How to successfully freelance for agencies and create award-winning designs with Kate Henderson - Illustration of Kate by Leigh West

How to successfully freelance for agencies and create award-winning designs with Kate Henderson

Posted on 4th December 2020 by

Illustration by Leigh West.

As part of our Meet The Freelancer series of blogs, we interview many freelance professionals from a range of industries. 

This month we meet award-winning freelance graphic designer, Kate Henderson.

Kate has been freelancing for the past 13 years, working with London based advertising and design agencies. During that time, she’s worked with big brands from Kellogg’s to Audible to Virgin Holidays.

She shares with us her journey to becoming a graphic designer, tips for designers new to freelancing and tips on finding creative inspiration.

From touch typing to design

Before graphic design, Kate worked as a PA. Explaining how her career began, she says:

“I’ve always been into craft but I had no idea there was such a thing as design when I was growing up, let alone that you could make a living doing it.

“I am first generation Chinese and my parents ran a busy cafe 7 days a week, so they didn’t have time to worry about my education. The best thing I did was learn to touch type (in the days you had to learn). I figured if you had this skill you would always have job.

“Initially I worked as a PA, then at 20 I landed a job in an advertising agency.

“A combination of being able to quickly grasp these new fangled computers and a natural urge to create an interesting design for every presentation meant I was soon being pestered by other departments to help them too.”

Enjoying the work she was doing at the advertising agency, Kate decided to complete a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Graphic Design.

Going freelance

When asked whether she preferred working freelance or her time working in-house, Kate enthusiastically replied: “Freelance, hands down!”

She adds: “There’s nothing more empowering than being your own boss and the freedom this allows you. Time is your own, I schedule my own timetable and I love the fresh environment and meeting new people that comes with it.”

Katie decided to take the leap and go freelance back in 2007 after seeing several of her designer friends turn to freelancing.

She says: “For me not having a regular salary was daunting. Saying that, I could see that despite not having that regular income my friends were still earning as much on the freelance circuit and having a true work / life balance that I was looking for.

“Once I did make the leap, I wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner.”

Designing for advertising agencies

Through her freelance work with agencies, Kate has worked with brands including Berocca, Aubible, Virgin Holidays, Kellogg’s, Leon and Fiat to name a few.

She says: “Advertising was my first love, so I guess it was natural for this to be a big part of my work.

“I’ve worked a lot with the legendary commercials director Mark Denton, who has taught and influenced me so much over the years.

“I’ve also worked with small design consultancies and ad agencies as well as having my own clients.

“I so enjoy transforming a small business’ appearance and creating something that matches the energy and dynamism of the people who run them.”

Graphic Designer Kate Henderson recreating the famous "Chinese Girl" / "Blue Lady" in a shoot directed by Mark Denton

Kate as the famous “Chinese Girl” / “Blue Lady” during a shoot with Mark Denton. Photography by Joe Giacomet.

Award winning designs

On one project Kate worked on with Mark Denton for Lürzer’s Archive, a magazine for the advertising industry, Kate’s work won a Creative Circle gold and a DMA.

Explaining more about the project, Kate says: “We won a Creative Circle gold / DMA for a series of fun spoof fake front covers for Lurzer’s Archive that Mark and I had the joy of designing. The hilarious idea came from Art Director Ben Gough.

“The magazine is notorious for being “the most stolen magazine” from creatives desks.

“To combat this ‘crime’ the subject matter of these fake wraparounds needed to be so dull no-one wanted to pick up the magazine let alone steal them, so we designed covers of fake mags like Bucket Collector and Spreadsheet Enthusiast!”

Graphic Designer Kate Henderson's 'Spreadsheet Enthusiast' design for Lurzer's Magazine

Kate’s ‘Spreadsheet Enthusiast’ design for Lürzer’s Magazine. Photography by Fern Berresford.

Advice for graphic designers new to freelancing

For any graphic designers new to freelancing, Kate advises: “Don’t give up, the rewards are there. My parents used to run a cafe 7 days a week and I used to help out when I was young. It taught me a lot and gave me some good grounding.

