186 | Q&A: Do freelance fashion designers need to be on Instagram? The answer will surprise you.

Break free from the endless tweaking of social media and portfolio and start landing paid projects. Discover how to prioritize your efforts, create an impactful Instagram profile, and leverage in-person connections to gain clients. Get ready to step out of your comfort zone and make real progress in your fashion design business.

In this episode, we approach the common problem of being stuck in the “productive comfort zone” that many freelance fashion designers face. Just like today’s guest, Zoh Hollinger, you’ll learn the solution lies in creating a visually clear Instagram profile, focusing on pitching, and leveraging in-person connections and trade show listings to land clients. Get ready for actionable tips to propel your fashion design career forward and leave behind unproductive habits.

Connect with Zoh:

Zoh Savanna is a creative self-starter with over 5+ year industry experience who is fueled by a passion to make a positive impact in the world through fashion. She now freelances her design skills in tech flats, tech packs & collection development for small to medium women’s sustainable lounge wear brands.

Wach the Episode

Heidi [00:00:00]:

In this episode, you’ll hear a clip from a one on one strategy session with one of my Fast students, Zoh Hollinger. Zoh is a freelance fashion designer specializing in sustainable loungewear. But every time she sat down to focus on building her freelance career, she wasn’t sure what she should be working on. She was kind of endlessly tweaking social media, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or working on her portfolio or website week after week. She felt like she wasn’t making any real progress or actually getting clients newsflash. This is a very common problem I see freelance fashion designers making all the time. I call it stuck in your productive comfort zone. It feels like you’re making progress, you’re being productive after all, but you’re not actually getting anywhere.

Heidi [00:00:40]:

So I shared some specific strategies that Zoh could use to get off the hamster wheel of over, tweaking everything and start getting paid projects. If this is something you’ve ever struggled with, you’re going to love this strategy session. Let’s get to it.

Zoh [00:00:53]:

And I also struggle with the time that I do have. I’ll get paralyzed. I’ll just like, oh my gosh, I don’t know what to work on.

Heidi [00:00:59]:

That’s a real thing.

Zoh [00:01:00]:

And then I’m working on like I’m working my portfolio again.

Heidi [00:01:04]:

Yeah, I was going to call you out because you said, hold on, I want to read this verbatim. I’m using Behance as my portfolio website. I’m simplifying projects I already have. I’m using Adobe Illustrator Google Suite pages in Canva. That’s fine. I’m prioritizing social media channels Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Facebook. So that’s a like there’s a big conflict in that sentence. I’m prioritizing social media, but then you list all four social medias.

Heidi [00:01:35]:

So that’s not prioritizing to go ahead.

Zoh [00:01:39]:

Yeah, it’s probably mostly instagram. I’m trying to think of a flow where it’s like sometimes when you post on Instagram, it automatically posts on a Facebook page. So I guess my idea was like, if I have an account and if I’m posting content, then I can share it and then I wouldn’t even go.

Heidi [00:02:00]:

Down that rabbit hole, though. It’s very tempting. But this is one of those comfort zone activities. You feel like you’re making progress and you feel like you’re doing a lot of things, but you’re spinning your wheels on your portfolio and you’re creating this Instagram presence. And listen, you can get clients from Instagram that come to you. It’s very rare and very hard, especially at the very beginning. So if you want an Instagram presence, my recommendation is like nine posts that feel very cohesive to what you do and then forget about it. Like, if you’re going to then be reaching out to brands on Instagram and you feel like they’re going to obviously go back to your profile and look at who you are, you don’t need to show that you’re posting twice a week or however often.

Heidi [00:02:48]:

Right? You need to just give them literally at a glance in the 2 seconds that they see your profile, is it visually clear? And through the description in your bio, whatever it’s called, do they get it zoh? Yes. Zoh is instantly clear from that glance at that nine by nine or three by three grid, sustainability design flats, tech packs for lounge, or like, ideally it’s the word that they use to describe their brand. But if you’re reaching out to whatever, there needs to be a visual connection. The clothes in your profile need to feel like the clothes that they make right. That’s all you care about with your Instagram profile. So you probably already have all this stuff developed. You can take screenshots out of your portfolio right, that build out this little nine minute grid or whatever. And then your one sentence bio is right.

