AIGA blueprint: freelance

aiga blueprint: freelance
jason adam, mark leroy, heather parlato, spencer cross & petrula vrontikis. photo by paul dimalanta for aiga

last week, i had a blast participating on the aiga los angeles discussion panel blueprint: freelance! i was in excellent company, in concert with mark leroy of silver echo, spencer cross of tokyofarm, and petrula vrontikis of vrontikis design office, moderated by jason adam of hexanine.

i considered the many freelance debates and debacles i’ve been through in preparation, but it seemed once we got going, we really could have talked for hours. one great thing about running your own business is that you can always learn from 3 other people if you sit down and talk about it. everyone has a different experience or has learned some specific twist that can help ratchet the industry ever closer to best & ideal practices. jason kept us from picking apart the details of every point by moving the discussion along.

we talked about a great many things, and all kinds of questions rolled in. aside from saving your money, increasing your moonlighting till you can’t stand it and attempting to take your employer as a client, i think the most general statement about the great unknown can be summed up by these 3 steps of transitioning to freelance:

1. know yourself first. you will have to search yourself for your personal philosophy about how you want to run your business. you’ll draw on past experiences, books and articles you’ve read, inspiration from mentors, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how you want things to go. you’ll decide on your market positioning and your mission statement, and you’ll brand accordingly.

2. get prepared. knowing yourself is a good start, but you’ll want to check with industry references and standards. find out the main styles of business and see where you fall. learn about book keeping, accounting, tax qualifications, project management, legal specifics that pertain to design and intellectual property. learn all this stuff you don’t know!

3. learn on the job. the first two steps only describe the situations you can imagine—but the business world is all ready to throw you a bunch of curve balls you haven’t considered. there will be intricacies you haven’t prepared for, questionable situations that don’t point to a clear answer [or maybe they do and you’re just mired in it enough you can’t see it yet], interactions that make you question a policy or contract line. and so be it. you will learn what you didn’t know, you’ll consult your network, you’ll make a valuable mistake that informs your future, you will grow, and you will keep on truckin!

if we look happy, it’s because none of us have bosses! thanks so much to paul dimalanta for the great photos.

with that said, if you have a specific question about something, email me!. in the meantime, here’s a recap of the resources we all talked about:

jason’s recap:
on the hexanine blog!

mark’s resources:
win without pitching manifesto
the brand gap by marty neumeier

petrula’s resources: class running a design business: freelancing

spencer’s resources:
AIGA professional practices in graphic design by tad crawford
design is a job by mike montiero
the education of a design entrepreneur by steven heller
graphic artists guild handbook: pricing and ethical guildelines
talent is not enough: business secrets for designers by shel perkins
california lawyers for the arts
join the spencer-founded kernspiracy list:

my additions:
creative freelancer conference, blog & events!
the designer’s guide to marketing & pricing by ilise benun & peleg top [check their blog too] blog
smashing magazine’s legal guide for designers, check their blog too!
jessica hische’s thoughts on getting freelance work and the dark art of pricing once you have it.

and a couple of my own interviews:
freelancing 101, 102 and 103
creative freelancer blog’s interview with heather parlato on freelancing

event calendar: creative freelancer conference

late afternoon cloud gradient
late afternoon cloud gradient

it’s the start of another week, only this one’s different. for one thing, i’m heading off to the creative freelancer conference in chicago for a few days of networking, re-engaging and connecting with a great group of people. for another, i’ve been feeling ready to change things up around here, and while i’m not sure about how and where to transition, i think it’s best to take the week, get the takeaways from the conference and come out on the other side ready to rock.

other than wrapping up tasks, i’ll be cleaning my office, which has fallen into some level of neglect, since i somehow decided that i needed to overhaul my reference archives, and couldn’t do one single other thing until that daunting task was finished. so i’m doing a big “okay, FINE!” on myself, taking the day, sorting through the archives, streamlining them and then cleaning the office. that way, it will be all refreshed for my return, ready to figure out the next steps.

in the meantime, i’m packing up the camera, favorite pens and notepads, going to soak up what i can of chicago between sessions and dive into CFC, updating daily along the way. i wrote about last year here [day 1] and here [day 2], so i’m looking forward to another year of development and discovery on the veteran designer session track. see you next week!

how magazine, may 2011

how magazine, may 2011 cover
how magazine, may 2011 cover

if you’ve got your how magazine‘s design & creativity issue for may 2011, check out ilise benun’s piece, “making the move,” on how to transition to freelance for advice from myself, alisa bonsignore, lydia varesco racoma and kristin maija peterson. i’ve been talking a lot about how i started planning for my transition and then put it into high action during an unexpected layoff. 3.5 years later, i’m still going strong and only getting better. if anyone has questions about what they should know or what to be aware of, i’m always happy to help.

