Elizabeth “Elle” Atkins is the owner and head designer at PostFilm Design, a brand identity and marketing design studio based in Atlanta, GA. She specializes in environment construction through visual branding for competitive businesses, and focuses her energy on crafting incredible interior marketing messages for her clients.
Along side her is her partner and in-house coder, Jared Hague at Tin Robot, as well as a slew of talented freelance artists from all over the US. PostFilm is growing quickly, and becoming well known for their positive encouragement and support of their community colleagues. Founded on the principal of continuing education, Elle hosts free classes online 3-4 times a year, and speaks publicly in her community in Atlanta.
1. How did you get started in the industry? How can someone who is interested in your work get started?
I own and operate a small brand identity and marketing business in Atlanta, GA, called PostFilm Design. I started out with literally $150 in my bank account and a cup of ramen noodles. I never took out a business loan, and in the first 4-5 years of my freelancing journey I invested all of my money back in to my business. I grappled hard for every opportunity and had quite a few setbacks, but stayed consistent and used every experience to help build myself up. I also gave myself a lot of time to explore the market and decide on what I really wanted to do with my career before I started my business. Don’t get me wrong, I was also really impatient and hungry for success, but ultimately I’m glad I took the slower path towards excellence. PostFilm is a culmination of about 6 years of trail and error all leading up to a really solid business. For people interested in the wild world of branding, or any part of the design world, it’s really important to keep in mind that steady wins the race. It’s really tough to remember that, especially when you’re maybe working a full time 9-5 job, and designing at night, but never give up. Keep going, and stay consistent. Oh, and always be nice to everyone you meet. You never know when an opportunity might come along.
2. What’s the future of your industry or job?
Branding is an incredibly competitive market, but it has great advantages compared to other forms of freelancing. Not only is branding incredibly creative and innovative, it’s also a highly sought after skill. And, weirdly, it’s a total enigma for small business owners. If you choose to specialize in small businesses, be prepared to be a source of education. I was able to position myself in the market by understanding the audience I really wanted to work with, and then addressing their wants, needs, and desires all throughout their project. I highlighted my strong marketing background, as well as a great artistic background, and it really sets me apart from my competitors. I also don’t limit my clients or where they come from. I have clients in Canada, Europe, and all over the US. We’re even breaking in to the Australian market and have had inquiries from South America. Neat, right?
3. What do you look for when you hire an intern or entry-level candidate?
Truthfully, I really believe strongly in fostering a great working environment and opening a position up that will not only benefit us, but not be really taxing on the person wanting to learn. We’ve capped our internship at 8 hours a week, and offered it as a paid position. It’s just the right amount of time each week to help someone new in the industry grow without taking away their ability to work other places (you know, to pay their bills), and it’s perfect for us because it adds a helpful hand to our team during some of our busiest seasons. We usually look for interns that are incredibly eager to learn and just generally excited to be with us. A great portfolio is a total bonus, but we don’t expect students to be super incredible right off the bat (heck, none of us were!), and we really want to create an environment where their thoughts and ideas are heard, and their questions answered. Work includes being involved in our marketing efforts and getting the real scoop on what it’s like to run a business like ours. And… there’s ALWAYS an opportunity to design side by side with us, and be in on brainstorming ideas for real clients. We also give our interns the ability to set time aside to review their portfolio and get encouragement and feedback on what to improve.
4. What is one thing an intern can do to make a favorable impression?
Each business is SO different, but for us, just be really enthusiastic, and prompt. It’s a huge bonus to include writing samples and portfolio samples, but if you’re just starting out and not sure if your portfolio is strong enough yet, or if you’re nervous, just be professional and interested. The interns that we’re most excited to talk to are the ones that are the most excited to talk to us. Our environment at PostFilm is small and family-like, so for us, it’s important that the person gels with our workflow. At a larger company, it might be easier to blend in or be surrounded by a broader range of personalities and job functions. But, at a small firm like ours, we’re really hands on and high energy. If you reflect an eagerness to learn and the ability to be on time, and enthusiastic, you’re exactly the type of person we’re looking for.
5. Can you share a positive intern story and an intern horror story? No names needed…
Actually, I can share my own. In the very beginning of my career I did an innumerable number of odd jobs to keep myself visible in the community, and to continue my education past college. I can’t tell you how many weird or bizarre stories I have from that time in my life… WAY too many to count. But, there’s one that really sticks out in my mind. I was working as a paid intern at a photographer’s office editing images, designing albums, and keeping track of invoices. The business was struggling, and the business owner was growing grouchier and grouchier by the day. There were multiple instances of just generally bad business practices, but by the end of my 12 week internship, it was really clear that the business was suffering. I hadn’t been trained to handle client complaints or talk to any clients in general, and on my second to last day I was randomly tasked with handling all of the phone calls for the day. Low and behold, a very angry customer called in complaining about an album that had been done before I had gotten there, and they were demanding a full refund. I was so overwhelmed, I had no idea what to do. I put the customer on hold and went to talk to the business owner only to find her hiding in her kitchen eating a yogurt (it was a studio in her house). I explained what was going on, and she just told me to handle it, and to “… tell ‘em I don’t give refunds.” I remember how terrible it was explaining to the client that the owner of the business was not only too “busy” to talk to them, but she wasn’t giving refunds. You can imagine how well the conversation went. And, I had absolutely no solutions for them. I vowed that when I was running my own company, that I would never treat any of my clients like that. It made a really strong impression on me.
After that I left and began working for a local news station on their local food spot for their website- sort of like a “hot or not” about local food. It was AMAZING. The staff was awesome. My close friend was a writer and she’d always invite me along and we’d eat, chat, laugh, and I’d photograph our plates (with restaurant permission, of course). That was back when I was still eating a lot of beans and rice so it was a total bonus for me at that period of time. I wasn’t being paid much of anything, but it was a lot of fun and really helped me grow my communication skills. That small freelance job taught me a lot about relationship building and being a part of your community in a positive way, and I still use a lot of the skills I learned on that job. Oh, and it taught me about the power of just asking. I was surprised at the warm reception I would get shooting at local restaurants, and how well they would treat you just for asking to photograph their food casually for a feature online.