To compliment our book review of Creative, Inc., we asked a few creative freelancers what their thoughts were on running their own businesses, managing time, keeping their skills sharp, and their secrets to success.
Illustrator, Animator, Designer
Glenn Thomas got his start in freelancing doing Web design and photo editing, and has since moved on to illustration and animation. His work ranges from whimsical and playful to dark and mysterious. With more than 4,600 followers on Dribbble, he’s making a name for himself in the illustration and design industries.
Killer Creatives: Are you schooled or self-taught?
Glenn Thomas: A bit of a mix. I attended a very broad two-year TAFE (Technical and Further Education) Course that covered Multimedia. So we would do two weeks on Photoshop, two weeks on Illustrator, two weeks on Bookbinding, two weeks on Flash, two weeks on Plate Making, etc. When I went home at night I would work on my own projects and some small client work. After my course finished I continued working on self-initiated Photoshop and Flash work for another couple of years, while working part time in retail, before finally making the jump to full-time freelancing.
KC: Did you work for any companies full time before freelancing?
GT: No, I didn’t. I have only ever worked as a freelancer.
KC: How many projects do you work on at one time?
GT: I juggle anywhere from one to five projects at a time. If I am doing a large scale project like an animation, I will tend to just focus on that. If it’s smaller work like CD covers and spot illustrations, [the load] might rise to five. Eventually, I hope to only do a dozen or so larger scale works per year.
KC: How has your freelance business expanded or changed since you first started?
GT: I’ve progressed from doing a lot of Web work and very heavy Photoshop photo-edited pieces to now focusing on illustration and animation full time. I’ve been in this focus of illustration and animation for about 18 months now. It’s been a pretty seamless and natural transition as both my desire to do that work and the demand from clients has moved in that direction. Looking ahead, I hope to continue my progression into illustration and animation, improving on my skills and learning new techniques.
KC: What advice would you give to aspiring freelancers in your fields?
GT: Work hard, don’t give up, don’t be afraid to take time off, push yourself, stop thinking, never stop having fun and don’t let the bastards get you down.
Check out Glenn’s work at his website, The Fox and King.
Writer, Editor, PR & Social Media Consultant
Los Angeles, CA
Working independently is both stressful and rewarding. For Jessica Jones, the secret ingredient to balancing the two is variety. From writing fiction to copywriting, editing to marketing — and even acting — the professional pen-for-hire is balancing it all. She’s even turned her side business, Jessica Jones PR, into a full-time operation.
Killer Creatives: How long have you been freelancing? What role does it play in your career right now?
Jessica Jones: I don’t like to use the term “freelancing.” I prefer “contractor” or “consultant.” “Freelancing,” to me, carries some negative connotations. It doesn’t convey to clients that I’m fully invested in their project. If I’m involved in a project with a client, I like to be considered as an extension of their organization. It’s important to be considered an “expert” of sorts in the field, and so I consult based on my knowledge and experiences, and then implement the most effective strategies, within budget parameters.
Having said that, I’ve been working on independent projects for clients on the side since about 2003, and have been consulting full time for a little over a year now. So, it’s my full-time job.
KC: What services do you offer?
JJ: Right now, I’m focusing on online marketing strategies. My specialty is social media. I also offer some traditional PR services, specifically media outreach (mostly online media, like bloggers). I also still do some copywriting and editing. I also do research, event coordination, content management, and I’m an actress. I wear many hats.
KC: Do you have an agent? If not, how do you snag clients?
JJ: I have an acting agent, but that is all. For my other work, I have a couple of good recruiters that I work with. I also find jobs on my own — or they fall into my lap!
KC: What do you like most about working independently, and what do you like the least?
JJ: One of the biggest cons of working independently is obviously that you have to basically put your CEO hat on and run your game like you’re running a business. You’re responsible for your time, salary, benefits, etc. It can be overwhelming. If you’re going it alone, you also don’t have assistance — no one to delegate to. It can be lonely and stressful. If you have more than one client, juggling clients can also be tricky. Sometimes I feel like I run my own PR firm, but I’m working twice as hard and making half the money!
The biggest pro for me is the variety. I tend to get bored quickly when I work in-house, because any job can become monotonous. When you work independently, and find a good rhythm with your clients, you can have all sorts of adventures. For example, one week my office was a huge house in the Hollywood Hills one day, I worked an event at the L.A. Live Marriott downtown another three days, I had an audition in Santa Monica, and had video conference calls with clients in Seattle. It can be fun!
