Articles - 20th September 2019

How to survive the quiet months as a Graphic Designer

Words by Erica Choi
Illustration by Jon McCormack

I left a decent paid full-time Graphic designer job – it was March and the last month of the financial year. A good friend of mine who was a textile design freelancer for a few years told me March usually is quiet because a lot of companies has spent their budget already and it gets better when April starts. Well, I left my job with confidence, already having 10 years of experience in Graphic Design. I imagined my phone would be busy ringing from recruiters.

I did not realise there would be no projects, no matter how good a designer I was. I may have known how to solve problems for others by using my design communication skills, but I underestimated how hard it would be to manage my workflow. I was going to work as a contractor, not as an independent consultant, which involves lots of emailing, talking and planning. Even though I did have some savings, I started panicking inside and began losing my mental health balance. Here are a few things I have trialled and errored at. Although creating a connection with new faces in person was a slow burner, I found building work relationships via email even more challenging. 


1. Read books or articles and listen to podcasts by other startups and freelancers during the day.

I was surprised there were lots of reading and listening materials for a low price or even for free. This did not bring money straight to my bank account, but motivation would be good, right? 


2. Attended classes and evening talks for entrepreneurs and creative startups in the evenings.

General Assembly and Creative Entrepreneurs for example offer free or affordable business classes and lectures so, I was getting a few ideas in terms of logistics and what/who I need for my limited company.


3. Outreached and re-connected with almost every recruitment agency via email.

I was going to depend on recruiters to find freelance jobs because it was the most effective. The downside of this was that the highest day rate every recruitment agency offered me was lower than the standard day rate for a designer with 10 years experience.

So in the beginning, I worked with a few friends who needed graphic design help and received positive feedback about how helpful my input was. I managed to get some small wins, including working with one of my favourite British architects, David Chipperfield. However, they did not extend my contract when Summer came – the director of Comms emailed me saying, they have a quieter Summertime in the office. I also had a lot of out of office emails from designers and recruiters. Plus, a branding project that I was working on got put on hold for a month due to my client’s long Summer holiday. And so came the dry season, again. 


So, after my trials and errors, I reached my mini conclusions:


1. Make use of existing connections

Just to be a little smarter. I have met lots of people in London, such as 300 colleagues from my previous work and a number of friends who believed in my creativity, so, they referred me to their wives, husbands and acquaintances. 

Even though not every referral ended in a project, they will think of me when they hear something about graphic design (or whatever you do). Who knew I could get connected by a friend to the CEO of a well-known recruitment agency? This connection landed me to David Chipperfield’s office. I nearly miscalculated how many people I already knew and would be happy to help me out for FREE. Please don’t hide in your own little world, come out and talk to your friends and their friends at birthday parties, BBQs, lunches and dinners about what you do and how you are getting on. Advanced skill, at this point, is making your job interesting and exciting so they think of you when it comes to finding someone who does what you do. 


2. Recharge with useful books and contents

A beautician freelancer friend of mine said to me once, whilst I was having a mild panic, please start something and use this opportunity instead of worrying. I have always lived a career-driven life, so I have a lot of unread design and career-related books and magazines on my shelves and was thinking one day I’d like to finish them. Just start reading, and you will be inspired so much and reminded why you picked the magazine or book up in the first place. The books I found helpful were:

Run Studio Run

Monocle Magazine

Logo Design Love

Little black book for working women

The Kinfolk Entrepreneur


3. Set the right price for your downs

Inevitably you’ll have quiet periods throughout the year, typically when people go on holiday. So, it brings me naturally to the thought that my rate should be a bit higher than what it is at the moment. Negotiation skills are what’s needed for this. Make sure your value is right for the job, and tailor your CV and portfolio for the job to prove to the client that their money will not be wasted. If they are wiser clients and experienced, they will know how painful it is to hire someone who is just not good enough. 

I try to reset my mind every day so that I’m able to have a handful of successful projects by the end of it. Let’s not be a downer for ourselves just because it is a quieter time. We are on the journey of a long working life. We will be okay.

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