Freelancing Red Flags
Women & Design // WID Insights
What not to do as a freelancer, things to watch out for, and definitely do not work for exposure. Here are a few things I learned the hard way! Now, I don't know it all, but they've helped me get better each day.
"Oh, you're a freelancer? How lucky, must be nice to be home all day!" was just one of the many things people would say when they found out I was a freelancer. But yes, yes it is! I started freelancing as soon as I graduated, and I was incredibly fortunate to have my parents support my decision to do so. I knew it would be a rocky road ahead, but I was determined this was a path I wanted to go down. Since then (and since the pandemic), lots of friends and strangers have reached out to me wanting to work remotely, or start freelancing - "how do you get clients??" they'd always ask. To that I say, freelancing isn't just about getting clients! Yes, that is a major aspect of becoming a successful freelancer, but there are thousands of miniature decisions, plans, processes, and techniques that need to be polished and perfected to be able to collaborate with the right clients!
PSA - I don't know it all. I'm happy to be learning on the way, and I'm humbled to say I've reached a point where I don't have to chase to get leads/clients or fight for proposals on freelance marketplaces - rather all the clients I've worked with for over a year now have reached out to me! So again, I don't know it all. But here's what I've learnt so far, and I'm hoping it helps you kickstart your unique journey.
1. Knowing your niche.
My biggest mistake when starting out was not defining who I am as an Independent Creator. I used to take up any and every project that I found online (at that point, I was desperate to have projects. Lesson #01 - don't be so desperate). Don't send out mass emails/applications to random places just because they have an opening at hand.
Tip: Find studios/clients that align with the work you want to be creating, and exclusively work in that space. This will help you build your portfolio and attract the right people you should be working with.
How can you do that? - Identify a company/studio with whom you would ideally want to work with - say you want to be designing for Nike, it won't help you to create illustrations for a food blogger or T-shirt company. You should be collaborating with footwear brands, big or small, and slowly building your identity in that space.
Ask yourself, "What can you do that sets you apart from the crowd?" This will help you identify your niche. Do what you love, and you won't work a day again :)
2. Know your worth.
Once you know which space you find yourself creating the best value in, the next step is knowing, and understanding your worth. Don't undercharge and undervalue yourself - but that being said, don't overcharge either. There's no one straightforward way of setting your value - it really does depend from person to person. That's what makes freelancing, and your value as a freelancer so unique - it's you who defines it.
Tip: You'll learn as you go & grow. Don't worry about a few bad batches, because what you'll learn is priceless. Have a few projects where you have the freedom and ability to test out new pricings, packages, and methods. You'll never know if you never try!
A few things to think about before setting your rates, think about the expenses you've made to be able to produce the quality of work you're doing today. Adobe Creative Cloud doesn't come cheap, neither do electricity and WiFi bills. How much did you pay for your design education? Your rent, bills, technology, tools, devices all come into consideration. Additionally, it helps to keep in mind the client you're working for - geographical location, the size of the client, their target audiences, where will your work be used; these are all things you need to think of at the back of your mind as well. A mentor once gave me the example of creating an illustration/graphic for Nike/Coca Cola/any other big brand - think about who will see it? You're charging them $100 to create it, they will use the graphic on billboards, ads, social media and so much more! The number of people that will see it, the revenue your graphic may make them could then be 10x more than what they paid for initially. That really changed the way I thought about what our work as creatives can do for brands!
Pricing doesn't have to be intimidating, it's not about doing what someone else is doing. Do what works for you, that's what matters and eventually, only that is what will help you find some stability and confidence in the process.
3. Saying no 🙅🏽♀️
Good lord was this tough. As a rookie freelancer, I overused the word 'yes'.
"Will you add in a few more illustrations for free?" Yes.
"Will you have everything done by tomorrow?" Yes.
"I think we should use bright pink instead" Yes.
Even if bright pink didn't go with the color scheme. But I didn't want to step on anyone's toes and only wanted to hold on to the project. But saying yes did more harm than good. Over the years I realized the benefits of 'no'. It's not about being exclusive, but rather being focused on what your goal is. The Nike portfolio example I mentioned previously still holds good here. I know it's tough, I'm still working on it as well - but if you accept a 3-month project that doesn't align with your niche, goals, or worth - you're wasting 3 months! It will pay you, yes. But it won't be a step forward, rather it'll be one backward. We don't want that, do we?
Tip: If you feel it in your gut, you gotta make the cut. You'll know when you have to say no, you just need to have the courage to follow through. You got this!
Trust me, saying no to a project isn't the end of the world! It simply opens up more doors for you!
4. Work-Life Balance shouldn't be a myth!
Boy, did I struggle with this. I love what I do, and sometimes I love it a little too much. I'm still finding a work-around that helps me get as close as humanely possible to a 'perfect' work-life balance. I admit I'm a bit of a work-a-holic! But if 2021 has taught me anything, it's that work-life balance shouldn't be a myth.
Learn to shut your laptop and enjoy life. Work isn't all there is! There's so much more. Go out for brunch dates, walks in the park, work out, spend time with friends and family, and most importantly - find a hobby that isn't your job! As creatives, our jobs often were our hobbies. And so it's not an absolute bore to sit down for hours writing, sketching, modeling prototypes, or creating jaw-breaking ceramic products.
Tip: Find something other than what you do from 9-5. Everyone needs something else that keeps the fire burning, you don't want to be burnt out and have a creative block, trust me!
5. Be cool.
This one's funky, but necessary! So I'll keep it short and sweet. People want to work with you for who you are and what you do! Your work, your style, your personality, it all matters as a freelancer. Don't be too rigidly professional, and don't be too friendly either (yes, everything is all about balance). Find the sweet spot in the middle, that's where you need to be at.
Tip: Your clients are your collaborators. Look at them in a different light, and you'll be able to be their friend and help guide them towards where they need to be! Do this, and you'll build a great relationship that'll last beyond the projects (plural, because I'm sure there will be many more to come!)
These were a few things that I learnt over time. Take these lightly with a pinch of salt. You've got this! Keep going and you'll get there!