Sunday, September 14, 2014

How to Get Work as a Freelance Designer - Part One with Victoria Johnson Design

Over the next week I will be introducing you to three fabulous artists who are also extremely successful freelance designers; Victoria Johnson, Dawn Machell and Miriam Bos. 

They will be sharing advice and information about working freelance in the textile and illustration industries. Today we have an interview with Victoria Johnson, Wednesday, Miriam Bos and on Friday it's Dawn Machells turn. Each very different artists with their own ideas and advice.

As designers we are constantly trying to find work. And there seems to be so many ways we can do this. But which is the best way? We can submit our work directly to companies via their website submission forms, we can e mail or phone, we can work for a design studio or try and find an agent who will #1 be the right fit for how we work and our personality and #2 who will actually want us on their books (!!) Some days I feel more like a detective rather than a surface pattern designer. There just seems to be so much research that needs to be done!

It's hard slog, constantly trying to find companies and agencies that will suit our style, contacting them and trying to understand how it all works, what we should expect to be paid, what's expected of us and how we can make a good impression so we will be kept in mind for future work.

So with this in mind, I thought it would be a great idea to ask the people in the know. The designers who have experience of working as freelancers and who are happy to share their top tips with us all. 

First up we have the lovely 2014 GTS semi finalist, Victoria Johnson. Victoria blogged for me on our extremely popular blog post Top Tips from Top Surface Pattern Designers a few months back and I've been following her work ever since. Victoria is gorgeous! So friendly, approachable and always willing to share her advice. 

Here's how you can connect with Vicky......

A little background.....
I’ve been freelancing as Victoria Johnson Design for about 2 ½ years but I’ve been a self-employed designer for virtually my entire career – at least fifteen years. I started by writing a business plan. Then I built a website and social media presence. Simultaneously I produced a small collection and began to send it out, mainly via submission pages. I have a few steady clients that I regularly submit my work to.

Why did you decide to be an independent freelance designer over being represented by an agent?
I decided I didn't want an agent because I wanted the autonomy of working for myself, presenting myself as an individual, and believed I could succeed at it. I didn't want to feel like a tiny cog in the wheel of a great big mechanism. There are very few agents that genuinely promote their artists as valued individuals.
How do you source companies you'd like to work for?
I source my contacts by deciding which companies I’d like to work for and researching by phone and internet to find the correct contact. It can be very slow and laborious but it pays off. I keep a database of all my clients, my designs, my sales and my licenses.

Can you describe a typical brief?
 A brief can range from quite elaborate to very skeletal. Often they’re accompanied by some visual reference, depicting the style and/or subject matter. The best briefs are the ones that are based on your existing work (perhaps something the client purchased from you beforehand) as it’s very easy to continue with a style you’ve personally developed.

What are the positives/negatives to working as a freelance designer?
I love freelancing but the deadlines can be demanding. Obviously there are no steady pay checks but I’ve adapted to that over the years and it doesn’t bother me. I like the fact that I can work while watching the TV in the evening or when I’m cooking dinner. I like being at home with my children – even if I’m distracted, I’m still here in the room. I’m not very routine orientated so the sporadic nature of freelancing appeals to me.

Is it important to have knowledge of trends?
You absolutely have to be knowledgeable about trends – very much so. There’s no escaping it. Most companies are depending on your knowledge of trends as it will inform the work you do for them. That’s part of the service they are paying for.
What would a freelance designer expect to be paid?
It’s very varied. You can charge a flat fee for an outright purchase, a flat fee for a license, a royalty on products sold for a license, or an hourly rate for a work for hire. I generally aim to receive at least $650 per design as a rule of thumb, regardless of the payment arrangements. I’m not super keen on the idea of working for less.

What’s next for you?
I am participating in the Lilla Rogers Global Talent Search competition and was selected for the top fifty so I would be delighted if being a finalist was next on my list!! My goals, aside from that, are to attend Surtex again next year and spend the months prior to the show building my portfolio and client list. I’m really excited about broadening the range of my work to include more hand-rendered elements, with a view to approaching wall art and soft furnishings markets. I also want to make a far greater effort with promoting myself this year and plan to start approaching key blogs and magazines.

Thanks Vicky and good luck with GTS!! Watch out for the second post in this series featuring the lovely Miriam Bos!


  1. Thanks a lot!!. I'd love to work some day in this field and this entrace is perfect!!. Thank you very much!!

    1. That's great Lola, glad you found it helpful. Stay tuned for parts two and three later in the week. Lots more tips and advice :) xx

  2. Thank you so much for asking me to participate in this lovely post Ali!!! xxxxxx

  3. No, thank YOU Vicky. It's so lovely working with you. You are always so giving with your advice. Good luck with GTS!! xxxxx

  4. Great work Ali with these .. I love reading others journeys it gives you confidence! Good luck Vicky with the GTS!

  5. Thank you for sharing your wealth of information, Vicky! :)

  6. I enjoyed this article. Thanks for sharing Victoria and Ali for posting. I'll be back for the next one for sure.

  7. Thanks Ali for this interview and thank you Victoria for sharing all this info. I enjoyed reading it very much!

  8. Loved this interview. It's always fascinating to see how other people dovand envolve on their careers. Precious advice, thank you both for sharing. Look ing forward for the next ine :)

  9. Glad you all enjoyed it. Don't forget part three on Friday with Dawn Machell! Thanks for all the comments - Ali xx

  10. A great way to begin is to generate a list of just how much extra income you’ll need so you can determine what forms of online jobs freelance work to consider.