After six amazing years, the founders of Hexanine have moved on to other independent design work and creative endeavors. Read more
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Jason Moderates AIGA LA Blueprint Event

Hexanine Co-Founder Jason Adam Moderates AIGA Los Angeles Blueprint Event

Last week I had the privilege of moderating the panel discussion at the premiere event in our AIGA Los Angeles Blueprint series. We brought four of LA’s finest independent designers to NextSpace in Culver City, CA for a two-hour discussion on the business of freelancing.

While freelance designers love to talk about their creative work, they’re often less fond of talking about their businesses. Such “boring” topics as accounting, taxes, legal issues, business strategy and client relations are often considered necessary evils, reflected by their time spent in the conversational spotlight.

And that’s no good.

We at AIGA think nuts-and-bolts business information is vital to any self-employed designer, so we created the business-focused Blueprint series to find out if the rest of the self-employed design community does too.

Turns out they do: The event was sold out, and we practically had to kick attendees out the door after it ended, they had so many questions for our panel.

Speaking of the panel, I can’t say enough good things about this talented and experienced group, and I’m honored to call them my friends.

The discussion was lively and thoughtful, stocked with behind-the-curtain, practical insights and suggestions. We could have easily talked another hour or two, and barely scraped the surface of both the topic, and the panel’s collective knowledge on it.

AIGA Los Angeles Blueprint: Freelance from left to right: Jason Adam, Mark LeRoy, Heather Parlato, Spencer Cross, Petrula Vrontikis.

Above: AIGA Los Angeles Blueprint: Freelance panelists from left to right: Jason Adam (moderator), Mark LeRoy, Heather Parlato, Spencer Cross, Petrula Vrontikis.

Among my favorite insights for freelancers:

You’re a business owner, not a designer. On average, all four panelists spend about 30% of their time designing. The rest is spent running their business, or in business development.

Titles are important. Not one of our panelists refer to themselves as a “freelancer,” opting instead for terms like solo-practice (or in Mark’s case, Contract Marketing Director), which offer elevated positioning.

Where you decide to work is a personal decision. The panel was split on working alone from a home office, or working from a co-working space or shared office. Heather recently gave a shared office space a go, but found it too distracting. The consensus was this is a very personal choice. For those opting to work at home, Spencer suggests dogs.

Freelancing allows you to keep a larger portion of your earned money. For those considering making the leap to freelancing full-time, and concerned about financing the jump, Heather suggested that one can expect to pay significantly less in taxes as a freelancer than she did as a full-time employee.

Flat fees vs. billing hourly. Our entire panel typically bills projects on a flat-fee basis, vs. billing hourly, with a few small exceptions, such as revisions or production work.

Effective positioning and communication helps attract the right kinds of clients. Mark suggests using analogies: “I sell Mercedes’. If you want a Ford, this might not be a good fit.”

“Work directly with the client” except when… Petrula explained: If you have a very specialized skill, such as an illustration style, etc., you can command a premium fee for your work, and it may be beneficial to subcontract through other agencies. Just ask lots of questions and make sure you can use it in your portfolio.

Staffing Agencies are great in a pinch, but watch the strings. If you’re going to work with a staffing agency, read the whole contract. They likely have strict non-compete clauses included.

And we covered that in about 10 minutes. This is one smart group, and I can’t wait to get them together again.

Here at Hexanine, we’re also committed to elevating design as a professional craft through a focus on design thinking and brand strategy. We feel strongly that the more our clients utlize us as strategic consultants, the more value we can bring to the table — and their organizations.

Many thanks to AIGA LA Event Programming Chair René Quintanilla, and event producers Janette Jackson and Jenn de la Fuente for producing the event, and to all of our AIGA Los Angeles volunteers for their hard work as well. If you’d like to learn more about AIGA Los Angeles, visit our spiffy new website.

Finally, a huge shout out to Paul Dimalanta who provided the fantastic pictures.

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