One day I may go back in house, just for the stability and security that a corporate-type job offers, but at least I am able to now buy myself some time until the right fit comes along.
Contact Jessica at firstname.lastname@example.org
Whether he’s shooting concept art or weddings, Justin Haugen is passionate about his work. During the week he captures images for a missile defense contractor, but on the weekends he runs his own freelance photography business.
Killer Creatives: What were the first steps you took when you decided to go freelance?
Justin Haugen: I’m not sure if it was really a decision so much as a transition. I had been taking on freelance work throughout my time in school and submitting work to automotive magazines pretty regularly, but two years ago my interest in cars shifted toward portraiture and weddings. I went through several hard drives’ worth of images, tracked down my best work, and put them on my webpage. My girlfriend, who is a graphic designer, created a logo for me, and I had business cards and flyers made. It was then that I had a bonafide visual identity and brand going on.
KC: How do you balance your day job and your independent work?
JH: Stressfully! It’s increasingly difficult to manage a day job and find time to spend with my girlfriend or work on home projects, so I tend to schedule most meetings and photoshoots on the weekend. I need to work on managing time to post-process images, update my website, and work at my marketing. Ideally I would like to shoot more personal creative work, but I try to make every job count and continue to better myself. Luckily I’m a photographer at my day job so I am always in practice, shooting photos regularly to stay sharp.
KC: How do you find clients, or do they usually find you? What do you do to promote your services?
JH: I get a lot of referral business, usually through friends on Facebook. I think creative types are served well to maintain a presence online. It’s a good idea to remind your contacts that you do this for a living, so when someone needs a photographer you’ll come up in mind. I’m also constantly shooting with my phone because it’s the camera I always have on me, so I post work on Instagram and other photo apps. I try to post photos I think are aesthetically pleasing and exhibit good composition, as well as share things that catch my eye and represent a skill set that translates to my work with a DSLR.
I also pay monthly for advertising through wedding directories. The sites have a digital brochure with samples of my work and links to my website. One listing even integrates with social networking, so I can increase my reputation by getting more likes and reviews from customers.
KC: What do you like least about working independently? What do you like the most?
JH: I think what I like the least is the difficulty of self managing my time and effort — having to dedicate so many resources to enhancing my brand, increasing my skill and handing over deliverables to my clients. I am constantly reevaluating my process and technique, and trying to find ways to advance every facet of my craft.
What I like most is setting my own hours, being my own boss, and being the face of my business and interacting with customers. I meet a lot of interesting people and even make friends through my work. And I think anyone who has ever cashed a check for their creative talents knows how awesome it feels to have your vision validated by a dollar sign.
Mc Baldassari began as an industrial design student in France and studied at the University of Montréal in Quebec. After finishing school she realized that doing more creative work would fulfill her artistic spirit. Despite a career detour, Mc’s formal training in technical design has influenced a personal illustrative style that’s enabled her to make a living doing what she loves. Her secrets to success? An open mind, confidence and perseverance.
Killer Creatives: How did you get into illustration? Were you schooled or self-taught?
Mc Baldassari: I started studying Applied Arts when I was 16 years old in Avignon, France. I was persuaded to work in industrial design until I graduated and started looking for a job. I wanted to draw, not do 3D modelling or technical drawings. Meanwhile, I had a blog was drawing doodles for myself for a couple of years. That’s how I first got hired for some freelance contracts and then everything started. My boyfriend also had a big influence in my choice of career, giving me confidence to realize I was able to make a living out of my drawings.
I drew a lot in industrial design and that really influenced the lines, technique and perspective in my illustration/art style. So my skills are partly schooled and partly self-taught. I think it’s challenging because there are some elements I already control and can deepen, other stuff I’m still learning, and even more to discover!
KC: Do you do a lot of freelance work? How do you deal with indecisive clients?
MCB: I have more and more illustration contracts and it’s true that it’s not always easy to deal with clients. Sometimes there is more than one person included in the project and it makes the job more difficult, which is why communication is primordial. It’s important to be able to make compromises and to listen to what the client needs, and to find good words to use when you think he is wrong. There has to be a constant balance between the two parties. The illustrator has the knowledge and the experience, but the client has to be happy and satisfied when the drawing is done.
