“Being my own boss is so much part of who I am” – Stefan Lindblad from Sweden is a very successful freelance illustrator, graphic designer and artist. He is also one of 8 CorelDRAW Masters in the world. Because he is working in different areas and for a wide range of clients he likes to describe himself as “Jack of all trades”. Getting up early, staying focused, strict deadlines and discipline are his keys to success. To promote his business and to find new clients Stefan swears by the combination of old and new marketing tools…1) Firstly, can you tell our users a bit about yourself and what you do?
Hello and thank you for asking me. I´m an illustrator, graphic designer and artist. I registered my freelancing company back in 1997 and I draw and design traditionally and digitally. (Technically both drawing style and vector style). I am also one of currently 8 CorelDRAW Masters in the world. Appointed directly by Corel, the software maker of CorelDRAW Graphics Suite & Corel PAINTER illustrates for various editorial magazines, advertising agencies and a wide variety of companies. I design logotypes, business cards and Cover Art Design. Moreover I repair and vectorize logotypes. I also draw and design book covers. Therefore I work for various book publishers, targeted towards both, books for 9-12 year old kids and books for a grown up audience. Because I´m doing several different things for a wide variety of clients in the illustration and design business, I like to use the American expression „Jack of all trades“ to describe my work. Together with my illustration and design business, I sometimes hold classes on site in Stockholm in how to use CorelDRAW and Corel PHOTO-PAINT for various Sign Printing and offset printing companies. I also write tutorials and hold video webinars showing how I use the software for Corel Corp.
2) What was the occasion to start freelancing? What were you doing before you started to freelance?
Like many others I worked in various jobs before. During the evenings I worked backstage as a stage worker in theaters for dramas, operas and musicals. During the day I used to work as a traditional artist. For a short spell in 1995 and 1996 I also worked as a salesman. But after having a year off, I found my way back to the world of arts. 1997, I started to freelance part-time as an illustrator and registered my own company. In 1999 I finally decided to go full-time in illustration and design.
3) Do you sometimes think about going back to full-time employment?
When times in business are rough, yes the thoughts have come, but just temporarily. Being my
own boss is so much part of who I am as a person. I love working with others and having projects with others. I love people form all over the world. It´s inspiring and I learn a lot, but I just prefer to be my own boss. So I send the people my invoice. And everyone is happy, I guess. At least in Sweden more and more people have worked as freelancers at some point in their life. This wasn´t the case 15 years ago. So I´m not the only one working at Coffee shops any more. You can probably see people working in cafes all over the world these days.
4) What was the most challenging obstacle when starting your own business?
The first and most challenging obstacle was financing my start-up. In summer 1997 I worked like if I was mad for several months, from when the sun went up until late at night, in order to save enough money to get going. I knew from the beginning that I would need to buy a computer, a scanner and graphic software. Finally I bought all of it for a special price deal together with CorelDRAW. It was a very inspiring year. When autumn arrived, I was chasing clients during the day and working at the theaters at night.
5) How do you set yourself apart from your competitors? Do you use special marketing services?
I have my own drawing style and I always try to create new work to develop myself further. I never stand still. You easily get out of fashion. So being aware and developing your style or styles evenly, is one of the best marketing strategies to start with. Especially when you are an illustrator or designer. But I also believe strongly in in quality, skilled work and a great customer service. Some will live well by selling for less, while others charge more. Same with marketing. Don´t just go with one channel. When it comes to marketing, I believe in a combination of old-stlye-marketing, social media and services like freelancermap.
6) Let’s go for a question which might be interesting for all newbie freelancers and Start-ups. How do you find new clients?
Yes, I have my website portfolio. Together with my blog it is my most important show case. I use social media channels. And freelancing websites are great, too. But I think people sell themselves too cheap. I also make new clients by making Cold Calls, phone calls and meeting people accidentally. I got a lot of clients through the two blogs that I write. Both are attached to my regular website. I always try to update my website and blogs. It´s important for the search engine rankings and also for the interaction with the audience. I also write on my LinkedIn. I used to use it in English, but recently I have started to write in Swedish, too. It´s a helpful tool. Unfortunately people sit and send contact requests with no thought behind, which quite simply is bad for ones own business. I am quite restrictive to whom I have on my LinkedIn contact list. Business Networks can be very good, but membership costs money. Go out to where the clients are. I mostly use the business networks, the various BNI and other networks when I get invited. Usually those meetings are at 7 in the morning. Too early for my taste, so invites are my preference. The challenge is to find a BNI-like network that works for you. You have to be prepared to change networks. Maybe a network of 3-4 members? But again, it costs money. So spend wisely in the beginning.
