Protecting my health - Designer Tatiana Mac

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After graduating in 2008 during the Great Recession, Tatiana found herself looking for a next step that would make sense financially. Calling on the design skills she’d picked up as a kid, she started out freelance, sending personalised “Do you need a designer?” emails to everyone she knew.

Tatiana’s come a long way since then, finding her focus as an independent designer who works with accessibility and inclusion in mind.

Hear her talk about speaking internationally, working in a way that allows her to protect her health, and her approach to providing content that’s free to all but still helps to bring in some cash.


Tatiana Mac: So, my freelance career started when I graduated from college. I actually studied something totally different. I studied environmental science and math, and I graduated in 2008, which placed me in the American recession effectively. And so, looking at getting a masters or a PhD in soil science, say, didn't seem like a very financially feasible next step for me.

Tatiana Mac: And so, and math, I can't even start to begin to think about what careers my math major would get me. But, I did have this set of skills of design, and I kind of gained those in a very unorthodox way. My parents had owned a pre-press business when I was a child, and it's now an obsolete stuff. But at the time it was a very manual process where you're taking film, and you're using large format cameras to burn film onto plates. And that's how things effectively got laid out for the printing press.

Tatiana Mac: Now, of course, I think we, those of us who have worked in print modernly understand that, that's all obsolete. But my dad basically worked through that transition and had to go back to school full time. Leaving my mom to work multiple jobs to support our family. So, I was 10 at the time, so they couldn't leave me at home alone for that long. So, I just went to school with my dad. They sent me up on a Gumdrop iMac computer, and I basically learned destructive Photoshop, CorelDraw, Macromedia free hand, basically all these programs that are now also obsolete.

Tatiana Mac: But, that's where I learned these skills. And so, summers I would work for them doing really boring type-setting jobs, and continued that skills through college and high school where I worked on the newspaper staff, and would lay out pages and design the newspaper. So, I realised when I graduated that I needed to find money. So, I emailed every single person I knew.

Tatiana Mac: So, I went through my address book line by line and send each person basically a custom email asking them how they were doing, if they needed design services. And I ended up building this database of clients that ranged from belly dancers to post modern jazz, Tom Waits covers, really just an eclectic array of folks that I was creating lots of multimedia experiences for. So, some websites, some print materials, some more experimental designs.

Steve Folland: Wow. What a start. That is so cool as well that you got to see the old way of laying stuff out basically from your parents. And he got to take you to learn what came next. I love that. So, you actually emailed everyone, and so that's ... you've got enough work from that to become freelance from the off after graduating?

Tatiana Mac: Yes. So, I started that when I graduated, and throughout my career I've gone back to certain free full time roles. But, at one point I had built up a studio with a partner, and we had five distributed employees across the world. And we were building identities and brands across web and print primarily for solopreneurs, and small businesses.

Tatiana Mac: And so, running my own studio, and having other people to pay, and I count four was kind of the largest that that had become of what I had built myself. But, on and off I've definitely been working independently since I graduated in 2008.

Steve Folland: Okay. I feel like we need to dig into that whole partnership, and building a studio. So, at what point was that? What year was that?

Tatiana Mac: So, I had started the brand for, it was called Adam Design. And the original partner that I had moved and went on to do other things, and so I continued on without him, and then added another partner. And she is very entrepreneurial and brought a whole host of skills that I didn't have. So, we started doing the same thing I did. It was always the same strategy. She was very well connected in Boise, Idaho. So, we effectively would just go after clients, find them and then we started building out team members to create the design work and the content work.

Steve Folland: And, how long did that last? And how did you find it?

Tatiana Mac: So, that lasted ... My sense of time is really off. But I feel like we did that for about two years. I was there three years, and then ultimately at the end I think I realised that there was so much of what I wanted to fulfil as an individual, and that there were components of running a business proper that I didn't enjoy. And so, I think that that's what made me realise that working independently is at the crux of what I wanted to do. That the parts that I loved of owning a business, and running a business were the parts that allowed me personal independence.

Steve Folland: Right. Sure. What were the bits that you didn't like?

