Kathryn Ginther | The Importance of Self Advocacy
Another form of going out on your own, is freelancing. You have all the qualities of an entrepreneur - launching yourself and your skills as your own business, taking a risk of not getting paid on time, and having uncertainty of your next job. It’s tough but more and more millennials are leaving their corporate gigs for this hustle. Is it more validating? What’s the pull? I recently met and worked with rockstar freelancer Kat, a full-time graphic designer. She designed HerLaunch’s logo and is simply a pleasure to work with. I spoke to Kat about her freelancing career, her secrets to her success, and getting started on your own.
When did you start freelancing and what drove you to take it full time?
I originally went to school to study oil painting -- portraiture, to be specific. The thing that I loved about portraiture was that it allowed me to interact with people in an otherwise traditionally solitary activity. Whether I was taking reference photos of the subject, gathering information for a commission, or painting the subject live, there was always an element of collecting information from another human and using that information to create.
After graduation, I worked in a gallery and maintained my studio practice. I made the occasional poster, business card, or album cover for friends, and soon realized that I was putting more time and effort into these projects than my “passion projects”. I then committed myself to developing and sharpening my design skills and soon received my first job, which was remote.
Thanks to the fact that the school I attended had 24/7 access facilities, I had plenty of practice self-motivating and staying on task. If I could paint until 4AM then I would, so I often did. Once I figured out that I could design for clients strictly from my computer, and that I was able to sustain work habits from home, I knew I could do it independently. Although it was terrifying and I had never freelanced full-time before, I knew I could make it work as long as I put the time in.
What is something you wish you had known starting out?
My biggest mistake was falling prey to the all-too-familiar Imposter Syndrome. Even though I had been formally trained in art and design, won awards in school, and poured hundreds of hours into my practice, I still had that nagging voice screaming, “You’re not REALLY a designer, you’re just a painter!” Or, “This client will HATE whatever you do, because you don’t know what you’re doing!” Looking back, it was good to know where I was starting out and to have a skill level to aspire to, but beating myself up for trying, growing, and learning were not necessary or conducive to that process.
Why do you think freelancing is so taboo?
It’s definitely hard sometimes. There’s that drop in your stomach when you realized your last project is finished and there’s not another one lined up. Or when you bit off a little too much, overestimated how much time you had, or underestimated how much time a project would take. Deadlines converge, clients bottleneck-- I can definitely understand why large companies need PMs.
But all jobs have learning curves. It’s just a matter of holding yourself responsible for understanding your weaknesses and taking advantage of your strengths. I think a lot of people assume they’re not capable of doing this simply because they’ve never done it before.
Being a freelancer myself, I always get asked how I determined my pricing. I know it’s different for everyone but in my opinion, it comes down to how much you value your time. What are your thoughts on this and how did you go about setting your rates?
My rates have steadily grown since I’ve started. Another advantage of working for yourself is that you can contextualize every part of your personal and professional life when setting prices. For example, if my client is large and financially sound while being particularly demanding with edits and deadlines then of course I will charge them more than I would a friend or non-profit.
A pricing method I’ve found helpful before starting a project is asking the client what number they’d like to stay under. This way I can keep in mind how many hours I should spend, and the client knows that any edits beyond the initial cap would be extra. Everyone’s on the same page and no one is surprised when the invoice comes. Also, for graphic designers, the website thenuschool.com has a very helpful and comprehensive pricing tool for a variety of projects:
What has been your biggest lesson along the way?
Early on, I was very apologetic and quick to admit fault (almost always when it wasn’t mine). This, of course, is another classic symptom of Imposter Syndrome. It took a long time for me to gain the courage to challenge any professional criticism or comments. This is not to say there wasn’t substantial, constructive feedback that helped shape me into a better designer and person.
After about a year testing the waters in freelance, I was working with a particularly difficult client who had hired me to create a set of branded graphical elements with very specific guidelines and aesthetic requirements. After many round of drafts, notes, and edits, I delivered a final product to the client’s satisfaction and sent a very reasonably priced (even discounted) invoice. The client immediately sent a long message in response, claiming I had gone way over the discussed estimate (I hadn’t), that I should have told him how much more it was going to cost (I had), and that I shouldn’t be charging so much for “creating art” because I’m an artist, and that’s what I “do for fun”.
I could finally see through the cloud of my self-perceived insecurities. I knew I was right and he was wrong, that the criticism was wrong, the situation was wrong, and that no one but myself was going to advocate for me. I told him how much he owed me dropped him as a client. Since then, it has been much easier to recognise when to advocate for myself.
How do you get new clients?
Like many freelancers, I tend to put the work of clients above my own work. I have been working on putting together my portfolio website for the past year, but I always end up receiving an inquiry and prioritizing paid work instead -- ultimately not the worst problem to have. I hope to one day soon launch my site and funnel clients this way, but for now,all of my new clients are coming from referrals.
When you just started out, what was one resource you looked to?
When I was first diving into graphic design, I would offer to buy established graphic designers coffee in exchange for listening to and answering my naive and sometimes idiotic questions about working as a professional freelance designer. I was very lucky to know so many talented designers in all different fields of design -- some were print designers who had worked for large firms, some were web designers who had worked in dev companies, and one was even a UX/UI designer working on huge, complicated public transportation app. I asked them questions very similar to the ones I’m answering here, and was able to form a picture of what I wanted my future career to look like. Getting information directly from my peers was probably the most important thing I did for myself, early on.
Why do you think more and more of this generation are turning to freelancing over corporate jobs?
I love the fact that I can work from home and on my own terms. I love even more that so many of my peers are doing the same. It allows us to work in an emotionally and physically comfortable environment, teaches us how to hold ourselves responsible for our business, and lets us discover and hone new skills at a comfortable pace. I think so many professionals are able to do this today because the technology allows for easy communication and file sharing. Sometimes after a particularly long day of video calls, screen sharing, and file dropping, I can almost forget I’m in my home. Applications like Slack, Zoom, Google Drive, and Dropbox (just to name a few) have become invaluable tools of trade for freelancers. Even with all this technology enabling us to do our work indepently, it would still be impossible to pull off without a massive amount of self-discipline. Our generation knows how tough the job market is, and how hard it can be to find full-time work in your field. Even though freelancing can have a reputation of being “unreliable work”, I tend to view it as not putting all my eggs in one basket. I have known so many hard working professionals who dedicate years to a company just to get laid-off. I think our generation has witnessed this or even experienced it, and has decided to take matters into their own hands.
What are some practical tips for starting and building your freelance career?
Say yes to pretty much anything you get offered (as long as it’s safe).
One of the most unique things about having a freelance career is that you get to curate your workload. There’s no one dictating what projects you have to take on and no one to forbid you from pursuing your dream projects. But at first, I think you kind of have to take what you can get, to help build your portfolio, reputation, and trust among whatever community you find yourself in. Being selective is a privilege that results from putting time into things you didn’t want to do. It will also give you perspective and appreciation for when you gradually start rejecting less desirable work to take on your dream work.
If you had to give one piece of advice to another woman, going out on her own, what would it be?
I really can’t stress how important it is for every woman (and person, really) to self-advocate, especially when you’re working for yourself. Not enough women are even aware that they’re not doing it -- they’re simply “taking orders”. I certainly didn’t understand the difference when I started, and honestly, it’s still a little hard to know when and how to stick up for yourself. But if you’re brave enough to set out on your own and make your career happen on your terms, you owe it to yourself, your skills, your time, your mentors, your peers, your passion, and whoever or whatever got you to this point.
To get in contact with Kat, you can email her directly here!