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Work Work Play

My first complete week of work is almost over. It’s only 30hrs this week, but I feel good about being full-time starting Monday, July 24, 2017. I’ve made mistakes but learned from them. I want to do more but I’m limited by how the shop is set up with three people working and only one computer with access to the printer.

My coworker used that computer to set up files for printing all day. I’m not sure what took so long for two files. I want to think she knows better than I do, but nothing I’ve learned so far would take that long. Unless my coworker seriously undertrained me, it shouldn’t take more than an hour to send one file to print. Of course, that’s a distinct possibility. I don’t claim to be all-knowing by any stretch. In fact, I often think I’m the biggest idiot ever when it comes to learning new things. It bothers me that from what I’ve seen and been told, there’s nothing here that’s totally new to me. There are quirks that I need to learn, but my perception is telling me there are things I haven’t been told, and probably not by malice. Youth is a tough thing when it comes to hiring workers. I think I wasn’t told things because my two co-workers, younger than I, intuit things because they are still young and in school or fresh out of college in the last two years. I’ve been in the workforce for a decade, but I seem to have picked up skills and an understanding of Illustrator these two don’t have. I don’t know why that should be since college is the best place to learn Adobe Creative Cloud programs given students’ discounts. 

I guess I’ll have to wait and see what happens. Stick to my guns and try to be understanding. I’m the newcomer, but I’m also an independent contractor and I’m not an idiot. I can learn new things and I intend to do it! I’m glad I can subscribe to the Adobe Creative Cloud thanks to this job. I need this job to keep moving towards freelancing. It will be hard to do both. It’s already hard. Maybe when I feel less in the dark I won’t be as drained from energy at the end of the day. I would have done some projects yesterday, but my computer was downloading and installing all of the Adobe programs. So it will be much better after today! 

Take it easy and remember to smile. 

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Looking Forward

As of this post, I’ve been working for 3 days, one of them completely in my own. It was really nice! So far, there’s nothing I’m totally in the dark about. I’ve worked with printers and an iron before. I’ve done iron-on transfers on a small scale. The one at the store is a giant 18 inch press instead of a small apparel iron like most people have at home. It’s actually easier to use since it’s hotter and does all the pressing for me! The embroidery machine is not very complicated since I’ve used a sewing machine once or twice, but I’ve yet to have a job to do on it to test myself. 

I learned the store does not do its own embroidery design. When they receive an embroidery purchase, they send out custom designs to be converted into an embroidery file. I may look into learning that to add to the store repertoire. I imagine I could do it for a lot cheaper. It may not be a long-term goal for the store, but it can’t hurt. Besides, it will add to my skills as a designer so I can make better decisions about how my designs work in various mediums. I can now ask clients questions such as “do you intend to use the design as embroidery?” It’s one of those skills I would t think I’d ever need to learn, but having it is a huge plus. If I do leave at the end of a year, I could always offer for the store’s owner to have me on file for their embroidery needs. 

I wonder if that’s something I want to do long term anyway. I have much interest in crafting and needlearts. I used to do cross stitch and hand embroidery as a kid, I still do crochet, and I recently taught myself to knit. Who knows. Maybe I will find out I didn’t know what I wanted to do all along. I have wanted to be a crafter for years. But it doesn’t pay to make hats all day. Embroidery files and making iron-on patches would be a big seller. Making something on a machine is always better than by hand in terms of making a business profitable. I’ve often thought about purchasing a knitting machine to sell knit clothing, but that’s a discussing for another post. 

Take it easy and remember to smile.

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First Day Jitters

It’s no surprise that nerves are part of the first day at any new job. Mine started with needing to use the toilet only to find out there was a problem. The pipes leaked black stinky water on top of my smelly deposits. Perfect. Just what I wanted on the first day at a new job. At least it can’t get worse! I’m asking to use the toilet at the company next door. I told them I’d be back. 

So far so good. It’s a lot to do. I’m not alone right now so that’s the really good news. I’m sure that will be me in a year. The processes are common sense for the most part. They comply with what I already know about printing. The embroidery machine is new to me but also is similar to a normal sewing machine. I’m not as completely in the dark as I could have been.  Yay!

Take it easy and remember to smile. 

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What happens when you get multiple day-job offers?