Tatiana Mac: I think the stress of other people's financial means is really difficult to take on. And I really commend all of my previous employers for taking on that stress. I've definitely worked in places where people were sketchy about making payroll, and that's something that really gives me a lot of anxiety, is having other people's livelihoods, which can be quite complex with children and health and et cetera. To take that burden on is one that I don't know how not to take on emotionally. So, it's probably better for me not to.

Steve Folland: So, when you came out the other side of that, how did you go about ... well, I guess becoming the independent designer. Because the first time you needed work, you cold emailed everybody. Well, not cold, you knew everybody, and you sent that custom email. But then you've transitioned into something very different. So, what did it look like when you went back to being freelance that second time around?

Tatiana Mac: Yeah. So, I built that business with my partner. We disbanded the business effectively, and then I went back to working full time at an agency for about four or five years. And that was a role where I was building a team. When I started, there were two designers, and when I ended I was overseeing a creative team of 26 content strategists, designers, developers, copywriters. And the burnout of agency life is very real. I was working 60, 70 hour weeks regularly.

Tatiana Mac: And realising that I was quite distanced from design work itself, and recognising that I didn't really know or remember what it was that I loved about design. So, I did what any logical person would do, and I just quit everything. I quit my job, I quit my relationship, I quit my apartment lease, and I packed everything into storage. And I had a backpack, and travelled around Europe for a few months.

Steve Folland: Yes. Oh, I love the film quality of this, this is great. When you sell the rights. I can't wait to watch this. So, what year are we talking about when you're suddenly back backing around Europe?

Tatiana Mac: That was in the fall of 2017. So, I left at the end of August or September? September, I left and then traveled around through November.

Steve Folland: And did you work at all in that time or was it pure? I'm off to have fun travelling and seeing things?

Tatiana Mac: The first month was working on my own existential crisis, but then the reality of money set in. Like having to front money for an Airbnb and realising, "Wow, my savings is getting quite low." So, I did reach out to several folks who I knew would be amenable to working remotely for certain things, and was able to tide myself over.

Tatiana Mac: But, I effectively ... I think people romanticise these types of things, but when I came back in November, it was out of sheer necessity. I had maxed out all of my credit cards, had zero money in every single bank account, like every single side, you know, like Venmo, Apple cash, all of those were completely depleted. And I was basically starting from c level again.

Steve Folland: Now, that sounds like a point where you might be tempted just to go and get another job in a company, right?

Tatiana Mac: Yes. But the unfortunate or fortunate side circumstance, I guess, or revelation I had during my trip was that I didn't want to continue to work in environments where the sole mission of the company was to increase the triple bottom line, and to sell things. That had been much of my career leading up to that existential, I call it the hard reset on my life. That's how it's been documented in my memoir, that stewing in my head.

Tatiana Mac: But, I realise what I loved about design was its capacity to do so much, but to do so much good, or to do so much harm. And so, coming back though, I wanted the safety of a paycheck, I also had this quality and little alarm in the back of my mind that would go off when it's like, "Do you want to work there? Are you sure about what you're doing?" So, that made it challenging to find a full time role that met that need.

Steve Folland: So, what did you do?

Tatiana Mac: So, what I did was I struck some compromises with myself and I said, "Okay, what if I find ways to continue to contract?" So, I've contracted at several agencies locally, and then spent the free time that I'm able to, to work on projects that ultimately feed into that mission. So, a project that I'm going to work on forever because it's a big undertaking, is this dictionary, it's called self-defined. And my hope in this dictionary is to create a dictionary that reflects the social landscape that we live in, and allowing folks of marginalised communities to self-define themselves.

Steve Folland: Wow. No biggie. So, that sounds amazing. So, this was a real point then while you were off discovering Europe, and discovering yourself that you started to become the Tatiana Mac that I would see if I went to your website right now in 2019 where it says, "Tatiana is an American designer who built inclusive, accessible and ethical products with thoughtful practices."

Steve Folland: So, if you were like, "Okay, I'm going to take contracts and jobs in agencies in order to be able to pay my rent, but actually I'm not going to spend all my time on that. I want to start doing stuff with purpose.

Tatiana Mac: Exactly.

Steve Folland: Which is lovely, but how did you start to be able to get that work with purpose to be also the work that would pay the rent?

