Change the way you think - Designer Caitlin McEvoy

Caitlin McEvoy Freelance Podcast

Despite working full-time and freelancing on the side, Caitlin’s made a big impact. From being a finalist in IPSE’s Freelancer of the Year Awards in 2015, to designing her own range of clothing to combat the stigma around mental health issues, Caitlin’s side hustle is impressive.

Caitlin’s a self-taught designer who tasted her first slice of the freelance pie aged just 16. We talk about finding clients, building a portfolio, using freelance projects to save for a rainy day, and how Caitlin manages freelancing alongside a full-time job.

Caitlin also opens up about her own struggles with mental health and the lessons she’s learned along the way. She’s an advocate for changing public perceptions and encouraging sufferers to carry on and go after the things they want. And she’s doing it the best way she knows how - through design.


Steve Folland:      Let’s hear how you got started being freelance.

Caitlin McEvoy:     That's quite a long story now, and it goes back to maybe when I was 10 or 11. So we're talking about 17 years ago. My brother started doing web design at a very young age, he was a couple of years older than me, and this was back in the day where Fireworks and Dreamweaver were a big thing for web design, but the internet wasn't really a massive thing. So everybody learned whatever they could from text books and stuff. So there were always these massive books lying around, and I just thought what he was doing was somewhat interesting. I had no idea what it was. So I learnt bits and pieces from him, where you code from scratch, which nobody ever seems to do anymore.

Caitlin McEvoy:     But graphics was always my favourite subject at school, and it was something that I was very easily tailored towards, and when it came to doing GCSE graphics, it's probably where I really found what I was interested in. And we had to design a 3D novelty calculator, and it was very heavily influenced by American sport. And that where my design style comes from, and I realised very early on that American culture is where my style is. But I didn't study design at Uni. I knew a couple of people who did, and they still can't get a job in it at all. So I decided that if I was going to do it, I was just going to do it on my own. So I went to Uni and I did something else completely, but still wound up in design anyway.

Steve Folland:      So what did you do at Uni?

Caitlin McEvoy:     American studies.

Steve Folland:      While you were there, were you continuing to do design work?

Caitlin McEvoy:     Oh yeah, I was designing stuff on the side. I had clients in America who were coming to me. But I had no idea how they found me. And then, I did a lot of art related modules at Uni. And there was always a case where you needed to give a presentation or something, and I would always go to town on it and it would be really well designed, and people would love it. I can't tell you the content was any good, but they seemed to love the design of it.

Steve Folland:      So, suddenly you've said "Yeah I had clients in America", and so it feels like we stepped ... when did you first get your first freelance client then in that?

Caitlin McEvoy:     I think it was probably before I even went to Uni. So probably about 16 and you get friends or family who are like, "Oh yeah, I know you've dealt with this design and they're really good. Can they just do me this quick thing for me?" And it always escalates from a quick thing. And that's how it all starts. It's like a friend of a friend, or word of mouth. I started before, again, the Internet was a huge thing so it was a lot easier to get yourself out there, so word of mouth is always been my main port of call really.

Steve Folland:      What happened when you finished it?

Caitlin McEvoy:     I was in my final year of Uni and one of my friends on my course had taken over as editor of the student newspaper and he was like, "It's an absolute mess. We need somebody to come in and design it for us because I've got no idea what I'm doing." I'm like, okay, I'll think about it." Then I really got into it and then at the end of the academic year shall we say, they run a student union awards and there was a media awards that night and I was sat on the top table with the deputy editor of the Hull Daily Mail newspaper because I was based in Hull, and he was our guest of honour that night. And he was like, "What are your plans after Uni?" I'm like, "I'm going to go and be a teacher." And he said, "Don't do it. That's wasted. We've got a job, you should come in and do it for us." And I said, "Okay then."

Steve Folland:      So the local paper guy is sitting on the table with you and awards for a paper that you reluctantly designed, and offers you a job?

Caitlin McEvoy:     Yeah.

Steve Folland:      Amazing. So you took it?

Caitlin McEvoy:     Yeah. Of course, I took it.

Steve Folland:      And what happened then?

