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Within 18 months of graduating with a Diploma of Graphic Design, Leah Sullivan had the world quite literally at her feet.
An epiphany while living in the French ski town of Chamonix inspired Leah to launch her own branding and design business. Now the self-confessed travel addict roams the globe creating incredible work for astonishing clients through her business Leah Sylvia Creative.
“It’s definitely a dream situation. Living this nomadic lifestyle and being able to support myself and work from anywhere with a good Wi-Fi connection is honestly epic,” says Leah.
The past two years have been spent exploring far flung places like Morocco, Portugal and Indonesia, and although she’s currently back on home turf, Leah is already plotting her next adventure.
“My partner and I have plans to head to South America. I’ve come to realise that nine-to-five really isn’t my thing. I want to move around when I want and take my work with me. Travelling most definitely sparks my creative side and has been a huge inspiration.”
Leah headed to Europe in 2016, just one year after starting her first role as a graphic designer for an Auckland-based print, design and signage company. Although the design world didn’t feature much during her first six months abroad, a branding job for a new family business (and the need to fund further travels) reignited her enthusiasm. She put together a portfolio, added it to FREE & ADDICTED (the travel blog she and her partner were already writing), and slowly but surely the jobs started rolling in.
“I’ve ended up working with clients from New Zealand, Mauritius, Sweden, Australia, America and more. One of my current projects is the branding of a new virtual reality hub in Brisbane, which is being funded by the Queensland Government. My biggest win I would say!”
Travelling has opened up a host of new networks, enabling Leah to build relationships with people from all around the world. FREE & ADDICTED, Pinterest and Facebook have also been pivotal in developing her client base.
“One of the projects I’m most proud of came about when the client found my website through a freelancing page on Facebook. It’s for Florette Skincare, a range of natural, organic products designed for new mums. I’m really proud of the branding because it’s delicate and nurturing yet striking and powerful.”
The rewards of a job well done certainly beat the satisfaction that comes from traditional travellers’ gigs like nannying, cleaning and bartending.
“I love being able to take an idea, a concept or a vision and bring it to life. It can be hard for clients to imagine the way their brand might look, and it’s our jobs as designers to guide them through that process. We need to be able to effectively strategize, research, conceptualise, refine, explain and craft each element, so that clients can envision and follow our creative direction. Do this right and you’ll feel a great sense of self-worth in the work you produce, and the clients will stick by you because of it.”
A three month stint in Bali took this already awesome job satisfaction to a whole new level.
“Each day started with a surf, followed by five or six hours sitting at a café, drinking coffee and smoothies, eating vegetarian food and working on my laptop. Then I’d scooter off to yoga, head down to the beach to watch the sunset and go out for dinner. This lifestyle was the most amazing thing for my business development and personal growth. My mind was in its element and the creative juices were flowing like never before.”
It hasn’t all been surfing and smoothies though.
“When I started out, I didn’t know anything about running a business. I wasn’t sure how to price myself as a freelancer and felt nervous when I had my first-ever client that wasn’t family or friends. Without a team of more experienced designers around me it was hard to be confident in the work I was producing. I didn’t know how to correctly present my concepts and designs, I wasn’t sure whether to take deposits, and I knew nothing about tax.”
Leah also had to navigate the complexities of working across different time zones and creating work for clients who didn’t know what they wanted.
“I’ve learnt to ensure I have a clear brief before I start any actual design work and I’ve gained the confidence to let clients know if the direction of the project varies, it will be subject to a price amendment!”
Leah describes the last two years as a “massive learning curve”, and attributes her success, in part, to her commitment to following the design process, a process which she was taught in thorough detail at Yoobee.
“The ability to follow the design process and not skip out on any of the stages is really important – as is being able to effectively communicate your ideas to your client and audience. You can be an incredibly talented designer but if you can’t express your ideas to a client, guide them through your processes and show them the value in working with you, then it will be harder to win contracts and land bigger clients.
“It’s also important not to fall into the trap of designing something YOU think looks cool. Being a successful graphic designer is about effectively creating a project or brand that speaks directly to the ideal customer.”
Does Leah have any other advice for aspiring designers? You bet!
Throw your heart and soul into it. Don’t slack off - the Yoobee course is short and sharp and you want to be as clued up as possible before you begin the hunt for a job.
Network, network, network. Work with other creatives, ask for advice, and develop contacts across other creative industries. I have go-to people I work with all the time - a website programmer, an illustrator, a photographer, a marketing man. Your Yoobee class is that hub so utilise it!
Be proud of your work - back yourself. In NZ we’re generally afraid to speak up about our achievements in fear of tall poppy syndrome. Well, I say screw that. Use social media, friends, family and every tool available to leverage exposure to help your business grow. Your hard work and dreams deserve to be heard!