As a creative professional, at some point in your career, you are going to do some freelancing. Whether you are working towards a degree, in limbo waiting for a job offer or just in the process of deciding what the next step in your career is, freelancing is an excellent way to keep your skills sharp, your portfolio growing and money in your pocket. Going out and contracting your own jobs can seem like an intimidating task especially at the beginning, but in all freelancing can be rewarding and profitable if you make the right moves. Here are some tips on where to get started:
1. Walk Before You Run
When it comes to freelancing, going big too soon can have its own consequences. The best place to start is in your own circle of contacts, people you know and/or work with. Ask your family and friends they need or know someone who needs work done whether it be a photographer for a birthday/event, a commissioned painting or graphic design work for their business. Your inner circle are not only your biggest supporters, they're also your biggest promoters.
"I can't stress enough the importance of knowing people....probably 90% of the freelance work I've done including recurring jobs, one of which I will have had for 2 years this fall, was from someone in my family or from a family friend." -Ethan Bierly, Graphic Artist at Impact Advertising and Freelance Graphic Artist for the Chesapeake Chorale and S-Squared Alchemy in Minnesota.
Starting small when you're just starting out is a great way to build your reputation and a great way to create a base clientele. This is also a perfect time to develop your brand and ways to further promote yourself.
2. Branding: Who Are You Again?
Branding identity is important in any business, but our career path is all about the visuals and incoming clients are going to trust what they can see first before they take your word for anything, trust me. You want to create an identity for yourself that looks professional and draws eyes towards your work and skills.The basics of branding identity are the logo, business cards, website and social media.
For a serious freelancer combining all of these elements creates a representation that's attacking on all fronts. We'll go into more detail on each level of branding in a future post. For now, just know that the goal of branding for a freelancer is to create an identity for yourself that is easy for customers to understand what you can do for them, but unique enough to set you apart from the others.
3. When hitting the pavement, use a sledgehammer.
Freelancing isn't a game played from your laptop, you're going to have to get out there, get a little dirty and do it with a smile. When I first started freelancing, I literally walked up and down the main business district in my town, walked into the different shops and just introduced myself as a graphic designer and what I thought I could provide to their business. I got a lot of kind rejections (which was a hit to the feels) and the day was exhausting, but at the end of the day I had a job to do the promotional design and printing for a women's conference and more importantly I was able to hand out business cards to each business so I was at least on their radar for future jobs. The only way to win in freelancing is set yourself apart from the rest and nothing is more unique than that brilliant personality of yours, so use your weapon.
"While art and graphics are obviously the important visuals details for setting yourself apart in the field, personality and character contribute to the rest. Bringing great ideas, being easy to work with, having an open schedule and asking the right questions can instill an employers confidence in your work ethic..." - Kelly Ciesla, Pre-Press Graphic Artist at CCL Label.
The honest truth is that as a freelancer, you're going to have to work a lot harder than normal to get and keep a client. Even if you have the best portfolio out there there's still a leap of faith on their end that you can provide what they're looking for without wasting time and money they could have used on a larger, more established company. So make sure to set yourself apart with incredible customer service and a personal touch they just won't get with those big businesses. Sometimes this may mean a little sacrifice on your end in the beginning, such as lowering your price a little to stay competitive, going the extra mile to be accommodating and cater to the clients needs. Being just a little psychic and anticipating those that the client may not have thought of is a major plus too.
4. Network: Like A Boss
Networking is a very intricate dance of back and forth between businesses both big and small. Networking happens where your business cards and a receptive ear are from an intimate dinner to large business card exchange events. The right way to network is to one, always promote your service and two, always be receptive to the services of other businesses and hopefully the conversation will lead to either a future client or a mutually beneficial relationship where you are recommending the other's services to your own clients. Having a working relationship with other businesses and freelancers in different fields is especially important because it can give you an "in" on new categories of future clients that you would never have had access to before. Keep your networking circle diverse, growing and remember to promote other businesses in return, because supportive relationships bear more fruit. And you never know, one of those networks could lead to a full time job. Great places to network are events with vendors like flea markets, fairs or just the local small businesses in your area (the best promoters of small businesses are other small businesses).
5. Stay Laser Focused
Freelancing is hard and tedious work no matter what field you're pursuing, that's just the tough reality. But the fact that you've made it through this much of this blog tells me you're pretty determined to make this work so always remember that whether freelancing becomes your permanent day to day or if this just a temporary stop to something bigger, you ARE going to be a better creative and a better YOU once you get through this early stage. Stay update on the latest trends and techniques, keep your portfolio updated even when you don't have a job, and research other artists and learn from their experiences (check). Keep in mind, what your goals are and stay focused. It's going to be easy to get discouraged when things don't immediately kick off, I've been there, but the difference between a successful freelancer and not is how much work, time and effort you are willing to dedicate to your craft.
Thanks to Megan Brad, Kelly Ciesla and Ethan Bierly for their input and contribution to this article. We hope you stay unique, stay focused, and stay creative.