I am a snowboarder. Er, let me start over. I am a graphic designer. Wait, one more time. Hi. I’m a graphic designer with a goggle tan. There, that’s better.
The reason I got into graphic design was first, passion, and second, the ability to create my own schedule, be my own boss, and live wherever I wanted. I equated freelancing with freedom. Nothing sounded better than living in a remote town with the deepest snow I could find and still magically making money pursuing a career I loved as much as powder days.
When I graduated college, I started running my own freelance graphic design operation out of a Colorado mountain town (population 2,000). While it is going well now, there are several things I wish I knew about blending a graphic design career with a lifestyle built around shred. And so, while I’m not pretending to know everything about merging work and play, here are a few things I have learned along the way:
1. In a small town, the way you present yourself directly correlates to the success of your career.
If you are in a mountain town/beach town/college town to party, people are going to notice that, not your stellar command of typography. When you pitch a design idea, they might not see the potential follow-through as much as the image of you puking behind their shop that you so kindly burned into their brain last Friday night. The way you act in a small town says more than any amount of words you can throw out at a meeting. Be kind and professional, whether you are at work/on the slopes/catching a wave/rafting a river/whatever your passion is.
2. Take a second job to meet the locals.
They are your friends, your clients, your income, and your recreation. Meet as many locals as you can. Be kind, genuine, and confident. Even if you start out slinging their coffee, chances are they will want to work locally when their car shop needs a website or they open that guide service they’ve been talking about for years. A second job is a great place to have quality face time with people you may not get to meet otherwise.
3.Sometimes (gasp!) you have to work a little on a Powder Day.
This was nearly impossible to grasp in the beginning. I graduated college early—a few weeks after turning twenty-one—to pursue my snowboarding, so in my earliest freelancing days, even the thought of working on a powder day made my jaw hit the snow. Not. A. Chance, the twenty-one-year-old version of me would think, and not respond to any emails until about ten-thirty at night. This is very unprofessional. This is not a good way to be taken seriously. Missing some pow days/big waves/camping trips/concerts/whatever is a small sacrifice you have to make to be able to afford your awesome lifestyle. Be professional.
4. Everyone you meet on a chairlift is a potential client.
I have successfully discovered clients while riding on a chairlift in -15 degree weather. Tourists love sparking up conversation with locals, and this is when you mention your business, maybe even hand them a business card from one of the eight cargo pockets on your baggy snow pants. This also goes for other recreation-based lifestyles: raft guides—your river clients can also be design clients. Rock Climbers—everyone you talk to in the parking lot or the climbing gym may need your artistic help. Knitters—the people in your book club might also need you design expertise. Regardless of your passion, be smart about using your resources.
5. Chairlifts are also a great place for that conversation with your shifty client about finally following through with that payment plan.
You have to be strong for this one, though. Suspended 70 feet in the air with nowhere to bail for at least ten whole minutes is a great place to track down your client, but a warning in advance that things can get awkward if the lift stops for a while…
6. If you live in a remote area, you may need to work hard to stay modern in the design world.
This means watching tutorials on new software or reading articles about gallery openings. You may not be in a place where people are going to drop references to new fonts coming out or their favorite ways to develop an app. This is where you have to work harder to stay current, but again, you get to live your way.
7. Smile. You have a great life. Appreciate It.
You get to live in the mountains/at the beach/on the river/in the desert? And you’re a graphic designer? Looks like you’ve got it all figured out. Congratulations.
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