Caitlin McEvoy:     I worked there for about three and a half years and the company gradually got bigger and bigger and newspapers and print are struggling a lot recently. And the company, the Hull Daily Mail was owned by, got bought out by a bigger company called Trinity Mirror, who basically, when they just bought Sun and Daily Express and stuff. So they're expanding massively, but it came to a point about two, two and a half years ago, where they wanted to relocate all of creative to Manchester, but I didn't want to move to Manchester. So I was facing redundancy and they saved my job anyway. But I left because I felt like I'd done everything I could do and I took some clients with me, which are still some clients today, but yeah, that's our long I was there and how it ended up being.

Steve Folland:      When you were designing the paper, what were you designing?

Caitlin McEvoy:     It started off as ad work and then I have this tendency of getting very bored very easily when stuff comes very repetitive. And I remember sitting down with my manager one day and I said, "Look, I know I've only been here six months, but I'm really bored." And he said, "Well, what do you want me to do?" And I said, "Well, can I have some editorial work?" Then, one day a week or so I was supposed to be set on doing editorial work, which is doing the front page, that layout web stuff. Then that ended up becoming more of my full-time role. So that then became my speciality and print never left me even though it is a dying art.

Steve Folland:      So you evolved your skills by openly saying you were bored. When you said you took clients with you, who-

Caitlin McEvoy:     Yeah. I was still doing advertising work for some of the bigger corporate clients. One or two of them are reached out to me before redundancy was even on the cards and said to me, "Okay, we've got X, Y, and Z that needs doing, would you be interested in doing it outside of work?" And I said, "Well, yeah, of course. Why not?" And yeah, the money was good, and the experience was good and these are really good clients to have to really build up my portfolio. So when I said we're going through redundancy, and I don't really know the state of where I'll be job-wise, or where I'll be location wise, what can you offer me? And one or two said, "Yeah, we'll keep you on the books. You're a really good worker. Why would we not want to work with you." And one or two just decided, "Now we'll stick with who we've got because they're cheaper."

Steve Folland:      So choosing to leave when redundancy was on the card, that's when you finally find yourself full-time freelance, or did you go to one of those companies and continued to freelance on the side?

Caitlin McEvoy:     I was freelancing on the side. I applied for jobs here, there and everywhere in Nottingham because my family is based here and I was to put it frankly, incredibly miserable in Hull and my mental health is really struggling. So I had to do what was best for me, which revolved in relocating and taking on a job that had a lot less pressure, but I'm actually very thankful for that because it gives me a lot more flexibility and free time now to dedicate myself to doing the freelance side of work.

Steve Folland:      So the job you left after that is where you are now?

Caitlin McEvoy:     Yes it is. Yeah.

Steve Folland:      And how long ago was that?

Caitlin McEvoy:     Two years ago, this month.

Steve Folland:      So how much of your time then is split between your full-time role and freelance work?

Caitlin McEvoy:     I'm very fortunate that my full-time job is very flexible. So when there is downtime, down periods, but then I do get quiet times every now and then. If I say I'm incredibly busy freelance wise, they're like okay, just do it quietly here. Just don't tell anybody. I'd rather you did your other work here that kept you busy, than you look for another job, which is great, but because it's so flexible, I come into the office at seven and I leave at three. Then I get to go home and I've got a couple of hours easy in the early afternoon and evening to get some extra work done without actually losing so much of my nights that I would have to myself.

Steve Folland:      I think a lot of people listening will become, well, that employer sounds incredible. You're obviously very open with them. Just as you were with your previous boss when you were like, "Yeah, I get bored. Can I do something else please?"

Caitlin McEvoy:     Well, I think that's the only way to do it. Whether it's full-time employment or freelance, I think you've got to be as open as possible because they are trusting you with a service and you don't want to rip them off or lead them on to say that you can do something when you can't. I think it goes two ways. There's got to be some open communication there.

Steve Folland:      And as far as that freelance work goes that you're doing in the early afternoons or in between stuff, where is that work coming from, is it still word of mouth or?

