The Freelance Life and the Joys of Choosing Yourself
Each month, over on Instagram, I chat one-on-one with talented creative professionals across various industries and communities to engage in uplifting conversations around creativity, entrepreneurship, mental health, and how we can show up in our work as our authentic selves.
Today I want to share highlights from my conversation with the phenomenal Heather Seidel. Heather is a freelance motion designer and art director with a passion for learning new things, teaching others new things, and creating bold and colorful design work. Since going freelance in March 2022, she’s worked with creative clients like Google, MTV, Vox Media, The Emancipator and more. Heather lives her life boldly, embracing joy and gratitude each day.
In this conversation, Heather and I talk about the freelance life, how to express kindness through your work, and what it means to choose yourself and put yourself first.
Lo Harris: Can you share a bit about yourself, about your work, and how you got started?
Heather Seidel: I'm an art director. I'm an animator. I'm a video producer. I do many things. And I have been working in the industry since about 2015. I started off as a video producer and somehow fell into design. I've been doing that for the past seven years now. It's been great. I love it. I would say my work is very bold, very colorful, and I’m a very bold, colorful, energetic, creative person too. So, I think my voice comes out in the work I do. I’ve freelanced a bunch of places. I've been freelancing since not very long ago. I just very recently took the leap. Since I've been freelancing, I've been so lucky to work with great clients like Google. Right now, I'm working with Paramount and MTV Networks. So, it's been really wonderful so far.
LH: You got your start as a video producer and a journalist first. How does your multidisciplinary perspective influence your work?
HS: I'm gonna actually even go before video producing. One thing I really love to edit or animate to is music and figuring out the timing. There's nothing better than when you're watching an edit and something just hits right on the music. I was a competitive dancer growing up and traveled around the country. That creative experience really young actually has been super informative in my career, weirdly enough, because I had really good rhythmic timing for editing when I started to get into it.
I had just moved to New York after graduating college. I remember walking around and seeing this artwork on the terminals and being like, oh, man, like, that's the coolest thing ever. I wish I could draw. I wish I could like do stuff like that. It seems so cool. But I was so intimidated.
But I was freelancing at the Wall Street Journal and they really needed motion design stuff. They would have stock footage and need animations to explain things. And I thought, I feel like motion design is the perfect combination of what I love about video editing and producing and also the thing that I've always wanted to get into and explore, which is the design part of it. That is the backstory of how I got into producing and then how I got into motion design.
LH: Having this background in dance, having this background in editing, having this background in storytelling through journalism, how do you feel like that influences how you collaborate with other creatives?
HS: I think I'm able to think a few steps ahead and that is entirely helpful. So, when I'm working with a producer, I'm sort of able to put on my producer cap and be like, okay, how can I deliver this in a way or how can I communicate with the producer in a way that they want to be communicated with. I think because I had to produce for the first four years of my career that made me a really good communicator, because you have to be calling people up. You have to be collaborating with editors and animators. And so now that I'm in the animator seat more, being able to have these communication skills that I learned as a producer was super helpful.
LH: You recently went freelance, as you mentioned earlier. Can you talk a bit about what motives and personal goals led you to make that move?
HS: Before I was freelancing, I was full time in the news industry for about seven years. And my oldest friends actually know, I have been talking and thinking about freelancing, forever. And I think just for the motive of wanting to work on a variety of different things. I consider myself a lifelong learner. I love meeting new people. I love being in different environments, because I think you could just learn something from every environment you're in. Every person that you meet, you can glean something from.
So, I really wanted to be able to dip my toe in the pool where I'm just learning a bunch of different things and meeting a bunch of different people and getting to work on projects that weren't just in the news industry, because I had been just working in news for a long time. And so, I was eager to just see what other industries were like. So I think going freelance was a really good opportunity to do that-- to experience different industries, meet new people, and try new techniques.
LH: What insecurities or concerns did you have going into this life change – freelancing is a lifestyle -- and how did you go about preparing yourself for that big career shift?
HS: The insecurities and concerns that I had going into freelancing were that basically, am I never gonna get booked? What if I quit and nobody ever emails me? Nobody's ever hitting me up? That was definitely my number one fear. And the other one was what if I get stagnant? What if I don't make the things I want to be making?
And I think now what I'm learning is, funny enough, kind of the opposite, which is how do I not overbook myself? How to say no intentionally and how do I say yes to the right things. I feel very grateful to have the opposite problem. But, you know, I'm learning now what do I say yes to and what do I say no to.
