First of all, thanks for all of your interesting, insightful questions! I picked 10 at random and will be answering another 10 next week. If you’d like to ask a question, you still have time — feel free to add your own to the mix!
Here we go….
1. How do I find my personal style when I don’t know what I want it to look like? —Konstantia
The truth is, nobody really knows what their style is when they are starting out. It’s one of those things that we all struggle with because it’s a process of self-discovery that can’t always be unlocked easily. The trick to finding it is to set aside time to work on creative projects every single day. After awhile, you’ll be able to look back at your body of work and spot a clear stylistic evolution. We all have signature visual cues in our work whether we realize it or not, it just takes time and commitment for it to emerge.
2. How do you know when it is time to move on from a good job that has zero chance of advancement in the design field? —Nikki
This really depends on what you want out of your career. Some people thrive when they have a sense of comfort and balance at a stable job. I found that having extreme stability and a good paycheck left me feeling bored and unfulfilled. I wanted adventure infused in my career and the only way to find that was to throw caution to the wind and start my own design studio. If you’re feeling unsettled in your “safe zone” and have a cushion of expenses saved up, you have absolutely nothing to lose. I moved around a lot and not every job I landed in worked out — but I can honestly say that each one taught me something valuable that I was then able to take with me. If you stay too long, you run the risk of getting stuck and letting fear of change take hold.
3. How can you get better at “designing” without a proper education? —Asuka
There are so many great avenues these days — Skillshare is my top pick, along with Creative Live. If you’re focused on the technical side of things and want to learn the ins and outs of a program, Lynda is the perfect place to start.
If you’re looking for a more serious path of being full-time designer down the road, I’d still recommend immersing yourself in a college program. The live critiques, connections and project deadlines all prep you for the real world. I used to be one of those people who thought I could be completely self-taught and then one day, a designer sat me down and told me, “To break the rules, you have to know them first.” I hated that advice at the time but he was right. Soon after, I enrolled in a two year program at a community college and it was the best time and money I’ve ever spent. If you’re into self-study but find yourself still yearning for more, don’t be afraid to make a bigger commitment.
4. How do you know how much time to pour into promoting your business (like blogging) vs. doing the work? —Emma
There is no right answer here but it comes down to setting a schedule that you feel good about, even if it’s posting new content once a week. The point is to be consistent. When you’re running a business, self-promotion is important but it’s easy to put off since it’s not a paid job. I’ve always thought about self promotion this way: I can spend my time networking and creating work with a with a handful of people locally or I can pour my time into sharing my work with the entire world and have a much larger, more diverse audience. You have to be willing to carve out the time because no one is going to do it for you.
5. How long did it take to define a niche? Should you take on as many clients at first and go from there? —Michelle
Oh…about 8 years. Seriously! When you’re starting out, chances are that you have to take on whatever paid work is thrown your way and defining a niche is the least of your worries. I literally did everything imaginable including campaigns for the NBA and NFL. While none of this work (along with 100 or so other jobs) is visible in my portfolio, it helped me earn a living as a designer in those very early days. Each job I did built a connection that helped me land more work. Over time, I was able to improve my skills, speed up my output, significantly raise my rates and cut out all the work that wasn’t a good fit. These days, I’m careful about the projects I take on and in turn, the work that I do share has allowed me to attract the right types of clients. This very defined focus has only been possible in the last year.
6. Have you partnered with Kat from Rock ‘n Roll Bride for her new magazine? The layout looks a lot like the one you created for the previous issues, however I cannot see your name in the credits. —Marie
First off, I love Kat — she was one of my first-ever clients, long before we ever went into business together at The Blogcademy! Branch designed the first three issues of her self-published magazine but when she hit the big-time and got a magazine distribution deal, we sold the rights to her publishing company. Creatives, this is a good lesson in business: if you do a job for a client that’s independent and just starting out but the outcome eventually turns into a much bigger opportunity, make sure that you negotiate for your fair share. Seeing the design we created take on a whole new life has been pretty amazing.
7. With all the perfect, polished pictures you post, do you ever worry about appearing disingenuous? —Rayna
Not at all. Every single photo you see in my Week In Pictures posts was personally styled and taken by me. The same goes for about 95% of my blog content. If I had a few more lifetimes in front of me, I’d probably be a prop or wardrobe stylist — I love the art of transformation and creating visual arrangements. How very Virgo!
During the week, most of my time is spent working with clients at Branch so sharing still lifes and personal moments is a creative outlet that I hold onto very tightly. Everything you see on my blog and Instagram is real life: I have a very bold, graphic decor style, run three businesses, travel a lot, have an awesome husband, a very eccentric puppy and a crazy pet squirrel. My life naturally has a lot of photo ops!
When it comes to content, I tend to focus on sharing moments that I find inspiring and beautiful in hopes that it inspires people to explore and seek the same in their own lives.
8. How do you manage your blog + agency when you are away on long trips? —Steff
I wish there was a wizard behind the curtain making everything run like clockwork but the truth is much less glamorous. Any time I have a trip coming up, I put in 12 to 14 hour days the week before to work ahead on client projects, pre-schedule blog posts and hopefully buy myself some time to enjoy where I’m going. What you tend to not see on the blog or Instagram is that on the “fun days” of exploring a city and doing photo shoots, I was probably up by 6 am answering emails and sending off client work. The one secret weapon I do have on my team is my mom. She puts out any client fires and sends me tidy lists of emails that came in overnight. Thank god for moms!
9. If I want to change my specialty in design, is it okay if my portfolio consists of only personal projects until I can bring in clients? —Jessica
The general rule is that you should only show the work that you want more of but it’s tricky just showing self-initiated work for a few reasons:
1. Clients want to know that you have experience with other projects similar to theirs.
2. A portfolio of paid work shows that you’re established and reliable.
3. The more quality client work you can show, the more you can charge because you’re regarded as an expert.
The easiest way around this conundrum is to offer up your services to a few clients who fit your new direction, even if you’re charging less than your usual rate or throwing a few freebies into the mix to round out a project in your portfolio.
10. How do you manage to have so much balance in your work/life balance? You always appear to make loads of time for stuff outside work yet you manage to do SO much work! How do you do it?! —Karen
In reality, there is pretty much no work / life balance in my world but I’m okay with that. My personal motto is “work hard and play hard” and I pretty much live by it at all times. Juggling is mandatory when you have a life that’s packed with a lot of things you love.
My one general rule is that family comes first and that opens the door to a lot of fun (like two weekends ago when I took my 85 year old grandma to a drag queen brunch). If my grandparents call me, I’ll drop everything to meet them, even if that means that I have to go back to the office and work until midnight afterwards. If my dad invites me out for drinks, chances are that I’m pushing through as much work as possible the three days prior so I can leave a few hours early on Friday. It’s all about compromise.
Thanks again for your questions — tune in next week for part two!
Photos: Shell De Mar, Paris.