Side Hustle Stories: 10 Freelance Tips From a Brander and Designer

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Johanne Pradel

Johanne creates beautiful brands.

This article is part of the Side Hustle Stories.

The Side Hustle Stories are all about — surprise, surprise — putting in a little bit of hustle.

That’s why I love it.

Johanne Pradel is a brander and designer with more than 10 years of experience.

But when she was just getting started, she knew that she would have to put in some hustle to get things going. That’s why she went door–to–door at local businesses until she had the clients she needed.

Most of the time, the only thing separating you and earning more money is just a little bit of effort. You can learn a lot from Johanne’s story and hopefully it will inspire you to get started.

Here it is, in her own words.

What she does

I like to think of myself as a brand stylist.

I establish the brand look, tone and feel from a visual standpoint. I work on advertising campaigns, packaging, corporate identities, online media and non–traditional interactive.

I am currently building a new website and completely re–branding myself, but in the meantime I can be contacted at if anyone is looking for a brander in the Miami, FL area.

How much she gets paid

My regular hourly rate starts at $75 and goes up to $200.

I do some low budget or pro–bono work if I believe in the company and I believe that my services can help them take their business to the next level. I truly have a heart for entrepreneurs that are credible, excellent in their standards and provide services and products that help improve people’s lives.

How to get started

When I first started doing this, I literally went door–to–door with my portfolio.

Your portfolio is everything in this business. Great work speaks for itself and people will pay.

I decided that I was going to target small local businesses. I lived in Baltimore, MD at the time so I chose a street with a lot of boutiques that ranged from fashion and clothing to record shops and home decor.

I would walk into the shop, portfolio in hand, and asked to speak to the owner.

Most of the time, I was speaking to the owner.

I introduced myself and asked if I could schedule an appointment to talk to them about their marketing tactics and branding. Surprisingly, 8 out 10 owners were interested … everyone wants to increase their sales with marketing, but aren’t always sure how to do it.

What to say

Here is an example of what I would say when I went door–to–door.

After walking into a fashion boutique on Read Street in Baltimore, I looked around and went over to a table where they had marketing materials. I then asked for the owner or manager (who I happened to be talking to).

“Hello, I’m Johanne, a freelance designer.

I was looking at your marketing pieces and was interested in learning how we can work together. Do you have a designer that you work with consistently?”

The answer was no, so I said, ” I would love the opportunity to work with you on a consistent basis on your marketing program. When is a good time for you to sit and talk to me about your needs?”

She gave me a few times and when we actually had that meeting I asked her to pull all of the marketing materials she had produced and ads she placed. We reviewed them, pulled out a calendar and inputted pieces that she needed.

I then said, “With all of this, I think it makes sense for me to be on a retainer.” That means the client would pay me a set amount per month. We both agreed on a set amount of work that would be fair for the both of us that I would work on.

Toward the end of the meeting, we realized that she had not even seen my work. I had my portfolio with me (you should always have it) and showed her my work.

She was impressed and I started working on the materials the next day.

What to deliver

Let’s say the project is a logo design for a company. I would never submit just one design. I always submit three.

One or two is not enough, but more than three is overwhelming for the client. Plus, with more designs you increase the chances of the client playing Frankenstein (combining several of the options to create what they think they want).

Typically, the three options should be categorized as such: close in, middle, and far out. Close in is pretty much what they asked for in the design. Middle is what you would do based on what their objectives are. Far out is a completely out of the box idea that they would have never thought of.

This range is great because it is reduces that Frankenstein effect since the ideas are so different. Also, having three very different ideas helps them choose easier.

Every option should be supported with a rationale. I typically include the rationale on the same page as the design option that it goes with. I do this because most of the time, I send the work out to the client before I can pitch it to them. Also, including rationale helps your client pitch it to their bosses or teams behind the scenes. Clients love that.

How to price your services

I never lowered my price because I thought a client wouldn’t pay. Don’t be scared to get what you’re worth.

One of my favorite quotes is, “If you’re good at something, don’t do it for free.” Most of the time, clients respect you if you stand up for your fee. I have based my career on this principle.

When I first started, I based my pricing on what freelance placement agencies were charging for my services at the time … $24 to $30 per hour. I always made it clear to my clients that I intended to work with them long-term.

You should never do spec work! This cheapens what we do and it is seriously unprofessional. You can’t go to a doctor and ask to test out a procedure. The reason why we have portfolios is to show potential clients what we have done and what we can do for them.

From time to time I do lower my rate, but only when it is in exchange for something. If it was a service like Doctor or Dentist that its pretty easy to barter.