Tatiana Mac: Yeah. It's certainly tricky, and I think that it's finding that balance. I think I put a lot of pressure on myself, which I feel is a generational burden, is that we are told that we need to find what ... there's that Venn diagram about finding your purpose. And I don't remember the full structure of it, but it basically tells you that you need to find the intersection of your , and what gives you meaning, and what will pay you and value you.

Tatiana Mac: And I think that's a really lovely ideal to aspire to, and certainly a great way to position our personal narratives. But, I also think that we can find fulfilment in individual and partial pieces. It's that same idea of, I think sometimes in a partner we look to find someone who can fulfil us intellectually, romantically as a companion. And that's putting a lot of burden on one person to be everything for you.

Tatiana Mac: In the same way, I think putting the burden of a career to be your financial stability, your ethical North star, and to be the place where you find your friendships. That's a lot to ask. So, I try to craft all of those things more piecemeal, and to take off some of the burden on each of the jobs, or contracts that I take to be all of those things.

Steve Folland: So, did you start as with the dictionary, creating side projects to show the sort of things that you wanted to be creating?

Tatiana Mac: Absolutely.

Steve Folland: Was it just the dictionary, or did you ... How did you go about showing, you know, like for example in a portfolio, the sort of work that this new lease of life Tatiana wanted to be doing?

Tatiana Mac: Yeah, I think that's a great question. I also created a skill share class. So, I recognise that accessibility was at that point, something relatively new to me as a technical topic. So, I wanted to challenge myself to create a beginner resource, because I found that many of the resources that I read felt quite advanced.

Tatiana Mac: They were made presumptions about knowing some of the fundamental basics, which I think is a burden that our industry places on us, is to speak from a point of technical expertise. So, I created this skill share of course, and wrote the script and then taped it. I wanted to show, I guess, that you don't need to be an expert in order to have something to share about a new subject matter. And I wanted to take on that challenge, I guess, of learning the materials somewhat quickly digesting it and figuring how to teach it to someone else.

Steve Folland: And then, within your portfolio, were you showing like a mix of the agency type work, or could you not share that because it was agency? Like, how did you get to show your new self?

Tatiana Mac: Yeah. I think that an interesting component of portfolios is that a lot of folks will put everything on their homepage, and their homepage becomes a manifestation of their entire portfolios. I think that strategy works for a lot of folks. I see it working very well, for example, for folks that specialise in UX, design in UX research where the methodology and there's a lot of writing to be shared.

Tatiana Mac: I think for me because I'm so multidisciplinary, I want my portfolio to be reflective of the breadth of work I'm able to do. So, I use it more as a tasting menu, and then when I go to interview or have a conversation with someone, I'll pull in depth case studies that I'll walk them through. But, I either like to have my work completely speak for itself and it's live environment, or I like to be able to walk through my work. I don't necessarily, for me, like that middle ground where I'm partially explaining my work, if that makes sense.

Steve Folland: What have you done to get that work in front of the sort of people that you want to work with? The original strategy was the emails, but how are you being seen? Because it certainly feels like you're being seen. So, what did you set about doing?

Tatiana Mac: Well, thank you. That's very kind. I think not being seen as ... it's something that I deal with a lot, is that feeling of not being seen. So, I appreciate that language. I think that I've taken a completely opposite approach to what I did in 2008. What I do now is I just put out the work and the words that I would like to create, and then I have people come to me and that's certainly coming from a position of privilege that I have enough reach that, that's an effective strategy.

Tatiana Mac: But, that's definitely how I operate now, is I don't apply to very many things, if any at all. And instead I just create things and resources for people in an open source manner, and then eventually it gets in the hands of people that I want to work with.

Steve Folland: What is a big thing that works for you? Like, Twitter for example, or how do you get it out there that people can come to find you?

Tatiana Mac: I think that the two biggest platforms for me right now that are very symbiotic are certainly Twitter, and also speaking events. I think that each has its own limitations, which is complemented by the other. So, I think Twitter, it's short form what you got said can be taken out of context. There's certainly the whole problem of white supremacy being supported as an ideology by Twitter, and its rampant problem with trolls. So, there is certain limitations there.

Tatiana Mac: And, I think it can be a way that you can connect with strangers, but sometimes it's not as human as having a conversation with someone face-to-face. A lot of the topics I speak about are as controversial as the ones I say on Twitter. But I think it's much harder for people to walk up to me, and to my face to question me in the way that they can from a point of an anonymous avatar.

