Advice & Tips
Working from the Road
A glimpse into our creative careers and the path that led us here
We often get asked what we do for work and how we sustain this nomadic lifestyle of ours. There are a million different ways you can make a living from the road depending on your skill set, standards for what you are willing to do, and creativity in finding odd jobs. We know of some folks who do what we do or code websites, others who simply pick up odd jobs as they go, and still others who make a living off of their blogs. No matter what you choose to pursue, just like in a stationary life, being successful on the road comes down to hard work, good decision making, a healthy dose of risk, and a good attitude. In my next couple posts I’ll share with you a bit about the specifics of our work and school history that led us to this point in our careers as well as some of the details of our set up for working from the road.
Currently, we are both freelance designers who have a regular flow of business from remote contract work. That means we can work anywhere there is telephone service and a reliable internet connection. If you’re not interested in a bit of backstory, you may want to skip ahead to the school section below or check out Part 2 that covers topics like how we find clients and some un-fun stuff like taxes and insurance.
How We Got Here
Jorge and I both started our work lives at a young age. Hell, if you count our various small scale entrepreneurial endeavors we could take this back all the way to grade school with Jorge’s airport luggage cart return schemes and my friendship bracelet operation…but we’ll keep things simple and go from continuous employment. For both of us, that started as freshmen in high school when minimum wage was a whopping $5.15 an hour. Not bad for scooping dog poop at the local vet and splitting chicken breasts for frying into delicious Chick-fil-a chicken sandwiches.
Since then we’ve both taken great pride in earning a wage and learning new skills. Our career paths weaved along, intertwining at times and diverging at others. Jorge joined the military late September 2001 and I continued my studies in college as we prepared to get married months later in January 2002. The following two years saw him shipping off first to basic training, then airborne school, then Iraq in early 2003. Definitely a time for divergence in our careers paths. I kept chugging along in college, switching majors with each year, my distaste for the traditional college path I was on growing with each passing day.
When Jorge returned from his time overseas and was medically discharged from the military, we began the process of intertwining again. From that point on, our adult lives have largely been spent working together as self employed entrepreneurs, first as the co-owners of an auto detailing operation in Atlanta that at its height saw us running 7 shops in Georgia and New York with around 60 employees to then forging a new path after the great recession working together as creative entrepreneurs.
After the lending market crash happened in 2008 we found ourselves with a mountain of business debt and huge amounts of payroll liabilities with an all but frozen car market. With our business model no longer sustainable, our lives came to a screeching halt. “What are we going to do now?” was a question that loomed heavily over our heads during that time. Thankfully, sometimes the best things in life come at the end of extraordinary hardship. We were still young (27 and 28) and after dealing with the initial miserable business of filing bankruptcy and feeling like utter failures, pivoting to a new career, though awkward and painful at times, was also exhilarating and rewarding. We spent the better part of the next four years scraping by and putting ourselves through advertising school through a combination of odd jobs and student loans.
“What are we going to do now?” was a question that loomed heavily over our heads during that time.
Jorge studied digital media and motion graphics at the Creative Circus in Atlanta. He transferred to Portfolio Center (also located in Atlanta) after six quarters and that’s when I learned of the illustration program there and started two weeks later. Ad school was a helluva time. We like to call it boot camp for creatives. You spend two years totally immersing yourself in learning the ins and outs of the industry and your chosen specialty. It was definitely a life changing experience for the two of us who had both grown up viewing creative endeavors as fun past times but not something to be considered serious careers paths. That all changed when we learned of and then studied commercial art. Our background as small business owners, dealing with business administration and clients really gave us a unique perspective and jump start in our creative careers. We both hit the ground running and were freelancing for clients before we even finished school. I’ll get more into how we got clients in my next post, but for now I’d like to share some potential paths you can take to get into a creative field like the ones we are in.
One thing I really like about this industry is that there is not a huge emphasis on which piece of paper you received from what university. What matters is your skill, your drive, and your work ethic. If you have a portfolio of work that shows you can think through a problem and then have the skill to execute the solution, that matters more than any certificate of completion ever could. That being said, there are a number of programs out there that can really help prepare you for the industry and give you a jump start to your career.
Many folks in our industry take a traditional educational route:
1. graduate from high school
2. study design or communication or marketing or psychology, etc at a four year university
3. attend an ad school or masters program
4. enter the workforce
Others have no formal education and use online learning to hone their skills in the programs necessary to execute creative work. I’d probably recommend something in between the two. We skipped the four year bachelor’s part and went straight into studying our chosen specialities at industry schools usually referred to as Portfolio schools or Ad schools. Some examples of these schools would include The Creative Circus, Portfolio Center, Miami Ad School, Chicago Portfolio School, VCU Brandcenter, Ringling College of Art and Design, and Hyper Island. Those are a just a few that exist around the world so hopefully that can give you a jumping off point for further research if you’re interested.
The benefits of going to one of these industry schools is that you get a highly specialized and immersive experience in your chosen speciality. Compared to a four year university, the two year timeline and budget are about half of what you might invest in a four year school offering the same level of instruction. The instructors at these industry schools are more often than not working professionals themselves so you can get great insight and mentorship on what’s currently going on in your speciality. You are also gaining a network of industry peers, references, and connections before you even leave school. With all that said, one of these schools is still a huge investment of time and money and most do not have accreditation so you would be working towards a certificate and a portfolio when you finish rather than a bachelors or masters degree. The programs of study typically offered at these schools are Art Direction, Copywriting, Digital Media, Design, Photography, and Illustration.
If you’re not sure if you want to invest the amount of time and money to your creative education that a four year or Portfolio school would require, some online resources you should check out to get you started would be Skillshare, Lynda.com, Creative Live, Creative Boom, and Udemy. Regardless of which path you take, the most important thing is that you START SOMEWHERE. Dive on in, the water will probably be frigid and uncomfortable at first but you’ll get used to it. Somewhere along the away you’ll start reveling in the joy and freedom that comes from wading in these waters where it seems your heart was swimming the whole time. It took me until I was 28 to start on this path that I’m currently on. I graduated school and started my creative career at the ripe ole age of 30. If your current path just feels wrong, do something about it! It’s never too late to change the road you’re on.
If you have any additional specific questions about how we got to this point in our careers or our schooling, please feel free to ask in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer in a timely fashion!