“I try not to work 7 days a week of course, but naturally on occasion you may need to, particularly when there’s an urgent brief where you need to support your client.

“I also used to love chatting to all the customers and I now realise that people come back for more than just the food. Design is a conversation so keep the chat flowing.”

As well as having a strong work ethic, client communication and managing expectations are an important part of being an effective freelancer.

Kate says: “What I’ve found really helpful has been creating a briefing template for my clients.

“Getting a client to express their objectives and preferences at the start of the project saves a lot of time later.

“It seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people think they can leave you to it, only to find out later they already had a clear view of what they were expecting.”

It’s crucial to remember that now you are working for yourself, you’re completely responsible for anything a client is unhappy with.

Applying creative license to projects and taking risks with advertising and design concepts lies at the heart of the creative industry.

Yet, because creative work is subjective, it can be open to interpretation. This means you could spend hours on a commission or project and be really proud of what you have created, only for the client to be unhappy with it and feel that you have not fulfilled your part of the agreement.

This is why protecting yourself with insurance is a must for creative freelance professionals.

'Fly Audible and Travel the Worlds' advert with woman listening to Audible on the plane

Kate’s work for Audible.

Finding freelance work

Explaining the methods she uses to find freelance work, Kate says:

“I usually find work through word of mouth, media friends and recommendations. I’ve also found LinkedIn to be a very useful voice for getting my work out there.

“I would definitely advise anyone considering a freelance life to get as many recommendations as possible on their LinkedIn page – it’s a good starting point for anyone who potentially wants to engage in your services.”

Other methods for finding work include pitching your services to agencies, joining freelancer networking groups and looking on freelance job boards.

Most importantly, having a website and an online presence will help people discover you through Google.

Challenges faced as a freelancer

When you begin your self-employed journey, finding enough work to cover the week is challenging for every new freelancer.

Kate says: “In the early days I found there were some quiet spells which if I’m being honest, sent me into a spin of panic.

“I finally realised this state of anxiety wasn’t going to help my situation, so I’ve learnt over time to stay calm and to be confident in your skills and personal portfolio, because the work will find you in the end!”

Another major challenge for many freelancers in 2020 has been the coronavirus pandemic.

Kate says: “For every business, large or small, the situation has clearly been pretty dire. The work has definitely been slower. And as a limited company I get hardly any support from the Government.

“I’ve paid taxes all my life – both as an employee and a Director – so it’s very frustrating that no solution was found for this segment of the economy. But there are small businesses pushing ahead now so I’m getting a reasonable stream of work.”

Freelancers can find out more about how they will be supported by the government, up until April 2021, in the ‘Winter Work Plan, how will it support the self-employed?’ blog.

A series of eight football cards designed by Kate Henderson

Football cards designed by Kate. Photography by Joe Giacomet.

Finding design inspiration

When you’re a design, people are often relying on your vision and creativity. That’s why it’s essential for you to stay inspired and curious.

Telling us how she stays inspired, Kate says: “I’m obsessed with Pinterest at the moment, there’s such an abundance of inspiration there.

“It’s usually my go-to digital pin board however I almost always end up getting so distracted by all the other boards. I realise a couple of hours have gone by and all I wanted to do was find a piece of reference from my own pins.

“Amongst many other influences I’d say my biggest one would be through travelling. My husband Neil and I have a passion for travel and we’ve been lucky enough to experience lots of different cultures, their art, food, markets and fashion. It definitely helps you see things differently.

“I also love comics. My dad would buy my four brothers and me a comic every week so I had loads to follow.

“I love the childish comedy, great illustrations and OTT language and the simplicity of expression that can say so much. Getting some of that silly personality into some of my work is really fun to include.”

Whether you’re a graphic designer, illustrator or other kind of design professional, having the right level of insurance to help you face the modern demands of your profession is key.

Like you, your work is unique, and you should find an insurance policy that reflects this.  With Caunce O’Hara, you can be certain that your individual circumstances will be taken into account when building your insurance policy.


For more information on how you can stay protected with freelance insurance, call our friendly team of experts today on 0333 321 1403, or click to get a quick online quote in minutes.

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Author Katherine Ducie, Marketing Executive