1 You need patience and bucketloads of it. You will wait. A lot. For emails. For feedback. For the green light on a project. For approvals. For the final say from everyone involved that the job is complete. For your invoice to be paid. The last one is usually the biggest wait of all.
2 You need to be able to multitask. If you can’t do this, you’ll have to know people you can outsource tasks to who can do the thing that you can’t whether that be copywriting, photography, book keeping or website building. You are now your own boss. It’s in your best interests to keep learning to enable you to keep up. Work on your skills and try to develop new ones. Keep that learning curve going upwards. But ultimately, stick to what you’re good at. Don’t waste time learning to code if it doesn’t interest you. There is always someone who it does interest who you can pay to do it for you. Life is too short to do things you hate.
3 Don’t forget that you have a support system in social media. Join groups that you think could be of benefit to you. If you’re needing help with something, ask the question. If someone else is asking advice and you’re confident about the subject matter, give advice. Twitter and Facebook are probably the best channels for this. Ask people’s opinions if you’re unsure about a particular project. Do you prefer A or B? A simple question that people will be only too happy to express their opinions about. Be prepared for criticism too. ‘Neither’ may not be in the equation but that doesn’t necessarily mean that no-one will say it. Abuse is uncalled for but can sometimes happen. Grow a thick skin and remember “Don’t feed the trolls”.
4 Share your knowledge. If you’ve found an easy way to do something, a trick, a resource or a shortcut, spread the joy. Fellow creatives will love you for it and we are stronger together.
5 People will think you don’t work. Freelancers get up late, sit in their PJ’s all day watching daytime TV, right? Wrong. Just because your job is more flexible than a 9-5 doesn’t mean that you can sit on your backside. If anything, you will have to work harder because it’s up to you to bring the work in. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. It’s as simple as that. People will think that because you’re freelance, they can contact you 24/7. Set some boundaries, especially if you have an International client base. Don’t answer emails when you wake up at 3am or they’ll think that’s the norm. You will have to learn to switch off. For your own sanity.
6 You have to work even when you’re not being paid. Creating new work is imperative to keep your portfolio up to date. Nobody wants to hear an artist sing the same song over and over and nobody wants to see the same illustrations over and over either. If you’re working on a project, chances are that your client won’t be too happy with you sharing it on your website or even on your social media until completion. Even after that, they may not grant you permission, especially if it’s a licensing job or a big brand name. You will have to find another way to keep your content up to date. Make the time to draw.
7 Protect yourself. With a written contract. Terms and conditions on your website. Whatever. But do it. Trust no-one. Otherwise you could find yourself working all the hours God sends while slowly losing the will to live. If you have a contract in place between you, you are both responsible for sticking to your end of the bargain. Plus, it’s the professional thing to do. You can make the contract as detailed as you’d like, down to time lines, the amount of amendments included in the price and payment due dates. But make one. Sign it. Get your client to sign it or agree to it in an email. And stick to it. Nobody likes working with flaky people.
8 Respect copyright. If you want to use an image for a job, make sure you have permission to use it. This may incur a fee. Make sure your client knows what they can use the image you’ve created for them for too. Include in your written contract, the usage, print run and time frame limitation of the imagery you have created for them. If your client has paid for an image to be used once on a leaflet with a print run of 1000 and then goes on to use it on packaging, apparel and their website, that’s not okay. Make sure your client knows this is not okay. This is another reason to have a detailed contract. Your client doesn’t own the image, you do. Unless of course, they’ve paid for the copyright of that image. Which is expensive. And it’s expensive for a reason.
9 You will have to promote yourself. You can be the best illustrator in the world but if nobody knows about you, you’ll never get work. There are loads of ways you can do this, the most obvious being social media. Know your audience and pitch to them. You can find out who your online audience is by using the algorithms. If you regularly do craft fairs, make sure you have postcards, flyers and business cards to hand. If your client base is online, make sure you know where they ‘hang out’ online and be there. Don’t forget you’ll also need business cards or postcards if there’s the possibility of meeting them in person at a trade fair or meeting.
10 Enjoy the ride. Life as a freelancer isn’t the easy route and it’s not for everyone. If you have no self control, you may find yourself spending more time socialising with other freelancers than actually working. Unfortunately that doesn’t pay the bills. I’m not saying never socialise because you need interaction with other humans but keep it in check. If you’re lucky, you’ll go from job to job with ease. If you’re luckier, you’ll ride the wave and learn to surf it. It makes you appreciate the busy times more. Use any down time to draw, learn and create beautiful things. Eventually that will bring in more clients and more work. If it’s something you’re passionate about, don’t give up. It might be a rough ride but a smooth sea never made a skilful sailor.
✏️ Good luck on your freelance adventure.