7) Can you provide any Marketing tips and tricks for freelancers?
Be approachable. I always carry a business card with me and combine it with a phone call. Often it´s way faster and more personal than contact sharing via smartphone. And these days I still like flyers to promote my business. When everyone thinks only of social media, a printed flyer is sometimes very welcomed. It´s something you can hold in your hand and you can give it directly to the people. You´ll never know who you´ll meet. I met clients sitting next to me in a cafe. Combine it with all the social media and freelance websites. Think broad, not narrow. Equally choose wisely. You simply cannot be everywhere all the time.
8) Do you use any specific apps or software tools for self-organization, invoicing and something else?
Hands down, my best reminder is my post-it notes on my computer keyboard. And my calendar which is installed on my desktop computer and my smartphone. I also can access it online. In my calendar I set reminders to be sent out to my email on all devices. For invoicing I use an invoice and book accounting software.
The best solution for myself in order to cope with tight deadlines is getting up early and being strict with the days and hours set up for each project. I also set a deadline for myself, which is way tighter than the one I agreed upon with my client. Moreover I send out drafts per mail with links to view images on a Dropbox or Onedrive account and communicate with the client permanently to get feedback quickly. This helps me to keep moving forward. If I still have no response after lunchtime, I will call. For me and my clients it´s also helpful to write bullet points on everything we agreed on. Once this is done I set time for work. I go out to have a coffee and work. I do not meet friends there and fool myself it will work under pressure with a friend next to me, who just likes to chit chat and sip coffee. I try to stay off social media when I have a tight deadline or at least limit it to a bare minimum. Listen to music is great to get pressure off and work done – actually one of the best things for me to get started. Discipline is very important, too.
9) What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a
freelance career? And what does it takes to be successful as a freelancer?
If you want to be successful you have to be serious about it. Be prepared for the low times when no work is coming in. When there is a recession and people are being laid off – go out even more to find new clients. Most people give up looking for clients in hard times. If you don´t, you will find many companies to make business with. On freelance websites and in other places, too.
Get up early, set out office work hours. Stop working at five, or right after five. Have a social life in the evenings. No one will thank you if you get a burn-out or a heart-attack because of stress. If you get up early, have breakfast and then work for about 8 hours like any other employee, you will accomplish so much more, than if you stay up late every night and feel pressured.
Plan your work. Get an accountant. Keep your books clean and perfect. Contact your accountant. Always send out your invoice the same day you send out your final work to clients. Be professional. And contact your accountant if clients are not paying the bills. Become a member of a trade organization to meet your peers and to get advice from those who are there for you as a paying member. If your a creative like me, you will always have to master your skills.
Have fun. Create your own projects outside client work. It will give joy and inspiration even to your client work. I use corelDRAW, Corel Photo-Paint, Corel PAINTER and a Wacom Tablet. If you can´t afford it, nor afford Adobe Software or Manga Studio, then go for a free open source solution. Always respect copyright of the software. And always demand the same from your clients with your own work. It shows that you are professional.
Write agreements and contracts. Don´t be scared about it. Instead it will empower yourself in doing it. Stay away from people who try to make you to work for small money or for free even. Don´t buy the lie it will be good for you to work for free or silly money, as if it will give you exposure. Because it won´t give you money to pay your rent and food and have fun. When you do something for less money or free, it should be for something worthwhile. When I work for free, it´s for private help organizations. Not too many. Just one or two a year. Because it does take the same amount of time as a paying customer. Sometimes even more.
10) Last but not least, what are the top three books, blogs or magazines you read to stay up to date in the IT-market?
11) Freestyle! Is there anything you would like to tell our readers?
Right off the bat, I would suggest that if you share a studio space with others, try to see to that there are numerous people who do not compete with you. Instead, those you share space with, if your a versatile freelancer, can be your clients or they know someone who can become one.
WHERE TO FIND STEFAN:
Freelancermap profile: http://www.freelancermap.com/profil/StefanLindblad
Update 2017: Stefan just published his second colouring book! If you you looking for an original present, check The Eclectic Colouring Book.