Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
I am Emily Gardiner, 32 years old, and live in a little county called Rutland. I’m the Founder of Free To Be Creative – a branding and design agency that gives businesses an injection of creativity and a distinct identity through scroll-stopping design; breathing life into ideas to make them a reality.
As well as renovating my dream cottage in the countryside with my new partner, I now run the business with my best friend and cousin Rebekah – we traveled the world together and have creativity running through our veins, which we now share with ambitious entrepreneurs.
What does your job involve? What happens on a typical day?
Typically, I start my day with my morning routine by checking my emails and clearing my inbox to keep me from any distractions.
I then write a to-do list in my fancy diary (who doesn’t love ticking off the items?) and then start the priorities. Time blocking everything really helps keep me focused – especially as I am switching from my work phone, to my iMac and my Wacom design tablet.
If I am working on a branding project, I will start by doing research and finding inspiration around me – through industry magazines, trends, or even by going outside in nature. This is why travel is so huge for me – picking up smells, textures, colours, sounds, shapes, and patterns from your surroundings brings about incredible inspiration for creative projects.
I then create moodboards for the client based on their brand strategy and identity and really reflect that through the brand visuals – I love capturing ideas for clients and making them a reality. Once approved by the client, it is design time and time to get super creative. I use Inkscape and Illustrator to create bespoke logo[s] and branding designs based on my research and provide a plethora of designs so my client has options.
What’s great about what you do?
I get to bring ideas to life through design when others find it hard to get ideas down on paper – being able to do this gives me great joy and allows me to use my skills and make them a reality. There's no limit when it comes to creativity and it's a privilege to be able to work with empowered business owners and bring their branding alive.
I get to work around the world – thanks to my laptop and wifi. If I want, I could book a flight to Bali and work from a hammock drinking a dragonfruit cocktail. It’s the freedom. I love to travel, gain inspiration and put that into my work. I also get to work with my best friend who is also a creative, and two creatives make a powerful outcome.
What are the toughest parts of your job?
Hands down, if you work hard on a design and it fits the brief, but the client doesn’t like it, you can’t help but be a bit disappointed. But, I have learned that I must let go of the personal attachments because it’s all about the client and making them happy – in fact not happy but EXCITED about the designs and final outcome.
What are the highlights of your career to date?
My highlights to date are doubling my income compared to what I earned in my corporate role – that was all down to me investing in myself, in the business, and making sure I develop my skills and knowledge every single day.
I also signed four dream clients in one week after an in-person event in London with incredible women, where I explained my passion for design and branding!
Another highlight is sharing my success with my best friend and cousin Rebekah, who is now my partner, have some big plans for 2023 including a VIP branding day which we can’t wait to launch.
What's been the biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge was letting go of social media management for clients and outsourcing it because it drained too much of my energy and time. Instagram is great in small doses, but doing all the strategy, design, and management for multiple accounts was getting too much for my mental health. So, I decided to let go of the fear, invest in a business coach, and made plans to keep it in my agency, but get an associate to help me with the areas I was struggling in.
Saying no to things and red flag clients that drain you, will reserve your creative energy for dream projects and clients. Challenges are often gifts, we just have to work through the sticky patch to see the lesson and positive outcome.
What was your career path into this job? Have you also worked outside the arts?
I first found my love for art and creativity at school then through to college where I did an art, design, and fashion BTEC (plus photography as an extra subject). I then had a bit of a u-turn after hearing ‘people in the arts don’t get any money’, so went to do nursing at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge.
After this, I studied early years education at university but knew it wasn’t for me. I then went and worked for retail giant ‘Boots’ in marketing and loved being able to be a bit creative again.
But the death of my father in 2017 when I was 27 left a huge hole in my life, it was this experience that made me realise life was too short and that I needed to follow my dreams and make him proud. So, I started my own business and focused on using my creativity again!
That is when 'Free To Be Creative' was born. I have now worked with over 50 businesses and brands in a creative capacity and completed a graphic design course with Central St Martins University.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry in recent times? If so, what?
It goes without saying, the online business world has had a massive shake-up post-pandemic where people, brands, and companies don’t need to hire a full-time designer in their team – they can outsource projects or areas of the business to online design agencies like mine.
People are understanding the importance of good design and impactful branding. They get that building a recognisable brand requires experts and can’t just be done in ‘canva’ on a whim. Building a brand starts from the inside out and people are finally getting that.
How has your background, upbringing and education had an impact on your artistic career?
After college, I was told by people around me that ‘artists don’t earn enough money’ and this really threw me off and actually delayed my entry into a creative role. I wish I knew then what I know now and had given myself a pep talk.
My education was a mixture of artistic and non-artistic ventures – but all of them had transferable skills that have been invaluable to being a business owner.
You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?
‘Follow your heart and your dreams and go for that creative education. Creativity runs through your veins and you shouldn’t ignore those instincts. Remember who you are and what sets your soul on fire. You can do ANYTHING when you put your mind to it and you can change the world with your creative energy!’
Do you have any advice for young people interested in your field?
Follow your instincts and ignore those who don’t believe a creative career path is lucrative because trust me it is! You have been blessed with a creative mind and you need to share that with the world – don’t rob them of your creativity and talent.
Where can people find you and your work online?