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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 Christine Mercier (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?
Christine Mercier

2. Where are you are based (Country/Area)?
I’m based in Dubai, but constently travelling. I work with clients in Canada, the UK, India, the UAE, Moroco, France, Tunisia, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

3. What type of work do you do? (design for print, web, multimedia etc)
Mostly, I work through the line, creating branding solutions including corporate id’s and marketing solutions. For agencies, most of my work consists of advertising, but for individual clients I work on full branding exercises.

4. How many years had you been working in the design industry before you went freelance?
I had been working just over 5 years in the industry.

5. How long have you been freelancing?
I”m about to celebrate my 3rd year of independence as a freelancer.

6. Why did you decide to go freelance?
I wanted to be more in control of my own destiny and my own time – Choosing the clients and when and where to work on them. I never liked being in one place for too long, so this has given me the opportunity to get more stamps in my passport.

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 actually ‘pitched’ myself to potential clients. I would see a brand in need of help and call them for a meeting. It was nerve racking at first. Especially when i had no contact within the client’s business. But in the end, it paid off.

8. How do you market yourself (find design work) now?
Now most of my opportunities come through word of mouth – referrals coming from existing clients. I’ve worked with enough agencies and individuals overtime that I’ve managed to build a healthy reputation for myself. (Knock on wood)- I haven’t had to do any cold calling in quite some time.

9. How did you decide what to charge? What was the process?
I typically look at the industry standard. I’ve worked out a template that I use to estimate for all projects that considers the amount of time that each step of the process should take, and then try to stick to it. Never thought I’d say this – Time sheets are actually important, even as a freelance. It’s the only way to know if you are truly profitable.

10. Do you work from home/have an office/work inhouse at design agencies?
I have a home office in Dubai for when I work on my own clients. When I work with agencies, it’s best if I’m in their offices. I’ve traveled a lot now in order to understand cultural insights of the countries I’m working it. It’s surprising how much we assume we know compared to what the reality actually is.

11. How do you organize your workload, do you work long hours?
I work hard when I need to, but balance it with a healthy lifestyle as much as I can. I learned very early on that with a home office, it’s important to go outside and come back before starting work. Go to the gym for an hour, or go get a quick cup of coffee- Anything to symbolically separate your ‘home life’ from your ‘work life’. Working in your pajamas may sound attractive, but is completely counter productive.

12. How much holiday do you give yourself?
I go home to Canada twice a year for 2 to 3 weeks at a time. But even during my ‘holidays’ I take on smaller contracts in order to keep the network busy. Nothing heavy – I usually cut the workload significantly. But enough to give myself good rejuvenating time.

13. How do you keep up to date with what is happening in the industry?
Most of my friends are part of the industry so it’s hard not to hear/see what’s going on. I’m big into magazines and books, and independent websites and blogs. I look at a lot of fashion and editorial work for branding and advertising ideas. Architecture is also a huge influence, especially when working on projects in the Middle East.

14. What blogs, magazines, podcasts etc do you subscribe to?
My fave pod Cast is the R3-30, which is a Canadian independent music show. As far as design is concerned, my bookmarks list is very very long, and I tend to view it and add to it weekly if not daily. I always recommend as a great start to seeing fresh web approaches, and also to find links to other sites of interest.

15. How do you generate ideas/what techniques do you use to stimulate creativity?
I doodle. All the time. I met Milton Glaser once and all he told me is that to make it in this industry you must learn to draw. I’m no Picasso, but I make a point of keeping a sketch book that I doodle in several times a week if not every day. I’ve realized how much drawing for the sake of drawing really helps develop new and different approaches to a communication challenge.

16. What about the business side of things, accounting, invoicing, bookkeeping, how do you manage it?
It’s definitely not my strong suit, but am working on it. I do all my own invoicing and book keeping, but am currently considering hiring a freelance accountant to help me better plan the financial aspects of my work.

17. What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone starting out freelancing?
Keep drawing. Stay happy. DON’T GET AN EGO! People like working with nice, easy going people who are excited about the work. Doesn’t matter if you’re the most brilliant person on the team – they’ll never hire you if they don’t like you personally.

Having said that: Have a bit of Bitch inside you. Learn to stand up for yourself and what you know is right when is needed. The last thing you need/want is for people to think they can walk all over you.

18. Would you ever go back to fulltime work?
If the right opportunity came along – and it would have to be hella right. My career goal has always been to start my own small shop, but I just don’t know where to do it. The independence and freedom would be very hard to give up.

19. Any thing else you would like to add?
As freelancers, it’s very important to keep a creative community around you. Something to keep you inspired and keep you going. It can be very lonely working in an office by yourself, so go out there and find people that tickle the right side of your brain.

20. Where can we see some of your work (URL)?
yet to be updated, but: