If I can do it, you can too

Hi Nicola, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?

Hello I’m Nik, I currently live just outside of Bath, I’m 37 and I’m a freelance graphic designer at Hello I’m Nik Graphic Design. I started freelancing in September 2012 whilst I was working as Office Manager but changed career and became a full time freelancer in February 2014. I’m a keen quad skater, and recently into skateboarding but I’m too old to do any tricks, so I just stick to cruiser boards as well.

When did you first realise that you wanted to become a freelance graphic designer?

I knew I wanted to do something creative when I was at school. I regularly got good marks for Art and Design but for some strange reason the GCSE they made me do, which was my last choice, was music, which I failed miserably at! My thoughts were always to go to Uni and do something along the lines of design, but instead my Dad told me to “get a career that’ll guarantee you money”. Due to this I went to Secretarial college and excelled at it and because of that I thought it was the right choice.

18 years later and several admin jobs added to the CV I decided it was time to finally do what it is I really wanted to do and began learning the Adobe Suite, I undertook several work experience placements, spent every night immersing myself in social media, networking and getting mentored by some amazing people in the industry and then finally landed myself an amazing first freelance job all of which I did alongside working a 4-day a week Office Manager job.

How does a normal working day look for you?

It’s very different to say what it was like prior to February of this year, I love it! At the moment I have a contract job I go to 2 or 3 times a week, which involves me creating templates and honing my artwork skills, the other days I spend on marketing for my own company, Hello I’m Nik Graphic Design or working on freelance projects I have on. I try to have one down day during the working week now, especially as it’s summer and I am planning on spending more time near beaches over the coming months.

What tools do you find yourself using on a daily basis?

The Adobe Suite are my weapons of choice, Illustrator and Photoshop mainly. I try to keep things minimal, which is my style as a whole and try not to rely too heavily on apps that ‘help you organise your life’, I do quite a good job of that myself thanks to 19 years in an admin career.

How did you get your first freelance client?

Word of mouth, thankfully. Immersing myself in the industry gave me a lot of exposure to some amazing people; I interned at Storm Consultancy in Bath for a year and it was through them I got my first gig helping Coworking Bath create a brand for themselves. It was a huge project and I was really excited to have been given the opportunity to help them out.

What have you found are the best ways for getting new clients?

Again, word of mouth – there’s nothing quite like a recommendation from someone who’s used your services before or has heard about you from someone who has. I have tried several marketing techniques, and find that word of mouth is the most ‘organic’ and fits nicely within my holistic lifestyle.

Of all the projects you have worked on, what are you most proud of?

Most of the projects I’ve done there’s an element of pride, each brings new challenges and lessons learned. I love doing side projects too, I’ll suddenly think of an amazing idea and most of the time (touch wood) the design comes together nicely and it’ll feel amazing, but the one job that stands out the most for me has to be the Coworking Bath project. It being my first freelance job, it was the biggest job I’d worked on, I was given a lot of responsibility and creative free reign and to this day receives a lot of exposure and I’ve received a lot of comments from new clients about how impressed they were by it.

On the topic of side projects, are there any that you’d like to share with us?

I’m always doing side projects, I sell a lot of them on Society6 and RedBubble and at the moment I’m going through a bit of a Rik Mayall phase, since his sad passing last month I’ve been reminiscing about how much of an influence he was on my life, my latest side project is a black and white flat design of Rik as Rick from The Young Ones.

Who are your closest friends in the industry and what support do they give you?

I’ve had a lot of support from some amazing people since I began my journey. I often felt that I was a bit of a phoney as I hadn’t done several years of Design training at Uni or college but so many people I’ve had interviews with, have met at networking events, and even clients have said that it shows passion for my chosen subject and the work I produce just goes to show that I have the right ingredients in me to be a graphic designer.

To be more specific, I met Dave Ellis via Twitter and he’s given me no end of help and advice about specific jobs I’m doing; he helped me recently set up my own website redesign using WordPress, and is always there if I have any questions. Another awesome dude is Joe Blowen from Amaroo Media, I freelance for Amaroo whenever they need me and Joe is always on hand if I have any questions about specific jobs and industry knowhow. Dave Taylor I helped with the Gigstamp project a few months ago, he is an incredibly helpful chap, he gave me lots of really useful advice about freelancing and money matters when I was first thinking of switching careers.

Those are just three of the top chaps, but since I began my design career I’ve been exposed to so many brilliant people, and I’d love to thank them all for being so ace!

Who do you most look up to in the industry?

There are several local design agencies that I’ve always kept my eye on, namely The House, Bath, I had the pleasure of being mentored by Steve Fuller during the Coworking Bath project; I love their ethos and outlook and would love to reciprocate the mentoring with anything I could help with. Some other local companies include Mytton Williams, Northbank and also WellMade who are based ‘oop North’, Gemma is a top lass.

Do you find that your creative skills also lie anywhere else other than graphic design?

I can’t knit or sew or crochet, as I can’t sit still long enough but skills aside I do believe the way I think generally everyday is where I use my creativity, sense of humour, quick wittedness and a childlike need to investigate everything.

Finally, what are the best tips you could give to anyone looking to start in this industry?

The most important things I learnt from my experiences as a career change…

a) Go with your heart – I spent 19 years in the wrong career believing it was all I had, if you’re in a career you hate, never believe you’re too old (I was 35), if I can do it, you can too and if you’d like some help and advice I’ll be more than happy to help you out, just get in touch.

b) Don’t be scared to ask questions – as an intern I was always quite scared of looking like a fool to someone who was more experienced in the industry, but soon realised it’s the only way you can progress and everyone I’ve been exposed to during my career change have welcomed questions with open arms and…

c) Take critique on the chin; the only way you can progress as a designer is by hearing feedback and critique, that was a hard one for me and since becoming a designer it was the biggest lesson to learn.

Don’t take it personally, use the information to grow as a person.

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