Get tips, advice and insights from fellow freelancers in our My Freelance Story interviews. Whether it’s other people self-employed in a similar career to you, or inspiration to try something different, there’s a wealth of experience you could benefit from. This time, we’re chatting to Presentation Specialist Illiya Vjestica, who works with a range of clients, including the famous TED talks.
Having worked in digital marketing for a while, Illiya went from dreaming about a career in design, to founding The Presentation Designer, creating powerful and effective slides for a range of companies and individuals.
How long have you been self-employed? What were you doing before?
I’ve been self-employed for over 12 years and am in my 13th year. Before starting my own business, I worked as a Digital Account Manager in Digital Marketing.
Why did you choose to become a freelance presentation designer?
Back when I was at University, I noticed the PowerPoint presentations used in lectures were rather dull and uninspiring. I thought to myself at the time, “Surely, there is a better way to present this information to students.”
It was soon after I discovered and read Garr Reynold’s book “Presentation Zen”.
It opened my eyes to the world of presentation design and what is possible with PowerPoint.
I’d always wanted to pursue a career in design, but I lacked the confidence or belief to follow that path. It wasn’t until a considerable number of years later that I spoke at a local digital marketing conference, and several people complimented me on my slides.
During that time, I sat in a pub with a couple of my digital industry friends. They encouraged me to set up a business doing presentation design.
My current business at the time had failed, and my desire to continue with digital marketing no longer resonated. So taking a bold step into a career in design was the right move for me.
What does your typical day look like?
I start with catching up on LinkedIn and consider writing a post. If I don’t post to LinkedIn, I’ll work on content for the rest of the week to post later or network with people.
After that, I’ll address any enquiries or e-mails that need a reply.
Most of the day, I will work on presentation design or PowerPoint template projects, listen to music and create. In the late afternoon, I’ll check on any e-mails built up and send out quotations, contracts, or invoices.
On other days I’ll have to do Zoom calls with prospective clients, meetings with existing clients and outreach to generate sales. And there are also times I’ll work on my website visibility, and plan out goals for my business.
What skills or talents does a good presentation designer tend to have?
Being a presentation designer is a specialist role in graphic design. Therefore, you must be comfortable working in PowerPoint, Apple Keynote or Google Slides.
A good presentation designer would probably have these skills:
- An ability to visualise concepts and transform them into presentation slides an audience can understand and remember.
- Able to transform complex data into visual charts and infographics that display vital information.
- Able to work with different stakeholders in a business to help them identify their presentation goal and ensure their content is easy to follow and understand.
- Curate and select which images to use that effectively relate to the topics of the presentation material.
- Project management skills to ensure delivery of client deadlines.
- Communication skills to help the client connect with their audience.
Are there any qualifications required to become a presentation designer? Or any that can help secure more clients or higher rates?
Not specifically, there is an industry qualification that is available in the US, but I don’t think you require one to get higher rates. Experience is the most valuable thing you can gain.
How do you tend to find clients? Has that changed over time?
It varies from month to month. Like most businesses, word of mouth is critical, but I also reach out to prospects and try to improve my search visibility for more online enquiries.
What are your favourite freelancing tools and equipment? Is there anything special or unusual about your workspace? Do you prefer to work with music, background noise or pure silence?
I’m a big fan of SERPStat, an SEO tracking and keyword research software. In addition, Grammarly has been a blessing in helping me phrase e-mails more succinctly and clearly.
I love working with music, and it tends to be Jazz or relaxing lo-fi, nothing too pumping unless it’s a Friday afternoon. So sometimes, I just put on my headphones without music. It helps me focus.
What are your proudest moments or biggest achievements since becoming freelance?
Working with TED, I did some slides for a talk by Dr Elizabeth Blackburn, a Nobel prize-winning scientist. I helped transform her science into slides the TED audience could understand.
Before I started my business, I wrote down on a piece of paper which clients I dreamt of working with, and TED was the number one organisation.
And what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from freelancing?
Great question. I’d go with knowing your worth and value. I’ve been guilty of undercharging my services for years. Charing what you are worth comes from self-confidence and belief.
I’d review your rates each year of freelancing and see what others are charging. Then, when you are in high demand, don’t be one of the cheapest.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a freelance presentation designer?
Start with building up a portfolio first. Secondly, if you don’t have any clients, you can create mock presentation projects of spec work.
Approach your local network and past colleagues. I would begin there as a source of potential new clients. Make sure to work on your website SEO and blog about your work and process.
How can you see freelancing changing in the future for presentation design?
AI is on the rise, and it’s already affecting the creative industry. For example, I think there will be tools soon that will allow clients to visualise presentation slides fast that are generated by a computer in seconds.
However, AI can’t fully replace human creativity and our ability to tell a great story.
The world still needs experts in presentation stories and communication.
What’s the best thing about being freelance or self-employed?
Being able to set my hours and not being beholden to a boss or manager telling me what to do every day. Having the freedom to do what I want and create a new process or change in direction in my business.
I have more time to look after my well-being and spend more time in nature.
If you’d like to find out more about Illiya and his work, you can him him over at The Presentation Designer. He also posts regular content on LinkedIn and has an Instagram page where he shares his work, and insights into presentation design. And for another specialist in visual design, why not also check out our previous interview with Motorcycle Concept Visualiser Kar Lee.
If you’re inspired to start a new career or make a change, you might find some useful advice in our guides on how to became a freelance graphic designer, how to become a freelance illustrator or animator, or even an interior designer.
Read more inspirational stories from freelancers across a variety of industries and sectors in our previous interviews;
- My Freelance Story: Freelance Coach Jenny Stallard
- My Freelance Story: Virtual Assistant Louise Richman
- My Freelance Story: Photographer Jak Spedding
- My Freelance Story: SEO Consultant Steve Morgan
- My Freelance Story: Journalist Thomas Hobbs
- My Freelance Story: Content Creator Liz Randell
- My Freelance Story: WordPress Specialist Rhys Wynne
- My Freelance Story: Nail Technician Jade Conneely
- My Freelance Story: Writer and Marketer Dan Thornton
- My Freelance Story: Motorcycle Concept Visualiser Kar Lee
- My Freelance Story: Presentation Designer Illiya Vjestica
- My Freelance Story: Videographer and Editor Tom Rayner