Hello! My name is Rachel Nedrud, graphic designer and founder of Freeline Creative, LLC. based out of beautiful Colorado. Freeline Creative is a design company eager to help businesses grow and tell their stories through strong visuals and branding. I specialize in custom design for businesses, with work ranging from logo and product design to marketing collateral, merchandise and more. Every project is met with a standard of message clarity, consistency and adaptability, and passion for visual storytelling.
I started Freeline Creative on February 2018 with one account, a local craft brewery who hired me for their entire product line design and event branding. I owe so much of my success to them as they were truly the catalyst for not only the launch of Freeline Creative but for me believing I was good enough. Self-doubt is real and sometimes it just takes one person believing in you to shift that perspective! Take that as a lesson to lift each other up rather than assume they know their value. You never know the transformative power your words and actions can have. Here we are a short 19 months later and my clientele has grown to nearly 40, several of whom are ongoing based on their business needs. This is huge considering I’m a one-man-band. I just surpassed my 2018 gross income and 2019 revenue goals...and we still have three months to go!
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
Graphic Design wasn’t on my professional radar until my mid-20’s (now 33). Growing up, I was fortunate to be surrounded and inspired by artists in my family and loved exploring different channels of creativity myself, but as the years progressed Journalism became my first love and what I pursued in college. Shortly after graduating from the University of Northern Colorado, I landed an internship at a leading Denver news station, but it didn’t take long for me to realize the newsroom wasn’t my calling. I then accepted a marketing position at a book publishing company where I could utilize my love for writing through copywriting and gain the unique and incredible experience of working with authors and guiding books through production and into the hands of consumers. Turned out, I not only loved copywriting but designing the email marketing campaigns, too. Adobe Suites was completely foreign to me at the time but I found myself longing to learn and know more.
Fast forward a few years, I started designing and selling art prints online in my free time, and through a series of events, eventually landed work with the previously mentioned craft brewery. Shortly thereafter, I was at a crossroads as I couldn’t sustain design on the side of a full-time job, and on February 2018, I made the leap to start Freeline Creative.
When you make time for quality of life, you’ll no doubt have your best self running your business.
Validation that I’d be successful as a full-time designer is really in that realm of the unknown. Entrepreneurs have to possess a certain level of crazy along with confidence and courage, which is what makes the journey more fun, right?! I’m still processing how I define success for my business, however, I have received the validation for my services through word of mouth marketing and repeat clients. I remain in awe and tremendously grateful to say that I haven’t had to market my business yet; every client relationship has developed from the referral of someone else.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
Starting a business has to be one of the scariest leaps of faith. That step alone is a significant part of my entrepreneurial journey for a few reasons. The job I left to start FLC was a cultural marketing position for an oil and gas company and was filled to the brim with the most incredible and knowledgeable people. I was paid well, able to travel often and for the most part, could turn off at night and on the weekend. It was comfortable. I was not. My advice to anyone thinking of starting a business is to really evaluate how their current work situation is impacting their quality of life and respect for themselves. That last part may sound odd but I feel that many people don’t consider how settling is impacting how they view themselves. We slowly devalue ourselves without even realizing it’s happening.
The journey of owning a business has been a whirlwind but one that I haven’t regretted for a second and continues to grow and challenge me daily. The first days and weeks were overwhelming as I was trying to keep up with the projects already on my plate while getting all my systematic ducks in a row. What program is best for invoicing? Where does one even start with creating contracts? Where can clients sign said contracts? What will my full list of services include? Do I bill flat or hourly rates? The influx of questions seemed never-ending, and I felt so pressed for time as many of these were critical in legally protecting my time, resources and business.
I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a community of entrepreneur friends whose businesses run the full gamut of services, and you better believe I went to them with questions. Don’t let your pride keep you from asking questions. There will always be people further along than you who are incredibly valuable resources. If you can bypass even a few trials and errors because you asked for help, do it! Through their help and researching which programs are best for my business needs (small/single-employee vs. large/2+ employees), I’ve taken the steps to reduce inefficiencies. Though those steps didn’t happen overnight. One example is: In the beginning, I was manually creating invoices through Adobe inDesign because I kept telling myself I didn’t have the time to research more efficient invoicing systems. As silly as that sounds, it was hard for me to see or focus on anything but the client when the whole business was sitting on my shoulders. Building and maintaining client relationships was my security, even if it meant making life on the backend for myself much harder than it needed to be.
