I quit my job as a product developer in a local textile firm as I was not very happy there and it was also difficult to cope with my demanding job and my studies (MBA). Work started at 7:30 until 17:15 sometimes even 20:00 or 22:00.
I started by producing a few bags and accessories and sold them on Facebook to get a little money but I only sold a few products. So I started to look for a few freelance design jobs online and came across sites like Freelancer, PeoplePerHour and Upwork.
Working a on a freelance basis scared me as I was not sure if I would get regular work. I created my profile and bid on some jobs. What I really liked about Upwork is that you do not have to provide the lowest bid for the client to choose you. It will mainly depend on your portfolio and the interview.
After about 1 month, I got my first offer to design a leather bag collection for a startup and after the first project was completed, he gave me regular work for the next couple of months.
However, after the project was completed, I got one or two one-off projects and it became difficult to have a decent salary at the end of the month. I started applying to full time jobs and got a couple interviews. Nevertheless, I decided to continue working in freelance as this made me happy and also gave me time to focus on my Master’s degree.
With a few more projects, I started to build my portfolio and became more confident about my skills and got more and more jobs.
I eventually started offering other design services like label, logo and packaging design. I now mainly work on Upwork and get a few other projects locally or from contacts.
I currently work on several bag design projects including travel backpacks, a diaper bag, storage bags, an outdoor backpack, shoulder bag, a garment bag. I am also working on a logo design and also board short designs for a surf brand.
I start the day by checking my emails and Upwork messages. I will respond to most of the messages from my phone for general queries clients or potential clients might have. After completing my morning routine, I will respond to messages from clients regarding on-going projects and then respond to any interview request on Upwork.
I then check my to-do list to see what I have planned for the day. I usually start by the project with the most critical deadline. Sometimes I complete most of my tasks in the morning and I am left with a few hours before getting messages from client because of the timezone. Mauritius is about 8-12 hours ahead of the US and 2-3 hours ahead of Europe.
I use these few hours for my hobbies; cooking, reading, sewing.
I try to complete all my projects as soon as possible and if I receive feedback for changes, I make sure to amend my design within the next few hours.
I usually work in my room. I bought a nice desk and a chair so as to be comfortable while working. When I have work to complete at night, I sometimes sit in my living room in front of the television or listen to music.
I have also worked in coffee shops when I don’t feel like working at home. When I know I have work to complete, I try to carry my laptop with my so I can work anytime, anywhere.
Whenever I have too much work, I make sure to organize my time well.
Given the fact that most of my clients are a few hours behind, I usually get a few more hours to complete work to be able to submit something on a specific date.
There are periods of time when there is less work but I usually manage by finding different projects either on Upwork or locally. I worry less about not having work nowadays as I get work from regular clients and usually achieve my monthly target.
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When I started doing freelance jobs, I would create hand sketches, scan them and then send them to clients. But now I create everything in vector. I can easily save my work in PDF and share them with my clients. Whenever I need to make modifications, it is also easier to have an editable vector document rather than a hand drawn design.
Do it right away.
Whenever I have feedback from a client for a quick amendment on a design, I try to do it right away. If it is something which takes 5-10mins, it’s better to do it now than keep it for later and forget about it.
If I am working on a very important project/task, I will focus all my attention on the work and won’t answer my phone, email or messages for the next hour. I will complete the most challenging part of the work and then answer messages. This technique helps me focus and after 1 hour, I will take a break to pull myself away from the project. Focusing on one task only is really important when you are working on something crucial.
In the morning, I like to look at my to-do list and set an approximate time to complete each task. This way, I am sure I will be able to complete everything by the end of the day.
During the past 2 years, I have learnt that it is important to take time off. When I started working as a freelancer, I used to try and do everything as quickly as possible. I would worked 7 days a week, not leave the house and did not have time for family and friends. Although it help me secure a few projects, I neglected my work life balance. At one point I started to feel overwhelmed and could not even focus on my work.
Now, I always take time to work on my projects.
I will check my schedule and let my clients know when I will be able to submit the work. And I have never once had an issue with a client about delivery date! I have stressed myself out too much in the past and for nothing.
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I love the freedom I have to choose my projects and be my own boss. Also, I did not make that much money with a full time job working from 7.30 – 17.15.
I can now wake up at 7.30, take time to enjoy my breakfast and start working at around 9. I don’t have to leave the house early and get stuck in traffic. I even have free time for my hobbies. If I want to go out in the morning, I can always work in the afternoon and vice versa.
Every job is different. I have worked on travel bags, diaper backpacks, bags for photographers, fashion leather bags, logo designs, label design, packaging, brochure,…
Even when I am designing backpacks for 2 clients, each one is different and I am always learning something new.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to communicate with clients. Given the fact that we do not meet in person, it is sometimes difficult to really understand the customer’s point of view. Nevertheless, we still have Skype and can have video calls to talk about projects.
It is also difficult to get quick responses from clients if I need to check something with them for a design element. Some clients have other jobs and are only able to talk at night and because of the time difference, we struggle to find a time frame for us to talk.
Many people do not even know Mauritius exists and they are sometimes afraid that I might not have the required qualifications and knowledge to design a nice product. Some businesses or individuals only hire designers from their country (e.g. America or Europe).
It is important to have platforms like Upwork for freelancers as you get a contract and this way you make sure you’ll get paid when you submit the work. I have previously worked on other projects outside of Upwork and always made sure to ask for a down-payment. I once worked for a whole day on a project which the client eventually did not pay for but fortunately, I at least had the 50% down-payment.
I always discuss projects thoroughly with my clients first so as to make sure we are on the same page. Being in the design sector, sometimes we can have different views on a design. I might like something that the client hates. So it is crucial to discuss the project well so as to prevent endless revisions.
I have also learned not to take every comment personally because sometimes I might have designed something I think is great but then the client does not like it. Some clients might not have a design eye and I try to give my point of view. But not every client will listen. So I try to design according to the client’s idea while also giving my input.
Having said that, I will not design something I do not believe in. I have previously refused some jobs because I did not believe I could design something nice while sticking to a specific brief given by the client.
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Nelvina is a remote worker who designs bags and clothing as well as corporate identities. She has worked on high-end leather bags collections, tech backpacks, travel bags and logo designs for several companies.
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