I went full-time freelance almost 3 years ago now. A lot of things changed, clients have come and gone and I learned a few things. I like to organize my thoughts in this blog to serve as a reminder to me to prevent repeating mistakes.
Being a full-time freelancer for 2 years and 8 months, I’ve gotten too used to it that I am no longer confident I’m ready to go back into a studio. However, change is needed and this is something I am looking forward to because of reasons stated below:
1. Inconsistent Schedule
- Getting sidetrack is a lot easier because there is no boss that will get mad if you leave early for work to go visit a friend, or to visit a long lost relative, or to simply watch an upcoming movie, or to get a vacation you’ve always wanted. I tried and failed again and again to keep a strict schedule. It’s quite common to try to make up your lost time by staying up late and it is a vicious cycle.
2. Nightmare Clients
- I had a client who started out with paying me very well but after a few months, they kept low-balling my prices until I was earning less than when I started working for them. You should be rewarded for working better and longer for a client and not the opposite. I also had a client who started asking me to do things I am not experienced with like video editing, animation, etc. This is very frustrating and will just sidetrack you on your career path. It’s possible to get to this point if you don’t have a fixed rate and negotiations happen frequently. When this happens, it’s time to talk to them and stop.
- Always get your work in a contract, and make sure there are limits to revisions and payment dates. If not, clients can easily screw you.
3. Working on Holidays
- A deadline is a deadline and it doesn’t matter if there is a holiday going on. Thankfully, I was lucky to have long deadlines but it doesn’t change the fact that I sometimes have to work on weekends or holidays. Some clients still email or message me during these awkward times.
4. Overlooked Costs
- Other than the fees you have to pay for using Paypal, or your Bank, which you should always consider when charging, there are also other things that affect how much you earn. For example, if you charge $600 for a painting but end up using two weeks to do it, then it means you are earning significantly low. I noticed that I can only do around 4-6 hours of real painting work in a day. Things like revisions, slow client feedback, and miscommunications all add up to wasted hours. Make sure track how much time you are spending per piece to avoid being inefficient.
5. Multitasking is a Must
- To try to reduce wasted time, I recommend having at least 1 long term client work and 1-2 extra client works that you can do in between the main one. I know it is very difficult to try working on 2 or more projects within a day but it can help you be more efficient.
6. Non-Art Skills
- You need to understand marketing, contracts, excel sheets, taxes, accounting, other miscellaneous skills. You can always hire an accountant or assistant to do these things but it is critical you understand all the necessary steps especially the contracts.
7. Client Droughts
- As I am writing this, I don’t have any active clients. I have been extremely lucky for the past 2 years because clients contacted me on their own. This time, I have to be more active and try to contact them instead. Sustainability is scarier as a freelancer. The less popular you are, the more difficult it gets so I hope you saved enough cash!
8. No Health, Retirement, Insurance Plans
- Clients do not provide you with benefits like medical care services, or insurance, paid vacation, free education, etc. This is something you must also consider when charging. Other than this, it is harder to discipline yourself to stay healthy and keep exercising because you don’t have office mates who persuade you to join them in the gym nearby.
9. Rarity of Concept Work
- Most freelance work are for illustrations because the ideas are already set, they just need someone to paint it up. Concept work needs a fast turn-around and it is more efficient to do that in-house. There are exceptions of course but it is only given to a few elite artists who have a reputation and good connections.
10. Difficult to Collaborate
- In a studio, you can just ask the person near you for help on something you don’t understand. In freelance, you are on your own so I recommend getting other freelance friends so you can all hangout online and ask each other easily.
1. Vacation When You Don’t Have a Deadline
- Just last week I only worked for like 2 days, and the rest were spent on various meetups with friends, relatives, and vacationing out of town. This should enable you to reduce stress levels when needed.
2. Earn and Save More
- Compared to when I was employed locally in a 3rd world country, I can earn more in freelance because I get paid in Euros or Dollars. Most of my foreign clients simply have more buying power and understand art better than most of my previous local clients.
3. No Commutes
- This is huge plus especially in my country where people spend around 4hrs a day just traveling back and forth in sweaty polluted traffic jams every work day.
4. Live Anywhere
- Client don’t care where you live so long as you can do the work and submit it on time. Getting paid in a 1st world country rate while living in a country with a low cost of living will make you feel rich! You can also live with your family or kids and spend more quality time with them.
5. Choose your hours
- You can arrange your schedule to start the day with personal stuff to reduce stress and have an incentive of waking up early. I usually spend my free time browsing random stuff, looking at art, hanging out with my girlfriend and other friends, reading and making tutorials, watching movies, etc. It was initially hard to prioritize personal time because I was scared of not meeting deadlines, but I have learned the value in doing so. Try to fit in at least 30 minutes to study art.
6. Nobody Can Judge
- Nobody will know if you’ve taken a bath or not, or if you’re wearing pants or not. Being freelance means all you need to do is use the computer to do work. Anything you do in between is up to you without anyone looking behind your back.
7. Ability to choose work
- In a studio, you can get stuck in an IP for years, in freelance, you can work on a lot of different projects simultaneously. You are also free to reject any work that doesn’t fit your goals. For work that you do not like, I recommend charging higher than your usual so it’s a win-win.
Being a freelancer illustrator/concept designer is hard!
You have to be very organized, disciplined, popular with the right connections, and skilled in your craft, to succeed. Only a few people can handle going full-time freelance because the stakes are high. The freedom you can get comes at a price.
Going freelance means you have control. This sounds good on paper but in reality, it means having more responsibilities and more uncertainty. On the other hand, getting in a studio depends on the studio you get into. It depends whether you go stagnant and get bored, or you get to grow in all sorts of areas and be the best artist you can be. Plus, you get benefits and won’t worry as much for the future.
Right now, I’m in a weird spot where I’m experiencing the client drought and I’m beginning to think it would be easier to go back to work in a studio to gain more reputation. I honestly think my skills are already up to par with a lot of international artists, however, I’m still a no-name which means it is difficult to get high paying clients. To give an idea, I consider clients who pay $1000 or more per illustration as high paying. This is something that is unfortunately rare for me but common to other successful freelancers.
There are clients like Wizards of the Coasts that can give artists continuous years of work. Hollywood also enables freelancers to live a comfortable life because of the high pay. I’ve personally met a few of these artists who travel the world while still working for popular movies, living like rock stars.
I’m far from achieving this status. It is the end-game for freelancers after-all. The simplest way to get there is to get awesome and unique enough that people notice your own stuff. Another option is by joining a known studio to work on a popular IP. Doing fan art is also one sure way to get likes. These are probably the best ways to get your name on the radar which should make your life easier as an artist. It sounds easy but the journey will be tough. Whatever I will take, I’ll do my best.
What do you guys think? Do you prefer to be a full-time freelancer? Why or why not?
Feel free to discuss in the comments or message me directly at email@example.com