Steve Folland: Sure. How did you go about getting those first speaking gigs?

Tatiana Mac: I think I was just invited by folks who had seen my activism, and my writing and they reached out to me. But actually I think the first speaking event that was significant to me, this is a story I'd love to tell, was I went to an event called Epic, and I spoke with ... it's a very small event, and they focus on including design with, I would say outdoor activity. And it's much more an emphasis on small community based conversations like fireside chats than they are about big grants like presentations in ballrooms and such.

Tatiana Mac: And, I spoke there about very vulnerable topic, which is that I wrote a Twitter thread, it'll be a year in July about micro aggressions in Portland. And the Twitter thread went viral, it was retweeted like 5,000 times or something. And I garnered a lot of attention from that. And after that event, one of the attendees was invited to speak somewhere and he actually recommended me in his stead.

Tatiana Mac: And, that kind of started, I would say, a trajectory of a lot of speaking events that followed that. Once I had that first major speaking event under my belts, I felt like I caught a lot of attention by sharing out my deck, and by the recommendations that ensued from the folks that saw that talk.

Tatiana Mac: I like to tell that story because it was a really simple gesture that I don't remember. I think he couldn't make the event, or what not, but the fact that he recommended me to speak really did, kind of, change my life in a lot of ways. Like, I'm looking right now at my 2019 speaking calendar and it's pretty wild. I think all these speaking every single months after this through November.

Steve Folland: And that includes internationally as well?

Tatiana Mac: Yes. I'm very excited. I'll be speaking in Berlin, Amsterdam, Helsinki, Barcelona, so yeah.

Steve Folland: So, cool. And that came from speaking at the Epic events. Is that Epicurrence?

Tatiana Mac: Yes, yes, Epicurrence.

Steve Folland: Dan Patty, isn't it?

Tatiana Mac: Yes, Dan Patty, that's him.

Steve Folland: Okay. Amazing looking events for have seen from afar online, but they're quite intimate.

Tatiana Mac: Yeah, they're super intimate. And it's hard, I think that there is a lot of criticism in the design community about these events, because they are so much different than your average event production. The images that you see aren't of conference stages, it's of people like snowboarding. And on ours and we went to Yosemite and we hiked up half dome.

Tatiana Mac: So, it's a much different type of event. And I think the controversy comes from that fact, that it's different from what happens. And I think that it was great for me to be able to attend, to share a different voice than the voices that are typically amplified at events like that. That I think what Dan has done a really excellent job of as an individual, is that he was open to having me speak about a somewhat controversial topic, and that he supported me throughout that event.

Steve Folland: Yeah. Those events look amazing, I'd never thought of them as being like anything other than awesome, to be honest. But they looked like a cool retreat where you get to hang out and actually make real connections with people. This is what I see from afar anyway, as well as the snowboarding. And having your mind stretched in various different directions by the people you're meeting and hearing from. So, that's so cool. So, it led to that, and the speaking has then led to work opportunities, has it?

Tatiana Mac: That's where it's hard, right? There's that chasm and gap, I think, between speaking and between the types of roles that I am looking at right now. And I think that through speaking I recognise that it's something that I want to continue to do. And, once I think finding a role where speaking is an embedded part of it is somewhat challenging.

Tatiana Mac: I would like to work in a role where I can continue to build an experiment from a technical standpoint, because I think that's the part that often gets neglected in my work, is because I do speak out so much on ethics and inclusion, that becomes highlighted because it's a somewhat ... it's top of mind I think for industry right now, which is a great thing. But then it's almost at the sacrifice of also the fact that I really love experimenting with html and CSS, and finding ways to be more experimental from a front end standpoint to build more exciting and accessible design systems. That's like the heart of what I do as a designer.

Tatiana Mac: And so, it's striking that balance of finding a role that can allow me to do both as rare. There's a couple of opportunities that I'm looking forward to applying for to speaking to folks about that are more than that, you know, designer or developer advocacy role where you're still able to work through the technology, but also to speak about how the technology has an impact on the world at large.

Steve Folland: You mentioned your writing, as well your writing and your speaking, and getting known. How much time do you put into that? Like, how regular or consistent are you with your writing?

