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Working abroad and upcycling sofas with Designer Zoe Moncaster

Working Abroad & Upholstery Upcycling | Freelance Designers
Kat Shepherd
Kat Shepherd
July 8, 2022
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There are many flexible benefits to freelancing, as we’ve touched on many times before but speaking to freelance Designer, Zoe Moncaster, highlighted one of the best features she’d experienced so far- working anywhere she liked!
Zoe found freelancing in her own words “by accident in 2015 while travelling abroad, on small, short-term contracts here and there.” Zoe was able to fund her travel adventures by flexing her design skills, helping her build a portfolio of work for when she returned in 2018. Since then, Zoe has been working as a freelance designer as she describes it; “jumping into the freelance world properly, with tax returns, accountants, and all that jazz! And of course the ones I couldn’t do this without, my clients.”

Example work: Freelancing for an agency, Zoe had the pleasure to design the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Beacons logo.

Working as a creative can mean extra pressure to deliver great ideas every time, so when you’re not feeling particularly inspired, where do you turn? We asked designer Zoe how she keeps her creative flair going outside of her design work, helping to inspire her on projects; ‍

I follow the work of creatives and ad agencies, not only in the digital world but work that’s being made by hand, without an actual laptop. Hand painted signs, murals, textile designers…art that makes me smile, like @brickflats. Creative inspiration for me goes beyond desk research. It's important to leave the screen for a while and be inspired by what you see outside, or explore non-screen hobbies. I have a sewing machine and I am reupholstering my couch with a design of my choice. I have no idea what I’m doing, but hey it’s all part of the fun!

And when it comes to updating her design skills, Zoe has a range of things she does to keep her skills fresh; ‍

It’s a combination of on-the-job, tutorials and seeing what’s out there. I often learn some extra technical skills on the job when the client wants something done differently. I work with the client to choose the best option for them in terms of value for money and creative output. The industry is forever evolving, and my clients are increasingly digital focused these days, so I make sure I’m up-to-date with the latest best practices - be it from paid displayed ads, websites, or user-friendly ebooks. The key is being flexible and always open to learning something new.
Example work: Website redesign and build for This Way Up, a podcast and event platform dedicated to sharing women’s powerful stories, founded by Creative Director Rebecca Rowntree.

We then asked Zoe what advice she had for anyone considering a career in design;

Design has become a competitive field, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more freelancers. I think it’s a matter of knowing what you want to do. There are many fields within design such as artwork, branding, social media design, web design, packaging, and lettering. So ask yourself a few questions: Who do I want my clients to be (big agencies, small businesses, etc)? What field do I want to work in? What skills and software do I need for that field? How do I want to position myself? Target audience? Essentially think of it as a business plan. There are a wide variety of clients out there, with small to large budgets, who have specific needs as well as an all-rounder designer.

As well as offering out some great tips to fellow freelancers, we asked Zoe to share the best advice she’d received when going into the world of freelance business;

Honestly, I think having the support and ears of friends, family and peers helped me the most. Although I can’t think of one key piece of advice, they were always there when I had questions or when I was questioning myself as a freelancer. So having a good support network will help get you through the good as well as the more challenging times. Talking about mental health isn’t taboo anymore, so remember to keep yourself sane by surrounding yourself with good humans. That, and get an accountant to sort your taxes – it just takes the load off! (But do shop around, prices vary immensely).
Example work: Charity work is important to Zoe, so in her free time she offers graphic design help. Here’s an example, a domestic abuse campaign by UK Says No More on social media.

As many creative freelancers will know, design work can be subjective and someone’s version of art can be entirely different. We asked Zoe how she handles criticism from clients and what she recommends to fellow designers starting out, handling client feedback;

The key word here is constructive. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I prefer feedback. It gives you something concrete to work with, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have learnt something new! Eventually it all mounts up to experience and lessons learnt, which will end up leading to designs being signed off on the first round (yes, it can happen!). It’s a skill you learn as a designer, to grow a thick skin and accept that as much as you may not appreciate hearing it sometimes, it's better in the long term that you do. Experience not only makes you more resilient, but gives you confidence to ask the right questions to make sure the creative aligns with the client's expectations.

And finally, we asked Zoe how she felt on learning she had become a finalist in the 2021 Sweet FA’s;

I did a double take when I saw the email. You know what it's like when you're having one of those days where you think you must be reading it wrong? I struggle with self-promo and talking about my work. So the idea of being shortlisted for anything never even crossed my mind. When I shared the news, everyone was so supportive and told me I deserved it, so there was only myself left to convince. I really appreciate YunoJuno, the freelance community and support from the team – I wouldn't be a finalist without you. It’s a reminder that I’m on the right track.

If you’re looking for a creative designer for your next project, book Zoe here.

AspectEmployeeIndependent Contractor
Control and supervisionDirect control over how, when, and where to workFreedom to set their own schedules and methods
PaymentRegular wages; taxes withheld by employerPaid per project; responsible for their own taxes
BenefitsHealth insurance, retirment plans, paid leaveMust arrange their own benefits
TerminationOften requires notice and may include severanceCan usually be terminated at any time without benefits
Tools and equipmentProvided by the employerTypically use their own tools
Freelance graphic designer helping clients make their projects, ideas and dreams come to life. The one you call when the workload is too much and you need an extra pair of hands.
Zoe Moncaster, Designer
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