Posted 27 April 2022

What we learned from head of design at Frieze, Claude d’Avoine

Our latest Pep Talk featured head of design at Frieze, Claude d’Avoine, who answered all of your questions on working freelance versus in-house. Hosted by Steph Fung, Claude discusses his experience as a designer for an array of magazines and luxury fashion houses, leading with your portfolio to secure jobs and how to figure out your day rate. Here, we collate just a few things we learned from this wide-ranging discussion.

The big talking points:

  • Differences between working in-house and freelance (08:03)
  • How to figure out what working style suits you (10:45)
  • How to prepare to go freelance (13:58)
  • The power of your portfolio in securing jobs (14:41)
  • A tour of Claude’s current workspace (19:53)
  • Managing your finances (22:53)
  • How to build your client list (30:15)
  • The book Claude recommends to emerging creatives (34:00)
  • Finding balance as a freelancer (39:28)
  • People skills needed to work in-house (43:00)
  • People skills needed as a freelancer (44:10)

1. Experimenting can help you work out what suits you best

When discussing the differences between working in-house or freelance, Claude makes it clear that experimenting with both styles is the best way to learn what might suit you. Claude’s own career saw him go between industries such as luxury fashion, editorial and galleries, and build a wide-ranging portfolio – something made possible by being flexible in the way he works.

He goes on to make two very interesting points, “you can go back and forth between freelance and in-house” and “if you’re not ready to be 100% freelance, there’s permalance as an option”. Providing more nuance to a conversation that is usually binary, he explains how experimenting with permalance work can provide more financial stability, where you work with a client for a longer period of time, while still maintaining your creative freedom.

2. If you want to go freelance, a portfolio is key

Being in-house doesn’t have to be a forever decision and Claude, along with many other creatives, has often switched between the two. When asked how to get freelance work, Claude says that “a portfolio is key,” describing it as an element you can’t bypass.

He was also quick to emphasise the importance of having whole or finished projects in your portfolio as a freelancer. In Claude’s experience, “it can be hard to get the work you’ve produced” especially when working on really short-term freelance projects, or only being involved in a certain part of a larger project.

So if you want to attract more clients and ensure more work comes your way, try to get the work from each project you’ve been on – both in-house and freelance – and be specific about your role within it.

3. It pays to establish boundaries when it comes to clients and finances

Financial management is a lifeboat for every freelancer. Claude had plenty of advice to share here – from keeping track of your outgoings and making sure to save three months’ worth, to asking friends about their day rates. This also includes having the confidence to bypass opportunities that are lowballing.

That being said, not all freelancers can turn down every job that’s outside of their day rate. For this, Claude advises emerging creatives to “give perimeters of what you can do with the money you’re being given.” This means not outrightly saying ’no’ to a prospective client, but instead, proposing what is possible with the budget they are offering. This allows you do the amount of work that you think the fee is worth.

Claude also proposed trying to “read between the lines of what a job may bring”. Will the opportunity give you work every few months? Will working with the client expose you to a load of other similar opportunities?

4. Don’t underestimate the power of soft skills

Soft skills and people skills are not to be overlooked, regardless of whether you’re working in-house or freelance. “Manners are free,” Claude says, before stating how talking kindly to colleagues or potential clients, or even something as simple as a smile across the office, does wonders for a work environment.

Another major point that Claude raised was to “leave your ego at the door” in regards to accepting that you won’t always get to have your personal preference on projects. Your communication skills are part of this, which is why being able to explain – in-depth – your concepts and ideas is also important: “Every time you get a job you are proving your expertise.” This works both ways, however, and extends to meeting with potential clients too: “Ask yourself if you can genuinely see yourself working with [them].”


What is Pep Talk?
Pep Talk is our monthly Instagram Live event to share relatable, easy-to-process tips in conversation with inspiring creatives.

Each session begins with a ‘pep talk’, where a chosen creative gets to share their ultimate advice for anyone who might be feeling a bit stuck, before answering questions submitted by you, our readers.

Written by Creative Lives in Progress
Mention Claude d'Avoine