I’ve been using Harvest for invoicing and time tracking for nearly a year and it works wonderfully for FLC. Again, it works for me given the fact that I don’t have employees and little overhead costs. A program such as QuickBooks would make more sense for larger businesses with overhead costs. Some business management programs can be costly so it’s important to evaluate whether your business will actually need it’s full services or can function efficiently with something less costly and with reduced functionality. I’m still on the hunt for a more user-friendly program for Service Agreement signatures as I’m not thrilled with the one I’m currently using. I believe we have to make the client/consumer experience as effortless as possible. They’ve chosen us because they trust our services and/or product; it’s our job to exceed those expectations while keeping the process clear and convenient.
When it came to contracts, I knew so little. Creatives live wild and free so as you can imagine, contracts--with all their rules and constraints--are literally the last thing we want to think about. Yet, in all seriousness, they’re crucial. Protect yourself and your business by creating a service agreement that clearly communicates your rates, process, timeline, payment information, deposit requirements, and other pertinent information. Equally important is ensuring every contract is signed and agreed upon before the project starts or the service and/or product is given. In the beginning, a lot of my clients were friends or friends of friends. It’s tempting to bypass this part of the process because you trust the individual, or don’t want to send the message that you don’t trust them. When it comes to protecting your business, no excuse is worth the cost.
Beyond the business management tools are the bread and butter of FLC; helping businesses grow through impactful design and branding. A core mission of FLC is to communicate the business’s story and message through every project. Designers are storytellers as much as they are visual problem solvers. Every project starts with a free consultation where I get the business’s backstory, better understand their goals and ensure I’m the right fit for the work. I believe you’re doing a disservice anytime you agree to a project for which you don’t feel you’re a good fit. I value every potential client so much that, if necessary, I am willing to refer them to another trusted designer who I feel would better meet their goal(s). This is also critical in creating consistency within your own portfolio. While creatives should always be learning new techniques, experimenting and evolving, we have a signature style. In order for clients to understand what we offer, I believe we have to show consistency in our work.
Following the consultation and once a client is booked/contract is signed, I email mood boards and a questionnaire to gain a better understanding of their creative vision. In addition, I research their company via their website, social media, marketing collateral, press releases and any other means necessary to understand their services, goals and style on a deeper level. The design process varies depending on the project. One example is logo design. In the first round, I present the client with three unique logo concepts, from which the client narrows to one or two and specifies changes needed. I offer three revision rounds for every project; additional fees are applied for additional editing rounds. Through that process, the client lands on the design they feel speak to them and the core of their company and mission. Again every project is different. The aforementioned craft brewery, WeldWerks Brewing Co, and I have created such a strong relationship that we don’t need to go through that process with every project. There are a mutual understanding and trust that has been built, something I don’t take for granted and feel honored to have been given.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I feel really happy about where FLC is today and how far it’s come. Graphic design is a somewhat unique animal as it requires very little overhead unless you have a merch or additional product line. My primary expenses are Adobe Creative Cloud, which is a monthly subscription that ensures you’ll always have the most up-to-date version of Adobe programs; font purchases; business management tools such as Harvest; Squarespace (though I want to customize my website soon); and technology upgrades. I’ve done zero paid ads or marketing due to being consistently booked via word-of-mouth referrals. That’s also something I’ll never take for granted as long as it’s a reality. Taking those costs into consideration, FLC has been profitable and just surpassed it’s annual revenue goals by $4k--with three months left in the year! I’ve already exceeded my annual salary working in book publishing and product marketing; projecting to exceed it by $8k at the close of 2019.
One immediate goal is to amp up my social media and website aesthetic. I’m looking to hire a professional photographer for a stylized shoot of day-to-day operations. Those behind-the-scenes shots have a way of connecting your followers and potential clients to you and can elevate your business by making it more approachable and personable--as if you want them to feel more connected to your dream and process. Due to the current influx of work, I’m also considering bringing on one paid employee but want to be extremely careful about timing and patient about choosing the right fit. There’s an added pressure that comes with having an employee so I’m weighing whether or not the timing is right, however, I am excited about the growth and increased bandwidth that could bring to FLC.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Don’t undersell yourself. When I first started FLC, I set my rates low because I didn’t fully believe others would think my services would be worth higher rates. Well...you know you’ve undersold yourself when your clients are telling YOU to raise your rates. Yes, that happened. While there are obvious factors to consider when setting rates-- the level of experience, type of work, location, cost of living, etc--you’ll know if you’ve set rates appropriately based off your quality of life (which I mention next) and type of work you’re getting. If you’re working 60+ hours per week juggling tons of clients, chances are you need to raise your rates. Also, a big indicator is how fast you get the green light from the client. So you raise your rates and lose potential clients? It’s okay. A client that values their business enough will pay you what you’re worth for quality output, which in turn usually means gaining the clients you want. Who wouldn’t want to work fewer hours for the same or more income while also getting projects that excite them?! This can all be achieved by setting your rates correctly. First, know your worth. Second, research what others in your industry and location are charging. Then couple that knowledge with your own client goals and business model. The answer isn’t black or white, but taking these steps may save you from tons of unnecessary hours of work.