Tatiana Mac: I would say that I probably write something in short or long form, anywhere between one to four times a week. Right now I'm working on refactoring the blog component of my site, or the writing component to help serve up more content, because right now it's all static. And so, it's not like coherently linked yet.

Tatiana Mac: But yeah, I would say that it can be anything as short as writing like a cathartic poem, to writing along from tutorial. But I try to write, I would say two to three times a week is kind of my baseline goal. But I also don't force myself. Like I'm not a believer in the idea of forcing yourself to do things when you are inspired to. So, I very much cease the opportunities as they arise.

Steve Folland: Yeah It's a beautiful website by the way. You'll have to go to being and link through to check out what Tatiana has created, which will no doubt evolve as well by the time you get to see it by the sounds of it as well. What I find really interesting about it is, there is so much personality in it, and yet I don't think there's a photo of you on it, for example. And yet you really come across in it. It's genius.

Tatiana Mac: Thank you.

Steve Folland: That was, it's like, "Oh, there's no picture," and yet you've really get to feel your personality shine through. Actually there was one thing, which jumped as me, you know, in terms of revenue and what have you. Is the term sponsor at the top of your website, which is a link to Patreon, or Patreon page. And I was just wondering what your experience was of doing that, of getting people to be able to support what you do.

Tatiana Mac: Yeah, I think this loops back to a bit of what we were talking around before, which is that idea of, how to you make things that you want to make and get financially supported for it. Like I'd love to completely blow up capitalism and just say that we can just go back to trading things again. That would be lovely. But I don't have the power to do that, unfortunately.

Tatiana Mac: So, I think this idea of sponsorship is a more accessible way for the work that I want to do to be supported in the work that people find useful, and helpful that they can support financially. And a little bit really does go a long way if you think about that idea of $100 a month coming from 10 people. $10 a month while you think about your average subscription service, Hulu, Netflix. You're serving them up about that amount a month to get access to something.

Tatiana Mac: I think there's a burden on our industry for folks to create work that's free to everyone, open source. And that's just not financially feasible through and through. So, it's like striking that balance of, I always want all my content to be free because there are people that can't afford to pay for it, but for those who can't afford to pay for it, giving them that almost moral choice of, "Okay, well, then if you're using this work and it's valuable to you, and you've actually made more money off of my knowledge that you've gained, then here's a way that you can pay back forward."

Steve Folland: So, for example, because one thing I always think about with Patreon is that, in order to get, you know, let's say it's $1 just like, "I love what you do," $10 and people like, "Okay, what am I going to get?" And so, people from that amount up start to feel the need to create additional content for those members, which is kind of like gatekeeper I guess. So, what do you do? Is it like ... given that you want to ultimately give away everything for free. So, if anybody could see it, do you just release stuff early?

Tatiana Mac: I think that with the one to $10 conundrum, $1 certainly as like I see you, you know, I support you, and here's a little something. I think that with $10 is certainly is like, "I'm your super fan, so I try to give them access early to things. I try to give them maybe more content behind the scenes, and I only started in April, so I'm still evolving what it is that I serve up to them. But I think it's about making sure that ultimately in the end everything that I'm creating is still accessible to everyone.

Tatiana Mac: And that's a really tricky balance to strike, because I think you're totally right. If a lot of folks are donating because they want a thing, but I think I've crafted it a bit such that they're not giving more money in order to get access to the thing, if that makes sense.

Steve Folland: I like that you've also been added of a higher ticket value items, which are consultations. It'd be a one off or a monthly consultation, but it's not there on your website like a service or a package that you offer. It's part of that Patreon environment. Would be interesting to see how that goes. So, that's fairly recent then?

Tatiana Mac: Yeah, it is. And I was feeling very grateful and blessed for the amount of support I immediately got when I launched it. And I'm excited because you can set goals on Patreon. So, I've set some different goals for being able to create higher ticket items as I reach those monthly goals. And that's really the dream to be able to just be completely self-supported and create content that's meaningful to me, and best serves the audience.

Tatiana Mac: But, I kept it off of my website because I felt like I worked many years in marketing and I think that there's always this notion of preventing clicks, but I think that for me, in terms of who I am, if someone is ready to sponsor, then they're going to go off and to make that commitment on Patreon. My pages are just there to acknowledge the fact that I have one to make people aware of it, and to thank the people that have already ... I keep confusing the words become Patreons.