Caitlin McEvoy:     A lot of the time it's word of mouth. I've still got a lot of clients that are based up in Hull, but they don't really care where I am in the world as long as the work gets done. There's been some clients that I've had that I've lost previously who were like, well if you're not based in the same city as we are, then we don't want to use you. And it's the same as when you look at jobs that are freelance or advertise as freelance. They still want you to go into their office of work and I'm like, that's not what it's about. That's not for me.

Steve Folland:      You mentioned you get very bored very easily when things get repetitive. So how are you managing that? Is it because you've got the balance of full time and freelance, or have you got lots of side projects or hobbies or how are you stopping yourself from getting bored?

Caitlin McEvoy:     I've got many side projects, so one side project is just the general freelance. The oversight project is my company District23, which is a clothing company, but it focuses on promoting the positive sides of mental health and how you know it's okay not to be okay and really trying to change people's perceptions on what mental health is. So that's one avenue, but in the last maybe year or two, I've really tried to work harder on getting a work-life balance. So I put my mental health first, which means saying no to certain things and having a bit more of a life, which isn't always easy, but it's a challenge and I'm trying to do better with it.

Steve Folland:      So your clothing, District23, and we'll put a link of You do the designs but you're doing everything?

Caitlin McEvoy:     Yeah, I do it all. Originally when it started, it was more of an experiment and a playground to learn new skills because I was incredibly bored in my job. So I was learning stuff about screen printing and how to set up shops and figuring out how to ship things and learning a whole different side to a business that I didn't know about before. And then I did a masters distance learning actually a couple of years ago on top of all of my other things because you know, incredibly bored. One of the modules in my masters actually allowed me to take District23 and dedicate a good six months to it and really develop it into what I wanted it to be.

Caitlin McEvoy:     So it became less of a place for experimentation and screen printing. And it became more about, okay, what am I passionate about? What do I think the world needs? Or what do I think the niche is in clothing? And I said, you know what? My mental health is a huge thing for me. And I know other people struggle with it, but it wasn't a massively open conversation before like it is now. So I decided, you know what? I'm going to do something good with it and put my experience out there as well. And see if it helps other people.

Steve Folland:      That's so cool. It sounds like you don't mind talking about it. So what was your situation and how did you find work helping you, or hindering you? Because it sounds like you figured out how to make changes for the positive.

Caitlin McEvoy:     I went through a really rough few years actually, and this has probably been going on about 10 years or so now. And I think when my signs first were notice, I was about 16, and then you go to a doctor, and you're a teenage girl, and they're like, 'It's hormonal, you'll be fine here, just take something and you'll be fine'. And then when I got to my end of my second year of Uni, I was really, really down. I had no real reason to be other than general life stress and family drama, but nothing that no normal person wouldn't deal with, but I just couldn't cope with it. And my brother was struggling as well. It was really bad anxiety.

Caitlin McEvoy:     So when it got to about the beginning of my third year, I was like, you know what? I really need to do something about this. And I went to a doctor and they gave me one of these tests to fill out. I filled out and they go, "Yeah, you're quite severely depressed. How have you not been diagnosed beforehand?" So I did some therapy and medication, which I've been on way too long apparently. So about two weeks ago they took me off my medication and said, "You don't need that anymore. You can be grown up and deal with life stresses on your own." So, this is a whole new learning curve for me.

Steve Folland:      The way you say, "Yeah, apparently I've been on it too long." So they don't keep an eye on ...

Caitlin McEvoy:     Well, no. Apparently, if you're depressed, or you've got anxiety or something, supposedly they treat you for a year and that's the time frame they give you to get yourself together or level yourself out. And I've been treated with medication for six years and they said, "The reason you probably feeling the way you do now, which is more anxious, very sleep deprived and a bunch of other things is they said, you are probably actually hindering yourself now and you don't need to be on it. So try without it." And other good things and bad things that have come with it. So my production rate's gone up but I'm exhausted. It's just now learning how to level things out yourself and that's putting work-life balance and even more so making sure I get that as best I can.

Steve Folland:      It sounds like you're deliberately trying to switch off work of to a certain time because you said about working in the afternoons.

Caitlin McEvoy:     Yeah. I try to, I'm sorry, I try, emphasis on try, by 8:00 in the evening. I want to be done and dusted. I don't want to touch my phone, I don't want to read any email, I don't want anything to do with technology. I just want to go to bed.

