Jonathan Baker, one of the graphic designers we’ve worked with over the past two years, set up Seagull Design in 2001. He currently runs the business from Marbella, where he lives with his family.
Let’s start with the most fundamental question. When and why did you start working as an independent freelancer?
Oddly enough, apart from some summer jobs I had when I was a kid, I’ve always been a freelancer. Many years ago I blagged my way into working for an employment agency as a freelance desktop publisher because the hourly rate on offer was so attractive. (It was something like £25 per hour, which was a small fortune for a teenager back then.) The first job I got through them was with Citibank, who needed someone to design some brochures using an early desktop publishing program called Ventura. I more or less knew my way around a computer and I’d done some record sleeve design work, so I thought I was eminently qualified to do the job. Luckily when I turned up at Citibank the job was delayed and I was paid to sit around for a couple of days, during which time I read the manuals for Ventura and taught myself enough of the basics to be able to impress (or at least con) the people I was working for. From there it was only a few accidental encounters in central London bars and a smattering of lies before I had convinced a book publisher to give me a book to design. And it was in book publishing that I made my home – banks and brochures were good for paying the bills, but they were deadly boring.
What do you most enjoy about being a freelancer?
Being able to work and live with my family by the beach in Marbella, Spain, where an average day involves building sandcastles on the beach with my son and drinking cocktails by the pool with my wife – oh, and some work, of course. I’ve never been an ‘office’ sort of person and I readily enjoy all of the freedoms that being a freelancer gives you. Seriously, anyone who works in an office should QUIT NOW and become a freelancer!
There are a few irksome parts the job – aren’t there? How do you keep track of finances and invoices?
There are no irksome parts to the job. Sometimes a job depresses you because it’s boring (and that’s usually because you can’t relate to it, not because it really is boring), but the beauty of working as a freelance designer/typesetter in publishing is that each project passes quite quickly and there’s always something new coming up. Some months you may have lots of money and some months very little. But after working as a freelancer for as long as I have you know there are ebbs and flows. Keeping a reasonably large client base is always sensible. Don’t place all your eggs in one basket, as the saying goes.
Let’s get specific. Do you find it easier to quote yourwork by the hour or the project?
Sometimes I quote by the hour, sometimes by the day. Sometimes I quote by the the week, the page, the job, its fun factor, its kudos rating, whether someone I like is involved, et cetera, et cetera. There aren’t any real rules. I’m still making it up as I go along.
Have advances in digital technology affected the way you do your work?
Unquestionably. A job that used to take a month can now be done in a few days. I used to have to be in central London to be close to a quick courier service; now I can be anywhere in the world. Everything changes all the time and change is exciting.
Do you feel you get good feedback from your clients?
Yes, I have lovely clients. (Even the horrible ones.)
Does your work come mainly from existing contacts within the publishing industry or from writing speculative emails? How do you approach a publisher who doesn’t know you?
Almost all by word of mouth or people moving from one publishing house to another and me tagging along for the ride. I am exceptionally bad at selling myself as I feel end results should speak for themselves. I rarely pitch myself to publishers – and when I do it’s always cringeworthy.
Do you think specialising in a particular area is important for freelancers?
It isn’t so important for book designers, since engaging with the subject matter is core to the design process and part of what makes each job a challenge.