A Short Conversation With Liz Andrade of CMD+Shift Design
This entry is long due, but to reward your patience I have saved the best for last. I am finishing up this series with a designer whose work I really admire, Liz Andrade of CMD+Shift Design.
Liz is a web designer, blogger, and self described internet nerd and crazy cat lady. She runs a one-woman web studio in Seattle, WA. She has been called one of the top influential female designers and her work has been featured around the web in several design galleries.
Liz’s also writes a blog that focuses on her passion for web design and freelancing! To find more about Liz and see some of her work visit Liz at http://cmdshiftdesign.com/blog/ and don’t forget to follow Liz on twitter.
- Can you tell us a little bit about your first design job?
- I graduated from college feeling pretty confident about my design abilities. I was an A student, my instructors were very encouraging and expressed a positive outlook about my upcoming career. So, I my leap into the “real world” came as a surprise. No one wanted to hire me. I had no real experience, and (now that I look back on it) a sub par “student” portfolio. I knew how to use the software and I knew the fundamentals of layout and color and typography, but I didn’t have a strong grasp on things like marketing, audience, concept, etc.
- After many interviews and portfolio reviews, after sending my resume out and dropping my book off to get no response - I finally had to take a job at a local drugstore just to ensure my rent would be paid, but I kept looking.
- My first job in the “design industry” was as a receptionist at a creative firm. I decided, “well, it’s not ideal - but at least i will be in a creative environment!” I worked the phones for about a year, honing my communication skills and getting to know our clientele before my boss gave me a break and hired me on as a Junior Designer!
- My time with that company taught me a lot about communicating with clients and with other designers. I learned more in the first 6 months as a junior designer than I did in my full college career! It was a small firm, so i took on wearing a lot of hats and with a hunger to learn, I would take on any new responsibility that was offered up - it was so valuable! I had no social life, and I was exhausted all the time - but i learned my shit!
- How did you land your first freelance design gig?
- I made the leap into starting my own business a little over 2 years ago. I was working as a senior web designer and thinking more and more about the desire to start a design studio where I could have more say in the way things were run, the interactions with clients, the quality of work, etc.
- Early on - I made the mistake of mot having proper contacts with clients on their projects. This didn’t actually turn into any troubles, but it wasn’t good practice and after the first few months in business, I came down on myself about setting clear policies and terms for myself and my clients.
- How much effort do you invest in finding new clients?
- I have never made a cold call. Most of the clients I get find me either through my website, or from a referral that another client of mine gave them. When a prospective client contacts me, I make an effort to give them a clear idea of what I am all about and what working with me will be like - that I am interested in growing their business—some clients get really excited about this and we form a strong client/designer bond… some people just want someone who can work cheap and fast and get something out the door for them. That’s just NOT me.
- Related to the previous question, how do you maintain your current clients?
- I have been pretty lucky with clients, haven’t really had to fire anyone cause they were the typical “nightmare client.” I think what is really important is clearly setting boundaries with a client and a clear path, so you both know what direction you are going in and what to expect from each other. As time goes on, it gets easier and easier to spot those red-flag clients and just weed them out before things ever get started.
- The only time I have had to part ways with a client, they were actually another graphic designer - they hired me to do development on a website they designed for their client. It seemed like a great project and I got on very well with the designer, but what should have been a 6 - 8 week job kept dragging on because of their inability to manage their client, I finally had to refer them to another freelancer and part ways with the project.
- If you could make one suggestion to someone about to jump into freelancing what would that be?
- First, get some solid “real world” experience first! It is better to learn everything and make the mistakes and get your feet wet in the industry when you are on someone else’s payroll. Learn from the higher ups around you and just soak it all in.