Heidi [00:03:42]:

One of these pitches you mentioned earlier, I design for the conscious, casual, contemporary Woodswear brand who needs clear and innovative sheet design. Whatever it is, you just have to be really focused on that though, that that matches those brands that you’re reaching out to. If you’re not doing anything on Instagram, like any pitching, then forget that and just focus on like, okay, you have your two to three page PDF portfolio sorted out. Do you feel like you have that? Or you could finish it this afternoon. Like, just get it done, get it good enough.

Zoh [00:04:09]:

Yeah, honestly, I feel like it’s good. I’ve done a lot of revisions. I’ve done a lot of I need to add on to it. I feel like now I can always add to it, but I feel like right now it’s simple. It basically has everything I need at a glance.

Heidi [00:04:28]:

Okay, so arguably, if you want to do the Instagram thing, which I would argue is diversion, could literally take those nine posts, screenshots out of your profile and literally post them all in one afternoon. It doesn’t matter. It’s not about this cadence to this perfect Instagram account or getting all the likes or anything. It doesn’t matter. If you’re going to use it. It is a tool to give those brands that visual instant, like, yes, okay, this feels like us, right? Okay, so you have this PDF portfolio. Good. Forget Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook, forget trying to set up that flow for everything to auto post.

Heidi [00:05:06]:

I would spend your 10 hours a week pitching.

Zoh [00:05:07]:


Heidi [00:05:08]:

And if that split between in person and online, great. However you divvy it up. I think the in person thing is great. I really think it’s great.

Zoh [00:05:16]:

Yeah, I get a lot of the connection. I feel like that in person talking, I can really better explain myself online. I think I do struggle with a little bit, but I think you just kind of saying, I don’t know, you just kind of saying no to the social media kind of gives me permission to just let go of that. I think I’m spending too much time on it or worrying about it for some reason. But my Instagram right now is it has some of my portfolio. I think I should just let it sit. And then I have the spreadsheet of brands I’ve been tracking that I found through Instagram. So maybe just using that to pull brands and then I’ve been using upwork and then just basically research online and finding an email and reaching out to them.

Heidi [00:06:10]:

Yeah. You know, you can also do like looking at trade show listings is going to be huge for you. Like looking at sustainable trade shows, there’s tons of that space, right? Or maybe even there’s like in some of the bigger trade shows, there’s a sustainable category. When you go on their website and you look at all the exhibitor listings, you can often filter that, right? Not only by sustainability, but also then by category women’s and then sometimes even by style. I also wouldn’t discount reaching out to design agencies that are out there.

Zoh [00:06:40]:

That was actually a great idea. I was thinking about that.

Heidi [00:06:43]:

Yeah. The other thing too that you can do, you found that local factory for your brand, connect with them. Factories can be a great place to build relationships with where they can then just funnel you clients. That’s the same with the design agency idea, right? I don’t know what their setup is if they’re specifically a sustainable factory, right? But like, hey, so what happens is you chat with them here’s all the things I do, again, lead with value and position. It very benefits and results rich. But the idea here is that brands come to them, they’re like, hey, make my thing. And they’re like, we don’t really operate off of a napkin sketch, but hey, we know Zoh and she can help you get this all sorted so that you come to us more prepared. And that makes everybody happier, right? Production is sampling and prototyping is going to go better.

Heidi [00:07:40]:

Production is going to go better. So building relationships with factories or design agencies or even suppliers in the sustainable space, like, think about fabric suppliers, trim suppliers, like whoever is in the sustainable space, right? Because then again, okay, this brand, this person has this idea, they go to this sustainable fabric supplier, they’re like, I need some fabric, right? They don’t really know what they’re talking about. I know you don’t want to do a production thing, but you could get them started out with design flats, tech packs, even understanding what they need to start. So I think you have a tremendous opportunity too, beyond reaching out directly to these brands that you found on Instagram and going to these boutiques in real life, which I really love that strategy, I really do. And I feel like that really works your personality. So lean into that. But then what also can really work with your personality is like building these, you’re very personable, right? And you know how to talk to people so go to that factory, go to some sustainable suppliers. Where can you create a funnel? So I would literally spend your entire 10 hours a week that you have for freelancing.

