Starting a freelance design business: Jessica Stuart-Crump
We are honored to have Jessica Stuart-Crump here today to tell us about her thriving freelance business and what she has learned along the way. I met Jessica in our portfolio course and was extremely impressed by the professionalism of her work and her fantastic personality. If you are interested in launching or growing your freelance business this is a must read!
What does your freelance business currently look like? What sorts of jobs are you doing?
My business feels like an ever-evolving work-in-progress. Currently, I have a small studio space in my home where I illustrate and create patterns. I work primarily with Apparel companies, with a specific focus on sportswear (snow, surf, yoga, + outdoors) and women’s streetwear. From time-to-time I am fortunate enough to develop artwork for hard goods (helmets, ski, goggles etc) and housewares projects. Every client has different needs and project goals, for example, some clients require only one or two prints that they have a very clear direction on. While other clients, I work with them more as a team, developing concepts and print stories together from the ground up. I then go on to complete a full range of seasonal textiles patterns and apparel graphics based on the trend stories and groupings we built.
Aside from client work, I have started working with a print studio (hunt+gather) and am in the process of developing my first collection of seasonal artwork for them. I am also working on a personal line of patterns I am hoping to have block printed onto scarves and housewares, sometime in the near future.
What were you doing before you launched your freelance business?
Before I started freelancing I was working as the Apparel Graphics Designer for Westbeach ( a Canadian snowboard + outerwear company). I started working there about two years earlier as a marketing & graphic design intern. Shortly after I graduated from University, they offered me a full time position, as an apparel graphic designer. I had very little apparel related experience so this proved to be a good challenge to learn all about the repeat process and materials, different printing methods. Luckily, being a small company, they were very open to helping me grow and learn with each new project. I really had to shift my thinking from printing on paper and web to textiles and soft goods, what works on paper won’t always look great worn on the body.
When did you know the time was right to leave your job? Or was it outside of your control?
There was a change in ownership of the company I was working for, and I decided it wasn’t the right environment for me anymore. Many of my colleagues also felt the same way and started new jobs with other apparel companies. Several of them were very kind to offer me contract projects for seasonal graphic collections they had taken over in their new positions. I really knew nothing about ‘how to be a freelancer and make money’ and my first year trying it out had a lot of ups and downs and was not without serious learning curves, but I persisted and 8 years later, I am still at it.
What steps, if any, did you take to prepare to launch your freelance business? Were these steps helpful?
Because of circumstance, I was fortunate enough to land several freelance contracts very quickly when I first started out. Once I realized this was a path I was committed to following, I built myself a portfolio website ( as best I could with limited html skills) and tried to promote my work on sites like Coroflot and Behance. Coroflot, in particular, has been a great place to acquire new clients, and I have worked on many amazing projects through contacts I have made on there.
Any words of wisdom for designers considering a freelance career?
If you are quite new to Textile and Surface Design, I would recommend seeking out resources and online communities where you can share your work and get feedback, practice your skills and meet other designers ( and possible future clients!). Once you have some artwork developed, get your work online! Decide on your company name, create a logo, and build yourself a little website, as this will all help to build your brand recognition. You website doesn’t need to be complicated, keep it simple and let your patterns speak for themselves. http://cargocollective.com/ is a great place to start, they have free templates and you don’t need to know much about coding or any of that technical stuff. Other great spots to promote your work are instagram, pinterest, facebook and twitter.
Learning some basic business development and accounting is essential, as you will likely need to develop contracts, figure out an invoicing system, set up business tax accounts and so forth. A lot of this information can be found online or through local government sites and resources like Pattern Observer and the ‘Biz Ladies’ posts on Design*Sponge are another great place to start. Having a professional level of customer service can also really benefit your relationships with clients. Simple things like making sure to reply to requests and questions in a timely and personal manner, can go a long way.
Freelance life can be scary and exciting all at the same time, it’s not for everyone, and that is ok to recognize. I often think of the term ‘ebb & flow’ when I try to describe of my life as a freelancer, some times work can be really slow moving, and other times you feel flooded by projects and wonder how it’s all going to get done. But stick with it and you will find a balance that suits you!
Visit Jessica’s website for more information or to get in touch!