Just Creative

I’m Jacob Cass, the founder of JUST™ Creative. I’m a multi-disciplinary graphic designer, working with clients all around the world. My specialty is logo & brand identity design. JUST™ Get in touch.

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Designer In The Spotlight: Mike Smith

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Designer In The Spotlight

Designer In The Spotlight (DITS) is a weekly feature that I run every Sunday (or more) to help particular individuals in the design community get their name ‘out there’ and to educate the community as a whole. It is a series of questions that asks the designer about themselves and their job as a designer. If you would like to be featured in an upcoming DITS post fill out the form here.

1. Please tell us more about yourself, your background, education and what you do as a designer.

My name is Mike Smith and I am a self taught website designer specialising in WordPress designs. I also design for other CMS’ like Joomla and Drupal, but specialise in WordPress layouts. I listen to a LOT of music while I work and have lately become a workaholic.

2. How long have you been designing and what made you become an artist / designer?

I’ve been designing for about 9 years or so. I started when I would post on online message boards back when I first got a computer and realised I wanted a custom signature image. From there, I just learned everything I could. I’ve always been a creative person, drawing since I was 4-5. I also spent some time doing graffiti, but the law stopped me from progressing in that avenue of art :)

Mike Smith

3. Where do you work and what is your daily routine?

I work from home in the second bedroom of my town house which I turned into an office. My daily routine really depends. Some days I am only designing. Some days I am deep in code all day. Some days I spend the entire day studying different techniques and building my skill set. Some days I do all of them. I tend to be in front of the computer a LOT throughout the day though.

4. How did you market yourself in the beginning of your design career and how has that differed to how you market yourself now?

I literally wrote 100 or more people every day. I just emailed and emailed and emailed. Blindly mind you; I knew nothing about the people I was writing. It worked somewhat (1 in 100 hired me maybe). I was also charging WAY too LITTLE so a lot of people thought I was a fly by night type.

Now, I spend the majority of my time networking through social media sites like twitter, stumble upon and commenting on the blogs I like. Networking is working MUCH better in my favour then the cold-emails.

5. What are your tools of the trade? This could include hardware, software and traditional tools.

I draw sketches on paper, I write ideas down for blog articles in my moleskine and I design with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. I hand code all of my layouts in notepad. I use WordPress as my CMS of choice and I have a nice 19 inch flat screen monitor with a P.O.S. computer (I need to upgrade).

6. How do you manage the business side of design such as accounting, invoicing and bookkeeping?

I invoice with paypal. I do my bookkeeping with gobootstrap.com which is AWESOME. I also keep track of projects on my trusty white board in my office. I have two; one HUGE one with my current work list (client name, type of project, amount paid, amount due) and then a smaller one I write the daily tasks on.

7. Where do you get your inspiration and how do you keep up to date with what is happening in the industry?

I visit a LOT of CSS galleries. I also have about 200 design and WordPress related feeds in my feedreader. I read as much as I can to keep up with trends, what’s being overused (so I don’t do it) and to learn about any new tricks or developments with wordpress.

8. Can you please guide us through a typical project from start to finish.

A person will normally contact me through my websites contact form and I reply answering any questions they have, and also give them a few questions to get a better understanding of what they’re after.

From there, I’ll give them a price quote for the work they are after. If they accept, an invoice is sent for 50% to begin the project. From there I start the design process.

I initially sketch the layout out on paper. Then I create a wireframe in photoshop. I tend to leave it alone for a day or so after that (this is all done within 24 hours of the client sending the 50% deposit).

During the second day, I create the design from the wireframe and send it for approval/feedback. At this point if all is well, I code the design out and put it into WordPress. If changes are required, I make the changes.

Once the design is up and running on my test server, the client can look the site over and make sure it’s functioning properly. Once the final ok is given, the final payment is required and the files are sent over, and/or uploaded to their website.

I keep in contact afterwards and always keep my lines of communication open no matter how far down the road my client has a question, they’re always welcome to write me.

9. What are your top 3 websites / books and why?

Think and Grow Rich – This book is the single reason I started a full on full time freelance career. I always “wanted” to do this for a living, but after reading that book, I had a new vision and was seeing things so clear, it was crazy.

Bootstrapping Your Business – Another GREAT book on building your business with little to no money. It’s what caused me to start Boot Strapping Blog to keep my thoughts and ideas on bootstrapping together in one place and to also spread the word about it.

Guerrilla Marketing – Jay Conrad Levinson is a GENIUS. That’s all I can really say. This book has me thinking so far outside the box about marketing, its spilling over into my designs as well.

10. What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out?

Never quit. No matter what gets in your way, or what hurdle you have to jump over, just keep going. I don’t care if you read zero websites and network with NOONE, just keep going. Push yourself and never give up. People will run their mouth and sometimes you might hit a dry spell in clients, but keep going. Use that time to design your own work or build something useful for other people. Progress every day. If you don’t take a step, you never move forward. Why sit still if you’re not happy in your current situation?

Jacob: Thank you Mike for taking the time to fill out this interview: If you want to be featured as the next Designer In The Spotlight, please fill out this form.

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10 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • Preston Lee Reply

    Thanks for the excellent advice, Mike. Coincidentally I had just stumbled onto your site the other day and was impressed with your work.

    The advice about social networking over cold emails has proven true for me as well. Sometimes if you’re not going to be smart in marketing yourself, it’s almost not worth all the work. Doing it right definitely pays off.

    Your final piece of advice was very inspiring as well.

    Great DITS this time around too, Jacob. Thanks

  • Paul Reply

    An exciting story, Jacob! Especially guidance of Mike, because moments of his life, I find it in myself.

    But the most important thing – never give up, it is very rightly said, I can tell by my life experience.

    Thank Jacob that you opened for me yet another interesting person, an artist and colleague, even from another country!
    I’m from Russia..

  • Dainis Graveris Reply

    oh, very interesting, Mike Smith is person I already follow.Didn’t know many things about him and it’s pretty hard to be a good designer and coder..good luck :)

  • Angie Bowen Reply

    Great interview Mike & Jacob. Like Dainis, I’ve followed Mike for a while but didn’t know a lot about him. Thanks Mike for the great advice for a freelancer just starting out!

  • Jennifer Reply

    Mike, nice work in your portfolio. I had been to your website several times before so it was nice to read your interview.


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