Moving to London
Back in 2017 I was already freelancing as a 3D/Motion Designer in the Czech Republic and it was our dream to experience life in a different city, but London seemed so huge, scary and expensive. At the same time it was the most reasonable option because of the language and job opportunities.
As a European citizen before Brexit, it wasn’t actually as complicated as we expected.
I was an 'art director’ at Ogilvy One Prague However, it was there that I realised that being an art director in Prague means something different from being an art director in London. The main difference is that as an art director you don't actually design. You are a specialist in idea-making, art direction and copywriting, and I was more of a designer. I didn't know that and therefore my portfolio looked very avarage even though I already had 3 years experience. Coming to London made me realise a lot of things about my career and what I actually want to do with my future.
OFFF London festival was taking place in September and we thought it would be a great opportunity to see the city, get to know the people and maybe take a look at the flats. It was our second visit and we booked one viewing we liked. At the same time, we were constantly checking more flats when we were there and found another one in a Facebook group.
We had two viewings that day. The first, in Brick Lane, was in the morning and the second one in Peckham later in the evening. The flat on Brick Lane was in a terrible condition but had an amazing rooftop. The Peckham flat was far from city centre and we weren’t excited about that one either.
After the second viewing, the an agent informed us that someone wanted to reserve the Brick Lane flat, but that they would prefer to rent it long term and to a couple. We needed to decide at that exact moment! The landlord was OK with a dog, so we took it. The very next day we signed the contract.
I think that was a really smart decision as it’s almost impossible to land a flat nice like that first time! My advice? Don’t be too picky and act quickly. If you don't like something with the flat, come to an agreement before you sign the contract. If you’re single be prepared to share a place with other people as having your own place is a luxury few can afford. We paid £2000 including costs for our own place in a good location. If you share a place, your costs could be around £600-£800 per person. Another important cost that agents don't usually mention is council tax, which is another £100 monthly per flat.
When Maxim left I needed to pack everything and because of our dog Panda we decided to take the ferry from Calais to Dover. It was quite the adventure! It’s a cheap option and not at all stressful for your dog. But, of course, I should have left much more stuff back in Prague.
The first week in London was the scariest. All of our budget went to the first month’s rent + 1 month deposit (£3400). You could spend £50 a week on budget (meal deal and no alcohol 😁). We had savings for one more month, but I really needed to find work immediately.
The first thing I had to do was get my NI number. Without it you won’t get paid a penny. Then open a UK bank account. With Monzo you can do it online in no time at all and compared with standard high street banks you don’t need any particular documents. As a freelancer you need to open a limited company. It’s online, easy and fast (you can do it here. With LTD you legally need to pay Public Liability Insurance. Other options are working as self assessment or having an umbrella company, but I wouldn’t recommend that. Also get a UK telephone number. Three is a great provider.
With my website, showreel and business cards at the ready, I walked around London and give my business cards to any studios/recruitment/agency I found on Google Maps. This tactic proved to be a waste of time, but at least I was getting familiar with the city.
In the evening I searched for opportunities online. LinkedIn was, and still is the best platform to find a job. All the recruiters and producers are there posting when they need some help and you are able to find these posts by searching specific skills like ‘motion designer’, ‘C4D’, ‘after effects’ etc. and filtering location, recent posts. I got my first freelance job by doing exactly that.
For the second job I ended up ‘permanencing’ 3 months for a small production house through the recruitment agency called wearepeas. Other agencies I would recommend are We are Source and Gemini. Your day rate could vary from £180 to £300 based on your skills, but usually there is a predetermined day rate from the agency so you don’t have to stress about it, although you should know your price. Be fast, say yes to every job and think later, if you want to think about it, the offer is already gone.
I had to change my portfolio several times because agencies and recruiters were asking for specific skills rather than looking for a designer-generalist. Having presented myself as a social media designer I succeeded in getting my first job at a startup after 7 months of looking for a permanent job. Up until then, I’d just had a few freelance gigs.
There are many platforms to present your work. The Dots works best for me The dots - Masterclass They do have very nice events similar to speed dating with creatives directors where you can show your skills and portfolio. I've met some very nice people and I've recieved great feedback on my work. Other worthwhile events are held by The AOI, General Assembly, Creativepool, See No Evil, Working Not Working, Ladies Wine and Design, Nicer Thursdays, Glug and many, many more.
In London there is also a strong community of illustrators and artists. They support each other and that is so beautiful! For example, a platform called Badass Gal, Creative Debuts, Young Creative Council, D&AD New Blood and It's Nice That of course.
But to be honest, the best platform to promote yourself and meet people is Instagram.
Maxim & Johana
Moving to London was a great decision! We've met the best people from our industry and formed strong relationships and friendships. The world has become more open to us and we can now afford to travel and explore different countries as well. As freelancers, we have worked at many different studios and agencies and learned a lot! All the amazing exhibitions and events have kept us inspired and the competition has kept us busy. Coming here is a game changer for many people, as it has definitely been for us.
Thanks for reading and DM us on our Instagram if you want to know more!
Maxim & Jo