Heidi [00:08:49]:

I would put a filter on every activity you do and I would like a litmus test, right? Like, is this activity going to directly relate or going to directly turn into paying work? Now, arguably, you could say, well, this Instagram post could turn into paying work. Let’s be a little bit more realistic. Are you actually putting yourself out there and talking to people and connecting with people who ultimately could pay you to do something? And that kind of sounds like a dirty, gross way to say it, but when you sit down for those 10 hours each week, I’m not spending time finessing my portfolio, right? I’m not trying to cross post on LinkedIn and whatever, facebook and threads or whoever knows what’s going on now. Right. But am I proactively reaching out to people? There’s potentially an opportunity either directly with them or right. They can start funneling people to me.

Zoh [00:09:44]:

Yeah, that conversation just something about you that can be turned into something either like, I could consult with them or they can use my services. Yeah, it was actually refreshing for you to touch base about the social media and the little tidbits of portfolio website because, yeah, it does bring in clients, but it’s not solid. It’s not solid. I’m not actually talking to somebody or reaching out and having a response. It’s like a storefront and hoping people come by.

Heidi [00:10:21]:

Hoping people walk by. And I love that you said that, right? Because first of all, the internet is a very crowded space, right? So when you’re first starting out thinking that people are just going to trip over and discover you on Instagram through some hashtag or find your website and fill out your contact form or something, it’s very wishful thinking. It’s very crowded out there, right. And it’s like trying to put up a T shirt with some graphics on Etsy. Like, everybody and their mother is selling graphic screen printed T shirts on Etsy. Yes, you can ultimately get it to a point where you have those inbound leads coming, but it’s going to take a lot of build up to get there. I would rather see you and everybody spending that time at the beginning building up through things that are in your control. You’re in control of reaching out to these brands, reaching out to these factory suppliers, what have you, right? You can put up that website or the Instagram or whatever, but you have no control of, like, hopefully these people find it, but I’m just sitting here like, fingers crossed, waiting and hoping.

Heidi [00:11:26]:

And again, nothing is ever sure. Right. You can reach out these brands and they might not need your help, but you’re in a much better position of control than the opposite scenario. And everybody gets hung up on the website and the Instagram. Everybody does it’s very normal.

Zoh [00:11:42]:

Yeah, just another point real quick is kind of looking back, like reflecting now. It’s like whenever I put it out on that storefront or website or Instagram, whatever I got back, I wasn’t doing the work that I wanted to do. Like, what I want to do is tech flats, tech packs, or sustainable design collection development consultation. But I end up doing sewing lessons or pattern making. It’s definitely come through. I think I also struggle with confidence and try not to come from a desperate place of like, oh, this is a client. Technically, I used to be a sewing instructor, so it’s like, I’m really stretching it out. But it’s like, that’s not what I want to do.

Zoh [00:12:32]:

But I feel like since I’m pitching, I have more control then I’m like, I’m pitching for tech flats or to do your tech packs or, These are the services that I can do. And then sourcing and kind of working with manufacturers, I don’t feel super confident. I feel more confident working with myself on that. Okay, but not with other brands right now.

Heidi [00:12:53]:

But the factory example, I want you to really think about this very logically. I actually then think that reaching out to the factory and developing a relationship with them for them to start referring people to you is a great point because what it’s show or a great strategy, because the people that are reaching out to the factory, they’re doing their own sourcing. That’s what they’re doing right there. Right. Or even the fabric supplier, and they’re like on step ten when you’re like, well, we got to get back here on step one. Right. So they’re already doing some of the stuff that you don’t want to do. So the factory is like, great, we can work with you.

Heidi [00:13:33]:

But what’s best is if you come in with tech slats and sketches and tech packs right. These tools that we can then do the job 100 times better.

Zoh [00:13:43]:

I really like that point.

Heidi [00:13:44]:

Think about that. Right.

Zoh [00:13:46]:

What I was really hung up on is I thought maybe if I worked with an online client, like a remote online client that maybe didn’t live in my area well, I only feel comfortable working with the manufacturers locally. That’s mostly based in San Francisco because that’s where I went to school with. That’s where a lot of my experience has been with. So I have some connections with it, but I always was, yeah, I can help source or manufacture, but I only know what’s in this area. But now kind of like you hearing you talk about it, maybe I can kind of flip the narrative where I can lean into that and maybe just work with the local manufacturer. You could and be like, their funnel.

Heidi [00:14:33]:

You could design are yeah, it’s a real thing. Multiple fast students have built out amazing. I mean, we say funnel it’s a little bit of sounds, a little right. But that’s essentially what it is. You build the relationship with the source, and then all these other brands are going there, and they’re like, Whoa, no, you got to funnel over to Zoh first and then back, right?

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