What’s funny is that it’s completely different with my artwork: I’m the sole architect of my art pieces and I do everything as I want. I love [working on my own], but I also love to work with clients because it gives me the opportunity to do some stuff I would never do by myself. It makes me try new stuff and evolve!
KC: What is some advice you’d give to someone just starting out in illustration?
MCB: First, be passionate! You’ll probably have to do some free or underpaid work at the beginning and that’s normal in the first few months. Be curious, polyvalent and open to new projects or suggestions. Get feedback by sharing your work, it will also increase your visibility. Don’t be scared to make mistakes, that’s how you learn. Be patient and be ready to have a hard time! Be open to get a part-time job if you need to because the biggest difficulty for a freelancer is definitely the money. And most of all: DON’T GIVE UP! When people start giving you the chance to draw for a living, it’s the best job ever!
Check out Mc’s work at mcbaldassari.com
Los Angeles, CA
David Vernon is no stranger to the entertainment industry — his father, comedian Jackie Vernon, was the voice of Frosty the Snowman — so his career in screenwriting seems only natural. “I spend my day alternating between [totally different] worlds,” he says. These worlds include: a barren woman who molds a boy from clay that magically comes to life, a recently-blinded jockey who enters a competitive horse race, and a group of strangers seeking shelter from a sandstorm at Burning Man, to name a few. David shares what it’s like to be a freelance Hollywood screenwriter.
Killer Creatives: What role does freelancing play in your career?
David Vernon: I am a full-time writer for film, TV and the stage. As a freelancer I have the incredible opportunity to live, breathe and travel in all of the worlds I create on a daily basis. But conversely, as a freelancer I need to be working and juggling many projects at the same time to keep my little one-man industry running.
No matter how big or small, all working writers are freelance. Some gigs last longer than others. Sometimes deadlines overlap. If you are lucky, and so inclined, you might land work on a TV show and be staffed for several years. The beautiful thing is, no matter what, you’re still able to write your own scripts during your off-hours.
KC: Is having an agent necessary? Why or why not?
DV: There have been times in my life when I’ve been blessed to have an agent. There have been other times when it was the opposite. Agents need to sell you and you become a commodity. They need to fit you into a box. One agent told me that he could sell me as the guy who wrote about troubled families — imagine being the guy who only wrote about troubled families! Needless to say, the agent and I weren’t a good fit.
But having an agent is great for two things — they can put you up for jobs that you can’t put up for yourself (for example, if I wanted to write American Pie 8, I couldn’t just call the producers up and ask for the job). The second great thing about having an agent is that they can be the bad guy for you — they can turn down jobs, make demands, and get you your money faster. However, all of this costs money. Many writers I know have an agent, a manager and a business manager — each of them getting 10-15% of the money you earn. You could be giving away 45% of your earnings to your crew — plus taxes.
KC: What’s your favorite thing about freelancing?
DV: I feel fortunate to be able to do the job I do. And somedays it is definitely a job. But I wouldn’t have been able to explore the worlds I’ve explored, meet the characters I’ve created, and research so many amazing topics — and get paid for doing all of it. My worst days as a freelance screenwriter beat the holy crap out of my best days as an office temp. And that’s how I now I’m on the right path.
Visit David’s website at awkwardpocketcandy.com
- Freelance Switch is a community of global freelancers offering support and guidance through their blog, forum, job boards and resources. Subscribe to their awesome newsletter for tons of great content on self-marketing, working with clients, staying on top of your game, handling taxes, operating your own business, and more.
- Both small and large businesses use Elance, a huge international marketplace for professional freelance work, to find all kinds of talented consultants from all over the world. Elance connects more than 2 million freelancers to online gigs.
- 50 Essential Resources for Online Freelancers & Entrepreneurs — This blog post by Bidsketch, an online service that helps freelancers create professional proposals, suggests 50 super-helpful resources for project management and productivity tools, email apps, business tools, blogs, and more.
- Creative, Inc. is a must-have guide for all kinds of creatives — graphic designers, photographers, stylists, illustrators, and others. Learn how to put together a great portfolio, self-market, handle entrepreneurial legal concerns, and more. The book also contains interviews with freelance pros across the continent who offer their practical advice. Check out our review of Creative, Inc.