How I went about preparing myself to go freelance was… the first thing I did was I saved a bunch of money in case nobody even wanted to talk to me. I saved three to six months of expenses. And then I started updating my website again. And I started telling my friends, hey, I'm thinking about doing this. I'd love to hear what you think. And some friends that are just friends and some friends that are producers, motion designers, or editors in the industry who I know could plug me in if I needed to be plugged in. And just reaching out to some contacts to make me feel confident because a lot of the people that I reached out to who were really close friends of mine said you should absolutely do it. And that just made me feel very reassured in my decision. So having those people to lean on was super helpful too.
LH: Do you have any other little tidbits there that could possibly help inspire a future freelancer to take that leap of faith?
HS: You won't be the first and you won't be the last. And whenever I started getting serious impostor syndrome, like when I was filling out some of these forms for some of these bigger contracts and I'm like, who am I? How am I a business person? I had to remind myself that even people who are really established business people started off knowing absolutely nothing. It's okay to not know everything going in and to not have everything just perfect.
LH: What role does kindness play in your work ethic and how can creative professionals continue to cultivate that even when they're dealing with a difficult personality?
HS: We've all worked with difficult people or people who don't communicate the same way you do. Because I have that experience of knowing how annoying it can be to do certain parts of a producer's job, I know how annoying it is to do parts of an editor’s job, I just have an understanding of some of these things and how their brain works, and I try to identify what their problems are. I'm always trying to meet people halfway. If I'm meeting with like a client or a producer and they're like, hey, we need X, Y, and Z and I know that X, Y and Z is not even possible on the timeline that they're asking for it's just about communication. We have actually a mutual interest whether we're both communicating in the same way or not. So it's about how do we find that middle ground.
I can think of an example when I was working on a project and the person wanted to use this font that wasn't cleared to be used. And I was like, well, we can't use that font, and they really wanted it. So, I hopped on a call and said tell me what you really like about the font. I ended up doing like a hand-scripted font and they loved it. We found the middle ground.
LH: What boundaries do you typically find yourself defending as a freelancer? Do you have any significant policies around negotiating pay, your timelines, your working conditions, etc.?
HS: The boundary that I have had the set and the one that has been the hardest for me is my time. When you go freelance everybody automatically assumes you're available. And I'm not always available. So I think it's just communicating that and saying, I'm booked right now, I would love to work with you in the future. And sometimes that's hard because sometimes there are projects that I would love to double or triple book myself on, but I know that I'm going to be kicking myself later because I can’t give all of my energy to all three and have these all be actually good and a good representation of the work I can do. And also, I'm going to be tired and burnt out.
So setting those boundaries and saying, hey, you know, I'm not available for this. I really appreciate you thinking of me. Here are some friends I know that are freelance as well and perhaps you could reach out to some of them.
A lot of women we're just brought up in society to say yes and to pander. And saying no can sometimes be really powerful because you're choosing yourself. You're choosing your time, you're being intentional about the projects that you do want to work on and the time that you want to spend on them.
I think that is the biggest way that I have chosen myself -- just learning to set boundaries and learning to say no.
In terms of negotiating, one thing that I have been trying to be clear about when I am booking stuff is you have me for eight hours and if you want to go over that, then it's time and a half. I think it's actually pretty industry standard. But a lot of folks don't ask for it. I also will mention if this requires me to work over the weekend, I also charge for that as well.
LH: Outside of work, how do you put yourself first in your day-to-day life?
HS: I started planning my mornings and it has given me so much freedom to do the things I want to be doing but had told myself I don't have enough time for. I have this morning routine that I built out. I'll wake up and I'll make myself matcha green tea. I will move. Sometimes it'll be exercise and Peloton. Sometimes I'll go out for a walk. I live really close to a park. So I'll go and I'll walk around there. And then journal and I'll meditate for 10 minutes every day.
It is so nice to just have a time to walk around to reflect. I have this 10-Minute Journal and it helps you create this gratitude practice because it gives you these prompts in the morning that you fill out: name three things that you're grateful for, name three intentions you want to set for the day. And then at the end of the day: what's like one thing you wish you would have done that day? And so I kept looking back at what are the things I wish I would have done and it's always have more time to myself.
LH: Aside from listing yourself as freelance on social media, or word of mouth, what are some practical ways to let clients know that you're available for work?
HS: I started reaching out to people on LinkedIn. I had some mentors that I reached back out to and old managers I still had a really good relationship with.
Just reaching out to people that you've worked with in the past, letting your friends who work in industry know that you're freelancing, getting a coffee or beer with some folks to talk about it, and also networking with other freelancers because sometimes if they're not free for something, they might recommend you for something and vice versa.
I think people get self-conscious about doing stuff like that because they're like, oh, I don't want to come off as being too forward or too pushy. But I think a lot of times people are looking for freelancers. They want to build a roster.
Head to Instagram to listen in on the complete interview. Follow Heather Seidel on Instagram at @heatherseidelbosi.