Steve Folland:      How have you found using social media? A lot of us feel that we need to get on there for our businesses, and obviously you're promoting one as well with District23, but then also there's a sense of community there. Has it been good or bad or?

Caitlin McEvoy:     I think for me I find social media a double edge sword in that it's great, but I said the community is out there. I think it's also just from a design perspective, incredibly difficult because everybody seems to be copying each other now and I've had a couple of designs of my ripped off in the past and I know a few of the designers have as well. So as great as it is to have a very up to date portfolio through something like Instagram, it's also very negative because you end up comparing yourself to other people, or you need to copy somebody else, or you're following trends and you eventually lose a part of yourself. So it's making sure that social media doesn't run your life, and more that you run your social media.

Steve Folland:      When people have ripped off your designs, is that something you've had to chase or you've just parked and shrugged off?

Caitlin McEvoy:     Sometimes I shrug it off. It depends how much of a copy it is. Over times I've just gone to them directly and I said, "You know what? That's not right. You either take it down, or redesign it or you pay me some fee for using it and in the end they just end up taking it down because they don't want to pay me money.

Steve Folland:      Is that companies, by the way or other designers?

Caitlin McEvoy:     There's been one or two designers who have done it, and then there's smaller companies who are very clearly ripped it off because it's a local thing. So you notice it very easily. I had one company, was a hostel that I designed for, and then they closed down and another hostel went into the same building and they pretty much just ripped off the entire logo and the site. And you've not even tried to make yourself look like a different business.

Steve Folland:      So from a financial point of view, I often say, how do you cope with the financial side of being freelance? Has it not been such an issue for you because you do it on the side? So if there's a degree of security there?

Caitlin McEvoy:     Yeah. I would never say I'm money focused. As much as I would love loads of money, I don't think it would make me any happier or change what I was doing in my life work Wise. I will say I do declare I do my taxes, I do everything by the book. But it's incredibly stressful when they maybe see it as a second income, but they think you're going to earn more than you've actually said you're going to earn. And for me, freelancing isn't a case of I want to get really rich. It's a case of being a graphic designer as a day job. It doesn't pay enough to make ends meet. So freelancing is my fallback option so that there's always money saved for the rainy day or for whatever's needed. I can do it. Whether that's update in tech kit, with new computers and stuff. That's what my freelance work pays for.

Steve Folland:      Have you, because I used to freelance on the side for a long time before I did it full time. My freelance money went into my personal account. Do you do that or have you approached it more business wise than I did?

Caitlin McEvoy:     It goes into my personal account, but then as soon as it goes in, it goes out and goes into a savings account.

Steve Folland:      You said, yeah. You're smart.

Caitlin McEvoy:     Yeah. That's the way to do it.

Steve Folland:      And do you then think, okay this bit is for tax, or you like putting it there and think you don't touch it till the end of the year or you ...?

Caitlin McEvoy:     I try not to touch it until the end of the year and if I do need to touch it, I'm like okay, I need to be aware of how much I'm going to have to owe the tax man. So I try to make sure I've got a bit of reserve, but really I try definitely try not to touch it at all until the end of April and it's all squared away.

Steve Folland:      That must be quite nice. It's like being paid a bonus at the end of the year.

Caitlin McEvoy:     Yes. Let's look at it like that. It's a bonus.

Steve Folland:      Yeah. I know you're working but you're like, okay, I'm going to try and ... Oh Man, that's like when I buy sweets for Christmas, and I think, yeah, those will be nice for Christmas and then by the end of November have eaten them all.

Caitlin McEvoy:     It's like when you go to the cinema and you buy popcorn and you think, oh, I'll make this last until the end of the film and it's gone before the film even started.

Steve Folland:      Yes. I mind the willpower, but that's one side. Now, we met, didn't we? At the IPSE event. But then I saw that you had entered the lightly IPSE freelance for the year awards and stuff. But previously been in the final. Was that the only award you've ever entered or is entering awards something that you do?

