Interview – Nathan Peyton, freelance artist

Last month we caught up with Nathan, one of Rounded's long time users. We chatted about all things freelance - the ups, the downs, the inspiration and staying sane while working solo.

Who’s Nathan Peyton?

I’m a freelance artist, a New York-born who moved to Australia 8 years ago. I worked for the Australian Red Cross as Logistics Officer, bringing together long-term response teams and handling outreach after environmental disasters.

These days I’m doing freelance artwork, mostly for marketing agencies, apps and mobile games. I’m also freelancing in UX design, websites, e-commerce, app development, portraiture, and concept art. I dabble in a couple different industries. I’ve been freelancing full-time for the past 4 years.

I was always fascinated by imaginary worlds from comic books and JRR Tolkien and wanted to contribute in some way – either as an artist or writer. The writing bit didn’t stick, because I guess I always wanted to be an artist.

When I was really young I used to draw any superhero I could copy – Batman, Superman… During my teenage years it remained a hobby.

I then went to university for 3D animation, but I quickly realised I didn’t like that industry so that’s when I decided to pursue fine art instead.

Video games have had a massive impact on my life. Final Fantasy, XBox, PlayStation, old MS-DOS games… These days I do more research and marketing for video games than I have time to play them. But on the odd weekend off, there’s nothing better than to get into a huge game and totally immerse myself in these worlds that insanely talented people have created.

Who influenced you as an artist?

The biggest influence is definitely my dad. His work ethic and craftsmanship – he’s a fine woodworker. The amount of care and detail he puts into his art and carpentry, and the time he invests, is always inspiring to me. Hopefully I cultivated some of that work ethic myself!

Outside of that, there are so many artists that were inspiring to me as a kid – comic book artists, fine artists, professors at University. These days it’s more my peers – other freelancers. We keep each other inspired and motivated.

We always love hearing about how or why someone decided to move into freelancing and working for themselves. What sparked your move?

After leaving university and the Australian Red Cross, I contemplated getting a ‘job’ working for a video game company, and having that rigid work structure. But, having the freedom to choose the jobs I wanted to work on always seemed to attract me more than a full time gig.

I definitely think freelancing is the harder road to follow. You don’t get the stability of a 9-5. For me, I had other priorities – being able to work where I wanted to work, making my own time, and choosing the clients and the work I wanted.

We know, we know… freelancers shouldn’t have favourite projects! But if they did?

It’s always fun working on bigger games or bigger IPs like The Walking Dead. But, my favourite projects are when a client comes to me and says “you can do whatever you want, you can create a brand new campaign, your own vision” and they really trust me to help sell their product or game.

What’s your favourite thing about freelancing?

Being able to have a consistent work week while also travelling wherever the hell I want! It’s the best thing.

I can go places and still check in with all my clients. I take all my tools (like Rounded!) with me, it’s very freeing. To be able to pack up and go somewhere else – that really fuels me. Last week I drove up to the Appalachian Mountains and worked off my laptop for the day. Personally, the more I travel, the better I do in terms of my imagination and creativity.

What are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?

A big one is to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I’m a man of extremes, I’ll either binge-watch an entire TV series or work for 36 hours straight. So, it’s about having that balance – it all goes back to routine and lifestyle choices.

Working from home can be challenging for the mind. You need a lot of discipline, the right tools, and the right routine to make sure that you remain productive.

To separate personal from professional, I make sure I’m not working where I sleep. It’s also very important to get outside sometimes!

How do you combat isolation?

For me, one of the most effective ways to fight isolation is to look up and work out of local co-working spaces. Coworking spaces make for excellent networking opportunities. Through Fishburners in Sydney and WeWork across Australia and the USA, I’ve made amazing contacts and become really good friends with a number of people.

How do you disconnect from work? Do you have any hobbies?

I make sure I do lots of reading, working out – remaining healthy, and going on as many adventures as I can – hiking or biking.

If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I take a step back, go for a walk and do a lot of observation training. I’ve learned that being in the present moment doubles up as mindfulness – you’re not thinking about what you still have to do or what you’ve already done. I observe shapes, colours, interesting designs around me, and it just alleviates that stress of needing to get things done.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest myth about freelancers?

There’s still the prevalent stereotype that people who want to work from home or travel and work are just goofing off, watching movies all day or lazing at the beach.

Everyone that I’ve met that chooses to work this way, they’re the hardest working people I know. They have the most ownership and the most drive for what they’re creating because they have to make it for themselves. If they don’t take responsibility or have that discipline, they’ll fail.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out on their own?

I’d definitely say “don’t be afraid to ask for help”.

In the beginning, I hesitated to reach out to people who had vast business experience, or artists I’d looked up to. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it all alone, from scratch – which was a big mistake.

Sending an email to someone who really inspires you and saying “Hey, this is where I’m at, can I get your advice?” – it’s incredibly helpful. People are generally very open and genuinely want to help each other.

And what about some marketing tips? Freelancers often find it challenging to “blow their own trumpet”.

In my first year of business, I was doing more traditional art than digital, and trying to sell it via Melbourne’s markets.

I put thousands of dollars into securing stalls and trying to sell directly to people, but I just didn’t find any traction. I’m sure some artists do, but my experience shows that people will rather purchase art online or when they’re specifically looking for something. If they just bump into it at a market, they’ll rarely invest money – even for something as small as a greeting card.

Once I got serious about digital marketing, things started to change. These days I get a lot of work through LinkedIn. I also find work through co-working spaces – meeting other professionals face to face and helping/promoting each other.

Why do you choose Rounded?

It’s the best accounting solution for freelancers that I’ve found so far. I’ve looked at others but Rounded had everything I needed.

During my first year, I was using an Excel spreadsheet to track my hours, finances, expenses, and naturally it just got so out of hand and disorganised! It was ridiculous.

Rounded is super intuitive and easy to use – I use it off my phone, my laptop and my Mac simultaneously. If I’m out and about, or if I take a client out, I can snap and upload a photo of as an expense and never worry about it again.

It’s completely transformed how I process work and the workflow with my clients – sending out invoices, auto-reminders etc.

It’s given focus and organisation to every aspect of my business. And it gives me peace of mind that all my data is backed up. There’s no more “Oh did I just delete this month’s finances? Uh oh.” (Yes, I actually did that in my first year)

Looking forward, what do the next 12 months have in store for you and freelancing in general?

I’m currently at a crossroads where I’m either going to expand into a studio and hire more people, or scale back and focus more on personal projects. It’s an interesting time. I’ve also contemplated expanding the business while doing year-long work trips around the world where I’d move to a new city every 2 weeks.

The freelance industry is transforming like crazy. Coworking spaces are popping up everywhere and becoming stuffed with people that want to take ownership of their time. Also, less and less companies are looking for full-time employees. They employ contractors. I think that trend is here to stay.

We promise we didn’t solicit the following statement…

A personal thank you from me to Rounded – I know it sounds super lame – but I’m not really sure what I’d do without Rounded, without this tool in my ‘toolshed’. It’s integral to how I do my business and how I interact with clients, and it keeps improving to the betterment of the people that use it.

Rounded is simple accounting and invoicing software made for Australian sole traders and freelancers

Learn more