Thursday, September 18, 2014

How to Get Work as a Freelance Designer - Part Three with Dawn Machell

We are at the end of the week and sadly we've come to the end of our series of blogs on Making it as a Freelance Designer! We've been sharing some fabulous advice and information on finding freelance work, how much you should expect to be paid and the advantages and disadvantages to this kind of work.

If you missed the earlier blogs, you can read Part 1 with Victoria Johnson Design HERE and Part 2 with Miriam Bos HERE

Part three is with the wonderfully talented Dawn Machell. With twelve years in the design industry, she's certainly a designer you need to sit up and listen to. Dawn is also part of the very talented team, The Dotty Wrens who exhibited at Surtex for the first time last year. A really great and down to earth blog post here from Dawn. You're gonna' love it!

Next Months Series by some fab designer experts...

Look out very soon for a new series of blogs on "Making and Selling Your Product" We have a fabulous team of extremely successful designers lined up for you, all ready to share their super hot tips on selling your wares. Designers include Laura Clempson aka Clara and Macy,  Gabriella Buckingham aka Moo Baa Cluck and Artwork by Angie aka Angie Spurgeon and Bread and Jam. Coming next month! 

Back to the wonderful Dawn now. You can connect with Dawn here.....

Dawn with the rest of the Dotty Wrens: Susan Driscoll, Wendy Kendall and Lizzie MacKay

How did you get started in freelancing?

I decided to go freelance when my daughter was a baby so that I could have the flexibility to work round her. I was working as head of design for a fashion company at the time and the two didn't go together very well! Whilst serving my notice I was contacted by Mamas and Papas. They didn't want a freelancer so I agreed to work in-house 3 days a week and I spent any spare time I had doing my own designs which I sold through a studio in New York. After a year I left M and P to go freelance full time. Luckily they used me on a freelance basis for a further 9 years!

How many companies do you freelance for?

Loads....I have some clients I've freelanced for years and some that come and go. Most are recommendations from people I've worked with in the past and some find me through my website - and even LinkedIn.

Why did you decide to freelance and not try to get signed by an agent?

I did both at first - well not exactly an agent but I sold my work through studios which is similar. The studios took 40% of all sales and it worked really well alongside my freelance work for 10 years. But then the studio I was with went into liquidation and I lost a lot of money. After that I decided to stick to my commissions and I got together with Lizzie, Sue and Wendy to form the Dotty Wren Studio where we are our own agents! We showed at Surtex in May and we've all been doing really well since....and we get to keep 100% of the money!

Any advice for beginners just starting out in freelancing?

It's really boring I'm afraid but you can't beat experience in a "proper job" 
I wouldn't advise anyone to go straight into freelancing without working somewhere first. I worked in fashion for 10 years, I worked with manufacturers and I visited lots of factories around the world. I learned how things are done. A lot of people come out of college thinking it'll be an easy option to freelance but it's not just a case of designing something you like and hoping someone will love it and pay you loads of cash!

I also see a lot of people these days doing online courses and thinking that it's going to be easy to freelance. Then I see them getting disappointed when they don't have overnight success. There are no shortcuts I'm afraid. People who have worked somewhere first have a head start, they know what companies are looking for and they also have a lot of contacts.... so my advice is get a job, make lots of contacts and learn all you can about whatever industry you want to freelance in...then when you're ready to break free it will be so much easier!

For people who are ready to freelance I would just advise them to be super easy to work with - and versatile. And NEVER miss a deadline! Then build it up one client at a time.

How do you source your contacts and where do you find work?

People tend to find me...I've only ever written to a couple of companies for freelance - this is because I started out designing for people I had previously worked with and when those people moved to other companies they took me with them. The two companies I did contact both used me because of my past experience.

What does a typical brief look like?

I work in lots of different industries including apparel, greetings, interiors and publishing so the briefs are always different. But they all generally have colours, inspiration/mood boards and a list of requirements. I just ask lots of questions till I get a good idea of what they're looking for.

What are the positives/negatives to freelance work?

Positives - I work from home, I can work round the kids and have never missed a school play or sports day. I'm home every night when they get in from school. In theory I can chose which jobs to do.
Negatives - I work from NEVER actually stop working. I'm a slave to other people's "top urgent" deadlines. In practice I don't often turn down many jobs, I just work ridiculous hours to keep everyone happy! 

Do you have to be trend aware?

The client does give some trend direction but I think people expect you to know what's going on too. Some clients will ask what the trends are this season and they will want you to guide them. You have to keep moving forwards and stay on top of anything new, no-one wants a repeat of last season.

What's next for you?

I've been really busy with my commissions lately but I want to carry on working with the Dotty Wrens and hopefully return to Surtex next year, I love being able to just do work I enjoy that doesn't have to follow someone else's brief!  I've also got a few fabulous new clients that I'm really excited to be working with and I'm doing kids book illustration for the first time which has been a big ambition for a long time. 


  1. This is a fabulous post, and there is some fantastic and generous advice for designers. Thanks so much for sharing Ali and Dawn!

  2. Loved all 3 of the interviews Ali, they have all had something different to offer. I do think that Dawns advice is true .. it is a much stronger work base you launch with in your freelance path if coming from the industry with some good ideas of client bases and contacts .. umm.. something to consider ...

    Thanks again for all your hard work!

  3. Glad you enjoyed the blogs Ally and Rebecca. And that for commenting, really appreciate it :) - Ali

  4. Thanks for these posts Ali. Great insight!

  5. Just read all 3 parts of "How to Get Work as a Freelance Designer". Great insights from 3 wonderful designers. Thanks Ali for putting this together and sharing it with us.

  6. I have enjoyed reading these Ali. Thank you to all the guests too!

  7. This series was really helpful and encouraging. Seen the experience of these three designers really motivated me. Thank you for creating it Ali, can not wait for next months series.

  8. Glad you all enjoyed them. It was so nice working with the designers, putting them together. - Ali x

  9. One of the scariest things for me was learning how to find freelance work on your own. but now it's easy simply join Expert arena And get online jobs .