Jamie Syke

Jamie talks openly about starting freelance straight from college and the successes and struggles he faced launching his studio, Brotherhood.  

Tell me a little bit about yourself and what you’re working on right now.

I’m Jamie Syke, I’m a designer originally from Manchester in England but having sold all of my shit, I’m currently travelling the world and as I write this I am in Lisbon for Web Summit (https://websummit.net/). At the moment I’m working remote and freelance with a few different clients from around the world. I’m also working on relaunching my studio, Brotherhood and 2-3 new ventures, that are currently unannounced.

What was the defining moment that you decided to go freelance?

I’ve pretty much always been freelance (or working for myself with the studio), barring a year out of it working as Lead Designer over at Fatsoma. I originally dropped out of college as I was getting clients and much preferred teaching myself and carving my own path.

I originally dropped out of college as I was getting clients already

So I suppose the moment I decided to go freelance was when I left college to work with those clients.

Did you transition to freelance or jump right in?

I jumped right in, I put a MacBook on finance when I had just a couple of clients after leaving college and having that pressure of requiring to make these payments helped a lot to push me to find clients and get as much work out there as possible.

I put a MacBook on finance – the pressure of making payments helped me push.

Following on from that I’ve continued to work with clients, some long term, some short term and for the last three years, with a team that has expanded and shrunk at my studio Brotherhood.

I remember when you launched Brotherhood! How did that come about? 

Having a studio was always my dream growing up as a self taught freelance designer. One day playing Fallout and being the eternal fan boy of the Brotherhood of Steel that I am, I came up with the name. Brotherhood. It’d have cool merch, one day an awesome office and all of the other shiny things that you see people get.

Having a studio was always my dream growing up as a self taught freelance designer.

A little while after having the idea, I partnered with another designer and good friend of mine, Fabio Basile and we grew a pretty cool thing together. Working with some awesome clients everything was going well. We hired more friends, including Cassius and it was always great to have people to bounce things off.

Being a studio helped us land some great clients

Being a studio also presents you as a more trustworthy presence than a singular freelancer in my opinion so that helped us land some great clients.

Since then, you mentioned that it’s grown and shrunk, could you expand on that?

At one point, Brotherhood had 4/5 full time people and a bunch of freelancers – we were making a lot in revenue. But, as with all nice things, there are downsides. Limited companies are much more difficult to do accounting for and you have things like VAT to pay attention to. When there are other people you employ there is also always a creeping feeling that you hold this person’s livelihood in your hands and if a bad month happens or something goes wrong, you won’t be able to support that person you promised to.

When you employ others there’s always a feeling that you hold this person’s livelihood in your hands

Everything was going well, but due to a multitude of reasons, Fabio and Cassius left to pursue their own ventures, we had full-time studio manager for a while but he didn’t want to be in the design industry anymore and left to pursue writing. I was suddenly left working solo. That was one of the main problems, what do you do when something grows fast but shrinks even faster?

What do you do when something grows fast but shrinks even faster?

Despite things not being in the place they were with Brotherhood anymore, I still defend absolutely every second of how we built it and I’ll look back fondly on those times.

Brotherhood has been much smaller since then. It’s now just me and freelancers working on projects as they come.

After Brotherhood became smaller, you sold all of your things to go travelling, how has that experience been?

It wasn’t as difficult as it likely should have been, I had a lot of friends around me helping out (or in some cases buying a lot of my things from me), along with my family helping to sell things and also store anything I wanted to keep hold of should I ever need them back.

Selling all of my things has been a very freeing experience

It’s been a very freeing experience, having to live out of a bag allows you to judge what you truly do and don’t need and I’ve missed little of the things I sold and it has allowed me to live a more minimal life.

Always be willing to cut things away

Always be willing to cut things away. I left England originally with a bag that was too heavy, too much stuff and too much baggage and ties emotionally that weren’t good for me. I’ve made sure over the last 6 months to work at removing both items I don’t require from my bag and poisonous people from my life. 

Oh, and plan ahead, booking flights and accommodation is an absolute nightmare (and very expensive)!

You’ve been freelancing for a long while, is there any one thing that’s transformed the way you work freelance or remote?  

I think building an effective schedule and trying your best to stick to it is incredibly useful for me.

Building an effective schedule is incredibly useful for me

Along with making sure I always have an escape to unwind with, be it personal projects, side projects or just making sure I take time away and relax so I don’t burn out.

As freelancers, we all know sometimes work doesn’t come easily! When it comes to getting work, have you got any advice for people?

Network heavily, there are plenty of sites around now to get leads which definitely help. But I’ve found that referrals and socialising with people to be the most effective way for me to get work.

I’m looking to become more consistent in my content marketing

Also in the future I’m looking to become more consistent in my content marketing, being consistent on platforms like Medium, Dribbble and the like is definitely something I think will help a lot, rather than posting sporadically.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to go freelance?

Save up first and make sure you have a stable base to go from. Even if you get a long-term engagement it can always fall through and if you don’t have something to land on then things can get very difficult and uncertain and you want to have done your best to plan for the worst.

What’s been your biggest challenge freelancing or working remotely?

Balance. Work and social are the core pillars of this, both effect finance and happiness. If you go too deep into one it will effect the other. If you work too much your finances will improve but you will be alone and unhappy.

Don’t be afraid

It takes a long time to find your feet in each new place and a lot of mental fortitude to find a balance that will work for you. But time and experimentation is the best way to find it. Don’t be afraid.

I understand you’re going to be cutting down on travelling, what’s next for you?

I’m looking to cut down travelling a bit and have a base for a few months. I’m considering taking a full time role at the moment, as I touch on in my latest article –  which will be a weekly summary of how things are going in my personal and professional life. Things are a bit unstable. I’ll be relaunching with a focus on Brotherhood being more of a design collective where I can pull in friends for projects and keep it under one brand. I’d rather that than a full blown studio with staff, offices and cool merch… it’s funny how things work out isn’t it?

The first time I went travelling I planned it, sold everything and left in the space of the month.

I’m looking for some stability as my life has been quite volatile. It can all change very quickly though. The first time I went travelling I planned it, sold everything and left in the space of the month. So you never know… we’ll see.

You can follow Jamie on Twitter

Never miss a new interview...