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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 Amanda Vlahakis (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?
Amanda Vlahakis

2. Where are you are based (Country/Area)?
Birmingham, England

3. What type of work do you do? (design for print, web, multimedia etc)
Logo design, front end web design, print design and illustration.

4. How many years had you been working in the design industry before you went freelance?
I’ve never worked in industry, I decided to teach myself graphic design and then went straight into freelance. Please don’t stop reading, I’m a professional designer I promise! ha ha…

5. How long have you been freelancing?
Over 5 years, close to 6 now I think.

6. Why did you decide to go freelance?
I needed a job I could do at home so that I could look after my children myself rather than send them to nursery whilst I worked. I didn’t need a job for financial reasons, rather that I wanted to have a career because I enjoy having a career, and quickly realised that this where my talents lay.

7. How did you market yourself (find design work/new clients) in the beginning – (online portfolio/brochure/direct mail/email/phone etc)?
In the beginning I mainly acquired clients through a mix of online business networking (so basically word of mouth) and search engine optimisation to drive visitors to my website and then convert them into sales. I still use these very effective methods amongst other marketing activity and the website is geared to convert customers by being very informative and featuring comprehensive portfolio pages.

8. How do you market yourself (find design work) now?
Using the same methods in the beginning because they are very effective, but also in addition I carry out article marketing (which is really just more search engine optimisation) and addition this year incorporating a blog feature to promote customer confidence and interractivity and also again, one more, for seo reasons!

9. How did you decide what to charge? What was the process?
Charging has usually been decided based on my hourly rate (decided based on my standard of design) x time taken to complete average tasks – I charge ‘per project’ rather than on an hourly rate.

I then take those fees and compare them to competitors charging structures to ensure they are competitive on a like for like basis and that includes taking into consideration factors such as; standard of portfolio/design, range of services available in ‘in one shop’, standard of customer service, speed, and professionalism, experience, reputation, customer support and backup.

10. Do you work from home/have an office/work inhouse at design agencies?
I only ever work from home and always have done. I have a large self contained office in the top floor (loft/attic) of our home.

11. How do you organise your workload, do you work long hours?
I work very flexible hours rather than the standard 9-5 and that’s because I work around my children, who are still very young (3 and 6). I don’t work long hours each week, definitely no more than 45 hours a week on the whole unless going through a very busy period. I have worked around my children since my first was born – indeed they were the reason I started a business from home in the first place.

I typically start work at 10am (do the school run first!) and then I often don’t stop working until 9-10pm at night on a weekday. This doesn’t mean that I work a 10hour day in the weekdays – instead large chunks of my day are spent with my children and so I actually only work a standard 35-40hours each week. On the weekends I usually work a few hours of each day also, especially if very busy.

So my hours are very flexibly spread over the day to suit the needs of my family, and it’s very common for my children to be playing in the office with me during the day when I work because one of them isn’t at school or nursery yet …the office is very large and there are plenty of toys to occupy them! My children respect my desire to work and happily play whilst I put my head down and do a bit of work.

I feel I’m teaching them a good work ethic whilst encouraging them to also respect other peoples needs and desires at the same time.

12. How much holiday do you give yourself?
In the first 1-2yrs of starting the business the answer was barely any because really you do have to seriously invest some time in the beginning to get your business of the ground and I was dealing with that at the same time as looking after a baby, but now I’m established I take a good 3-4 weeks a year, and whilst I sometimes take my laptop, there is no working other than to maybe clear my spam emails so it’s not such a horror task at the end of the holiday, or to sometimes write a blog.

I never go away for more than a week at a time though, firstly I worry that my clients ‘need me’ and also I start to get bored and miss my work anyway after a week 🙂

13. How do you keep up to date with what is happening in the industry?
Visiting blogs like yours, visiting different websites, and just looking at the world of design around me….design is literally everywhere.

14. What blogs, magazines, podcasts etc do you subscribe to?
Non, I’m afraid with two young children that my husband and I care for ourselves, and a full time business, there is very little time left for regular reading of blogs or podcasts. If I spent time on these, I’d never have any time for the business, so I only usually visit these for research purposes.

15. How do you generate ideas/what techniques do you use to stimulate creativity?
Hmmm, difficult one…errr I guess the ideas just seem to come to me from somewhere, I don’t really have a method…I tend to read my design brief and then sit and think and look at my blank screen until ideas come to me and then I test them out until I arrive at the right concept. Visual stimulation is all around us I feel and everything around me tends to give me ideas that I use in my work; fashion, interior design, advertising, tv and movie media and more.

16. What about the business side of things, accounting, invoicing, bookkeeping, how do you manage it?
I’m naturally very very organised so this side of things has been easy. I tend to have a specific method for every single bit of administration I have…everything has a method, a timescale and so on. This means projects are always delivered swiftly and nothing gets forgotten or overlooked. Organisation is just as important as good design.

17. What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone starting out freelancing?
Just one piece? Hmmm that’s very hard! Can I give a few?

– Do lots of marketing and don’t neglect your marketing when you are busy with design work.

– Paid advertising rarely works as well as methods such as networking and search engine optimisation, in fact I’d go so far as to say don’t bother with paying for adverts, especially in directories.

– Be very very organised…deliver your projects on time.

– Don’t underestimate the importance of customer communications; be very clear in what you offer, ensure that a written acceptance of your ‘terms’ is in force and that the customer fully understands what exactly and specifically is on offer for what price, don’t forget to specify what happens for changes and revisions. Ensure that you take a deposit for every project before you start work, and that your attention to detail about your terms is also applied to your design brief information gathering; good design starts with good communication and research; listen to your client properly.

In fact that last one – all of that is probably the most important advice actually.

18. Would you ever go back to fulltime work?
Never never never, I love freelance.

19. Any thing else you would like to add?
Errr, I’ve talked your head off, so nothing 🙂

20. Where can we see some of your work (URL)? – lots to see and read!