BABE #83: SARAH LAWRENCE,
Sarah works from her cozy home office in Atlanta, where she also voluntarily holds weekly office hours for younger aspiring designers. She has worked with brands including -but not limited to- Buzzfeed, Racked and Facebook. We were beyond impressed by the tactful, thorough and witty emails she exchanged with us - paired with an incredibly illustrative website to boot. We are inspired by her work, her passion for helping others, and for always striving to be her best self. Thanks for chatting with us, Sarah! (We have a huge girl crush on you.)
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Current city: Atlanta, Georgia
Alma mater: University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Degree: BFA in Graphic Design
Very first job: Blendmaster @ Smoothie King
Hustle: Freelance designer
How do you spend your free time?
Doing designy side projects and, lately, a lot of gardening in our backyard. We bought a house a year ago, so it’s been a mad dash to work on it and make it a home — there’s always a project going!
Must-have item in your purse?
TIDE TO-GO PEN. I live by some unwritten rule that if I have an important in-person meeting coming up, I will spill something on myself directly before.
Go-to adult beverage?
A Ramos Gin Fizz! I’m obsessed. I randomly chose one off of a menu in Asheville a few years ago, and it’s my favorite drink ever. Kimball House in Atlanta has one worth bragging about, but they cost $22 each, so I learned how to make them at home like the pros.
Queso or guac?
Guac because I can eat way more without feeling like a trash person, but I do love queso because the chip-to-dip ratio evens out better.
Tell us about your hustle:
I’m a freelance graphic designer working out of my home studio in Atlanta, Georgia. I do a ton of different things, but primarily work on branding projects for new or established companies, illustrations for editorial or corporate projects, and microsites (annual reports, etc). I try to keep a balance between corporate clients and nonprofits and take on as many low bono projects as I can.
What does your typical workday look like?
One thing I hear the most often from people is that they’d never have a productive workday if they worked from home. That’s probably true; I learned pretty quickly to try and match my schedule to my boyfriend’s. He has a more traditional 9-5 job, so I start work when he leaves, and I finish when he gets home. I try to keep all work to those hours and not answer work emails after I’m done for the day, so I can maintain some of that sweet sweet work-life balance and not feel like I’m always working. Throughout the day, it’s a blend of working + emailing + working + emailing. I learned that having email notifications on constantly was wrecking my productivity, because each ping would distract me to another project, so I turned them off and only check emails every hour or two. I’ll basically work for a couple hours, check email, respond to whatever I can respond to immediately, and then bookmark the more complicated stuff for later in the day.
When did you know you wanted to pursue design? What has the process of freelancing been like for you?
I originally wanted to be a fashion designer. The University of Georgia didn’t have a fashion design program, however, and I opted to go with in-state tuition and the HOPE scholarship over student loans. Graphic design was my second passion, so I followed that path instead and am glad I did. I speak at my high school’s career day every year and always implore students to go the route with the least debt.
What is your work environment/office culture like?
I have a studio office in our house. It’s basically a sun room; two walls are mostly window, which makes it very cold in the winter, very hot in the summer, and just right in the fall and spring. There’s a huge desk space where friends can come cowork, as well as a tiny personal La Croix fridge. I love being able to spread out and create my own space. My office culture is, well, pretty laid back— clients come to the house to meet, and I make us coffee while we chat in the studio. My pup has her own bed she sleeps on by my chair, and I have one of those weird beta fish gardens.
How do you manage to stay organized among freelance, personal and corporate jobs + projects?
It’s a process I’ve been fine tuning as I go. If I realize a system isn’t working right anymore, I start experimenting with new ones. Last year I had all of my business in a really detailed Google Spreadsheet I developed (where all of the tabs and spaces automatically updated each other, it was dope) but this year switched to Freshbooks. I used to keep to-do lists in a little moleskine notebook, but almost lost the notebook a few months ago and decided Trello was the way to go. I try to move simply through projects; tackle what’s most urgent first, and work on other projects while waiting on feedback from people.
What are your favorite types of projects or campaigns to be a part of?
I love projects where I can be involved at every step — especially strategizing with companies on the initial concept, since I have experience with so many types of projects and like to cross reference different disciplines. Creating the thing is obviously fun, and then I like helping out with implementation too. I guess that makes me a little bit of a project manager, since I’m helping manage their budget and timeline in addition to doing the actual design.
What are some of the everyday struggles with your job that we might not see?