Some of the things I request in exchange include:

  1. Recommendations to other entrepreneurs
  2. Co-advertising
  3. Free product or services

I always make sure that I don’t just lower my rate without an incentive — unless it falls under the pro–bono category.

10 tips for freelancers

1. Always over deliver. I do not take my clients for granted and I love impressing them. When my client tells me that they understand why I charge what I charge, I know I did my job.

2. Give them what they want, then show them what they need. Clients think they know what they want until they see what they need. You are en expert, so act like it! This is not McDonalds. Don’t just take the order and serve it up to them with no insight or thinking to take the work to the next level. I always respect the client’s ideas and I try to get the core idea that they are trying to communicate. Don’t just throw half-baked options in the mix because they always end up choosing that one and then you’re stuck executing an idea that sucks.

3. Be on time and respond to all emails and phone calls. For what ever reason, creative people seem to be programmed to be late. We have to fight that and try to be as professional as possible. If you are going to be late delivering a project, call, email and just let the client know what is going on. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Don’t leave your client hanging, its not fair to them and its unprofessional. A little consideration for your clients says a lot.

4. Hire a good tax professional and keep records of everything. Keep your receipts, make sure you invoice clients and give them receipts. Get receipts from your vendors. Keep a record of check numbers. Give your clients job numbers and just record everything. If you’re not good at that type of thing, hire an accountant that helps you out maybe just once a month.

5. Update your portfolio and website regularly. This is your primary form of advertising. This is especially hard because if you’re like me, you’re busy working on everyone else’s brand. You have to remember that you are a brand! You need to stay current and relevant. When business is not too busy, work on updating your brand materials.

6. Network with people in the industry or related industries. Word-of-mouth marketing is huge in freelancing. Your business needs brand ambassadors just like a large company. Build a network of people that will talk about you and what you do, and make sure you do the same for them.

7. Get over yourself. Stay humble. Your job is to make your clients look good and help them be profitable. When a client doesn’t respond favorably to a concept that you thought was brilliant, don’t take it personally. Listen to their response and figure out another way to solve the problem at hand. If you check your ego at the door and become a problem solver, then you will be very successful.

8. Invest in books, classes, conferences and other things that will keep you current, fresh and inspired. You need to see what new things are out there to inspire you and what new services are making their way into the industry that you can offer your clients. For instance, a client came to me for a basic branding project. I saw an opportunity for them to implement QR tags in their marketing. I had just learned about QR tags at a conference and was able to capitalize on that immediately.

9. Always have a contract. When you work as a freelancer, you need to protect yourself as much as possible. Unfortunately there are bad clients out there that will take advantage of you. I always have my clients sign a contract before I start any work. Additionally, I require 50% up front. If a client is serious about the project they’ll agree. I do not start work without a signed contract and 50% deposit.

10. Always follow–up. Call your clients or send them a note every once in a while. Remind them that you’re still out there and ask them how business is going. You’ll be surprised how doing that small gesture leads to getting a new project from them.

Ready to learn more?

Thanks so much to Johanne for all of her tips and advice!

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10 Responses to Side Hustle Stories: 10 Freelance Tips From a Brander and Designer

  1. Tony says:

    Very good advice. A lot of those tips I can take and use and I’m not even into designing or branding per-say. I produce and direct low budget commercials. This article is a true inspiration for me to step outside of my comfort zone. Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

  2. fantastic read!! as always. great advice here

  3. David says:

    This is a wealth of knowledge. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Mena says:

    You don’t know how this blog post refreshes me and inspired, and helped me more. Thank you so much. Love you! :)

  5. Imtiaz Nabil says:

    Thank you! I’ll probably start to sound boring and repeatitive very soon, but I can’t say it enough: Each and every advice and suggestion are to the point and address the core of the problem or the situation, and every solution is is just spot-on. My advice: even if you’re not a seasoned freelancer or haven’t entirely stepped into this playground yet, but thinking about it, please, read Passive Panda! For every rookie out there (like me), these are priceless guidelines!

  6. Romain says:

    Great advice !
    I have a question though : how come you already had a portfolio “when you were just getting started” ? If I were to start as a branding freelancer and went door-to-door, I wouldn’t have a portfolio, because I’ve never done any branding projects before… How do you get those first few clients ? (do you do the work for free, or on a pay-per-results basis ?)

    • Romain says:

      Actually, I read the other posts in the Freelancing 101 and found the answer to my question ^^

    • I went door-to-door with my portfolio of mostly school work. To be honest I never really had to share that the work was school work. I made it a point to always do work that had real world relevance because I knew that I didn’t want to wait until I graduated to start working.
      Hope that helps.

  7. Sue says:


    Excellent article & a wealth of information. I was really impressed. I love the fact that you value your customers. That’s the way it should be. Thanks!

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