Jobs for digital nomads – Interview with a visual designer

In this interview, I had a virtual chat with Madeline Kate. She’s 27 years old and is currently working as a full-time creative manager for a digital agency, and also as a freelance designer. In this interview, Madeline is sharing her inspiring story of achievement.

I found this interview with Madeline extremely inspiring. It’s a story of endurance and determination. She transformed her dream into a tangible goal, she knew what her passions have always been and that she wanted to leverage on them to build her career.

As she will later mention, if you work hard you can achieve your dream life.

I say, by experience, first, make sure you know what you want and have a clear idea of what your goals are, and then work hard to achieve them, no matter what the other people will tell you.

Also, be ready to pivot and be flexible, you never know if there is a covid around the corner.

But enough with the introduction, with no further ado, here is Madeline’s incredible story of achievement and success, at only 27.

Photo © Madeline Kate

Q1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself first?

I’m originally from Southern Illinois, moved to the Chicago area for school, and then stayed for work. I have worked as a professional designer in agencies for the past 7 years. I currently work full-time managing a small creative team at a digital marketing agency that serves car dealerships across the country. I also work at night and on the weekends as a freelance visual designer

Q2. What is your background? your education and your previous job? 

I hold a Bachelor’s of Graphic Design, and a Masters of Management specializing in Design & Media. I landed in the design area of my love for art.

I grew up as a fine artist, always drawing, coloring, painting, or playing the piano.

As I became older, I wanted to do something that was creative, but also reliable enough to support myself and be successful. Graphic design seemed like a good fit, so I decided to go to school and try it out. I worked all through college but never had a design job until I was near graduation with my Master’s near the end of 2014.

I started out as a graphic designer for a promotional products company. I owe all of my strengths in the field to my mentor, Noel, who I was lucky enough to call my boss.

He taught me so much and pushed me to be the person I am today. I was very fortunate over my 5 years with that company to design for some top brands, such as McDonald’s, GoDaddy, Wells Fargo, NOW foods, and many more. This experience helped me to have diversity in my design style and skillset.

Q3. What made you decide to become a digital nomad? 

I grew up in a small town in southern Illinois, where there wasn’t much diversity. When I moved to Chicago, there was so much opportunity for me to venture out and explore different cultures.

I spent weekends taking public transportation to China Town, Little Village, and other ethnic districts. I wanted to try new food, appreciate the artwork, and start a conversation with someone new. I had never had hummus, dim sum, or chilaquiles before I moved to Chicago.

These experiences really sparked a fire within me to want to learn more about the world we live in. Fast forward a few years later, I had just started a new job as a creative manager when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

After a few months of working from home, I realized how free I felt. I saved hours of my day from not having to commute from the suburbs to the city.

I was able to cook my lunches fresh, instead of meal prepping for hours every Sunday. And, I was still developing a stellar team and putting out work that kept our clients happy, even during such a turbulent time in the automotive industry.

This made me realize that if I can work from my home and be successful, I could work from anywhere!

I started reminiscing of my travels to different ethnic neighborhoods and thinking of how much I could have learned about a place if I was to stay there for weeks or months at a time. I nervously told my employer my plans to travel full-time, and they were supportive of me!

Being forced to stay at home due to COVID showed both myself and my employer that remote working can be just as effective. I am not sure I would have had the confidence to make this transition if COVID wouldn’t have changed the world as we once knew it.

These experiences really sparked a fire within me to want to learn more about the world we live in.

Photo © Madeline Kate

Q4. So this is how you transitioned from office work to working from home and then from anywhere basically?

Yes, exactly. The pandemic forced me into working from home and at the same time let me see it as an amazing opportunity.

I have also worked as a freelance designer for the past 6 or 7 years. Once I started working from home, I had more time to dedicate to freelancing. This allowed me to grow my clientele and reputation. I believe that this has also had a great part to play in my ability to transition to nomadic life.

Thanks to my dedication to building my freelancing platform, I am in a very strong position in my career. If the agency I work for were to, unfortunately, decide to not allow me to work remotely in the future, I have a plan to fall back on.

Q5. Can you share what’s your daily work routine? And what are the main tasks in your job?

One thing I really enjoy about what I do is that every day is different. At its core, Design is all about solving problems. My job is to develop new creative ways to solve my client’s problems.

