It’s easy to be a freelancer, the hard part is staying a freelancer for a long time and I’m proud to keep doing it.
How have I managed to succeed as a freelancer all these years? I bring you the answers exclusively.
What do I like best about being a Freelancer?
What I enjoy most about freelancing is that I can have some control over my time. It’s not really total control as many assume, since at the end of the day you have to respond on time to different clients and projects you have underway. However, it does give you the ability to manage your blocks of work. When I don’t have too much work on my hands I try to keep a traditional working day, between 8 and 6 hours. However, if the next day I want to work less, or I have to do some other activity that will require time, I extend my workday to compensate for that time off the next day, even if it’s just to do things I like (play video games, go for ice cream or whatever).
How do I find clients?
There are several ways to find clients. When I started freelancing the first thing I did was to let my close contacts in the field know that I was available for illustration projects. This brought in some early work and I started generating income. I was very clear that I wanted to do illustration and not something else. Although I studied graphic design, I didn’t want to do logos, corporate image, or anything else that wasn’t illustrating. I started to profile the clients that fit what I was looking for, in this case agencies, animation studios, video game developers, production companies, publishers developing comics or stories for children among others.
You have to start calling, asking for appointments, supporting many NO’s, some of them fortunately accompanied by data from other people in the middle that could be needing the service, suddenly you hear a yes, in short, a process to make yourself known. The presentation of your work goes very well, so I looked for an easy solution to show my work on the Internet, using Behance portfolio to have a good impression with potential customers. All this is supported by a lot of work and effort to develop the skills required to be attractive to very interesting clients and brands.
What is the most complicated part of being a Freelancer?
For me the truth is that the most complicated thing is managing the cash flow disruption. I think the main flaw for a freelancer is to understand that somehow, they must function as a small business (clearly with fewer responsibilities than a incorporated company can have) and this in terms of cash flow is important.
I give you an example. You can have a lot of work in a season and assume that you will have a strong income in the short term because of it, but in many countries, there are companies that can delay in paying you between 60 and 180 days. (Some even longer!) This hampers your cash flow, where your obligations have to be paid month to month.
Another complex issue is that there are seasons when there is little or no work. You finish a project and there is anxiety about what to do next. To calm the anxiety and anguish that this can generate, I think positively and it is in these moments when I develop more personal projects. That means that this is when I learn and study new techniques, new concepts or digital tools that allow me to solve future problems faster, and therefore increase the profitability of my time when it comes to getting paid later.
How do you manage your resources?
It is very important to me to keep my cash flow managed. There I record month by month who owes me, when they should pay me and if that period is extended I make the corresponding collection. As I said, we have to work like a small company. You have to do everything: sales, service development, production, collections, payments, banking, etc. I am looking to have at least, MINIMUM, 3 months of support in savings in case the work season decreases, or customers are delayed in paying more time than agreed.
I am very careful with my budgets. It may be curious but I even have an application for tracking expenses and creating budgets to have the greatest possible control of everything I spend and thus meet my obligations, rent, services, food, work teams, etc. Sometimes I go over the budget because of some unforeseen event, but I have my budget adjusted to an annual average income, where I know the minimum I need to cover those fixed expenses. Obviously I look to generate more, to be covered more months, or to cover unforeseen events.
As for work teams, in reference to hardware it is important to make a good investment in parts, thinking in the long term. The computer I work with has been with me since I started as a freelancer seven years ago. It works perfectly thanks to the initial investment I made in parts. Although it seemed expensive at first, it has worked perfectly for what I do.
I’ve had to update some parts but haven’t had to change everything. Similarly the other main tool I work with, a 13 inch Wacom Cintiq, has been perfect for working and optimizing times that with another type of tablet would take me longer to develop. And I have invested in other equipment such as the Ipad Pro to have more portability and to be able to draw and work without so many cables.
What advice would you I to someone who wants to start as a freelancer?
Keep in mind all the above tips. If you are now working in an office I would tell you to first identify all the expenses you are going to have and what possible benefits you are going to stop receiving. For example, as a freelancer you will be responsible for paying for your vacation time. The same goes for your social security payments, pension contributions, etc.
There are many expenses that you don’t see when you are employed but you have to consider if you are going to jump into freelancing. For example, in Colombia, an employee who earns US$1,000, where he has all his social security covered, bonuses, social benefits, vacations, layoffs, compensation funds, among others; a freelancer or independent should generate, to be in “equal conditions” economically speaking, approximately US$1,500-1600.
If you have a permanent position in a company, do not leave it at least until you have a savings to live between 3 and 5 months, take advantage of the transition to generate contacts and customers, even closing some deals so you have to work at night.
Become the best or the best at what you want to do. Your skills, your dealings with customers and a good job will open new doors for others thanks to voice to voice. Make a list of your ideal clients. Generate a database and start calling or sending emails. Out of 20 contacts you make, it is possible that 1 will answer…
You must learn other skills. In your one-man business you will have many functions: marketing your personal brand, you will have to sell, sometimes online, other times going out to meet a client to present the project, you will have to negotiate, you will have to communicate effectively, present your idea to a group of people, among others.
I have this in my head very present because there are people who would like to be freelance, but do not want to do the above and so, the way will be much more difficult, talent is important, but it is not everything if you have not developed at least at an acceptable level these skills and obligations. Accept them and you’re ready to go for everything as a freelancer!