Steve Folland: Yeah. What is, I guess, like your work day or your work week, month kind of look like for you? Do you work from home?

Tatiana Mac: I lead the most Bohemian work life that there is. So, I often work from home. I'm also that annoying person that will go to coffee shops and work for set periods of time. I've definitely toyed with the idea of a co-working space, but I haven't really found one that I've loved here, and I'm also trying to move. And so, there's a lot of different factors to consider, but how I structure my week broadly, I structure it based on my mood and my brain power.

Tatiana Mac: So, because I experienced depression, I try to maximise my time when I'm not feeling depressed. So, on Mondays and Tuesdays, typically I'll set those aside for admin days. I feel like I'm still recovering from the weekend. So that feeling of accomplishment, of getting through my entire inbox or through all of my Twitter DMs or through all of the different modes of social communication that we invite people into. I can end the beginning of the week feeling like great. I've scheduled things, I've booked things I've responded to people.

Tatiana Mac: Midweek is when I do more of my theoretical conceptual work. So, a lot of what I have to do for speaking events is reading. I say have to like, it's a bad thing, I love reading. But, I end up reading a lot of books. I'll try it, especially when it's nice out to go do that outside, and bring a notebook and be detached from my computer for an entire day.

Tatiana Mac: And then I would say like mid to late week, that's when I'm feeling technical. So, I'll do a lot of coding experiments during that time, writing technical blog posts, and release notes, things that require a bit more detail energy. And then I closed my week with maybe more social or strategic things. So, I'll take like client meetings during that time to do strategic consulting. I'll take mentorship meetings to talk to folks about career development and such during that time. And then during the weekend if I'm inspired to work, I'll allow myself, but it's never something that I force myself to do.

Steve Folland: It really seems you centred rather than client centred.

Tatiana Mac: Yes.

Steve Folland: I like that.

Tatiana Mac: Yeah. I think that is something I would maintain even at a full time role. And it certainly affects what type of role I'm able to take. Like, I'm not sure that a nine to five or nine to nine as it may be role where I am sitting in a desk, and forced to have a certain amount of output would lend itself to doing this type of schedule in the same way, because things like meetings get in the way. But I've realised that, that's the genesis of what makes the best work for me. The most inspired work is first focusing on protecting my own mental and physical health.

Steve Folland: What do you find that the biggest challenge of being freelance?

Tatiana Mac: It's absolutely money, and learning how to deal with money, I guess, is how I would summarise it.

Steve Folland: In what respect?

Tatiana Mac: I don't know how I would describe this, but I guess I see money as being just another construct of our society. And so I don't hold a lot of value in it. And so far that I cover my basic needs and expenses, but if I want something and I think it's going to help me, I'm going to buy it. And, I'm laughing because I probably like, I should probably be a bit more responsible, but I feel like it works out for me. That I find that money of all things is a renewable resource, which I recognize is coming from a point of privilege because I have my basic needs met on a regular basis.

Tatiana Mac: But, I think because of that experience I had where I had completely no money, and had to build from scratch, I think that's where my attitude about money comes from, is that like, "Well I can make more." And ultimately money doesn't control my happiness, it can contribute to it, or it can harm it, but it's not the end all factor.

Steve Folland: Nice. And yet you describe it as a challenge.

Tatiana Mac: Yes. I think it's a challenge because we spend a lot of time talking about money. So, bidding is one of those ridiculous arts when you work independently. And I've tried, I think basically every strategy that's been documented. And at the end of the day you're just making up an amount of money that you think is worth your time, and time is not renewable. And so, I try really hard not to tether the way that I bid work to time.

Steve Folland: So, how do you do it, on value or as to what you need?

Tatiana Mac: Yeah, that's where it gets fuzzy. Is that I think that there's all these infrastructures to help us value time better or right. Like you can calculate what you'd like to be making hourly after taxes, and multiply out what you think it will cost. Maybe multiply it by an annoying client rate or corporate client rate. But at the end of the day, I feel like the conversation that I always have is like, I always try to reframe it in the context of how much money is the client willing to spend on it, and what value do they intrinsically think it has.

