How does one get the courage to jump from the steep cliff of a safe in-demand corporate career into the unknown abyss of freelance entrepreneur? I recently sat down with Jill-of-all-trades; designer, art director, consultant and brand assessor, Katlyn Hovland to find out how she was able to make that jump into darkness with no guarantees of what lies below.
It was late January and temperatures were quickly dropping. It was a balmy -23 degrees and the Mexican restaurant Katlyn and I planned to meet at was closed. We huddled up, called an audible and headed South on Nicollet Ave to Ramen Kazama where nearly every seat was filled with like minded and hearty Minnesotans braving the frigid cold and collectively ready to warm our insides with a perfectly well seasoned noodle soup.
We both ordered the #1 with Pork Belly and placed ourselves in one of the few remaining tables, set below dim, low-hanging, Edison lights.
IVY: So Katlyn, I know you recently moved from a corporate job to freelancing. What do you tell people is your actual “job?”
KH: In short, I’m doing design and art direction. But in reality that includes anything that is helping someone further their brand.
A lot of that actually entails consulting where I will assess where someone’s brand is at and what they need. Whether that is a stronger web presence, social media presence, marketing or branding, I’m there to help. I’m kind of like a unicorn because I can dabble in a lot of different areas, but I’m able to approach them all from a design perspective which will help drive consistency across their brand.
That said, I would really like to get more into photography and the art direction behind it.
IVY: What’s your background with design? Where did you get your start?
KH: I went to school for Graphic Design where they really teach you a lot about everything. I learned the surface level of a many things such as UX (user experience) and marketing, but they are really presenting you many different options of what kind of art and design you may want to focus on.
When I graduated, it was when everything was going digital. I was strongly encouraged to get into that world, because that’s where the need is and inevitably, the money is. I quickly found a job and worked for three years in an advertising agency in their digital department. I also had the opportunity to work closely with the creative department where I would work events and campaigns, so I was also getting a chance to be creative in many different areas.
IVY: So what was it that made you leave such a promising and in-demand career and go to freelance?
KH: If there’s something that doesn’t give me energy, I won’t do it. It’s just going to bog me down and take away the love of what I do and if I’m stuck doing things I don’t want to do, what was the point of doing it?
When I was on the IVY sailing trip, I had an afternoon where I sat down and wrote in my journal all of the pros and cons of staying in my current position versus going freelance. I remember, at that time, thinking that the list was so astronomical there’s no way this could be a reality, but after I was able to go back, reflect and read what I had wrote, I thought “I can do this.” So after that trip, I made the decision to go freelance.
IVY: Now that you are freelance, is there a specific industry or area that you really want to focus on?
KH: At the moment, freelance is so different from what I’m used to. In the past I was so focused on becoming an expert in UX design, which is much more left brain than I thought it would be, that I wasn’t able to be as creative as I wanted. I was leaving a job that was very in-demand, but it was completely exhausting. What I realized was that I’m way more creative than I originally thought and that to be satisfied, I have to create.
It feels like I’m back in college where I’m given all of these different options for being creative and am re-discovering what I do love. I really love working on the brand identity and brand development part of my job, but what I love the most is the art directing. Being on set, being a producer, being director. I love the collaboration.
I want to be away from my computer as much as possible and instead collaborating with people.
IVY: You mentioned how important travel is to you; do you see the freelance gig getting you out and traveling more?
KH: When I started my first job, I could never really afford to travel. A $350 plane ticket to Miami, which was so much money to me at the time, completely burned a hole in my wallet. But after doing taking that trip, I realized how important traveling and seeing the world was to me and how it gives me so much perspective and it how it helps my creativity.
I’m such an adventurous spirit, that experiencing a different culture, a different climate, a different community, brings me so much life, so at that moment I decided to make that a core value of mine.
I would love to start meeting people in other cities and travel the world to do what I love. I’m currently building a base here (Minneapolis) to create some security, but then would love to travel to different cities and countries to do my work and see the world.
IVY: Was it that adventurous spirit and wanting to experience more of the world what made you take the leap into freelance?
KH: I craved not being in an office and craved having my own flexible schedule. It’s the freedom that I craved.
One day I found myself sitting on the Venice Boardwalk working on a freelance project and thought there is no place I’d rather be, this is what I need to do.
IVY: When you do travel and have to work, what are some of the things that you make sure you have with you?
Of course I bring my camera, I have a Cannon 5D Mark II with 50mm sigma lens, which is a very affordable lens, but also have my eye on a wide angle 24-70mm.
I also always bring my journal. It keeps me grounded, helps me reflect on the new experiences and capture my thoughts that will be more expansive while traveling and seeing new things.
I also feel it’s important to bring something with you to keep you grounded and to remind you of where you came from. It’s so easy to get caught up in the glamour and new experiences while traveling, so for me that’s my bible.
IVY: What about social media, your phone and documenting your travels?
KH: I honestly like being away from my phone, but to be honest, I end up insta-storying a lot of my travels. If I’m sitting next to the ocean, I want people back home in the tundra to be able to experience that with me. I love seeing other people’s trips, so I like to share where I’m at so they can experience it with me.
With the exception of that, I really try to stay off my phone as much as I can. The more unplugged you are, the more you are able to be present in the new thing you’re experiencing.
IVY: If you have to leave on a trip tomorrow, what three things would you bring with you?
KH: A good backpack. I currently have a thrifted all leather backpack that is completely functional but fits all my stuff.
My bible. For me, it’s the thing that reminds me who I am and keeps me true to myself.
A good comfy outfit. Whenever people travel they think there’s going to be a photo shoot on every corner, but in reality, I end up just wanting to be comfortable. I definitely overthink my packing.
After speaking with Katlyn, what I realized is that in order to make that jump into the unknown comes down to having the confidence in your abilities, but also an awareness that there’s things that you don’t know. No one is ever going to be 100% ready to take that jump, but you have to have faith in yourself and trust that no matter what comes your way, you’re ready for it.
If you want to get a hold of Katlyn for your next project check out her Instagram and follow along on her foray into freelance and adventures around the world.