Today I'd like to share my freelance story with you all. Ever since I graduated from college, I've always had some type of creative job. I did graphic design work and illustration for a variety of companies and organizations before deciding to go it alone this March (2015). I'll be honest, I was scared out of my mind. I only had a few local clients, I wasn't being represented by an agency yet, I didn't have much of a following yet on social media and I have a young family to take care of. All I knew is that I really wanted to make a living producing images and art that brought joy to others.
The first thing I did was reach out to an agency for representation. I was happily surprised to see that they were willing to sign me! My representation started in March and it has actually been a very good experience thus far. I'll be honest, jobs did not immediately roll in so I worked really hard to build my portfolio and start blogging and posting to social media on a more regular basis. I slowly but surely began to get work through my agency and inquiries and attention from social media. I also pored the net for information about building a creative business, being an effective blogger, using social media to promote and sell yourself, really just anything to do with becoming a successful entrepreneur.
I'll be honest that for the past 9 months, there were times that I had a hard time making ends meet. Waiting to be paid is probably my least favorite part of freelancing. To help me along I've concentrated on trying to diversify my income streams. Along with my freelancing I have set up a couple online print-on-demand shops, signed up as an affiliate on a few sites, taken on contract work and I even started working part time (for a real estate agency).
It's definitely been a rollercoaster of a year. I've probably put in more work hours in a day than I ever did at any of my salaried jobs, watched my budget and checkbook more closely and gotten less sleep, but so far I feel it's worth it. Soon I'll have my first book published which is so exciting.
My Thoughts on Freelancing
As much as I'd like to paint a lovely picture about how wonderful freelancing and working for yourself is, I feel that it's not for everyone. Although the title of freelancer may evoke freedom, total creativity, or a life of adventure and financial abundance, the truth is it is not easy!
Here is a list of a few realities I've had to face:
I've worked harder, put more time and given up more weekends than I have in over a decade.
Work also includes doing your own record keeping, accounting, time and project management
"Working from home" seems to put in the minds of others that you have all the time in the world to do other things like take care of the kids, clean the house and other random errands and chores.
Receiving a paycheck is not timely nor is ever on a regular basis unless you are doing contract work for someone
You don't really have total creative freedom if you are working for someone else. You are creating their vision even if it's in your style.
Being represented by an agency doesn't necessarily mean steady stream of work. It really depends on whether a client wants to work with you. Being represented does help you get your work in front of key players like art directors which you may have been hard to do on your own.
I found that it's been harder to balance family and work as a freelancer than when working a steady job. I've often had to sacrifice either spending time with my family, sleep or just plain old "me" time because I've had to meet deadlines.
I hope that I didn't turn off some potential freelancers, but I feel it's important to inform others who are making the decision to work on their own that there are these difficulties.
Here are a few things that I've really enjoyed so far as a freelancer:
Having the opportunity to work with some really great people. In only a few short months I've done projects for some wonderful companies and worked with awesome people!
It feels very fulfilling seeing your work being appreciated! I will have my first book I've illustrated published this winter and I'm super excited. I think it will even be on Amazon! I've had work published in magazines but never a full book! My online Redbubble, Casetify and Spoonflower shops have also been doing pretty well.
I've learned a LOT. I've taken courses and did online research to try and learn everything I could to benefit my business. I've also had time to actually take some creative classes on Skillshare.
I found that I am capable of a lot more than I previously thought. As I've said before, as a freelancer you have to take on more roles that most other employees may not have to: accountant, book keeper, project manager, receptionist. I do not like any of those roles and would never picture myself doing any of them as a living, but now I kind of do. I'm not great at it (by any means) but I have realized I can do it which is really empowering.
Networking and meeting new people. One of the main things I've learned is a must for any creative business person is growing your online/social media presence. My job is based on visual awareness and what better way to be discovered than showing and sharing your work! I really enjoy commenting on the work of others and getting a reply back. I always try to share other artists work on my blog (Net Picks) along with tools and references I've found valuable.
A Few Tips
Lastly I'd like to leave you with a few tips if you are considering becoming a full-time freelancer (or even part-time).
Save, save, save! As I mentioned earlier, paychecks do not come quickly or often! Although I felt I had a hefty savings when I started out, it quickly depletes, especially if you need to purchase anything to start up your business.
When you are first starting out, weigh each business expense and decide if you must have it to run your business or if you can wait. It's inevitable you will need a few things to operate your business but can your current computer or software version suffice for another year or so? Do you need to take that online course? If there is something that will benefit you like speed up your process or teach you how to get more sales then it's probably worth investing in. If you want it just because you are stoked to be starting out a new venture and it's more of an impulse buy, consider waiting.
Remind yourself you don't need to take on every single job that's offered to you. I often still feel pressured to take on jobs that either don't pay well, or may just be speculative work just to get something on my resume. Ask yourself is it worth your time or your sanity. Personally I'm always willing to do a job for a little less pay if I 1) adore the client (some people are just a joy to work with), 2) it will get me a lot of positive exposure and attention to my work, 3) it's just something that sounds super fun. I think new artists feel pressured to do as many jobs for little pay that comes their way just to get exposure and experience. I think this is ok as long as it doesn't suck the joy out of your life. Also, I don't think it's good to take on work for little pay because you think you'll get more work from that particular client. You may end up getting more work but that client may think that you're willing to do the work on the cheap (which may be why they are continuing to hire you). Don't undervalue your skills.
Keep good records! I don't know about you but I'm naturally not a very organized person. My thoughts rarely run linearly and this is one of the tougher aspects of freelancing I had to get used to. I always make sure to keep records of all my jobs, income, paid and unpaid invoices, and have digital files of all my business expense receipts (I scan physical receipts). I do not use accounting software for invoicing or record keeping (instead I rely on Google Docs and an invoice template I created). I do have my own accountant which I think is worth it if you can afford one.
Make goals and work towards them. For example, you can try to aim to earn a certain amount or land so many jobs the first year and then figure out a way to meet that goal. Waiting around expecting work to come to you most likely won't lead you to success.
Network. Make friends on social media. Actually look at the work of others and leave a comment. Be nice and others will start noticing and checking out your work.
What I've learned in my scant 9 months of doing this full time is that everyone has something unique to offer. It's easy to be intimidated by all the awesome work out there and feel crippled with the fear that you can't bring anything new or as good to the table but you have to get over that. Do the best work you can, create from your gut, meet your deadlines and be nice and you'll be just fine!