Mikey Burton is a freelance part time designer and a part time illustrator—which adds up to a full time Designy Illustrator. He’s been working professionally for over 12 years with clients such as Converse, ESPN and The New York Times, but claims to be ‘still figuring it out.’
We sat down with Mikey to get his thoughts on doing what you love and succeeding as a freelancer.
SK: As a freelance designer, what is one thing you wish you knew when you were first starting out that you know now?
Mikey Burton: If you don’t have the luxury of a studio space, you’ll spend A LOT of time alone working from home (keep that in mind if you are an extrovert). Lots of people will look at this as a giant gift to lounge around pant-less and eat Haagen Dazs. Sure, some days are like that, but I’ve found that routine is very important. This may sound silly, but I always have to put my shoes on to get anything done, It’s my version of clocking in.
Also, It’s really important to know your work habits. Like, I know that my brain is best right in the morning, so that’s when I have to do all the concepting and sketching. If i miss that window of time, it might be harder to do this later in the day. So, know thyself and wear pants.
SK: How do you think you’ve been able to grow your business while staying true to yourself and your style?
MB: That’s exactly how I’ve grown my business, by keeping the style and business tied closely together. I’m not saying I’ve always had an original style or singular vision of the work I wanted to be doing, I just did projects in my spare time that I found interesting. So, while I was doing graphic design work that I wasn’t creatively fulfilled from, I would do other work on the side that paid no money but made me happy. I spent the first 6 years of my career honing my skills then eventually the tables flipped and the side work became the full time work. I think it’s more important to be patient and focus on the exact work that you want to be doing, and the business part of it will follow.
SK: How do you determine success as an independent designer? Is it simply “Welp, the lights are still on!”?
MB: It’s way more than that. If I was just doing enough to keep the lights on and scraping by, in all honesty I’d get a job. Also, I’m not by any means saying I’m making the big bucks.
The first year I became a freelancer, I interviewed at a very well known tech company. They made me an offer, and surprisingly enough (mostly to me) I declined it. I really just wanted to work for myself, and I think it’s important to scratch that itch if you have it. I did however turn down a nice salary, but that made me determined to make that much as a freelancer. The crazy thing is, I did. And made enough to pay off my student loans that year! Over the past 6 years it fluctuates a bit here and there, but there’s been steady growth. I have no debt, I’m saving for my future and the lights are still on.