Tell us a little about Skirven & Croft.
We’re an all purpose visual & vibe curation team. Lately, we’ve been specializing in brand identity systems and custom illustrations for small to medium-sized businesses and organizations from all around the world. Our goal is to do work with folks who have similar beliefs and ideals as us, and who provide products or services that we’d actually use. We split our time between a home office in our Richmond, VA apartment and a co-working space called 804RVA. Mostly, we strive to have fun and don’t take ourselves too seriously.
What motivated you to start your own business with Ali?
Ali and I had crossed paths previously, but we truly met when she interviewed me for my first “real” design job. She was the creative director; we got together a few times to discuss projects while I was contracting for the company and our relationship pretty much grew immediately from there. Now we’re engaged and it’s awesome.
From 2012 and on we both had separate freelance clients outside of our full-time jobs. This was mostly passive—neither of us were promoting ourselves or looking for projects, and in fact for a period we tried to actively turn down stuff because it was eating away at all of our free time. That didn’t really work out, mostly because everything we were doing was a lot of fun and for people we loved, so it was always hard to say no. Despite this, in late 2013 we saw an opportunity we wanted to act on, and submitted an unsolicited proposal to revamp Blanchard’s Coffee Company’s visual identity. I view that as the launch of our company (though we didn’t really declare anything). It was the first independent project that we took on that was a commitment to working together.
Most of 2014 kind of evaporated before our eyes because we were working 9a to 5p and then coming home and working until we went to bed most nights of the week. On the weekends, we felt guilty if we weren’t making progress on freelance projects. We were still spending time together and we were still able to do lots of fun things, but we were working A LOT. In hindsight, we know it was an unhealthy amount, but we were passionate about what we were working on at home.
We hit a breaking point eventually. Our side projects were amazing: they were the types of clients we wanted to be working with and they trusted us to do good work. On the other hand our days jobs were feeling bureaucratic, stressful, and ultimately unfulfilling. We also had a growing itch to travel and generally have more ownership over our own time. Ali left her job first and I followed a few weeks later. Skirven & Croft had been growing under our noses for years so it was natural and easy once we finally stepped back and realized we needed to make a decision lest we lose our minds. Quitting our jobs was scary but we figured there probably wouldn’t ever be a “better” time to try it on our own. We’ve been our own bosses since November 2014 and we hope to never have another boss again.
What are some future goals for Skirven & Croft?
Our future goals are pretty simple. Keep working with individuals and teams who are running mission-driven businesses to create impactful and beautiful work, and have fun doing it. (Mission-driven meaning the pursuit of growth and revenue naturally produces mission-related benefits for a greater social good, on a large or small scale.) I feel like that’s a pretty feel-good, typical answer for any designer, but we’re truly happy in this zone. The goal isn’t to get big name clients, grow to be a large team, or get our work in front of as many people as possible. It’s more about working on projects we enjoy, making enough money to live a comfortable lifestyle, and not work ourselves to the bone doing so.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to do freelance work?
- Budget – Get your money right. Know what you have, what you need to live each month, and stay on top of it. Many say you should have a full year’s salary saved before you make the jump into freelance, which of course is great advice, but realistically, I’m not sure how many people do that. We didn’t, but had a cushion of 2-3 months expenses worth just in case. I was fortunate enough to meet Ali, who is a spreadsheet Queen and we were able kickstart good budgeting practice since we were planning for a wedding / life together, but seeing where and how you spend your money is really important, especially if you’re thinking about jumping from a comfy job to start a freelance career.
- Don’t do it all yourself. Hire a CPA for your taxes, make friends with a web developer if you can’t do that, become friends with great photographers, find someone who is doing what you want to do and learn as much as you can. Build a trusted team around you. Trying to do everything yourself will result in stress, errors, and exhaustion.
- Build a team of trusted friends and confidants. Though you might dread big group critique while you’re in class, once you’re out of that environment you’ll really want to have some folks who you know can give you informed critique about your work.
- Work makes work. Even if you don’t have a paid project on the line, use that time to practice and make yourself better. You can always be better. Make sure you share your progress. People won’t know what you do unless you show them.
- Be honest. Run spell check. Don’t waste people’s time.
Tell us about your drawing a days and how that has helped you?
Honestly, I started that project on a hungover whim on the first day of 2014. It was hard as hell, but ended up reaping great rewards. I learned more about my work and my process in that year than I have in the five years since being at JMU. It pushed my self-discipline and thanks to Instagram and Tumblr, put my work in front of a ton of people that might have otherwise never seen any of my work. Sharing was a huge part of it for me because it kept me accountable. Ali was a huge support. We’d crawl into bed at night and it would be 1145pm and she’d say “Have you posted a drawing yet?” and I’d have to get up and do it. That’s love right there.
The drawings helped me in a lot of my projects as well. Clients & friends have approached me about logo or illustration projects and they often use those images from Instagram as a reference point. I can employ a lot of different styles and approaches, so the posts provide people a sushi menu of what I can do. Some of the drawings have turned into prints or have informed my personal artwork. It’s great to have a bank of original images to look through for inspiration. I’d definitely recommend a 365 project to anyone.
What is your favorite kind of ice cream?
I enjoy different flavors, but I’m a chocolate man through and through. Phish Food and NY Super Fudge Chunk from Ben & Jerry’s are my corner-store favorites. Richmond has a lot of frozen yogurt shops, and Ali and I were on a kick with that for a while – but that’s less about the flavor of the base and more about the toppings. The yogurt’s just a vessel for the Snickers and Twix and various cereals and gummy worms.
At the end of the day, just give me a scoop of chocolate on a waffle cone and I’ll walk away with a smile.