I want to be a freelancer. There’s no mistake in that. There’s also no shame in that. It’s a long term goal of mine. I interviewed for a day job on Tuesday July 11, 2017. The business owner wanted me to start on Thursday July 13, 2017, but I haven’t heard back about whether I was hired or not and It’s Wednesday July 12, 2017. Thanks to this I know the exact date! 😉 This job would be an ultimate challege. It’s not exactly a design job, but having a background in design is a huge plus. However, I’m not sure the pay is commesurate to the difficulty of the job. It’s starting at $10/hr with a small team of 3-5 people. It entails running printers, a hotpress, an embroidery machine, and a laminator in addition to checking files for quality and accurate size. As a “day job” this would be a tough one, but might add a lot to my understanding of how logos and other graphics are used in the real world on clothing and windows and advertising boards and banners. This business owner promised to get back to me on Tuesday, but did not, and I ended up recieving a second offer for an interview. Now I am conflicted.

The second job interview is scheduled from July 13th, 2017. It’s for a new Mariano’s going up in Lombard, IL, a suburb of Chicago, just east of where I live. While that might sound like a night and day kind of offer between the two, keep in mind that one is a high-stress, high reward, independant contractor job, and the other is a W-2 retail position with long hours and a demanding schedule, but ultimately is similar in pay with a minimum wage of $8.25 in IL and the exact position I’d have at a retail store might pay higher. They are equally difficult in different ways. If I work at Mariano’s the job would start in mid-August. I’m applying for a job in the floral department since it’s the most creative of all the jobs available in such a store. One huge benefit to this job is that I would be at-will. That means I can leave whenever I want and I’m under no obligation to stay even beyond a week or two. It would still buy me the time I need to get established as a Freelancer. $8.25hr is still better than the $6.50/hr equivalent i recieve on unemployment insurance!

I’m still applying for jobs, I’m still keeping my options open if my first offer falls through due to disorganization (the business really needs the help, but really should pay more than $10/hr to start). If I don’t hear back from the owner, I’ll keep my appointment with my second interview offer and go from there. It’s nice that I suddenly have options and they both allow me to freelance on the side and be financially stable. Having now relied on unemployment payments for a month, I can heartily say that it’s harrowing to live on the edge of your finances. I don’t understand why anyone would want to stay jobless and in this situation. I’ve known people like that. People who are getting certain benefits that would end if they kept a job longer than a few weeks at a time. It’s mind-boggling. I don’t want to live like this forever, but also don’t want to trap myself in a work contract that becomes onerous or doesn’t pay comesurate to my skills. After all, that’s how I got myself into this mess in the first place! I’m not eager to repeat my mistakes. I want to lift myself up and do better in the future. I want to be a creative person who works hard and doesn’t give up.

I hope one of these offers pans out so that I can rest assured that I’m doing the best I can.

Take it easy and remember to smile.

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Design and Other Conundrenigmas

I want to be good at design. But am I good at design? It’s an odd question. Design has no right or wrong. A designer follows the whims of the client even when they want something ugly. We designers solve visual problems, but we generally don’t decide what gets the stamp of approval in the eye of a client. A better question: do I provide work that clients want.

I’ve pleased a few clients and I’m eager to please more. Sometimes I doubt that I can, but I’m not giving up! Have a degree! Despite recent history I have a good work ethic!

I interviewed for a job on July 11, 2017. I was nervous because I have to take the job if they want me. I have to try. It would mean less time for freelancing too. But if I turn them down I lose my unemployment benefits. That’s my biggest worry. That I’m too short or not strong enough for the job but I have to do it anyway. I’m afraid of what having a full time job will mean for me. I have to to try. I have to repeat that to myself.

So what to do? I’d love to learn more about how a print-shop makes car decals and logo products. This job would teach me a lot about how files are formatted and sent to the printer. In turn, that would give me a perspective on doing graphic design work and what’s going on in the world of large-scale work. I have to try.

Take it easy and remember to smile!

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Good Clients

It’s no secret that the world of design is full of bad, naughty, impatient, mean…

2 days later

…awful, terrible clients. The nit-pickers want perfection, but refuse to negotiate payment when the project goes over budget due to time wasted on endless revisions. Vague-ists expect mind reading levels of understanding from a brief only 10 words long that says they want a logo.  Worst of all are the clients who give you detailed instructions on what they want, decide to completely change their mind half way through the design process, and finally at the end refuse to pay you anything because you were not able to finish the project in time.

We all know people like those described above as friends and family in addition to total strangers who want to pay for work they can’t do themselves, but don’t want to pay for work they can’t do themselves. Did I just confuse you, dear reader? Sorry. I guess you’ll have to take my word for it that’s its bad. 😉

But I want to talk about the good clients I’ve encountered in the last week. Two of them to be precise.

