Taking Life’s Challenges Head On

Continuing with our series, Rtist is interviewing some of our creative talents to find out more about their journey, what makes them tick and how they are faring throughout as a freelancer in the creative industry.

Born and raised in Penang, Harriet Tan has been a designer since 2000. It was her wish to study in KL, but due to her parents’ disapproval, she continued to study graphic design and advertising in her hometown. Working in a small advertising firm in Penang made her more adamant to expand her horizons in the big city, of which she finally got her opportunity.

She came to KL in 2017 to widen her opportunities, constantly updating her skills to improve herself. She made a jump from the traditional hand drawing to the digital world, and hasn’t looked back since.

Today, we’re speaking to her to find out what makes her tick, and how she’s faring in the world of graphic design and advertising.

What are the biggest differences of working in KL compared to Penang?
I believe that KL has a very different work culture compared to Penang. Even with four years of experience working for an advertising firm in Penang, in KL, I had to start over from a junior designer level.

Why were you willing to continue your career in KL?
The working environment in KL makes me feel comfortable, and I have great colleagues. I stayed in my previous job for 6 years until I received a job offer from PropertyGuru, who hired me as an in-house senior designer.

What are some of the differences between agency life and working as an in-house designer?
Agency and in-house company life are totally different. You’ll need to work late in an advertising agency, and there’s always last minute work coming in that you need to complete. Working at an in-house company is much more relaxed, with a fixed 9-6 working hour. It’s better for your work life balance too.

But the bad news is, I worked there for four years and suddenly got retrenched due to the company’s limited budget. I went back to agency life, but it’s not something I was looking for. I job-hopped between a few more full-time positions before landing a retainer job at ON FM and an event company. It was here that I started doing freelance work.

What are some of the things you’ve experienced as a freelancer?
As an experienced full time freelancer, I think savings is very important, especially if customers delay the payment or you’re struggling through a dry spell without new jobs. I registered as an SSM company and joined a class called “Freelancer World Summit”. My income increased from there. As a freelancer, you need to keep improving yourselves in order to get more opportunities.

The most challenging job is logo design, because you need to study the company well and try to deliver the message of what the company or brand is trying to convey. It was at “Freelancer World Summit” that I managed to gain more collaboration and opportunity from different specialists. We will always pass jobs to each other.

The next stage of my career is where I want to do a business for brand merchandise with my partner. I am planning to change; I want clients to buy my ideas instead of getting me to keep designing with no reasons at all.

Do you face any issues with fee collection?
Your terms and conditions need to be very clear before you sign a contract with your client. My advice is to always listen to your seniors, as they have the experience and knowledge of plenty of situations. You should also always discuss with your client on how to get a win-win situation. You may choose to give them a better offer if they are willing to collaborate with you. For example, you can ask them to share their testimonial review about your service or design on social media. This will help you further your own portfolio, while marketing yourself well.

How are you faring as a freelancer now?
I've been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and depression, there's a lot of incidents coming into my life; from my retrenchment, to family health issues to monetary problems. Luckily, I have a great business partner that helped me go through all these problems without an issue.

What is the most important thing for a freelancer to know?

What do you think is the impact of MCO on designers?
Fresh graduates and junior designers may feel that there is a lot of impact on their job. This could be because they don’t have enough working experience yet, so there is a gap. Many designers are now only experiencing the digital world, in a time when it is most important.

While the MCO has impacted many people, you don’t have to be down. You can find ways to improve yourself, or look to review on your past works to make it better. Keep posting and sharing your portfolio to implant your expertise to others. I even created an instagram account to follow up the trend. I linked my account for my Cocolor Facebook page and Instagram personal account to the public. From there, people can know more aboutHarriet and my portfolio.

What is your proudest accomplishment?
It has to be the fact that I earn an additional RM3,000 a month as a freelancer. By continuing my retainer job, I am still able to do a lot of freelance jobs. Even though I have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and depression, I am still able to manage how to go through this whole journey. This is how I am still surviving as a designer after two decades.

What are some of your next steps forward?
Since now I am kickstarting my brand merchandise, I am still brainstorming on my marketing part. The idea is to build my product from scratch, so I am still searching on what kind of skill that I want to present to them. This is because you need to attract customers to buy your idea or product.

Designer background:
Name: Tan Wan Hooi (Harriet)
Specialist : Graphic design
Status: Self-employed
Graduated from: https://www.cocolordesign.com/about-me
Check out her Rtist profile: https://www.rtist.com.my/cocolor


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