. How much holiday do you give yourself?
I operate based on how my clients come and go. Like for Christmas, I had a little work to do but most everybody was gone with family so I did the same. I did take a trip to Europe a few months ago where I just told my clients I was going, and that was it. I did minimal work while I was there, when it was absolutely necessary.

13. How do you keep up to date with what is happening in the industry?
I stay on the blogs, books, and bandwidth. You have to be in the know, otherwise you’ll be left in the dust.

14. What blogs, magazines, podcasts etc do you subscribe to?
I just recently found Freelance Switch which is great. I also check out Wake Up Later, The Paragon Muse, and PSDTuts amongst others. As far as books, Rockwell always puts out cool logo books, which I always buy.

15. How do you generate ideas/what techniques do you use to stimulate creativity?
Everything stimulates creativity. I see things when I’m out always try to make a note of it. Sometimes you have to write it on napkins to remember, whatever it takes to get the idea. I really get inspired from others work, so it’s important to check out your competition. I love music too. I always have to find some new artist to give me inspiration.

16. What about the business side of things, accounting, invoicing, bookkeeping, how do you manage it?
That is not my strong point. Some clients request an hourly rate, so I have to keep a little stop watch thing (Toggl). This is really my first year where I will have to record everything. I always PDF an invoice to the client and keep one for myself though.

17. What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone starting out freelancing?
Don’t be afraid to make the jump but be sure you’re committed to the idea and to putting in the hours. If I didn’t work the extremly long hours sometimes, I don’t know where I’d be. Every hour you put in is worth it though in the end. You wake up when you want, be your own boss, and get to be constantly creative. I don’t know of a better position to be in, really. Also remember, there is always places to find work. When I was desperate (many times) I would even google search “logo needed” followed by the recent date and hope to find a forum where someone needed work. You have to be resourceful.

18. Would you ever go back to fulltime work?
Not unless I absolutely had to. I’d rather live somewhat comfortably and be my own boss than to make more money and be a robot again.

19. Any thing else you would like to add?
Don’t always compromise your sense of design or skill for a client who thinks they know what they want. If they want purple, yellow, and red on a logo you tell them “Hell no!” :D. You just have to set them in their place sometimes. If necessary, give them the colors and then your alternative. They will go with your design 98.1% of the time. Sometimes though, I understand you have to cave if it means paying the bills. Gotta do what you gotta do, no doubt about that.

20. Where can we see some of your work (URL)?
My temporary site is up at www.sixonefivedesign.com

I just started a design/music/art/everything blog too, check it out at www.upriseart.com