Faces of Freelance Austin is a monthly feature to get to know one of our many members just a little bit better. For this month’s installment, we check in with Kristen Dunn, Project Board Chair of Freelance Austin. Want to nominate a member to be interviewed for this feature? Let us know!
Name: Kristen Dunn
Business name: Kristen Dunn Media, LLC
Located: Round Rock, TX
No. of years freelancing: Just started in April 2018!
Accepting new work? Yes!
Fun fact about yourself: I make the best apple pie on the planet. 🙂
How do you describe the work you do?
I’m really a “jill-of-all-trades” graphic designer. I was trained as a medical illustrator, but I also have a strong background in traditional art fields like painting, printmaking, and art history. I just really, really like art. Haha. But seriously, I’ve been an artist for a long time, and somehow I found a way to make a career out of it.
Most of my post-graduate experience has been in the corporate space working on everything from massive print manuals and brochures to campaign branding. Along the way, I’ve taught myself HTML/CSS for those random times I had to hand-code a website, and I’ve managed corporate social media accounts for a global company with followers in multiple countries. All this to say that I’m a “graphic designer” who can advise and strategize across multiple channels and media types.
Was there an “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to strike out on your own?
The momentum to freelance had been building for quite a long time – years, in fact.
When I first entered the job market after graduate school, I knew I wasn’t prepared – in skills or business acumen – to handle freelancing. Everything about it was so scary! I just wanted to go to an office, design some things, and receive a paycheck every 2 weeks.
I ended up staying at my first job for over seven years. That’s a long time to stay at your first company! I interviewed with some other companies here and there over the years, but nothing really stuck. I had a great work-life balance and insanely good benefits, which always made it hard to leave.
When I finally reached a breaking point in my career progression, I realized that I would have to freelance to really achieve the work-life balance I was looking for. I had to come to terms with a dramatic pay-cut and some major lifestyle changes, but the timing finally felt right.
How has career independence changed your professional and personal world?
I’m naturally an introvert and prefer emails and texts over phone calls. But after years in the corporate world, I do value the importance of face-to-face meetings and conference calls. This has become even more important while I build my business.
And for the first time since moving to Austin eight years ago, I’m beginning to really network with other local designers and freelancers. Every person I’ve met so far has been incredibly helpful as I pick their brain over how to successfully do this whole small business gig. Austin is a great place to freelance!
Our members cite connections with people from varied expertises and career stages as one of the biggest benefits of Freelance Austin. Have you had mentors along the way, from Freelance Austin or elsewhere?
When I first started getting serious last year about the idea of freelancing, I messaged my wedding photographer and asked her what local resources she used. She connected me with a local Facebook group, and I participated in a few things with them. A few months ago, someone randomly commented in a thread there listing some of the other major Facebook groups – Austin Freelance Gigs and Austin Digital Jobs. Through the (digital) mentors in these groups, I’ve learned SO much and gained even more confidence about how to run my business. I’ve also found great project opportunities through these groups and, in a roundabout way, found a mentor who connected me with Freelance Austin. It’s one big freelance family here in Austin!
Has there been a point when you’ve taken a big risk to move forward?
Honestly, just emailing the attorney to set up my LLC was a huge – and necessary – step to making this legitimate. I’d been toying around with what my business name should be for a very long time, but I was finally able to commit. When you’re ready, the decisions become much clearer.
Tell us what your day is like. Do you have a routine?
I have a young family, so my “work time” varies from day to day. I’m naturally a night-owl who loves to work until 11 pm and then binge-watch tv on the couch until I fall asleep (bad habit from grad school, ugh). But kids don’t care what time you went to bed or how late you worked…they’re still up at 6 am!
I’ve gotten pretty good at juggling my schedule and finding time to complete projects, and I try to set clear boundaries with my clients on what I can realistically accomplish. Sometimes that means not taking on as much project work as I’d like, but that’s ok.
What, outside of your professional work, drives you? Any hobbies, passions or side projects?
Looking back, I would have loved going to school for interior design. I’m constantly moving things around in our house, and I joke that I have an “art-buying problem.” My husband will come home from work and roll his eyes because I’ve re-arranged all the artwork again. But I think it’s an easy way for me to be creative without the stress of making someone else happy.
What was the biggest surprise or shock you found in freelancing? If you could share a bit of wisdom with your newbie freelance self what would it be?
I’m still new to this whole freelance thing, so I’ll let you know. 🙂
Austin has a thriving independent worker population, do you see any ways the creative and freelance community in Austin could be better?
No, I’ve really been impressed so far!
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
First and foremost, find a great CPA and attorney to help you through the process of setting up the business the right way. Ask a million questions of everyone you meet. Join local Facebook groups and groups like Freelance Austin. Network in person. Don’t source work you really don’t want to do. If it’s not a good fit, it will show in the quality of your work. And make sure to find ways to turn off your computer and just be you – instead of “small-business” you.
Don’t forget to nominate someone for a future Faces of Freelance Austin interview! Who should we feature next?
- 5 Good Reasons to End a Client Relationship (And How to Do It) - January 11, 2019
- Finding an Effective Freelance Routine with Ashley Abedini - December 14, 2018
- Freelancing for Work Life Balance with Kristen Dunn - October 12, 2018