Nataliya Verkhoturtseva, founder of Verk Studio. Credit: Verk Studio

As a part of her early career, Nataliya analyzed the financial performance of fashion companies. She realized that brands with mediocre e-commerce websites performed poorly in comparison to businesses that invested in their digital presence. 

This discovery brought Nataliya to a career path that she never considered as an Economics major. So, she signed up for a User Interface/User Experience (UI/UX) bootcamp where she discovered the beauty of thoughtful design. 

“It really changed my perception,” Nataliya said. “I learned how User Experience impacts our day-to-day lives.” 

Shortly after, Nataliya started looking for a job, but she was still very young and new to the industry. After many attempts and applications, she was ecstatic to receive a response from New York City’s top e-commerce agency. 

“Just getting an interview with them was awesome,” Nataliya said. “It was my dream to work at a place like that.” She received a job offer the next day.

After just over three years at the agency, Nataliya became their UI/UX Design Lead. She worked with dozens of top brands, including Hugo Boss, O’Neill, Marchessa, and Nouvel Heritage. 

Eventually, Nataliya decided to strike out on her own and launched her business. Now, her agency, Verk Studio, is working with premium fashion and e-commerce brands. How did she do it? 

You need agency experience. Working at a top design agency for three years was incredibly important to gain experience. I’ve been dealing with many brands, learning about various styles, and how to work with different clients who each have unique expectations. You have to understand how agencies work, starting with task management and presenting projects to clients, to creating design layouts, including website interfaces and visual elements. Being a great digital designer working on one brand is very different from running your own agency and working in a team.  

Build your network and portfolio. Go to industry meetups, interact with developers and other experts in your professional ecosystem, as well as potential clients. If you deliver and showcase high quality work, freelance gigs will come your way naturally. It definitely helps if you are close to sales people. Some clients don’t have the budget to hire a big agency, but they still need someone to design projects. Sales people can recommend you for leads that aren’t a fit for them. And you can use these kinds of opportunities to build your own business portfolio.

Secure your future before stepping into the unknown. When I left my stable job at the agency I felt I had too much work, and new project opportunities were often knocking on the door. In addition to my full-time job, I had one client on retainer, as well as several smaller one-off design projects. Whether you need to launch your own business or not depends on how much money you make as a freelancer. The key is to have at least one or two clients on retainer so that you can have a more stable revenue stream.

Learn to be your own manager. I think that my success partially comes from the fact that I am really good at managing my own projects, timeline, and deliverables. When you come from a creative environment and launch your own business, you have to be very organized. You shouldn’t miss deadlines — especially the ones you set yourself. You also need to have a clear and realistic timeline or task management board that you can share with your clients. This way everyone is on the same page concerning who is accountable for each task and when each item is due.

Know your competitive advantages. Sometimes you can lower prices if you want to get your foot in the door, but at the end of the day you need to do great work and stand out. I always try to be an extension of my client’s company as opposed to merely a service provider. Yes, I am a designer, but I try to understand what kind of problems they face and what I can do to help them. I always go the extra mile. It’s about anticipating what people need versus what they want.