making the move, by ilise benun
making the move, by ilise benun for how magazine

i’ve been reading how for about 15 years, and i’ve met so many great people through it, it’s a true honor to be able to contribute to it and be included in helping other designers learn different aspects of our industry.

for more on the transition to freelance, check these links below:
Ready to Conquer the World? by Ilise Benun for creative freelancer blog
Take 6 Steps Toward a Successful Freelance Career by Ilise Benun for HOW
In House Interpersonal: Walking out of the house from the InHOWse designer blog
Interview with Heather Parlato on Freelancing, podcast with Ilise Benun
Freelancing 103: When to Make the Leap to F/T Freelancing by Ilise Benun
Freelancing 102: Balancing Two Jobs by Ilise Benun
Freelancing 101: How to Begin Getting Clients by Ilise Benun

creative inspiration

Loose Leaf – Edition One from Manual on Vimeo.


eureka and codex
new publications eureka & codex, images from respective sites.

more good news for the print’s not dead files, two new publications have emerged this spring worthy of note. eureka magazine, profiled on iso50 is a fresh, clean & colorful approach to scientific matter, while codex is dedicated to typography.

design industry

we’re ramping up for the creative freelancer conference in june. i talk about what a good pep talk does for me while longtime HOW magazine editor, bryn mooth, talks about joining us in her transition to freelance. dang, we’re in good company.

i spent the weekend with students at AIGA LA’s student portfolio day, and met some really nice people and promising designers. here’s one for you guys: 50 things every graphic design student should know.

and one for back to basics / back to awesome, if you’re not asking these questions, or questions like them on every design project, it’s time to start: 5 questions every designer should ask their clients.


fava fennel saute
garnish your fava fennel saute with lemon zest and finishing salt

this week in food, we’re all about fresh fava beans over at LAist, seasonal eats: get fava beans while they’re fresh! and look at this nasturtium love over at hot knives!

finally, in semi-food & semi-hollywood news, cahuenga alley adjacent to where the hollywood farmer’s market sets up has been approved for a makeover?! that would be incredible!

creative inspiration

Moving Beyond the Automobile: Biking from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

LA streetsblog started this great series, moving beyond automobiles, the first of which was about transit oriented development, and this week’s installment is about biking, above.


ifc rebrand
i’m loving this new simple & quirky rebrand for the ifc channel, going from a film sprocket detail to celebrating the offbeat art that is independent film. there are all kinds of details to appreciate over at

car design

mini rocketman
i’ve had my mini long enough that i no longer look at the next iterations off the assembly line with them, but when someone posted this, i found it really cute. look at those doors! i really hope they use william shatner’s version of rocket man for the ads, ha! a slew of illustrations await at

packaging design

wine stash packaging
this packaging for wine stash has lots of elements i love in packaging: throwbacks to retro labeling systems, a stampy logo in the lower left corner, and a simple 2-color system with a palette that sings. see more at

design industry

the case for the case study talks about rethinking how you present your work to clients, so instead of bombarding them with all your best looking stuff, you target one project that’s highly relevant to them, and go more in-depth about process.

listen to mule design’s mike montiero talk about running his firm and selling design ideas on the pipeline podcast.

i’ve been working to debunk the mysteries of transitioning from full-time, in-house work to self-employment with ilise benun of creative freelancer blog and alisa bonsignore of clarifying complex ideas:
freelance 101: how to begin getting clients
freelance 102: balancing two jobs
freelancing 103: when to make the leap to f/t freelancing
and finally, a podcast on my own experience for marketing mentor: interview with heather parlato on freelancing

freelance switch offers 110 ideas to get more freelance work and generate new client leads. hot dang, there’s got to be some new possibilities in there we haven’t thought of before.

los angeles

one of my favorite new clients, mohawk bend, talks to echo park online about the new restaurant they’re bringing to the neighborhood. can’t wait to unveil more of this brand, but for now, the main logo is up. check it out!

if you’re looking for new, hidden treasures around LA, los angeles magazine offers “hidden LA” with a great run-down of places to visit.


spicy avocado butter
we’re in the crossover from winter to spring in the LA area, so this week’s seasonal eats talks about the various avocado cultivars you can enjoy at different times of year. last week’s spotlight was on all the great things to do with cauliflower!

in my blog travels this week, i noticed emily ho’s suggestion to grill citrus for use in a vinaigrette dressing, what a fantastic idea!

marketing mentor podcast: how to transition to freelance

marketing mentor

i did an interview with ilise benun of marketing mentor and creative freelancer blog about how to transition to freelance, all the things you want to plan and the mindsets you want to change. working with ilise through marketing mentor has helped me refine so many of my marketing practices, given me great ideas about where to expand, and helped me stay on track and forge ahead. i was honored to be able to contribute to her podcast and encourage anyone else to make the jump.

listen here: how one creative made the transition to full-time freelancing from marketing mentor

creative inspiration

a cute little video on how paper gets recycled. parlato design studio uses high if not 100% post consumer recycled papers whenever possible. the holiday cards currently for sale were printed on neenah environment PC100!


