It’s not that Nicola Black was itching to strike out on her own. The work she was getting was interesting enough, from doing production for a major newspaper to creating posters and DVD box art for a film and entertainment company.
“I would see some of my work in Blockbuster—when it was still around,” says Black.
She even had the opportunity to create film festival program guides, ads, and marketing campaigns helping to tap into new markets.
“I realized I had a flair for this thing, and I wondered, ‘Why am I not doing this for other people?’” says Black. “I had the itch to start my own business and work with a bunch of different clients.”
So she founded Nicola Black Design, LLC, a full-service graphic design company which currently specializes in identity and branding design. First thing she had to do—and quickly—was build up a roster of clients.
“I wrote down the names of all the people I knew, and the people who I knew would need me,” Black says. “And I just let people know I’m available for contract work.”
Especially when she was starting out, social media was her “best friend.”
“I started with keyword searches of people looking for wedding invitations, of all things, and reached out to them,” Black says. “It’s part of the hustle to look for work by seeing what people are talking about and then putting your hat in the ring.”
She also stays active in the creative community, serving as the Freelancers Union Philadelphia/South Jersey Spark leader as well as director of South Jersey Creatives. A member of Philadelphia’s WeWork 1601 Market, she invites freelancers to the space the first Wednesday of every month to discuss topics like how to deal with difficult clients.
“It’s a fun way for me to keep in touch with my fellow creatives and build community,” Black says.
At another event sponsored by a WeWork member, she started talking with a woman who noticed Nicola’s name tag read “graphic design professional.” The woman contacted her the next day to talk about a big branding project.
“She told me her story, and I said, ‘I can totally help you,’” says Black, who has 16 years of experience in the industry. “She booked me for a full branding project that runs through February.”
A lot of people come to Black for advice on how to stay afloat as a freelancer. And though she doesn’t have all the answers, she says she’s been able to share her experiences.
“I come from the creative world, where some people aren’t interested in sharing technical knowledge or their successes and failures in business, and it’s so detrimental,” Black says. “I’ve learned along the way that sharing knowledge with upcoming designers—showing them the ropes, and letting them know they can do this, and sharing with the community—has been incredibly important for my growth and theirs.”
Photo: Jessie Fox