Since retiring from full-time employment as a freelancer I have devoted some of my time to mentoring other digital artists in the creative arena. My main goal is to help them avoid the pitfalls of the profession. To not learn the hard way as I did on so many early projects.
Some want to be full-timers meaning they want to devote their working time to a constant flow of freelance contracts because to really get on top in freelance it helps to have signed contracts waiting to be filled.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Skill has a lot to do with it… so does attitude, creativity and not being full of yourself all the time. Some of the time is expected… I mean… after all… you are good at what you do… right???
And so are a LOT of other people that would cut your heart out for a contract.
Having top-tier skills doesn’t get you very far anymore. In fact, the landscape is rather crowded. Just hit YouTube and look up 3D Demo Reels if you want to get an idea of how many great artists there are out there that are current NOT employed in the industry but trying to break in or get back in.
If you are not getting a little discouraged by now, then you might not be realistic enough to make in the freelance industry either. By that I mean any prudent person with decent problem-solving skills will realize the pitfalls ahead of them and hopefully take a more realistic approach to getting work.
Don’t be discouraged… just be grounded.
The following are some the early questions I ask those I mentor.
- Are you the “Go To” freelancer at the companies that know you and value your work? If not… why not?
Be honest with yourself when you look at this. Only you must know what is going on in this conversation so no use in lying to yourself or building yourself up with false pretense. Don’t look for something that is not there as it won’t be there when you need it. Confidence is one thing… confidence, skills and a proper attitude is another thing entirely.
- Are you inclined to say no or to say yes when assigned tasks are changed or other assignments are given to you on top of your already busy schedule?
If you are inclined to say no when your schedule gets crowded, then freelancing might be a tough choice for you. Employers for the most part really don’t care how you feel about an assignment. They just want it done… professionally. Learn to say yes and temper that desire to say no when asked to deviate from previous orders.
- Does taking orders from everyone at your employer bother you?
I mean EVERYONE at the employer. Some of the most important employees in any business are the ones that answer the phones, make the appointments and deliver the mail. These folks always know to some degree what is going on in the company. You aren’t there… they are… let them be your eyes and ears on what is going on inside the company. If you put an involuntary smile on their face when they answer your call, then you are doing it right.
- Can you take professional criticism?
This one is tougher than most would imagine. No matter what your opinion is… it is the opinion of your employer that counts. Keep that in mind and things will go smoother for you. Those that write the paycheck make the rules.
Think you got a better way?
They don’t care.
Get used to it. Offer your opinion when asked… otherwise… do the work and shut up. It’s NOT YOUR project.
- Can you take non-professional criticism?
Let’s face it. We are all critics. That’s life. If you get paid to do something some people do as a hobby you open yourself to public criticism. Do not fight it. Accept it graciously and move on. Never engage and never move backward with criticism. Instead, use it to better yourself and your skills.
In future installments, I’ll cover these points individually. Some of this is common sense but I can’t count the times I’ve seen very promising artists torpedo their freelance career when they could have just done things differently for a better outcome.
In closing, there is one thing I tell anyone that will listen… sort of my version of a golden rule:
Never, through your own action, become a problem or concern for your employer.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD at his website.