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To freelance or not to freelance

At some point in your artsy career, you may have asked yourself whether it would be worth it to work for yourself or work for a studio. Fortunately, you'll find a few answers to your questions and a few other resources to help point you in the right direction in this blog! We'll cover some basic info to give you an idea of what you can expect and decide whether this is right for you!

What's the difference and why does it matter?

The main difference between the two is that you are working for yourself and are responsible for everything from making your income, building your client lists, paying your taxes, finding your insurance, making connections, and repeating that all over again. While working for a company or a studio, they would handle portions of everything while you pay a certain percentage out of your paycheck for insurance and retirement plans. Let's not forget that you'll get regular paychecks plus projects to work on throughout your employment. There are pros and cons to both, and both can be successful career paths depending on how you prepare yourself. Neither route is easy since both take a tremendous amount of hustling to achieve a successful career.

Let's start with why it matters. Becoming a full-time freelancer is often complicated and tricky, even more so when balancing work and personal life. Especially, when building your clientele from scratch and figuring out a marketing strategy to attract new projects consistently throughout the month. Think of it like this, becoming a full-time freelancer means you'll need or have an entrepreneurial spirit to be able to pursue what you want rather than pursuing what a company wants. You will need to push yourself consistently and constantly network with people through different networking sites and social media platforms to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Doing work that exceeds the expectation of your clients to keep them coming back to you, which also means you are responsible for any faults that may occur. Remember, you are responsible for everything, which is essentially you running a small business. Not everyone is willing or capable of taking on this responsibility, and that's okay. For other artists, just focusing on getting a studio job, maintaining it, and staying creative is more than enough.

Some may find excitement in this pursuit because you have all of the flexibility in the world, and you are your own boss. If this sounds like you, and you're the kind of person that wants to learn everything and anything, then a high-five for you!

For any artist interested in pursuing a studio job, I do have some simple advice for you, especially for new artists. People usually want to work with people they know and trust already. So what that means for you, is that you'll need to build your connections by networking with people in your industry. Learn to be genuine, have meaningful conversations, and be memorable. Just keep in mind, that they are busy people and have limited time to chat, let alone read the messages they get every day. Be persistent but be respectful of their time as well.

Where to start?

As an artist, you are naturally a creative person but now, you must incorporate a small business mindset to kick off your career and keep it going. To get an idea of what you'll need and what you'll need to think about, check out the list below!

1. What services are you offering? Research the market and find out if it's a lucrative path.

  • For example, if you wanted to do something as specific as character designing. You could run into obstacles with your design style based on what's appealing in the current market. You can see this clearly in the children's book industry, covering a variety of styles with the most successful all having similar qualities. All of this can be seen in other mediums such as film, animation, and so on, it just means you'll need to take the time to research and understand what's out there. It's good to be a pioneer but at the end of the day, you'll still need to pay your bills.

2. Limit what you do and focus on what would be the most lucrative with the least amount of work.

  • For many freelancers, listing too many services of what you do is a common mistake. This may seem like a good idea at first, but you want to start small where it's manageable, and then you can expand from there. Ideally, you want to specialize in two skills with the most experience and generate the most income for you. So if you're a filmmaker, you could focus on filming and editing commercials. As a 3D artist, you might focus on modeling and rendering environments.

3. Marketing and advertising your work to get more potential clients.

  • One of the most important steps is figuring out your audience and target market. Think about who would be your most ideal client/customer to attract and start thinking of ways to bring them in. You'll begin by researching what other artists are doing with their work and being aware of the current trends. Next is preparing your social media presents and planning for the kind of content you'll be posting to attract the people you want. Depending on how far you want to go, having a website to show what you offer in services and samples would be the final step. If having a website is outside your budget, using Artstation or Behance for your portfolio would be a good start also. This is a tedious process so you want to be sure you're planning ahead before officially starting.

  • Another way to advertise what you do is by attending different conventions or festivals that cater to what you do. Events like your local comic cons or film festivals to network, collaborate and be in a community that might be able to help you get started.

4. The boring but important legal stuff!

  • You know what you'll be doing in terms of services you'll offer, and you have a general idea of who your ideal client would be. Great, next is thinking about what happens when you find your first client and get your first payment. To start, you'll want to create a business account to keep track of your money coming in and out. That way, when you do your taxes, you know what to report for your deductions, other expenses, your net income, and so on. There are plenty of free online business accounts out there like BlueVine, and you could try an open a business account at your local bank just be aware of the requirements firsts.

  • Depending on where you live, you'll likely need a tax license, business license, and an EIN (Employer Identification Number) number, or you could use your social security number for reporting your taxes. For more in-depth answers, you'll want to contact your local CPA.

  • Before starting any project with anyone, you want to be transparent on what the project entails and be clear on what should happen when there are revisions, starting over, scrapping the project, or dealing with disputes. Having a contract is critical because it's all about transparency and being as detailed as possible with your process. Within your contract, we want to see different milestones, payments, and how the project is delivered.

  • Finally, let's talk about payments. You want to use something like Wave Apps (free to use) or Quickbooks to create the invoices and estimates to send to your clients. Using either of these apps will keep track of your various payments and other expenses. What is nice about these two apps is that your clients can pay directly on your invoice, making the process more streamlined. Remember you want to keep everything as simple as possible

Networking, Networking to stay active

If you're still willing to go onward, I congratulate you and you for taking this big step forward! Pursuing an entrepreneur career path, you'll need to stay active in gathering your next project. Posting regularly on social media, getting involved or collaborating with others, attending events, and being consistent with everything will bring more assignments to you over time. None of this is easy to do, especially if you plan to make this your full-time career but keep your head up and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. That's the value and power of networking, once you find your circle of people you can talk with, it becomes easier and simpler.

Making a decision

The time has come to make a decision and be honest with yourself. Take all the time you need to decide which path is best for you, and know that there is still plenty of work to be done for both. Becoming an employee for a large studio is just as much work. You'll need to consistently improve on your portfolio to cater to what career path you want. Seeking out connections and networking with people in the industry in person or online to one day get your foot in the door. All of this will take a tremendous amount of time it may be less than a year for some, could be half a decade for other. It all comes down to how much of a hustler you are, and a little luck doesn't hurt either.

Either way, you will be putting in the work, not just for the connections needed to be successful but also to improve your craft and creativity. My best suggestion is to take some time for yourself, think about it, and seek advice from people you trust to give you an honest answer.

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