In less abstract terms, I help to define the creative vision for my agency and our clients and then I oversee the entire process to ensure that all elements of a project are aligned with the brand standards. On any given day you could find me designing images for a website or advertising campaign, training teammates on new brand guidelines and their impact, meeting with other department managers to improve processes, approving designs for marketing materials, or meeting with vendors to determine if a new software could provide more efficiency in our work. I do a lot! 😅

Q6. What do you think are the main skills required in your field?

One of the main skills that I don’t see listed a lot for the type of work I do is self-management. As a designer and remote worker, you have to constantly be managing yourself and your time to make sure that you meet all deliverables that are due for that day. Other skills that I need to do what I do is creativity, leadership, communication, and technology skills.

Also it’s important to have a good knowledge of the main design related softwares. I personally use Adobe Creative Suite, Illustrator and Photoshop mostly but I also use Adobe Indesign, XD, and Bannersnack to create animated display ads.

Q7. Where do you find your clients for your freelance job?

When I was in school I was classmates with a girl who ended up starting her own freelance marketing business. She uses me as her primary designer, so any clientele she works with that may need design services sends them my way.

I recently have been finding more freelance work through a platform called Upwork. I really enjoy working through the platform and have found quite a bit of success from it. Here is my profile.

All of my freelance clients outside of Upwork have been word-of-mouth referrals from other clients or previous colleagues or classmates.

Q8. Where have you been traveling as a digital nomad and what is your favorite country (or if you have more than one)? and why? 

I plan to start traveling within the United States. Hopefully later in the year, and pending a vaccination, I will be able to comfortably travel abroad. I was supposed to go to France in May of 2020, and I am so excited to finally go abroad and explore all of Europe.

Q9. Did the present pandemic affect your work? How did you face the challenges? 

My full-time position is at an agency that serves car dealerships. When the pandemic hit, a lot of our dealerships struggled to make sales, and most of them quit spending money on advertising. I had to furlough and let go of some of my team. It was a difficult time, and I was worried about my own job security. But our teammates came together and found different ways to provide services to clients which helped us keep the relationships strong. After a few months of hardship, we began seeing more work come in and I eventually was able to hire a new designer.

Chicago Photo © Madeline Kate

Q10. How do you stay focused and motivated while working on your own? how do you organize your day? Do you use any apps to help you stay organized? 

This was one of the main skills I listed above! Too funny, I promise I did not read ahead. 🙂 When I am in a meeting either with a client or co-worker discussing a new project, I use Notion to quickly type notes about the objectives, deadlines, or inspirational links.

I then transfer my notes into action items and write them, in a variety of different colored gel pens, in my hard-cover planner.

I’m very diligent to keep track of what is in my planner for the day, to make sure I do not miss a deadline or follow-up email. I also use Office 365 to set category tags on emails to make sure I respond and will add reminders in the calendar app for any important meetings or critical launch dates.

Q11. How much can a visual designer earn approximately? Can you give a range? 

As a freelance designer doing what I do around $60,000 – $90,000 USD. As a creative manager / associate director doing what I do around $70,000 – $100,000 USD

Q12. And last what advice would you give to those who want to follow your path? Can you share three tips or as many as you want? 

This sounds cliche, but work hard! You never know who, or where, your next opportunity may lie. I have landed a lot of freelance opportunities that only came to me because a former employee or classmate recognized my hard-work and reached out to me for services. I’d also recommend just try it out for a week if it’s your thing. In January I stayed in Ft. Lauderdale for 10 days in an Airbnb to learn what it would be like to work and stay in a different state. I learned many things during this experience which helped me to make my decision to go full-nomad.

Did you enjoy Madeline’s interview as I did? If you have any questions for her please don’t be shy and ask away in the comments below. Or check her BIO to see where you can find her

About Madeline

Hey there, I’m Madeline Kate. I’m a small-town girl who moved to the Chicago-land area to go after my big dreams of running my own design studio. I hold a Bachelor’s of Graphic Design and a Master’s in Digital Media Management, and also boast 7 years of agency experience. I currently have a full-time gig managing a team of creatives at a digital marketing agency. You can check out some of my work at: Madeline Kate Studio and follow me on IG @madelinekatestudio