Freelancer Success Stories – Jay Johnson

Jay Johnson

Name: Jay Johnson

Location: Manitoba, Canada

Bio: Jay’s 1st design medium was the etch-a-sketch. Crude, yes…yet he was mesmerized by the idea of creating something out of nothing with the twist of a knob! From those humble beginnings, Jay’s child-like imagination became a lifelong passion! Jay and his lovely wife Christine have been married for 21 years. He’s the father of 2 beautiful daughters; he’s a drummer; a creator; a collaborator; a motivational speaker; & a fan of the Dark Knight.

How long have you been doing freelance work?

More than 5 years

Tell us about your freelance business, in 200 words or less.

I’m a freelance designer, collaborator, & branding specialist. I love collaborating with clients to come up with a logo or brand that makes them stand out, and takes their business to the next level. I’m passionate about seeing a concept through to the end result. When I can see that my client’s are thrilled, I am satisfied, and the awesome level goes to 11.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a re-brand, re-fresh, or a completely new start-up, there’s a joy in seeing the client’s vision come to life, in getting it out there for the world to see! I’m just happy to be along for the ride.

What do you consider to be your specialty. How does it help you in your business?

The ideal client is one who is ready to trust and collaborate to take their brand to the next level. I know change can be scary, but it’s my job to bring them through to see growth & raise their profile. A specialist? Maybe? I think I have an eye for what’s fresh, and modern. If a client is motivated and willing to reach out, I’ll make sure they’re thrilled with the end product.

What made you become a freelancer?

I like to live outside the box…feeling stuck or being told to stay between the lines has never felt like home. I need to have an outlet where I can be creative, but most importantly where I can use my creativity to help others.

What do you love most about freelance work, and why?

I love the blank slate of it all. I love the challenge of deadlines not set by some corporate monster, and I love to challenge myself to be better. Being a solo-preneur allows me to be nimble, and make course corrections quickly. And I think there’s a real sense of gratification that comes from doing what I’m passionate about and being compensated for it.

What do you hate about it?

The buck stops with me. If I mess up…there’s nothing but a mirror to look at. The trick is, I have to learn and grow from it.

Tell us about your first paid job. How did you land your first client?

My first gig was in the 90’s developing an automated, looping power point marketing presentation for a horse racing track. It didn’t pay a lot, considering how much work I put into it…but I was able to transfer a concept that was in my head, get it out there for the public to see…and I got paid! I took my friend out for supper that night…we partied.

Do you think aspiring freelancers should take unpaid work to gain experience? Why or why not?

Yes, I believe they should at times if they see potential to build from it or consider it to be a solid learning experience. It can be a great way to network and show you’re good to work with. One of BroGoLogo’s first projects was done for free with the agreement that the client would plug our work on their site & social media.

It was a great decision! Not only was I able to create a great brand for the client, I made a friend, got repeat business from them, and they championed us as much as they could! Win-win!

Do you feel you’re charging what you’re worth?

I haven’t always charged what I’m worth…sometimes when starting out you have to take less to build your brand and legitimize yourself. Having said that, sometimes the market determines pricing based on your competition and you have to maybe charge a little less than you’d like.

In that case, I usually ask myself, “what value-added service can I offer that my competition won’t, in order to stand out?” I then charge at the top of the market range because I’m confident that I’m providing more value.

Describe your process for finding new clients? Where do you look?

There’s so much that comes through referral…I find that to be the easiest and strongest way to grow. I also use social media to not only advertise, but make more personal connections.

Have you ever had to ‘fire’ a client? If so, why and how did you do it?

I’ve really only had to ‘fire’ one client. It was a bit of a “black hole” situation where they were never satisfied with the work, based on the original design terms we agreed on. They were difficult to work with and on their end, were not in agreement as a team, so it made working together impossible.

Name 3 tools (apps, equipment) that you can’t live without. What makes them so great?

1. Coffee 2. Adobe design suite 3. Coffee 4. Macbook pro 5. More coffee

What is your #1 productivity hack?

Don’t delete discarded ideas…save them. they will either inspire you later, or that “gem” of an idea was meant for a different project. The creativity still came from you…it’s just a matter of it’s final destination.

Do you outsource tasks? Why or why not? If so, which ones?

Not really…but I’m open to it. I would outsource writing or SEO work as those things are not a strength. The primary reason for outsourcing would be to delegate the stuff I’m not as good at, so that I can focus in other areas where I’m more effective.

In your opinion, what is the most important skill required for freelance work, and why?

Be nice. Money may make the world go around, but if you don’t connect with the people who have it…you’re in a lonely place. Building relationships, partnerships, & collaborations is key. Referrals are so powerful…be known for more than your product…let integrity, character, & humility be a foundation to build on.

Do you consider yourself a strong time manager? How do you stay organized?

That’s always an area to grow in…especially for creative-types. Know the spaces in which you’re most creative, and try to work within them as much as you can. Be honest with yourself about your short-comings, and if you need an app to stay on schedule….go for it! Set timelines & goals for each project and do everything you can to stay true to those parameters.

Do you also work a 9-5? If so, how do you balance it with your freelance business?

Yes, it can be a tricky thing to juggle. For me, I find I’m highly creative in the evening, so a lot of my work happens when the regular work day is done, and when my family is sleeping. Recognize & prioritize what’s most important and make sure you take care of the precious things first like your family. If you do that, then they’ll understand when you have to push harder at times to meet a deadline. Don’t forsake the home team.

Where do you do most of your work?

My home environment or a coffee shop is where I do all my work. I am working toward living in a coffee shop in Hawaii.

Do you use a co-working space? I don’t.

Name an entrepreneur/freelancer/influencer who inspires you. What is it about their story/message that resonates?

I think Jim Gaffigan is brilliant. Yeah yeah…I know he’s a comedian…but I’ve watched him build something amazing over the last few years for his brand. He’s relentless with his social media promotion, while touring constantly and making public appearances. He values his family above everything, and isn’t afraid to take risks outside of his brand. He knows what he’s good at. His style is very self deprecating, coming across as if it’s all “pretty lucky”, but there’s so much intentionality in his growth & success. He’s as funny as hell.

Name 1 thing you would do differently, if you were starting over today?

I would have collaborated more when I was younger, and taken a couple more courses when I had the chance.

What is your #1 tip for aspiring freelancers?

Be humble, be teachable, be relentless.

MMM:  Thank you Jay for sharing your freelance wisdom with us! I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with Jay on a number of projects, and I’m always amazed by his creativity, and ability to move ideas from the concept to the finished product. Here’s an interesting factoid, Jay created the MMM logo for this blog! : )

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