The first is, of course, the client who hired me for my first design job. Justin went above and beyond by telling me there was a problem with his payment and he had already fixed it. That job should clear with Upwork sometime this week and enter the mandatory 1 week security hold. It’s ok, just par for the course here in designer-land. I can’t withdraw the money until I have $100 in my Upwork account. That’s fine with me too if it avoids fees or ther pitfalls on Upwork’s side and keeps the service free to people like me (not counting the service fees since I set my own rate and the system charges the client the fee, not the designer.)

Good client number two is a repeat contest holder over on Freelancer.com. He held a contest back at the end of May which I won. It was only $25 after fees, but that was enough to set me up with a year’s paid intro membership on the site. I needed it! A week and a half ago the same client requested my entry on another, similar, contest. I read over the brief and decided it was something I could do for him so I submitted an entry. Yesterday, I received a message from him stating he decided not to use any of the submissions, but since he had solicited my entry he was awarding me with the prize. I gave him the files anyway since from my point of view it’s required to get paid and because if he’s paying then the work is his anyway. Maybe he will change his mind or use the illustration for something else. This was beyond my expectations! If you foster a good relationship with a client sometimes they will give you a break. The winnings will be $40 after fees. Again, not that much, but work is work and pay is pay. Repeat clients count for a lot and show that you do quality work at any price.

Two doves perch on the antlers of a deer skull
The winning design that starting it all

Take it easy and remember to smile!

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Persistance

persisto logo

Today – July 5, 2017 – I worked on a logo for a learn-to-code opportunity for kids. I had planned on working on this contest over the weekend, but just got around to it today with Independance Day disrupting my habits. In my email inbox sat a message from 99designs.com that one of the contests I watched had posted an announcement. The client, from a company called Persisto, stated that he/she thought their brief wasn’t as clear as they expected it should be, so they clarified, mentioning the use of graduation hats as a design elements. That made me think of a graduation hat in perspective, as in many illustrations. He/she also stated they didn’t want a letterform logo and we designers should focus on the tech aspect of their business. So…I had a graduation hat and the idea of technology and coding. The diamond shape of the hat matched HTML tags! While HTML isn’t exclusively what the business hopes to teach kids, it is considered a fundamental coding language for web and a precursor language to Javascript, one of the main programming languages for all web- and app-based programs.

Like the name Persisto, persistance and perserverance represent the core values of learning and success. I persist in submitting proposals and contests entries. How else can I learn? I know the fundamentals of design. Lynda.com provided me with a Logo Design class that was a great refresher for Illustrator in general. All that’s left is to continue designing. Practice makes perfect.

Take it easy, and remember to smile!

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The Spaghetti Toss

Okay, what am I doing writing about food? It’s not real food, of course. I’m talking about the “throw spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks” technique of problem-solving. I’m not throwing spaghetti because I want to. I can’t control whether clients respond to my proposals. It’s rough calling them proposals too.

When I write my proposals I think about 4 things:introduce

  1. introduce myself and make a statement so the client knows I read their brief
  2. describe an idea I have for their project
  3. explain my work hours
  4. what images I’ll include with the proposal (a cool feature at Upwork.com)

My proposals are rarely more than a few sentences. Sometimes, I skip item 2 and tell them that I’ve included a sketch. As I said previously, I started including sketches with my proposals. Sometimes item 2 is replaced by a list of questions I have about the project. Many clients don’t include basic information such as what their business does, what they want the project to convey to customers, or the form and colors of the project preferred. It’s on me to ask those questions!

Let me get back to the spaghetti throwing. I’m basically applying for everything worth more than $30. I want to maximize my potential of finding clients. At this point, clients are not knocking on my door; I have to go to them. I don’t yet understand the type of client I should be targeting. Until that day comes, I will apply to everything and see what comes back.

This sucks.

This is the downside of freelancing. The work comes and goes in spurts. The idea, ultimately, is for the income to average out over the course of the year. The challenge is to manage money in savings to average out the money available at any given time. That’s usually what kills freelancers who are just starting: bad clients who don’t pay and spending it all at the moment of income.

I have a leg up because I came to the freelance market late in the game. There are services like Upwork.com to manage the bad clients for me. They guarantee I’ll get paid and act as a middle man so I’m never one on one alone without help.  If the job is a fixed amount – not hourly, – then Upwork requires the client to deposit the funds ahead of time before the work can begin. This guarantees I will get paid as long as I use Upwork’s time tracker to prove I did the work.