Caitlin McEvoy:     It's not something I do. That's the only award that I've entered solely on my own. I've won awards in the past for life magazine and newspaper work. So that was more as a company-wide thing, but doing IPSE on my own was more of, okay, they've seen this as advertising that don't really know much about it, but I'll apply anyway and see what happens. And then, I think this was before it got to the level it is now, where the freelancers that you see that apply and go on to be the finalists are incredibly talented. I'd have no chance of being a finalist now. I don't think.

Steve Folland:      I don't think that you should put yourself down like that.

Caitlin McEvoy:     No, you see some people and you're like 'pfffft, I've no idea how you would even do that!'

Steve Folland:      Yeah. But then, I would say that other people might look at you and say, well, you've got your freelance work and then you've learned all of this stuff about, that has led you to building District23. And the fact that you're helping freelancers and other people with mental health challenges and talking about it, which is equally valuable even though you might not put a price on each of those things. So yeah, I still think you would.

Caitlin McEvoy:     Oh, well - Thank you.

Steve Folland:      How was the experience though, of being involved in it? So if people don't know, that whole process involves going in front of a judging panel, and going to an event in London and an awards event as well and things like that. So it's a pretty big deal.

Caitlin McEvoy:     Yeah. It was really Weird experience for me. I've never gotten anything like that before. So the day I went down for judging and you meet the finalists from the aspire category in the ... I can't remember, and you'd get all 15 of us in a room and it was just so weird. And everybody's talking about all these things they've done, things they want to do and you're sitting there, and as much as you feel like you're at home because you're with people who understand what you do, and at the same time I sit there thinking, are we all just secretly eyeing each other up trying to trip them down on their presentation that they've got.

Caitlin McEvoy:     But the actual day itself, that meeting each other initially was really good. The actual presentation was more like a dragon's den style. So, that was interesting. But again, the panel was lovely. It's not something that's my strong suit presentations. That's least one skill that I learned from doing it. And then the actual evening in the awards. That was a great. There was such a buzz around it and everybody was so positive about freelancing, and it was just great to have so many different people in the room that were obviously creative in their own way.

Steve Folland:      Have you been tempted to ever go full-time freelance?

Caitlin McEvoy:     All the time. I have all the time in my day job sometimes I'm like, why am I here? I could do this at home very easily. Every time I'm ready to take that jump, something comes along and makes it impossible to happen at this very moment in time. So I think there will come a time when I will, and I have set a time frame for when I would like to hit that, but for now I'm very happy juggling what I am. I'm very fortunate that I've got a job that allows me to do so.

Steve Folland:      Yeah. I tell you what? Before we get onto the two truths and a lie thing, because I'm just conscious of the fact that, you're obviously passionate about it because you make the T-shirts and you speak about it, and blogging. There might be somebody listening to this who could benefit from what you say. So is there anything else that you would say to somebody who is perhaps hearing what you're saying about mental health and it's resonating with them in some way?

Caitlin McEvoy:     I would just simply say that, if are struggling with mental health, whether that's depression, anxiety, whatever it is, you should never let it hinder you or let it slow you down and stop you from doing anything. I remember actually it's when we did my IPSE awards, that awards night. I was actually signed off sick for two weeks when I went down there, because I was so stressed and so anxious. Not about the awards or anything, just in general. I had been signed off sick for two weeks. I was still able to go to London and I put myself completely out of my comfort zone and did this. Even if I felt rubbish when I was there, I still went and did it.

Caitlin McEvoy:     And I think it's really important that people know that even though you may be struggling, that's completely okay and you can turn it around and make something positive out of it. It can be an incredible driving force to actually make change. Whether that's like me with a company, or just done that. No really, but you shouldn't let you stop you from doing what you want to do.

Steve Folland:      Nice. Yeah. I always do this thing where I asked for three facts about yourself. To make two trues, one a lie and let me figure out the lie. What do you have for me, Caitlin?

Caitlin McEvoy:     Do you know how difficult this was? Because I'm normally a very good liar. But when you asked a lie, I can't do it.

Steve Folland:      Well let's find out.

Caitlin McEvoy:     All right then. So my first point is, I carry my first piece of artwork from when I was five and my physical portfolio. I'm actually colourblind, and the final one is I was actually almost a teacher.