A lot of my job is building trust with clients. I want them to know I’m on their team and on board with the mission, not someone just punching a clock and sending an invoice. I don’t take on projects I don’t feel passionate or excited about. I’m honest about deadlines and clear about expectations. It can be hard to start a new client relationship feeling like I’m backpedaling and explaining every small decision. I feel like that’s something solely for me to work on, since a lot of the people I work with have never hired a designer before and are starting that kind of relationship from scratch for the first time. The experience they have with me will affect their relationships with all creatives they work with in the future, and it’s important to be a good representative of our industry. It’s important for me to trust the client as well — they know their industry better than I do and can often have a better idea of the best way to reach their customers.
What is your advice for other designers who have yet to reach bigger audiences for their design work? What were those milestones like for you personally?
I learned a lot of this through a great internship I had in college and through my first job at a music magazine. When reaching out to publications, remember that you’re sending an email to a human: research their coverage first and see if you’d be a good fit (they’ll be able to tell in an instant if you didn’t do this). Find out who exactly you’re emailing if you can, and be personable with them. Quickly and succinctly make your case, and then wish them a great day. Follow up one time max if you feel like you need to—most editors (and I know this from personal experience) definitely saw your email, they’re just working through the 85657 others that are more pressing in the moment. If it’s not a good fit, thank them and move on! If it is a good fit, give them everything they need to do their jobs.
Do you ever struggle in coming up with new ideas? How do you combat creative blocks?
I have a collection of reference books in my studio, but I like to draw inspiration from the project itself; what is the goal? Who is this affecting? Who is this helping? Where do they live? What do they do? When will they interact with this thing, and what do I want them to take away from it? Losing myself in a project helps drive so many of my design decisions.
What would your advice be for other makers and artists who are hesitant to pursue their work professionally?
DO IT YESTERDAY~ and do not wait for someone to give you permission. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
How would you say being a woman has affected your career/work/professional experience?
Being a woman affected me a lot more when I was in a traditional job setting. It became clear very quickly that moving up in a hierarchical organization was going to be super difficult. Now that I’m solo, it’s honestly harder to tell if my experiences are being affected by my gender since a lot of what I do is over email. I get talked over sometimes in meetings, but that happens to men too and it’s more about me forever learning how to take charge of a space.
What kind of support system do you have behind you and your work?
My boyfriend is insanely supportive and great about me freelancing. Sometimes I do get stuck working late to make a deadline, and he cooks dinner for us and brings it to me at my desk. He listens closely to all of my stories and inner dialogue about every single project and new client and is great at offering good advice and suggestions. I also have a super solid friend group who inspires and motivates me every day. My dog is great at nuzzling me when it’s time to stand up and take her outside for some fetch so I don’t just hunker at my desk all day, too.
What have you learned in the process of holding office hours for students and designers to approach you with questions?
I was super ballsy in college and cold-emailed people all the time who inspired me, and asked if they’d meet up so I could get their advice. A lot of people said yes, and I absolutely loved meeting them and learning from them. Surprisingly, though, more people said no. I got some snarky answers from my dream agencies and dream designers that really let me down, so I know how it feels. I want to keep my door open and be available to help younger designers who want to learn. (Also, I stopped having heroes because heroes let you down.)
What would you say is your biggest strength in your current role?
I enjoy being able to call the shots. I know what’s a good fit for me and what isn’t, and I like being able to take leaps and make mistakes on my own dime. Being responsible for my time and my schedule has also been great—asking to take days off and keeping an eye on the clock during lunches always stressed me out in office jobs.
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
I usually have (for real) about 10+ side projects going at any moment, but my current favorites are: Vector Logo Directory (are you tired of hunting for vector logos on the internet and being stuck with lame-ass screenshots? Check here first.) I'm also collaborating with my friends at Dope Girls, and I work as a volunteer clinic escort for Planned Parenthood and spend a good chunk of my time doing pro bono/low bono work for small nonprofits.
What does success look like to you?
Paying the bills, having time to hang out with my family and friends, and doing work that makes me happy.
What helps you wind down and manage stress?
I try to harness stress and use it to my advantage. Do I feel stressed because I have too many things going on? Is it a problem with organizing my schedule? Is there something I could do in the future to feel more prepared and in control? This is why I wake up two hours before I need to be anywhere (in case I oversleep), and arrive at meetings 30 minutes early (in case of traffic—I even bought a desk for my car so I can work in the parking deck if I’m too early,) and keep two Tide To-Go pens in my purse (in case one leaks and dries out and I still spill my coffee). Am I stressed because I can’t remember if I invoiced a client? I keep every single project in one place and can quickly access it. I try to pinpoint problems that make me stressed out and solve them before they happen.
What’s next for you?
Try to keep growing organically! Someday I want to own a multi-use space that can be a studio, coffee shop, and art gallery, but I have quite a few steps to take before I get there.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
There are so many things I could say, but I keep hearing the same things come out of my mouth the more I talk to people about what I do. Work hard! Be nice! Keep track of your taxes.
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