Tatiana Mac: Because, ultimately that dictates what your working relationship looks like. If a client thinks that a website is only worth $5,000 $10,000 et cetera, and yet at the same time they're pulling in six million, that says to me very clearly the client doesn't value the intrinsic worth of the website, and what potential revenue it has to bring.

Tatiana Mac: And so, that's almost a way that I use to vet clients, is to illustrate to them, "Okay, how much is this worth to you?" And they'll always come back to us. Like there's so many hilarious memes about like what's your budget, what's your rate? What's your budget, what's your rate? But I think that it's really important to see how much the client values this ambiguous thing in terms of dollar amount to their business. And then I usually just scale how I work with them based on that amount, if I think that they value my time.

Steve Folland: Nice. Obviously, it's called being freelance. But actually I like many a time you've used the word independent or working independently. And I noticed straight away on your website about the fact that you describe yourself as an independent design and love of a freelance designer. Presumably that was a conscious choice?

Tatiana Mac: It was. I think that words matter, and I think that connotation, no freelance for me, I think it works for other people. So, this isn't me saying everyone should use independent. But why it works for me is because for me, the context of freelance comes to this idea of, it's something that you do between other things, and that you aren't necessarily committed to this trajectory. That at any given moment you might change your mind.

Tatiana Mac: And so, there's a certain, I want to say flakiness that I think can be associated with it. And so, I consciously choose independent because I was sick of having the conversation of like, "Oh, you're doing freelance for now, but what would you like to really be doing?" Whereas when I feel like I tell people that I'm independent, either they intrinsically understand, or they asked me, "Well, what do you mean by that?" And then I can have a conversation with them about what being an independent designer means.

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

Tatiana Mac: I think that I would tell my younger self that you have to take advantage of the parts of being freelance to their fullest in order to make the challenges, and the hardships with it. And then also I would tell her to always set aside 40% of everything she makes.

Steve Folland: Actually, it's a good point. Like, with your parents being in business and stuff, have you had mentors through yourself independent career?

Tatiana Mac: I absolutely have. And I think that mentorship, that's something that's really important to me. Like I'll be opening up office hours here in a couple of weeks, but I think that mentorship is something that we don't know how to do enough, and that we don't do enough in our industry, like mentorship and apprenticeship.

Tatiana Mac: I think that an aspect of seeking mentorship for me is not necessarily seeking people that are just squarely in our industry, but having people that just have a different lived experience than my own who can provide and cast different lights onto the work that I do, and the person that I want to become.

Steve Folland: How do you go about approaching people?

Tatiana Mac: I think that we should have cards, like people do for asking people to be their best men and best person and, maids of honour and such. There should be like, "Will you be my mentor card?" And then we should make a really big deal about them. Like take them out to dinner. No. But, jokes aside, I think that mentorship is really organic for me. I think it's less formal than that.

Tatiana Mac: It's just about having someone who you can regularly check in with, and who you can go to when you're dealing with something that feels a bit difficult to deal with on your own. And it's kind of like allyship. I think in the work that I do, a lot of people are very gung-ho on the idea of self-identifying as allies. And like mentorship, I think, it's not about being called a mentor or about calling someone a mentor, it's about showing up every day, and doing that thing and less about the title.

Tatiana Mac: So, I guess all that to say I don't really like, ask someone to be my mentor. We just start to forge a relationship where we exchange those types of concepts, and try to do so symbiotically. I think that's a huge part is that we often see them mentor protégé. I refuse to use the word mentee, by the way. I think it just makes me think of manatee, and I can't take it seriously. And it's like a fake word, and my uppity linguist self is like, I can't do it. So, I insist on mentee protégé or mentor protégé, not mentee.

Tatiana Mac: But, I think that we often think of this as a directional relationship with a mentor is providing everything to the protégé. But I think that more importantly, it's more gratifying when there's symbiosis involved that, that folks that are maybe newer in their careers, or industries also have a tremendous value to offer to their mentors. So, I think it would be beneficial to start to see those relationships as a bit more of a partnership.

Steve Folland: Tatiana, thank you so much. It's been awesome speaking to you. And all the best being freelance, but all the best being independent.

Tatiana Mac: Oh, thank you Steve. It's been an absolute pleasure chatting with you as well.