Andi Best Freelance Designer

Andi Best - 10 Years Of Freelance

  • Published 31-08-2017
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10 Years Of Freelance
This week I passed something of an important professional milestone: 10 years of freelancing. For one tenth of a century I've been taking on creative commissions from businesses and organisations across the globe, turning their ideas and intentions into effective and attractive marketing campaigns, brand identities, digital properties and illustration. I've also spent the time honing my craft, cultivating a healthy, happy client base and establishing my approach to project execution in the design and development marketplace. Plus I've gained a potted plant on my desk which is thriving against all odds.

To celebrate this exceptional landmark (the career span, not the plant) I decided to compose this post that'll take you on a thrilling and wondrous journey through a decade of professional creativity.
My very first commission
A recent conversation on my Twitter feed recalled my first ever paid commission; a rather gaudy and poorly composed illustrated poster. The year was 2007 and I was one year from graduating at The Arts Institute at Bournemouth. I forget exactly how I came across the call for submissions but Poole Council were advertising for a freelance graphic designer to put together a poster for their coming Summer Arts Festival. Given that my degree was already steering me toward a career in freelance I thought I'd apply for the job and test the waters. So I downloaded the brief in an excited stupor, promptly misinterpreted it, and fired over all kinds of wrongness to the client. To my delight and great relief they were not put off by my sending 10 versions of the proposed poster design instead of the requested 10 examples of previous client work upon which my viability for the role was to be judged (just as well really as at that time my portfolio consisted of the silica gel packet that came with the caddy and nothing more) and agreed to award me the job anyway, noting that they'd never hired a student before, but were impressed with how quickly I'd turned around that volume of mockups.
The rest of the project went much more smoothly and after my first taste of wrangling with the working world, I was hooked. My first freelance payment didn't turn me off either.
My second commission didn't go as well...
As with all new ventures a steep learning curve comes quickly underfoot and they don't come much steeper than that instigated by my second client. He was a hulking great lump of bloke called Barney, which was definitely, unequivocally his real name. He contacted me via my website about a design job he wanted me to take on and because I was still buzzing from my first poster gig, I agreed enthusiastically without thoroughly scrutinising his email for clues that he might be a total waste of time. During our first meeting it quickly became apparent that he had no idea, no audience and crucially no product. Ultimately this amounted to the project having no worth, but because he signed my contract (yep, I wasn't too green) agreeing to be charged by the hour, I went along with it and was thrilled weeks later when his constant rounds of contradictory amends and unabating hopelessness at doing anything competently meant the timesheet I was keeping escalated to the lofty thousands.
Once we'd arrived at something vaguely reminiscent of a final product I issued an invoice for my time. It was then that an unknown character named Michael was introduced as the financier of the operation. Michael was on holiday in Spain at the time so there would be a delay in processing the invoice. Michael's holiday became a jaunt, and then an excursion, and then a relocation, and then an expedition through time and space to whichever dimension it was that Barney had conjured him from. Needless to say I received no remuneration.
I do take solace from the fact that the brochure design Barney took to print was utter garbage and most likely brought him no business whatsoever, but the whole experience of raising a case against him with the Small Claims Court and having one of his friends phone me pretending to be his disgruntled, rent deprived landlord professing Barney's absconsion was a lesson in risk assessment I'd rather have had at less of my expense.
The office I outgrew
10 Years Of Freelance
Fortunately that was the lowest of the low points my career has had to endure and was good to have gotten out of the way so early. By the time the pursuit of payment went cold it was 2009 and I had taken up camp in a modest little office space in a block in town. Sure, it was triangular shaped and the furniture didn't fit and it had no windows, but my canvas prints were up on the walls, my logo was on the bell outside and most importantly it was my first professional creative space. I was beaming from ear to ear when clients began to cross the threshold and wedge their knees against my desk to discuss how I could generate solutions to their creative problems. Several tenants in the building needed new websites, one needed Christmas cards designed, one even commissioned a bespoke large format artwork for his new office. The variety and volume of work was so vast that my online portfolio swelled with quality case studies and project examples that attracted publishers, authors, small businesses and a raft of other clients. I had definitely found my groove and would encourage any freelancer just starting out to do the same - get yourself into an office block and capitalise on the free networking.
The middle bit