hatch design wine country posters
[image: designworklife]
i’m loving these wine country travel posters by hatch for the sf moma wine exhibit, available for sale in the museum store. thanks designworklife for the link.

wine packaging

bottle of packaging
[image: thedieline]
beautiful typographic wine packaging for bottle of by swear words. some more nice type-driven pieces i found include adir winery and one-two punch wine.

design industry

so, what’s new this week? i’ve been writing for the creative freelancer blog, and lately i won’t shut up about year-end retreats. only 4 more days till mine starts! planning your year-end retreat, for

need things to incorporate into next year’s planning while you’re sitting by the pool in desert hot springs? see, i did it again. how about 10 reasons to rethink your web site, from [i am totally in need of an overhaul here], or these 2 from parse design your business plan, by doug powell and craft a more effective identity, by peleg top.

if you’re not into holiday cards but don’t want to miss the opportunity to connect with your clients & vendors, consider a transition to new year’s cards, alisa tells you how: do you have your new year’s cards ready?

beyond design

craft a paper star
[image: craft magazine]
the holiday how-tos are rolling in these days, i thought this paper holiday star was particularly cute, and something we could all probably do with some of the paper we’d normally throw into the recycling bin. decorate with it for a few weeks!

if you like baking cookies for the holidays, saveur compiled their 20 best holiday cookie recipes, and boy are they cute!

speaking of food [were we?] i’ve got another piece for LAist: seasonal eats: a little something about sunchokes.

creative inspiration

Thanks Getting: how to ask for a testimonial from Dyana Valentine on Vimeo. one of the great things that can happen during co-working: one person asks a question, another person has a great idea for an answer, and a third person [me] is there to hold the camera! read dyana’s entire post, thanks-getting, for!


designworklife gift guide
this is a little bit typography & a little bit holiday. is working out gift guides for 2010, and i really loved this typography-themed selection, including yarn-wrapped letters, the OMFG journal, a very affordable letterpress print, and even a letterpress t-shirt.


book wreath
[image: living with lindsay]
a little bit holiday & a little bit diy. despite a lack of religion, i do like the hanging of decorative wreaths during the holidays. i’ve tried like the dickens [well, not the dickens] to get this succulent wreath to work, but it doesn’t look anything like the ones you can buy. i might try making something interesting out of the eucalyptus & peruvian pepper in the park, but if you’ve got crafting on the brain for unexpected holiday ornaments with a handmade touch, offers: craft with what you already have: 10 diy wreaths.

design industry

emigre no. 70
a little bit design industry & a little bit typography, and a LOT of good old émigré! i don’t know about you, but i’ve still got a collection of the free quarterlies they sent out in the 90s that i treasured from the moment of arrival, so cool & so fun. i’m interested to take an hour or a week looking through this one. take a nice preview here: emigre 70: the look back issue.

i really liked this one from building your design business: promotion, and not because i’ve done almost everything on their suggested actions list, either. the giving aspect is what i see in my favorite companies, partners & colleagues, and it’s what i look for in collaborators. promotion isn’t about banging people over the head [i’ll try to remember this in my daily tweets & facebook bombardments], it’s about being cool.

another greatly supportive piece from biz ladies: establishing relationships with advisors. it’s so important to have mentors and trusted confidants you can bounce ideas off and get advice. if you haven’t cultivated a circle for yourself, they’ll show you how to get started.

let’s get realistic here, it’s the holiday season, and i’ve already started hearing about the difficulties with work-life balance, and it only gets harder this time of year. wants to help: six dilemmas that freelancers face over the holidays.

beyond design

wine: is this design or wine or beyond design & wine? sf moma has this amazing show through april, and fastco design wrote up a preview: how wine became a billion dollar high-brow hobby. i’m definitely going to have to make a beeline for it on my next trip up north.

food: anchovy haters, step aside! when i saw this recipe i fell in love. i can picture what it tastes like, and i’m going to make it with my last slice of puff pastry in the freezer: pissaladières [onion & anchovy tarts].

los angeles: it’s a little bit food, a little bit los angeles, and mostly the first in a series about seasonal eating for seasonal eats: persimmons.

fashion: do i write about fashion? no! but i aspire to some of it, and when i read some good, applicable stuff, i want to share it. nubby twiglet just fine-tuned her closet in this extremely virgo way i totally get on an astrological level. it’s sensible, utilitarian, and she has amazing shoes!

biznik article of the week

friday afternoon marketing: tips for weekly small business marketing maintenance by Lidia Varesco Racoma

i met lidia last year when we both chose the same roundtable breakfast group at my first creative freelancer conference in san diego. she’s a great designer and it’s been interesting to watch her launch a product line and develop her practice. this article, friday afternoon marketing, is a great way to set aside time you might be less productive with work and switch gears to do something for your marketing efforts. great list!