Having started her business three years ago and only having been online for the last year, Belinda Love Lee’s freelance graphic design enterprise is certainly thriving. Taking on projects from weddings to company branding, Lee’s work has grown over the last three years and transformed into a booming business. In order to discover the secret of her success and the trials and tribulations of freelance, I managed to sit down with Lee and pick her brains.
Art was not always Belinda Love Lee’s calling. It was only towards the end of school and at University, when studying Fashion Communications, that she discovered her affinity for it, and illustration in particular. “Basically what [Fashion Communications] does is teach you how to promote fashion. So you do graphic design, film, catwalk shows – just a wide variety of things. It was really great for me, as it gave me the ability to try a ton of things, and that was when I realised, ‘oh, I really like graphic design and illustration’.” After University, Lee dove into an internship, and from there she applied to studios for work. Although unsuccessful in placements, Lee’s endeavour was not wholly unsuccessful. “None of the doors would open,” she explained, “and all the work I kept on getting was freelance, so I just thought, ‘you know what – I’m just going to go with it’. It wasn’t really intentional.” With the level of interest she was receiving, searching for a studio position became futile. “I’m glad it worked out. Now I can’t even see myself working in another studio.”
Working as a freelance designer certainly has it benefits, as Lee was keen to explain. Working alone, she relishes the opportunity to really get stuck in and get to know her clientele. “It’s so much more fun working for my own clients. I like being able to talk to [them] and I like getting to know them personally. I want to be hands-on on every level – that’s the business model I’m going for.” Such an intimate structure to Lee’s business is certainly something which makes her work distinct. Within a project, the understanding between designer and customer is good – Lee’s style is the main focus, although their inspiration is always taken onboard within production. “The clients who usually come to me know that I have a unique style and they usually fit in with the style that I am going for. It’s really great, because I know a lot of other designers don’t have that privilege.”
Another enticing part of Lee’s business model is her online persona. Her Instagram account and blog are pored over daily by both admirers and, also, fellow designers. However, it is not just her work they are there for – it is also her series of posts, ‘Freelance 101’. Within these posts, Lee has laid out her dos and don’ts of freelance and the best way to get into graphic design. Naturally, ‘Freelance 101’ made me curious, and so I asked her to expand on the subject. She explained that, over the last year, she had been receiving countless emails from those inspired by her work, hoping she would impart some of her knowledge and help them on their own freelance journeys. “A lot of people want to get into freelance,” she explained, “so I just thought, ‘I’m just going to write a post so that people can tap into it whenever they want’. It turned out a lot better than I expected, because even [successful] people already within the Industry, were like ‘oh my gosh, I love your posts!’. It was really encouraging.” Certainly, as a somewhat of a fresh face within the Industry, the mark that Lee made resonates, attracting not only graphic designers, but other creative voices, too. “The great thing about those posts was that it wasn’t only graphic designers messaging me -” she continued fervently, “stylists and photographers and other people that are doing freelance, who also felt like they could get something from it, [contacted me] – that was really cool.”
“A lot of people want to get into freelance, so I just thought, ‘I’m just going to write a post so that people can tap into it whenever they want’”
Despite having such a successful trajectory into the freelance world, I was still curious as to whether Lee herself felt as if she could have benefitted from something similar to her ‘Freelance 101’ when starting out. “Definitely,” she nodded, “I’m still looking for a business mentor, because if you can ever find one, whatever industry you are in, it’s so helpful to have someone who has been before you that knows how to do things, where to get things printed, or who to get in contact with. Even just having a mentor helps because sometimes you have low points, but on the internet you only see people’s high points. To have someone who’s really honest with their life… you realise that everyone has shit moments.” This was partly the reasoning behind ‘Freelance 101’ – “one of the main goals of my blog posts [was] to be completely honest about the reality of the graphic design world.”
Of course, Lee also made sure to highlight the positives of graphic design. It can often be quite difficult pursue a career in something you love, however Lee is lucky in that respect. “It definitely makes me feel so privileged and blessed that I do something I love.” This is certainly clear, considering how enthusiastic she was about her potential plan for the coming year – hopefully she will be creating her own line of stationary. A big leap from where she was three years ago. “[In the beginning,] I was simply too scared to show the world what I was creating. Because of that fear, I held [myself] back. It was just a dumb fear.” A fear which is seemingly justified, considering how brutal the creative industry can be, let alone the freelance industry. Nevertheless, Belinda Love Lee is a shining example to all of those out there who are budding graphic designers: ambition is key, something never to be belittled by self-doubt or fear. “If I’d never taken that first step to put myself out there, I would have been able to be so successful as I am today, [or] have such a successful business”.