Building Your Business
How One Sought-After Designer Used Contently to Carve Out a Freelance CareerBy Bradley Little October 3rd, 2019
Everyone dreams of being their own boss, making their own hours, and taking control of their income. But with all its rewards, going freelance can be a terrifying endeavor. We sat down with an all-star designer in our network to find out how she took the leap and built a freelance business doing what she loves.
Chicago-based designer Lauren Briddell, who’s been freelancing full time since 2009, has come a long way since starting out in 2004 as a promotion designer at New York’s Wenner Media. Today she occupies a rarified space among designers: freelance, and successfully so, with a portfolio overflowing with work for big-name brands like Corona, Heinz, Hyatt, Porsche and Sealy.
Bridell’s beautiful design work and her knack for client service have made her one of our most-recommended artists. Here she shares how a people- and client-focused approach has fueled her success.
How did you start your freelance career?
I made strong connections in all of my positions, specifically at Wenner Media and Forbes. After I moved to Chicago, old colleagues started reaching out to send me freelance assignments, and my client base gradually grew from word of mouth.
In the beginning, I worked full time and took on freelance projects in the evenings and weekends, but once I reached a point where I had enough clients and business to sustain myself, I went freelance full time.
How do you approach working with clients?
It comes down to understanding client needs, expectations, and task requirements. I focus on providing a service and responding in a timely manner.
You have to understand the importance of deadlines and timeliness in this industry. Most of my client work runs on very tight timelines, so it’s important to be as responsive as possible, whether that’s by replying to emails or turning the work around quickly. I typically prioritize jobs based on due date, and I always build-in a cushion for revisions.
What were your biggest obstacles when you were starting out, and how did you overcome them?
It’s easy to become stressed when you have too much work, and on the flip side, equally as easy to be stressed when business is slow. I’ve taught myself to enjoy the down time when it happens, and to ride the wave during the busy times.
In the 10+ years I’ve been freelancing, I’ve very rarely turned down a job. That may mean working evenings and weekends, but you never know when the next one will come in.
It’s also a competitive marketplace, so you have to understand the importance of marketing yourself. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the work will just come your way.
How do you encourage clients to come back for future projects?
I think my creativity, attention to detail, professionalism, and communication during the project—coupled with my competitive pricing—is what drives repeat business.
I also make a point to periodically visit my clients in person, and I think that strengthens our relationships. Face time is really important when the majority of your interaction happens over email. Plus, in some ways my clients are the closest thing I have to coworkers, so it’s nice to get to know them on a more personal level when I have the opportunity.
What would be your advice to someone grappling with whether to freelance full time?
It just takes a combination of confidence in your abilities and a leap of faith. The more diverse the clientele you have, the better. In an ever-changing marketplace, it’s not a good idea to have “all your eggs in one basket.”
Also, as a self-employed freelance designer you are responsible for more than just design. You have to be prepared to be your own IT, HR, PR, and finance department—areas I took for granted when I was employed but have had to learn as my business grows.
This interview was edited for style and clarity.
Brad Little connects brands with top-tier multimedia freelancers in the Contently Talent Network and oversees the video pitching process at Contently.
To get started on your own freelance journey, register for a free Contently portfolio.