I wish I had understood all of this in college. I never would have wasted over 9 years of my life in a job that wasn’t what I wanted to do. C’est la vie, mes amis!

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First Logo Job!

South Nashville Mosquito Control Logo

This logo is copyright to Justin Mason.

I was hired to make this a week and a half ago. Work started on Monday and I delivered the final files last night.

I learned something new: Acrobat Pro can edit text, but only if it’s on a flat line. It couldn’t edit the curved text in my design! I ended up downloading a program called Inkscape and making an SVG that could be edited with free software. I think under other circumstances a PDF or JPG can be edited in whatever software you like. However, the letting in this logo was hard to select if you don’t have Photoshop of GIMP chops. I felt it was a good use of my unpaid time to figure out how to send clients works that are editable by anyone. I don’t believe in trapping my client into coming back to me for simple color changes. I probably wouldn’t charge them for that anyway and just call it part of good service!

I came in way under budget and time for this job. Maybe that sounds stupid. I’d rather it take a little longer for happy clients. I want them to have the best I can do! This logo was done in 5.5 out of 10 hours. The client was laid back and really liked my initial sketch.

SQUISHED
SQUISHED sketch idea submitted with my proposal.

I think this sketch closed the deal. Ever since I have tried to give simple sketches. I think clients appreciate seeing how I think and having a visual reference rather than only words. Sometimes ideas are best conveyed with images. Now that I have a real job under my belt I feel beter sending out a lot of proposals. Most of them go unread I’m sure. It only takes one or 2 a week to start the ball rolling though!

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Freelancing and Learning

I’ve been at this freelance thing for a month. I won a logo design contest on Freelancer.com and earned a legit job on Upwork.com. Winning the Upwork.com job taught me something valuable: giving a sketch during a proposal to a prospective client helps boost the likelihood that they will seriously consider me as the freelancer for the work. Maybe it’s stupid in the long run and I’ll stop doing it later on. Right now I can’t afford to buy in to the the fancy accounts on these sites so giving a little helps.

One  frustration with Freelancer.com is that I’m American, the website is Australian, and most of the freelancers on the site are in southern Europe and Aisa – what we Americans would call the Middle East. Why is that such a big deal? Someone from Pakistan or India – to name the two I see most often – can afford to charge half or less than what I do to earn a decent payoff. I don’t begrudge those designers their work at all. On the contrary, I hope they are having more success than I am! However, the truth of the matter is that I can’t compete with such low rates. Freelancers who are willing to work for $3-$5USD/hr are always going to win out for entry level work compared to the $15USD/hr I charge. Competition is tighter than ever in the world of art! I usually stick to contests on that website since there’s no accounting for wage in a contest.

An interesting site I like to work on, but haven’t managed to win anything on, is 99designs.com. I have the impression from hearing about it over the years that this is a great place to start as a designer. It’s entirely contest based, although the site does allow clients to hire you for 1-on-1 projects whether or not you’ve won anything. I like how it’s set up and how responsive clients are using the rating system and rejecting or declining designs that simply aren’t in the right style. I’ve come close a couple of times to winning. In one contest I made it to the semi-finals before being eliminated – the contest was for an apple brand logo. They ended up going with a design that was more anthropomorphic than realistic the way mine was. Another contest I entered I was told by the contest holder that they would have picked my design, but they thought it might look too similar to a competitor’s brand in their country. Sadly, they didn’t give me any direction to change my design so I wasn’t able to enter a winning design and was eliminated after the qualifying round. I’ll keep trying since I have had some interest even though I haven’t won yet!

Upwork.com sits somewhere in the middle of the interest scale in my mind. I didn’t originally plan to use it heavily, but when I discovered that you could restrict your job search to ones available to U.S. freelancers only, I became more hooked. Americans will understand the $15/hr fee a lot better than someone from elsewhere in the world who is used to dealing with people who charge much less for the same work. I landed my first professional contract there, after all. I’m hoping it wasn’t a fluke!

I have some profiles on other freelance sites too, but I’m not as diligent with them. I created profiles there to boost my exposure. You never know where the clients are most comfortable. I don’t expect work to come my way from sites I only visit every so often. They are there if someone wants them, that’s all.

That’s everything for now. Expect future posts to be shorter. 😉

Take it easy and remember to smile!