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advice on being a creative freelancer

Lately I've been asked a lot about my experience becoming a freelance creative. I've now immortalized my advice in this post and included helpful resources at the end. Grab a large beverage of your choice because this post is a doozy! 

earning as a creative

I'm starting here because I think it's what people wonder the most (I did!). It also relates to everyone regardless of their specialty. Warning: this may be a depressing paragraph. Judging by my experience and what other bloggers have written, most freelancers aren't hugely successful financially speaking. While there is no ceiling to how much you can earn, there is also no floor. Most months are cleaning the floor metaphorically speaking. And having minimal bills makes this all possible (I could go on about finances forever so I'll leave it at that). You will trade things like consistent pay and good insurance for the freedom to work where and when you want. I'll share a few places I've had success gaining multiple income streams.  

 1) Sell your designs to earn commissions at places like Minted., Threadless, Cafepress, etc. Checks that appear at regular intervals without any work on your part—best thing ever. 

2) Set up a shop of your own. Both this and the above suggestions look different for every person, so tailor to your preferences. Before starting an Etsy shop, I recommend finding a good e-course. There is sooo much work involved it would be really helpful to have expert advice from someone with a successful shop.

3) Get regular clients. I did a lot of volunteer work which eventually led to me becoming an asset, which now equals paid work. Find a organization/business that you think needs help and more importantly find one that you'll love their projects! 

about designing

Not meant as a lament, but to share a common frustration: In school you are being taught how to solve problems visually and learning the technical software. Then you are taking the problems and refining and refining for the sake of the work, making it a better design. Sadly, when you move to working for art directors and clients, the work gets "refined and refined" except often it doesn't make the design look better and occasionally the design makes less sense. It's unbelievably frustrating and hard. Learning how to articulate WHY you design what you design is a big learning curve, so I'd suggest always being aware of the why and starting to write it down. Now, all that to say no matter how well you articulate, it's still you're AD/clients subjective opinion and they'll do what they want and you have to go along with it. Learning how to explain why is a skill you need and the sooner you start the better you'll be at it.

getting better at design

Create lots and lots of work. And more work.

I whole heartedly recommend following design blogs and getting a Pinterest, so that you are exposed to current design trends and designers. If you're in a position financially to be able to spend time just making work, I'd take advantage of it. The faster you learn what you want to do most, the better off you'll be eventually. I'm talking as specific as "I love painting flowers like Katie Daisy" or "I love making diy's like Hant & Hunt" or "I love illustrating type like Jessica Hische". After college, it took me 4 years before I realized I don't want to be a print designer, I want to style 3D environments. Figuring out your dream job and refining your craft is one of the hardest parts of creative freelance. There are so many ideas that seem FUN and it's lame to work years on a project/shop/blog before realizing it's actually not what you want. Slogging through is the only way (I know of) to determining your real goals and becoming really good. Two ideas to help you make work: start a blog as a journal of work/projects or open an Etsy shop of projects to sell. Now, those both present a lot of EXTRA work to learn blogging/platform/web or selling/managing/operating a shop, but they are two ways to keep yourself accountable for making work. Both Hische and Mary Kate McDevitt did a project of a letter a day, with the only goal being to make work for works sake (both have immeasurable success traced back to these projects). Another tip is to enter contests or send in blog post submissions to large blogs. Exposure is exposure!

working with clients

Freelancing is a lot of work that's not design related, like finding clients, marketing, invoicing clients, price quotes, designing your own brand/invoice/biz cards/site. And oh so many emails. Many times a client does not give the content for the design so you become a writer, print & production researcher, project manager, and make decisions on size/format of piece. Feedback can often be vague and frustrating leaving you with the feeling, "I'm not sure what you want me to do because I've given you my suggestion". You have to learn to ask questions to figure out what they want (because they don't even know!). Lastly, I just want to add that ID/logo branding is THE WORST. My opinion is that a client won't commit because this is "their baby" and tying them down to one graphic or color is too limiting. Guard yourself against the endless abyss of comp rounds!

a few more tips...

Imitate successful people. Follow what they're doing. I by no means have this figured out, but I'm constantly gleaning from other that I feel do the job well. My favorite inspiring (successful) people that I've stalked for years: Creative Thursday // A Subtle Revelry // Cannelle et Vanille // Jessica Hische // Promise Tangeman // Don't be bogged down by the never-ending to do list, and the ever-changing technology. Do what you love and love what you do, but in the end remember it's still WORK.

So there you have my humble (or maybe not so?) opinions gathered from 5 years of being a "professional creative". Am I where I ultimately want to be with earning on projects I prefer? Nope. Am I farther than I expected to be as someone who works for themself? Absolutely. Small victories is a win in my book! Please please add your advice & thoughts. Questions? What resonates with you? Do you disagree with anything?

invaluable (to me) resources

Learning to blog: Blogging Your Way

Learning photography or design: Nicole's Classes

Business: Design*Sponge Biz Ladies

Video Source: David Shiyang Liu

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Reader Comments (3)

Marketing your brains out. Keep the pipeline clogged. And offer majestic amounts of customer service. And you'll never have a problem getting clients. And keeping them.

Results may vary. :)

June 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDemian Farnworth

"Do what you love and love what you do, but in the end remember it's still WORK."

YES!!! I love this. it is so true. The blessing is that you have to work anyway why not do what you love? But remembering that even though you love it, you still will struggle and be busy and have crazy deadlines...so important. Even those extra hard projects, when it is over I think, it tried to kill me but I LOVE it. That's how I know I am on the right path. Great post!

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenny @ Hank + Hunt

This is very helpful. Thanks for sharing your insight!

August 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterYana

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