Steve Folland:      Okay. I think you said earlier that you were thinking about being a teacher. So when you say you were actually almost a teacher, is that because you actually applied for it or we're learning it or?

Caitlin McEvoy:     I applied for it. I got onto the course probably a month before I have to start and I had to turn around and say, nope, sorry, give the place to somebody else.

Steve Folland:      What would you have taught?

Caitlin McEvoy:     I was actually coming to do primary school, so little kids. I'd done all my work experience beforehand. I wouldn't do it now though.

Steve Folland:      You're colourblind. When did you find out you were colourblind?

Caitlin McEvoy:     I get it diagnosed from a very early age. So when people were saying, Oh, do you not notice that's red? And I'm like, no, it looks like blue or it's got no colour in it or it looks grey.

Steve Folland:      How does that affect your design work? Or does it not make any difference? I don't know. I've no idea how that works. And I imagine it was very different and there's probably lots of different variations of it.

Caitlin McEvoy:     Yeah. There's two or three different variations of it. But if clients are asking for a particular colour, I have to ask them to send me a colour swatch so I can colour match it on illustrator or Photoshop, because sometimes they said that's, why you sent me something that's pink when I asked for purple. And I can't tell the difference.

Steve Folland:      You carry a piece of artwork that you did when you were five and your physical portfolio. So if you go in for job and you show them what you're capable of, that's still in there. What is it?

Caitlin McEvoy:     It was a competition. I think it was a calendar competition when I was in primary school and we had to draw the high street that our school was on. So it's got floating traffic lights and floating cars and houses that aren't even attached to a road.

Steve Folland:      Oh, I love that idea. Oh Man. I hope that's true. I love the idea. And do you know if that picture itself doesn't even exist? You've crushed me. Teacher feels like it's true because I'm sure you said about being a teacher earlier on, maybe accidentally said that and gave away your story. Which means surely you're not colourblind. Although you gave a good response to that, which makes me think it's true, but you did say you're a good lair. So I'm going to say you're not colourblind.

Caitlin McEvoy:     Correct. I'm not colourblind.

Steve Folland:      Yes. But I also love the fact that you said, "I normally am really good lair." Like most people. I've never seen that on someone's Linkedin profile, for example. I'm a really good liar.

Caitlin McEvoy:     I have a phrase that I keep saying, it's like, I never lie except for when I'm lying.

Steve Folland:      If you could tell your younger self one thing about being freelance, what would that be?

Caitlin McEvoy:     Oh, that's a difficult one because I still think I'm quite young. I would probably just say, don't compare yourself to others. Just do your own thing.

Steve Folland:      Nice. Yeah. It's been really nice to speak to Caitlin. Go to and you will find links through to Caitlin's website of course, and find her online, but also to District23. So do go and check out the cool designs like the T-shirts for example. Do you find people have got in touch with you off the back of doing District23?

Caitlin McEvoy:     I get emails quite regularly about just stuff in general. Whether that's like, how did you start a company? Or they just want general advice on how to start a business and I'm like, you are completely asking the wrong person because I don't think I went about it the right way. And then I've had people who've come up to me and said stuff like, Caitlin, oh no, just even if I haven't bought your shirt or something like that, but seeing the statistics that you have on that and I feel completely normal and like I'm not alone. So it's really comforting to know that people are responding to it even if they don't engage with it in the same way that I would want them to.

Steve Folland:      You blog on there as well. Don't you?

Caitlin McEvoy:     Yeah, I blog as well. I do it all.

Steve Folland:      How have you found the blogging experience? Some people just do it for the sake of SEO, but I think it's probably beyond that. Right?

Caitlin McEvoy:     Yeah. It's much more than SEO. I don't even know what that is half-time Steve. Now, for me blogging is like another just outlet of whether that's sharing my story, or how my mental health is affected. Maybe a client I've worked with that week. Or just in general, for me it's just documenting my progression as a freelancer and just me in general as a person. For me, that's just a record for me. If anybody else reads it, then great, but it's mainly for me.

Steve Folland:      Caitlin, thank you so much. All the best being freelance.

Caitlin McEvoy:     Thank you for having me, Steve.