Aarean (pronounced AIR e un) Jergensen is the second oldest of five girls. No brothers. Just girls. She married her high school sweetheart in 2006. She is expecting her first child in November. Aarean graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelors degree in Fine Art Communications; she majored in creative advertising and minored in graphic design. It wasn't until after she graduated college that her love for graphic design evolved. She recently started a freelance business LaDitta Design, a business that allows her to design what she wants to design — and she couldn't be happier. (All of the images in this posts are Aarean's designs, and used with her permission.)
When a dream takes hold of you, what can you do? You can run with it, let it run your life, or let it go and think for the rest of your life what might have been. — Patch Adams
When I was in college, a lot of times, I felt like professors were trying to mold me into something that I wasn't, teaching me techniques and certain ways to do things that I didn't particularly want to conform to. I liked doing things my own way, and creating images that were pleasing to me. I think we all have that drive, to create, or to convey our “self”. My outlet was graphic design. I was terrible at drawing, horrible at painting, and awful at sculpting, but graphic design I was good at. I was good at using the mouse as my tool, and the monitor as my drawing board.
How did you start your business and how do you decide what to charge?
I got a few small jobs out of college that helped me with developing my skills, and then I made the leap, not really knowing how to start. Small things at first, and mostly for friends and family. As I got better, I started getting more business through word-of-mouth. I then realized that I needed to start charging. My dad always told me that if you aren't charging enough people won't think you are good, and if you are charging too much you'll never have work. So I had to find a happy medium. For example, with blog headers, which I currently charge $45 for, I started out at half that price. (As one client just shared with me, that's still low, but I'm comfortable with this price for now.)
The more experienced I get, and the more work I have…the more I will start charging. I find that most people generally correlate cost with quality. I believe my work is quality; everyone has to believe that about their work, but it doesn't come easily.
How do you do business with family and friends?
I initially felt a little weird charging family and friends, but at the outset they were the only people that were hiring me. For example, for my first gig, my brothers-in-law hired me to design business cards for their real estate business in the south. Once I started getting more clients it became easier for me to charge friends and family. I still do things for free for my family, but because I choose to, not because I feel obligated.
With my friends, I give a 20% discount. My basic script is, “Yeah, I would love to design that for you…and I'll give you a 20% friends discount too”. Once it's out there, we don't have to discuss later whether they'll be paying. It puts the ball in their court from the beginning, and avoids awkwardness.
As you've started your business what has been one of your best learning experiences?
Learning to set parameters. When I first started freelancing, a client would come to me, we would brainstorm, then I would design about 4-5 different roughs. That was my first mistake. Giving lots of options not only made it difficult for my clients to choose, I also would end up doing more work I should have given what I was charging. In one particular instance, because I had given so many options, the job took four months (one that typically takes a month) because the client kept changing his mind. When I mentioned to my client that my hours were way over-budget, he angrily said, “You are the designer, and should design until I am happy with the design.” Though I did see the job through, I almost quit on several occasions because I was so overwhelmed and frustrated.
What's important about this job is what I learned: 1) I now design 1-2 roughs to which the client can say yes or no. We then proceed or take a different direction; 2) From that point, the client has six “edits” or “changes” after which any additional changes will require an additional fee. At first I thought I was being harsh, but it has turned out beautifully. Now I only have clients who are willing to pay for my work, and who respect me (read: don't take advantage of me). I'm certainly happier, but I think my clients are too.
Any other important lessons you'd like to share?
At the beginning, I was afraid to take on too much. I was scared to give it my all for fear that the client would say “I don't like it”. I am gradually saying yes more, and that is a huge step, especially when I don't know exactly how to do what needs to be done. One of my first paying clients wanted a navigation bar. I thought “Oh I don't know how to do that, so I guess I'll tell her no”. But the more I thought about it the more I thought, “I will never learn if I don't try.” It turns out the client was so wonderful, and it was a huge break through for me.
Being a freelance graphic designer is much more then being just that a “graphic designer”. It is a way I am able to express my creativity in a way that works for me. When I started LaDitta Design I wanted to be able to make my own schedule, I wanted to design what I wanted to design and not what someone else wanted me to design. I wanted to do something I loved. And I am.
Have you had the experience of friends, family, teachers pushing you one direction, and your instinct telling you to go in another?
If you were to start a project or a business today, what would be a very simple, first step?
I love the line, “I will never learn if I don't try.” I think we fear being an impostor, and yet when we do try — don't we often find that we are quite good at the thing we didn't think we could do?