Jacob Cass, at the prime age of just 24, has already received numerous regional, national and international design awards for his work in identity, web and graphic design which makes him a wildly successful freelance designer. Jacob’s work also appears in a number of high-profile design-related books including The Best of Logo Lounge Master Series and the WOLDA Annual.
Jacob also runs the wildly popular graphic design blog Just Creative where he freelances as a graphic, web and logo designer. Jacob also runs the websites Logo Designer Blog and Logo Of The Day – two blogs dedicated entirely to branding & logo design. Throughout the day you will find him at Ammirati, where he specialises in interaction design for some of the world’s most vaunted brands (Jerry Seinfeld, VitaminWater & OMEGA to name a few). When not at his desk you will find him traveling the world.
Would You Like to Become a Successful Freelance Designer? Read on!
How did you get into design in the first place?
Like many designers I know, becoming a designer seemed like a natural progression. Even looking back on it now, throughout all years of my schooling, the creative subjects were always what I loved most. I was always drawn to art and creating things, however, at the time I had no idea what ‘design’ was. I thought of design as art, rather than problem solving.
With this said, I fell into design over time. It initially started by putting photos online for friends (before MySpace or Facebook) so I had to learn some basic HTML, CSS and Photoshop. I then got asked by friends if I could create designs for them and it went from there. I initially did it for free, then for a small fee, then as my skills & knowledge progressed, I eventually made a living out of it.
How did you start your career as a freelance web designer?
I started at the bottom, just like everyone else. Through practice, reading, and doing, I built my business from the ground up. While I was studying design, I also blogged about my studies which allowed me to reflect on my studies, and at the same time get freelance clients. My blog was, and is, a great self promotional and learning tool. It’s literally the backbone of my business.
What were the biggest mistakes you’ve made as a newbie freelance web designer? What are the key things that people who are new to freelancing should keep in mind?
Making mistakes is a great way to learn and I’ve made many mistakes along the way, and still do. The biggest ones were probably undercharging, presenting too many options to clients and not keeping control of my accounting & taxes. These are all things to keep in mind, as well as learning how to run a business, which is crucial to success. You can be the best designer in the world, but if you can’t run a business and deal with clients & invoicing, it’s going to be a very bumpy road.
How did you get clients when you were only starting out? What would you advise to people who aim to build a solid client base from scratch?
Clients mostly came through referrals and my blog, which is still the same way I get clients today. I’ve never spent a cent on advertising or sent out any promotional material. Instead I spend time on my own site and across the social networks. I recently did a talk at TEDxCMU on this topic so check it out if your interested.
What was your daily routine when you were a full-time freelancer? Maybe you can share some productivity tips and tricks with our readers?
I usually have a coffee in the morning, do my emails and then go straight into design. I find the morning is the most productive and creative part of my day. In the afternoon I do more emails and less creative tasks. As far my tools and productivity goes, you can see a list of my software and hardware here. Coffee in the afternoon also helps.
How did you handle the uncertainty factor that comes with full-time freelancing? What are the measures someone who is a bit stressed about that can take to make themselves feel more secure?
Having a back up plan and funds to fall back onto is handy, as well as a second source of income. For me, this would be advertising from my blogs. Having this back up and secondary income, gives you peace of mind and allows you to focus on the business of design.
What was your experience with transitioning from a full-time freelancing to having a full-time job and freelancing on the side? What are the pros and cons of both? Which one do you like more?
I am still doing both, and over time, have figured out how much work I can or can not take on. There is no easy way around this, and one can only learn how much to take on, by knowing how long things take you to do.
At my full-time job, I work on mostly digital projects and to keep things fresh and interesting, for my freelance work, I take on branding and identity projects. The downside of this is that you have a lot of work, but if you manage your time & energy right then you will reap the benefits. One goal to aspire to is to be able to work less and charge more.
Many people struggle to find the right work and play balance, meanwhile you have an impressive career, yet still find time to travel and do things you love. What’s your secret?
There is no ‘secret’ but I’ve got a number of systems and tools in place to help things stay ‘efficient’. I’ve got an email system that weeds out low-tier clients, questionnaires & contact forms to generate leads, FAQs and articles for clients to read without needing me to personally explain things, as well as high SEO rankings and a modest following across social networks. All of these things form a solid foundation for me to stand upon, while I do what I love, which is design and travel.
Last, but not least, if you would have to give a single piece of advice to someone who’s just starting out as a freelance web designer, what would it be?
The biggest piece of advice that I would give an upcoming designer comes in a package based from the little things that I have learned over my short career as a designer. These would be perfect for someone just starting out: Don’t undervalue your work. Seek criticism, not praise. Always keep learning & don’t be a static learner: do this by reading books, magazines, blogs and by practising. Collect & share things. Teach others. Never give up. Keep practising. Again, keep practising.
Thanks for having me!