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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 Helen McGlasson (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?
Helen McGlasson

2.Where are you are based (Country/Area)?
Fylde Coast, Lancashire

3.What type of work do you do? (design for print, web, multimedia etc)
author/illustrator/publisher of children’s picture books for 3-8yr olds

4.How many years had you been working in the design industry before you went freelance?
Erm – I didn’t! I started writing stories to go with some drawings I had been trying out, and it grew from there from hobby to business – I first started drawing regularly in 1999, having been told all my life by my parents and teachers that I couldn’t draw. My mother still thinks I can’t. They did all agree that I could write a bit though, so I still think of myself mostly as an author, whilst being most known for my artwork! Curious how perceptions can affect one.

5.How long have you been freelancing?
Since 2003

6.Why did you decide to go freelance?
I had customers lining up to buy my books, so I decided to publish myself – getting published through a mainstream publisher can take years – I didn’t want to wait that long!

7.How did you market yourself (find design work/new clients) in the beginning – (online portfolio/brochure/direct mail/email/phone etc)?
Mainly through offering writing workshops for primary schools – I got the phone book out and rang them all. I had a website (built myself with drop and drag technology – great for inexpensive start ups), and hawked my books around the local bookshops across South Cumbria and North Lancashire, about a 50 mile radius of home. Also got myself into the local paper a few times, and worked with a local vet on a couple of marketing projects that helped us both.
8.How do you market yourself (find design work) now?

This year I have re-branded, and re-launched, with a frogtastic new wagsite, new logo, artwork and product range. The process is still the same, but now I target bigger retail outlets nationally. I still offer the writing workshops, which keeps me in touch with the children, and is a great way of getting known, and being seen as “the expert”.

9.How did you decide what to charge? What was the process?
The books are priced at the top end of the price range for their genre. Two factors at play here – cost of production and high trade discounts mean there isn’t much room for maneuver in the price. I also want to be known for good quality products.

The workshops are harder to price: the Society of Authors recommend charges that a lot of schools just won’t pay, so I’ve found a price that schools are happy with and gives me a reasonable price for a days work. If you think of it in marketing terms, I’m being paid to market my products, and usually make good sales on books. It also gives bookshops confidence that I am creating customers for them.

10.Do you work from home/have an office/work inhouse at design agencies?
I work from home.

11.How do you organise your workload, do you work long hours?
I have always worked a full 9-5 week, though that is creeping up to 8.30 – 5.30. I’ve often worked evenings when I’ve a particular project on, like the new website, or a new book.

Now that I’m so busy, I always “batch” my jobs, as it’s much quicker to do all the filing in one go, pay bills, create invoices, whatever. I’m now VERY strict about not opening my email inbox until 11am, allow half an hour to sift through, and again at 4pm. this has saved me large amounts of time!

I also write a list of what task I want to get done for each day, and order it, then tick off as I go – it’s the only way for me to survive, especially now that I’m very busy and my memory is not so good 🙂

12.How much holiday do you give yourself?
I find it VERY hard to give myself holiday! I have to write it in my diary and take myself out of the house on days off. I used to be able to have an afternoon off when I wasn’t too busy, but I’m finding that harder these days – bit of a compulsive worker!

13.How do you keep up to date with what is happening in the industry?
This is hard for me – I can only dip in to trade magazines, online newslettters and such. Skim reading is the only way forward. I’m not sure that I suffer from not being as “in touch” as I might be. I don’t worry about it, like I worry about other things. There’s way too much going on in publishing for me to keep up with, so I prefer to cosy down being an eccentric author/illustrator.

14.What blogs, magazines, podcasts etc do you subscribe to?
I get my quarterly hard copy of MSlexia (strapline: for women who write), but I don’t subscribe to any blogs. I tend to feel overwhelmed by my email inbox as it is, so prefer just to visit when I can and catch up. I’ve timetabled myself some time each week for this – Tuesdays!

book illustration15.How do you generate ideas/what techniques do you use to stimulate creativity?
As the business has grown it has become harder and harder to keep time for being creative – this is one reason why the frogblogdoglog is so great – it insists that I give some time each week for some creativity. I tend to have burst of intense creativity – this year I have spent eight months preparing my new products range, and will now spend the next two years selling it all. so the only new outlet will be the wagsite and blog, which is good for small intense bursts. Bigger projects, like a new book are a real struggle while balancing all the other business demands.

Ideas are always drawn from things that I see and hear people say. Drawing from our everyday experience is central to what we do in Frog world. I tell the children that the stories AND pictures are a bit true and bit made up, and like to get them to compare the cartoon Frog with a photo of the real frog. It helps them to learn that they Can do it. It’s so sad to hear six and seven year olds say they can’t draw! I spend a lot of time on this aspect in my workshops, getting them to feel confident about using their own experiences for reference.

16.What about the business side of things, accounting, invoicing, bookkeeping, how do you manage it?
Thorny issue – I have accountants who are great, but the monthly bookkeeping is a chore. Once I start I quite enjoy it, but I do tend to put it off. I would like to find someone to do it for me, but at the moment it’s still important for me to keep control over what is happening with the accounts. Being organised is the key, and doing it each month so it’s not too much to do at a time. I cant do excel, so I keep an old fashioned book. its what works for me, and that is the thing – a) to DO your books, and b) do it in a way you understand them!

17.What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone starting out freelancing?
Keep your receipts for EVERYTHING – its so much easier later.

  • Know your market.
  • Do your market research.
  • Know who your competitors are.
  • Be utterly professional in all your dealings.
  • Believe in yourself 200% – confidence is so much more marketable and saleable than lack of belief. If you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to believe in you. people are buying you as much as your product.

18.Would you ever go back to fulltime work?
I haven’t the patience for managers who can’t manage, can’t put up with office politics, and don’t suffer fools – guess that’s a NO!

19.Any thing else you would like to add?
I feel very privileged to do what I do, but I do work very hard. Deciding to set up in business requires a leap into the dark. There have been three such leaps for me, and each has taken growing the business to the next level. I think to succeed you need to have a supportive family/partner, and business support of some sort as well as your own unshakable belief in yourself. Some finance helps, but I do believe that working to a shoestring budget helps you to be more creative in your solutions, than if you had money to throw at a project.

20.Where can we see some of your work (URL)?
Wobble your whiskers along to to see what it is we have so much fun doing.