Another challenge has been self-preservation. When you’re in your element doing what you love, it’s easy to work until 2 am and become consumed in your work, perfections, relationships, and day-to-day operations. The impact of giving into that day in and day out isn’t felt immediately, but I promise it sneaks up on you. I would advise creating healthy boundaries from the get-go and seeking outlets. You are a business owner but you’re not just a business owner. Don’t become so consumed in your work that you lose sight of those other valuable and life-giving parts of yourself. No matter your outlet, being intentional in their pursuit will be a game-changer.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The tool that no designer can live without is Adobe Creative Cloud, particularly Adobe Illustrator which I use for all my work. A world of opportunity is at your fingertips with Illustrator. Harvest has been a great tool for time tracking and invoicing. Simple to use and structured well for small businesses. I also love Skillshare (I use the app). It’s a subscription-based education resource that offers thousands of classes across the whole creative spectrum. Skillshare offers courses on new techniques, marketing, branding, finance, setting up your workspace, and tons more. Completely worth the subscription.
Instagram is my go-to for social media marketing. However, I schedule my posts in Planoly (app), which also allows you to see a layout of your IG page to know how to create the most aesthetically-pleasing and fluid content before it’s posted.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I loved Freelance, and Business, and Stuff by Amy and Jen Hood of Hoodzpah Design. Amy and Jen are design geniuses who have worked with clients including Target, Facebook, Google, Disney, ESPN, and 20th Century Fox, just to name a few, so you could say they know a thing or two. Their book walks you through starting a business, growing your client base, financial worksheets and really just serves as a practical guide for every freelance designer.
Daring Greatly, Braving the Wilderness and Dare to Lead by Brene Brown are a must for every business owner. These books are all about embracing vulnerability, putting yourself out there and leaning into courage. It’s hard to know how to exist in the world and in business without understanding ourselves so these were all so powerful.
How I Built This with Guy Raz (NPR podcast) is a favorite as it tells the stories of CEO’s/Founders of some of today’s most well-known and successful companies.
Also, one of my favorite podcast episodes of all time is The Difference Between Dreamers and Doers with Benjamin P. Hardy from the Women, Work, and Worth podcast which is sadly no longer running, but you can still get this and all their episodes on Apple Podcasts. Benjamin Hardy provided such a powerful perspective on people who dream of change and people who take action and provides a slew of book and podcast recommendations in his episode.
I’m also really loving all episodes from The Art of Manliness, which is 100% relevant to both men and women and provides “intelligent conversation, life-improving insights, and actionable advice without the fluff and filler.” I’m glad they could summarize it because the topics are so diverse I was having a hard time doing that myself!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I’d have to say my biggest advice is to prioritize early on. One of my biggest mistakes has been not understanding the value of “no,” or maybe more accurate, fearing the consequences of saying “no.” We aren’t the only people in our industry putting out quality work so this little voice would say, “You’re dispensable...if you say ‘no,’ the client can easily choose another designer to do the work.” Well, maybe that’s true, but how much more important is respecting yourself, your time, and your priorities? Speaking from experience, I promise the latter is more important. We are not a business. We are humans, and running a business. Humans. Beings who at the core need love and to be loved, family, community, adventure, and life-giving experiences.
It has been both refreshing and surprising to witness how much those things actually elevate your work! When you make time for quality of life, you’ll no doubt have your best self running your business. As cliche as this probably sounds, a quality you and quality business is a total win/win. With that being said, I have a hard time believing perfect balance exists in life. I believe some seasons will require more attention to either work or personal matters and that’s okay as long as you’re closely monitoring those seasons so one doesn’t overtake the other.
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