Autumn warms my heart like no other. As the whimsical cadence of summer gives way to the delectable pace of fall, I feel the people around me relax a little – likely to embrace the coming months of unhurried replenishment and quiet hibernation. I would imagine that there is a biological explanation to all of this – like grizzlies who hunt aggressively over the summer months only to slip helplessly into their seasonal slumbers, humans must have a similar guard that they let down each fall as their eyes soften and their tempers even out. Indeed, autumn is my favourite time of year.

Each autumn I make an effort to write down my goals and aspirations as I become slightly more grounded this time of year. Last year’s aspirations were admittedly vague and abstract, as I was finishing off my third year in university and still significantly torn between becoming a collar-wearing social activist versus a tree-hugging artist / designer / pretty much everything that the former did not entail. As you may have deduced, I’ve embraced the latter since then. It’s been a hard path to justify given my expensive tuition bill – still, I’ve discovered through my clients and working with Verily Magazine that this is where my passions lie.

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Knowing What I’m About

Since launching my freelance business late last year, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of clients – from small boutiques to financial advisories to the Seattle Seahawks to entrepreneurial food bloggers – and if there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s this: I do not thrive in workplaces where I am expected to produce content in under 3 hours. Speed has never been my strong suit in most aspects of life, let alone design – for me, design is a slow brewing process that requires hours upon hours of fine-tuning and self-editing after the initial concept is introduced. So now that I know what I’m NOT about, I’d like to figure out what I AM about. Do I want to work more extensively with small businesses and bloggers? Or do I want to venture further into editorial design? Do I want to focus on print collateral? Or do more web-based work? Indeed, all of the above excite me to no end – but I would like to take this year to further define what The Denizen Co. means to me and my clients in the future.
 

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Knowing What I’m Worth

Every freelancer is confronted with the age-old question: how much am I worth? In the creative industries, education is hardly an indication of quality or talent. The portfolio may reveal a designer’s aesthetic style and possibly a general design “caliber” – but it unfortunately does not generate a string of fixed numbers that you can call your pricing list. Admittedly, I’ve struggled in this arena during the past year. When I first launched my business, I had a strong incentive to take on every project that came my way – paid or not – to expand my portfolio and market my brand name. I said “yes” to every project; I said “yes” to every price. In three months time, however, I was caught up in a wave of larger projects that kept me working 12 hour days, Monday through Saturday. I was no longer able to accommodate the “student discount” prices that I had marketed so liberally before. I could no longer say “yes” to unpaid projects solely because I believed in the person or their ethos. “Friendly favours” became a great way to not only strain my work schedule but also the relationship itself. Over the past six months of first inquiries and a few inevitable “client breakups,” I’ve learned that it is important to have an unwavering sense of how much I am worth – by the dollar – not only to respect myself but also my client. This year I would like to pull back from getting enraptured in a project immediately (it will be hard – trust me!) and learn how to introduce the big shiny contract in a speedier fashion.
 

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Diversifying My Work Day

I was never the multi-faceted child who could juggle school, team sports, music lessons and extracurriculars while maintaining a vibrant social life via copious amounts of hair-braiding and Friday night slumber parties. I wasn’t a miserable child zombie, mind you – in fact, I was a very happy child who was almost always engrossed in “the next big project” or passionate about some book I read. By succumbing to my geekish tendencies, however, I never learned how to diversify my time. This is most accurately depicted by my current work schedule: wake up at 7:30am, work straight until noon, begrudgingly eat “breakfast” at half past noon because my stomach won’t stop growling, go straight back to work until about 5 or 6 when Neil gets home, rinse and repeat. Obsessive is right. Neil has tried to leave me pre-made sandwiches in the fridge so I won’t find eating such a time drain – even so, lunch is left to chance depending on the size of my to-do list for the day. This year I would like to focus first and foremost on rounding out my work day with healthy meals and appropriate breaks.

As the spontaneity of summer winds down to a slow simmer, I invite you to reflect on the past year’s accomplishments and what the coming months have in store for you.

Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.