Making Money with your Adobe Skills: Samuel Houser, Sonoma State University

by Maksim Starubinskiy

posted on 07-20-2018

Some people spend lifetimes in their own creative world, waiting for someone important to recognize their talent and call them up to the big leagues.

Samuel Houser is not one of those people, because Samuel Houser isn’t waiting around for anyone.

Early in his college career at Sonoma State University, Samuel decided that he wanted to make money with design as soon as possible — especially with his Adobe XD skills. After four years, this newly minted grad made it happen, and built an impressive resume in the process. (Congratulations, by the way.)

He was (and is) the lead app and UX designer for Halla, a food delivery startup. He led a complete rebrand and website design for Vuabov, a local drone rental company. He took on freelance logo and identity design projects for various clients, all while balancing a full course load and his job as the general manager of Studio Blue, Sonoma State’s campus TV station. Casual.

Samuel is the kind of person who decides what he wants, and goes after it without asking anyone’s permission. So when he told us that Elon Musk is one of his biggest inspirations, we all sort of shrugged and nodded because nobody was surprised.

Samuel was super open about how he made money with his Adobe skills in college, and we can’t wait to pass on the inspo. Check out some of the high points from our conversation below.

Who were your first clients, and how did you find them?

In the first few years of school, my main priority was building up my portfolio so I could market myself. At first I started asking around to family, friends, and classmates. Through my own network, I did a couple design projects for free, and that really helped solidify that my work was worth charging for.

How did you decide how much to charge?

My first paid project was creating a new logo for a local business. I think I charged 100 bucks as a flat project fee. I’m sure I was undercharging, but it did give me the confidence I needed to keep growing.

Beyond that, I took to the internet. I researched what freelance junior designers were getting paid in my area, and from what I saw, $75 an hour seemed to be a pretty standard rate. At the beginning, I was still balancing gaining experience with making money, so I decided to split that number in half while I built up my portfolio.

Have you ever had an experience where negotiating your rate has been a little awkward? How did you deal?

I had a client push back on my rate for a logo. It was awkward, yes, but I chose not to cave. I just kindly reminded them how important logos are, and that my price was a great value. I think it’s hard for clients to understand that they’re not just paying for the end product, they’re paying for the Adobe skills you’ve been honing over time to help them get to that great end project.

When you were in school, it sounds like you basically had a million things going on at once. What was it like balancing academics and your design work?

It wasn’t always easy. There were times when I had to stay up all night getting work done — but design is what I’m passionate about, so that helped with the late nights. It’s just way easier to stay motivated when you love what you’re doing, and thankfully, that’s the case for me.

You now have experience with a few different kinds of design. Any plans to settle down and focus on one?

I’ve really loved the process of helping the Halla app come to life. Creating working prototypes with Adobe XD and figuring out how to make a great experience has been really interesting, and super fun. But, on the other hand, I love doing marketing material and branding. The world of design is so broad, and I’ve enjoyed every part of what I’ve seen so far. Maybe one day I’ll hone in on a specific aspect of design, but for now I’m loving the variety.

What advice would you give students who want to start making money with their skills, but don’t know how?

Don’t be afraid to do a free project or two to get started, but stop once you have a good portfolio piece to talk about. Also, be sure to share your interests with people as much as possible (aka networking) — you won’t get any work if you don’t tell people what you can do.

Who are you looking up to for inspiration?

He’s not a designer, but I really admire Elon Musk. He’s created so many incredible companies, and I admire how he’s able to manage it all and keep them going at the same time. I’ve always been drawn to multitasking, and between managing school, Halla, the drone company, and Studio Blue, I’m no stranger to it. Elon Musk does multitasking so well, and on such a huge scale.

So you just graduated. (YAAAS!) What’s next for you?

More work! I’ll be working in the office with the Halla team and Vuabov, and also working on building out the content on my website. I’ve been building a one-task Adobe tutorial series on my website, with super short tutorials on tasks within Adobe XD, Illustrator, and Premiere Pro. I noticed on YouTube there were so many tutorials that crammed a lot of tips into one video, when most beginners are just looking for one thing at a time.

Topics: Creativity, Design

Products: Premiere Pro, Creative Cloud