Interview with Greg Grigoriou of Van Paul Studio

by Jennifer Moline

June 11, 2010 in Interviews

Greg Grigoriou is an example of the flexibility of owning one’s own graphic design studio – this year he packed up his family and moved across the country. In the midst of juggling his own business, Van Paul, a family and a major relocation, Greg took some time to dole out advice to future designers, discuss outsourcing and explain why a fly swatter is essential in his office.

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What drew you to a career in graphic design?

That’s kind of a pun, because it was actually drawing that drew me to graphic design. I used to work as a full-time illustrator for print magazines, newspapers and books, but I gradually found that I was better at illustrative logo design. From there I branched out into graphic design. I still consider myself an illustrator who just happens to be more than decent at graphic design.

What led you to start your own design studio?

I wanted to eat and buy things. Illustration is great, but it is a very hard-fought, competitive arena to make a living in. Plain and simple, I made more money designing, and it almost always came quicker to me.

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As soon as I found that I could design several things – like websites, identities, business cards and signage – I knew I had to put it all together into one design studio. Having an illustration background really helps me design in a unique way every time.

What are your favorite aspects of working for yourself?

The freedom – it’s cliché, but that’s why I love it. Freedom to just get up from my chair whenever I want – go outside and blow bubbles with my 2-year-old son at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday.

What is your most dreaded task as a business owner?

Acquiring something that vaguely resembles adequate health care – sometimes I still can’t believe I left Canada. Tax time can be a drag, but I keep things pretty simple so it’s not so bad.

Do you outsource any work, from the creative or business side?

I outsource coding, of course, from time to time, and I won’t hesitate to buy art and photography if I think it’s more appropriate or makes more sense than creating it myself from scratch.

I ‘d like to bring on another artist/designer, but I am having a heck of a time trusting someone other than myself to handle the actual creation of the design from concept to execution. When I’m too busy, though, I do have three or four designers and firms that I love to point people to, so be nice to me!

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You recently moved across the country – did that affect your business in any way?

Moving to Connecticut from California has been a major change of pace. The actual work-client relationship has been pretty seamless because most of my relationships can be executed virtually, but the actual change of lifestyle has been dramatic. Everything is different – the weather, the smells, the view. For example, my office used to be in downtown San Diego, with the planes and ambulances and clubs. Now I’m in the woods in a small Connecticut town. I’ve killed at least 20 different kinds of bugs in my office this month alone.

The clients are very different in the Northeast. A lot of my work is geared to tech and web, and that’s more of a California thing.

We’ll see how it plays out here. So far I love it.

Do you have any advice for young designers hungry for jobs?

I feel for the designer entering the marketplace right now. It has to be the most competitive it’s ever been. There seems to be a real race to the bottom in terms of speed and price right now, and that’s been going on for the last decade solid.

A hungry designer has to be doing very good work, very efficiently, so that they can offer reasonable prices. You don’t have to sell yourself out, but keep in mind the realities of the marketplace. That means really honing your craft, keeping your expenses low and then establishing a core of three or four really good client relationships. Once you do that, then it’s time to connect to the social media machine. I’m a big believer in social media as a tool to get the word out when funds are limited and even when your funds aren’t.

I always tell people that it takes at least five years to be a truly independent, full-time graphic designer/artist. Prepare for that reality! Of course, there are always exceptions and overnight superstars, but those people don’t really need my advice.

As your own boss, how do you keep yourself disciplined, making sure you find clients and keep deadlines?

I just have to open my mailbox. There’s usually a bill or two in there with my name on it. Then I go back to work. I try and set targets too – weekly, even daily.

How do you find new clients?

At this point I am fairly well connected both in terms of past client word of mouth and via social media. I embrace Twitter and industry websites that help to make it easy for new clients to find me.

I consider myself fortunate right now in that I have established a handful of really incredible clients who use me exclusively and mention me often to their colleagues and friends.

If I had to pay for advertising right now, I’d steer clear of trade books. They burned me in the past, and they cost a fortune. My money is on SEO and word of mouth.

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What’s your favorite form of design – i.e., brand identity, print, web design?

Definitely brand identity is my favorite thing to do. It is an amazing feeling to know that something I am creating today will be used over and over again for a decade or more.

Do you keep a regular schedule?

Yes, I work Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

What are five items your business cannot do without?

An iMac, Adobe Illustrator, a window, a very good chair and a fly swatter.

What’s your office tech setup?

Well, I guess I kind of ruined the surprise by the answer in the previous. But yeah, iMac all the way!

I like to keep my technology fairly up to date. It’s worth every penny when you get to the point where the technology works so well it just fades into the background.

Looking back on your education, is there anything you would have done different?

My wife is probably sick of hearing me say that I should have went to law school. I think I would have made a really great attorney! But then again, I probably would not be able to blow bubbles with my son at 10 a.m., so I think I like my education as it stands.

Shout-out to Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario – they did a pretty good job with me!

Jennifer Moline writes for the PsPrint Design & Printing Blog. Follow online printer PsPrint on Twitter and Facebook.

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About Jennifer Moline

  • Chelsea

    Jun 11th

    This is great. Freelancing can be quite difficult, especially when starting off. That’s why I’ve been using these freelance design contracts and templates posted at Sessions College for Professional Design, as they are incredibly useful: http://www.sessions.edu/Design-Career-Center/Design-Tools/Freelance-Design-Contracts-Templates.asp?fmid=0

  • Paweł

    Jun 11th

    Very interesting interview from freelancer’s point of view,
    a little formatting wouldn’t hurt tho :)

  • Jess

    Jun 11th

    Woohoo Sheridan College! I went there a few years ago for Photography.

  • Billy

    Jun 11th

    “my office used to be in downtown San Diego” Why did you move? Was it based on personal reasons or did you make a bad business/real estate decision? This should be included no matter the answer.

  • Laira

    Jun 12th

    It is a good experience to me so very Great Thanks for the posting….

  • crusher

    Jun 13th

    it is so creative that i can learn much from this. by the way, the design by me is ugly, so i had to learn right now.

  • Greg G

    Jun 13th

    Billy, thats a great question. It seems rediculous right and i’ll probably be kicking myself come winter, but the move from san diego to connecticut was motivated by family. My wife and I have 2 kids now and frankly it sucks being 2000 miles away from our family (they’re all in the northeast). I wish i could say I botched a California real estate purchase since that seems to be what all the cool kids are doing these days.

  • Victoria Blount

    Jun 14th

    An interesting insight into running or owning your own business, and relocating.

  • Sarah Lynn

    Jun 18th

    Finding quality affordable health care is one of the big concerns in my mind as well when thinking about going off on my own. Can I ask what provider you are using? Or if you have any tips on finding a good provider for the self-employed I could use a little direction. I haven’t done much research yet, but it’s on my list!

    Nicely written article… very inspiring! Keep it up.

  • Lala

    Jul 14th

    Grigoriou hits it on the head that being on your own can have its perks and its difficulties and it’s really a matter of discipline and work ethics that put you above water. The thing is, I also went through a phase of not being able to trust anybody but myself to do the work, what happened was I got way behind projects and got a list of disgruntled clients. I think one of the first skills that a business owner or freelancer should learn is how to delegate. This way he not only gains more time but also expertise!

  • GregGrigoriou

    Mar 30th

    Hi Everyone thanks for giving my interview a read. I’d like to add that I just launched Logoturn.com, a turn-key logo design and domain website. Its a new kind of site where quality is the order of the day.

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