Kimmy Lee decided that freelancing was the life for her straight out of University. Since then, she has battled the hurdles that she faced when starting out to become a one-woman design powerhouse. Today, Kimmy has the pleasure (and the balancing act of managing her workload) of designing the branding and visual identity for a variety of diverse clients that cross industries.

Kimmy Lee designs

What were you doing before you became a freelancer?

The freelancer lifestyle has always appealed to me so I became a freelancer straight out of university. As I had more flexibility with my time, I also helped out with the family business on the side.

What do you enjoy most about working as a freelancer?

I think the most exciting thing about freelancing is that everyday feels like a choose-your-own-adventure. Because you are the master of your time, you get to set the rules and enforce them, spending it the way you want to. Not only can you choose to work on projects that you actually like (rather than being designated by the boss), but you can have fun in the process — nobody’s going to stop you from belting out songs at your desk or from having a long in-between work break.

Of course, you still need to meet deadlines, etc. but because you should have already worked out how long the project is going to take you and how fast you can work on it (based on prior experience, the client brief and agreement), you have less surprises and are more in control. I try not to overbook myself into an early grave so that I have time to explore new skills, give attention to the other aspects of my life (family, friends, fitness, etc) and discover new things.

That freedom is such a blessing and not fitting in things with a busy schedule set by someone else is amazing.

Freelance designer Kimmy Lee

What has been the hardest part of your freelance career so far?

The biggest hurdle for me was when I was first starting out. Everything is on you to figure out how everything works from scratch, this includes finding projects, building up your clientele, creating quality work for your portfolio, time management, contracts, fees, copyright, taxes, and legal stuff can also get pretty confusing. You end up realising that you are essentially learning a new craft — being an entrepreneur and a business owner.

There's also the uncertainty of whether or not you are going to be able to pay the bills on a monthly basis during the first years. It has been a long, hard grind getting my name out there, but eventually and thankfully, it got easier. I used this uncertainty as a challenge and motivator — If I had 3 client projects last month, I planned to get 5 client projects this month. You need to have perseverance, patience, discipline, and diligence because the takeoff (and stability) of your freelance career will depend on how much work you can get and how hard you work to find new projects (as well as the quality of your work, of course!).

Is freelancing what you thought it would be like?

Yes and no. I started freelancing straight out of university and was very young and naive at 20 - 21 years old. I had an idealised and glamourous view of the freelancer lifestyle — waking up past noon in the Bahamas, going to work in your pyjamas, creating designs for big-name brands with little to no effort, not leaving your hotel bed all day and getting paid so much money from a never-ending pool of "forever clients" that sign off every initial proposal/concept without revisions required.

There is some truth to that (sometimes I work on an island while on vacation and most of the time I am in my pyjamas!), but of course, the reality is that it's not as easy as you might think.

Design by Kimmy Lee

Were there any surprises that you didn’t expect when you first started freelancing?

The solitude of self-employment was a surprise. In an office environment, people would pop in and out all day long to interact with you, you are able to practice your social skills. Working in a boxed room all day, having only yourself to answer to and no one to see you, apart from maybe your pet turtle, dulls your social skills. It gets more difficult to be charismatic, make small talk and actively engage in conversation when you don’t have anyone to do it with.

Do you prefer working at home?

Yes, but I try to have my workspace outside of the bedroom as much as possible. Working from your own home means it would be so easy to spend all day in bed, not be productive and not have anything finished, so I try to maintain the separation of work and home, have a space dedicated to work and another dedicated to relaxing.

Do you have any favourite places to work from?

None aside from the coziness of home.

Freelance designer Kimmy Lee

What do you do more of, work for long term clients or complete short one-off projects?

I think when freelancing, you really can't help doing an equal mixture of both because the projects you choose will depend on your goals, your mood and the demand at that moment.

Sometimes, when you feel too stressed and overworked but you still need to hit that quota for the month, you would prefer accepting short one-off projects and other times, when you're inspired with so many ideas flowing through you, you're able to commit to bigger, long-term projects.

Do you have a niche or work for clients across multiple industries?

My specialisation is branding/visual identity design, so I work for clients across multiple industries.

Designer Kimmy Lee

Is there much work for a freelance designer?

As someone once said, "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door". I believe that there is always plenty of work for designers out there, the world is in constant demand of creators and innovators and there's always a project or a problem waiting to be solved, sometimes you get lucky and an opportunity just presents itself, but if it doesn't find you, then you have to put in the work, look for it or do something to attract it.

There’s been a lot of talk about the gender pay gap recently. Do you think that this is a problem in the design industry too?

I don't think I would be the best person to comment as I've personally not gone through a situation where this was an issue.

How do you find working in a male-dominated industry?

Working as a freelancer, I have never personally encountered problems that arose from gender issues. I am fortunate enough to have had a very fair experience with the industry so far and that the success of my career and the basis of getting a client or a project relied on my creativity, skills, and quality of work.

What has changed, if anything in the design industry, for women, since you started?

Women have a bigger, more empowered voice and are a lot more assertive when it comes to carving out their design careers on their own terms.

See more of Kimmy's work here