Starting a freelance design business: Erin McMorris
I am thrilled to welcome Erin McMorris to Pattern Observer! Erin studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati and then textile design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. As a freelance designer Erin has worked with, sold or licensed her designs to Jo-Ann Stores, GapKids, The Children’s Place, Target, The Paper Magic Group, Paperchase, Macy’s, The Land of Nod, FreeSpirit Fabrics, KI Memories and Michael Miller Fabrics.
I had a job at Springs Industry in Portland that I moved from NY for. They closed the Portland office less than a year after moving and I just didn’t have the energy to move back east again! I was fortunate that they continued to use me in a contracting position after I left, which was the basis of my freelancing. I have to be honest that I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have them as a first client right off the bat.
What does your freelance business currently look like? What sorts of jobs are you doing?
I think of my job as divided into 3 or 4 parts. One is working directly with clients on custom work, or simply production work doing repeats, and redesigns. The second is creating original designs that I have an agent sell for me and where the copyright is transferred in the sale and I get a percentage of what they sell it for. The third is licensing where I retain the copyright and basically rent the rights to the artwork and receive a percentage on royalties. The fourth is just anything else! Over the years, the groups shift in importance. I’ve had years where almost all my income is from working with clients, and I’ve had years where that is the smallest portion. But every year is different. It all hopefully balances out.
What does a typical day look like? Where are you investing your time?
I love to start early. I’m more creative earlier and I save the end of the day for simple stuff that is mindless but still needs to be done, like looking for reference or simply printing things out. Any client work that I have comes first and if I don’t have any of that, I’ll move on to creating originals. Some days are extremely busy and then the next day, I’ll feel like I got nothing done. I’ve learned not to be too hard on myself on those days because “work” isn’t just about the number of prints I’ve created. Everyone has days where all you feel like you do is answer email, but it’s still work!
Looking back on it, what would you have done differently when starting your business?
It helps that I started so long ago, I don’t think I would have had the guts if I didn’t have at least one client I could count on straight from the beginning. But I probably would have waited until having more contacts. I was pretty new to the city and didn’t expect to have to freelance straightaway!
What has had the most positive impact on your business?
I feel very very fortunate that I’m able to make a living doing what I love! And I love the flexibility and the unknown of freelancing. It has definitely made me a happier person, so I’m not sure if that’s a positive impact on my business, but it’s a positive impact on my life!
Any words of wisdom for designers considering a freelance career?
Oh, yes! Start by working part time. It’s hard having the energy to work in the evenings and weekends when you already have a full time job, but it will help you get a sense of whether it’s really something you want to do. And you’ll probably end up working evenings and weekends when you quit your full time job anyway! Or it might be that just the occasional freelance job is enough for the moment.
Save money before you start. I still have months where I don’t have enough income to live off of for the month! You never know what bills you send out are going to sync with what you need to live. Hopefully, you’ll have months down the line that make up for it, but if you aren’t comfortable with the ebb and flow of income, then perhaps it isn’t for you.
Concentrate on your own work. Don’t let yourself be defined by what you expect your freelance life to be like. Or bogged down by what other people are doing. Create lots of work, experiment in styles, and stay educated in whatever software you are using. And just keep working whether it is a paid job or not.
And know that once you start working freelance, people are going to ask you if you sleep in and work in your pajamas all day. I don’t know why, but they always do!
Visit Erin’s website for more information or to stay in touch!
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