Sometime around 2011 I relocated the business to Brighton for a brief stint. Whilst there I was transiently affiliated with a design agency that sent a handful of encouraging briefs my way originating from some pretty high profile clients. We parted ways early on however when the agent could only pay me half of the money owed because he had been, unbeknown to me, commissioning prospective work to win business rather than actual projects agreed by his so-called clients. Barney flags began waving in all directions at this revelation, so I walked away before too much damage was done. I moved back to south east London again in 2013, and established myself as a limited business. My career has flourished since with the calibre of both web design and illustration work progressing, and the frequency of irregular situations I've found myself in ever increasing. For instance, I was once asked to decorate the external walls of a 40ft wide inflatable laser-tag arena with custom made graphics. I once had a meeting about ghost train artwork with a client inside a functioning, manned, fairground bumper cars' token kiosk. I once participated in a brand fair demonstrating my ability to draw in 3D. I once helped a marketing department gain an award with a bespoke illustration created to boost their subscription campaign. I once took a trip to Cyprus to stay in a client's villa and photograph it for the website I was building them. I once wore a different T-shirt every day for a year without purchasing a single one. These are all just some of the perks of being your own boss in an extraordinarily flexible field.
To gain adequate insight into the variety of the work produced since the middle years I'd recommend having a read of my 'Best Of' articles. They stem from a new tradition whereby I author blog posts around Christmas time compiling my most influential commissioned projects of the year. The 2015 and 2016 editions demonstrate a good mix of projects that's fairly representative of my overall creative endeavours. Whilst those load in the background, here are two particular projects I want to recall at length for their notable contribution to my illustration and design portfolios respectively:
Samsung SSD Ambassador Programme
10 Years Of Freelance
In 2012 an advert in Facebook's side bar of all places caught my attention. It was a call for creative applications to Jam agency's brand ambassador programme for Samsung SSD. I applied - a process requiring I share a link to my online portfolio - and some weeks later I was delighted to be accepted into the programme. Over the 6 months that followed I was sent creative briefs from the agency to produce illustrations, videos, animations, web pages and more, all showcased on the Samsung SSD social media channels to raise product awareness. The final brief from the agency forms my greatest career highlight to date: a trip to CES2013, Las Vegas, to vlog the Samsung presence at the show. It was my first time standing on American soil and a magnificently privileged experience working with the Samsung team. You can read more about the Samsung SSD Ambassador project here.
Age UK Prize Hub
10 Years Of Freelance
In 2015 I was invited to the London office of charity Age UK to discuss my potential involvement in an upcoming large-scale web project that the organisation was set to work on: an overhaul to the way customers played their online gaming products. The commission was to design an entire new microsite to unify all of the charity's online games and following that initial meeting I was fortunate enough to win it.
It was and still is the largest website design project I've undertaken in my career, racking up 10 months of concept design, addressing feedback, brand development, devising mockups for responsive states, illustrated artwork development and user experience refinement. It went swimmingly and the client and I are still working on marketing projects even to this day. I've also learnt that Age UK are due to put out a TV spot this autumn advertising their Lottery product, in which some of the illustration and web design work I completed for them will appear. You can read more about the Age UK Prize Hub project here.
What's next?
10 Years Of Freelance
As I'm typing this passage I'm glancing across at my to-do list for the very literal interpretation of the question "What's next?" Having just finished the first draft of a JavaScript driven image gallery for a client's commerce site this morning, I see the next items booked in include a website rebuild, a logo redesign, a corporate rebrand and a marketing landing page design. These lines of scribble combined with what I imagine will be the usual stream of email marketing builds and web development tweaks from my regular monthly clients suggest that it'll be a while yet before I anxiously scour the freelance job boards, which is extremely encouraging.
To be perfectly honest my vision of the future doesn't extend much further than that. I find onboarding clients and working with them to produce quality illustration and design so immeasurably rewarding that the prospect of upscaling or altering my operation in any way is immaterial (much to the dismay of a particular agent at my local branch of Santander, but that's a story for another time).
If I had to set course for any one goal in particular it would be to discover where it is all the time is stockpiled. Time, like Mini Eggs and back massages, is one of the more scarce resources that my business would certainly benefit from. An abundance of it would allow me to bring to fruition all the ideas I have accumulated in my black box, including those for merchandise designs that could revitalise my web shop which has been languishing in its current state for far too long. But from a work perspective the outlook for my career today is thankfully just as broad as it was 10 years ago. I'm in a much stronger position now of course but the prospect of working with new clients in new industries is just as captivating. Whether it's Startups with no presence needing their first tailored kit, or established brands looking to have their digital marketing developed, I'm still enjoying designing, drawing and coding to help move people forward with their vision - it's genuinely one of the most satisfying things I do with my life.

If you've got any questions about freelancing, let's have a chat on either Facebook or Twitter.
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