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Photo: Jacob Lund, YFS Magazine, Adobe Stock

How Creatives Can Build A Successful Freelance Career

Whatever kind of work you do, pursuing it as a full-time freelancer is tricky. As a creative, there are added challenges.


Whatever kind of work you do, pursuing it as a full-time freelancer is tricky. For starters, you need to make enough money to support yourself, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to do that working with just one client.

Photo: Liran Friedman | Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Liran Friedman, Vice President of Creative and Digital at Artlist | Source: Courtesy Photo

As a creative there are added challenges to maintain some sense of creative integrity and continually hone your craft, which takes time and discipline and, in many cases, money.

While there isn’t a single strategy or set of rules for freelancing as a content producer – whether you’re a visual artist, a musician, a filmmaker, an animator, or a writer of any kind –  there is plenty of conflicting advice and opinions on doing so.

Speaking of opinions – and without downplaying the challenges of being a freelance creator – I’m not one to subscribe to the idea that it’s harder than it has ever been to work as a content-based creative.

It’s easy to be pessimistic about how the employment market has shifted dramatically towards contract and freelancing models since the early 2000s, and about the associated trade-offs. But the trade-offs were not drastic. In fact, it’s easier than ever to get your work out there and find clients in unlikely places as a result.

Now is an ideal time to be in the creative and content production industries – and not just in a “there’s no time like the present” sort of way. There is no shortage of incredible resources out there no matter where you are within your career.

 

1. Social media is your friend

An online presence is indispensable to making a freelance career happen. Potential clients who come across your profile will want to see what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing before they hire you. Your social profiles should be, first and foremost, a regularly updated portfolio of your work.

It’s easy to get distracted. Follower count is not the most important thing. Nor is outsmarting the algorithm or trying to cater to its every whim to stay at the top of the feed at all times. Many freelancers get stuck in this line of thinking, and jump through hoops and hashtags as a result. If you can juggle a regular content feed and a steady creative output, good for you, but keep in mind that posting for the sake of posting isn’t a sustainable strategy.

Of course it’s easy to write off platforms like Instagram being poorly suited to everything but image-based content creation. That’s true to an extent. Even so, and however you feel about her, Instagram catapulted Rupi Kaur to international literary stardom. And there’s no shortage of writers on the ultimate text-based platform Twitter, which is arguably indispensable to a modern writing career. No matter what you create, stay agile. That doesn’t mean that you need to be on every conceivable social platform, but it does mean that you shouldn’t limit yourself based on premature expectations of what you can or can’t get out of a given platform.

There’s no getting around the fact that followers matter. But accumulating them shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all of your career or even your marketing efforts. Social media is more than ideal for approaching clients, and there’s no shame in a digital cold call. The more personalized the message, the better. The more specific you are to the kind of work you would want to do, the better. Don’t give away ideas for free, but demonstrate that you have a sense of what they’re doing, and how you could be a part of that. The worst they can say is no, and then it’s on to the next one.

 

2. Other freelancers are your friends too

Like, comment, subscribe! Of course you shouldn’t creepily lovebomb other freelance creators you like and want to work with, but there’s everything to be gained by making it clear that you’re interested in what they’re doing.

Barring the occasional secluded eccentric, most artists (throughout history, not just since Instagram was invented) have been social creatures. Creative inspiration and feedback are group activities, and collaboration goes a long way. So much creative community-building happens online.

Other artists can also be valuable clients, particularly if they work in a different medium from you. Filmmakers need musicians to write and record scores, illustrators to create posters, and photographers to shoot stills. Musicians need album and single covers, smart-looking websites, and designers who can do one or both. (Not to mention how they’ll need a written bio and high-resolution photographs for streaming services and press kits.)

But wait, there’s more! Copywriting and social media management jobs come in all shapes and sizes, and don’t let bigger, corporate clients blind you to the needs of other content creators. Videos need scripts, poets need illustrators, and illustrators can take their work to the next level with animators. There’s plenty to go around.

 

3. Think bigger about your craft and smaller about your work

A painter friend of mine has found fantastic success creating and selling one-of-a-kind press-on nail kits on Instagram. She’s not exactly a nail artist. When not bent over a nail with a tiny paintbrush, she’s filling canvases the size of subway station banners with eye-popping color. She sells the latter for several hundred dollars or more maybe once or twice a month. On the other hand, she sells her nail kits on a near-daily basis to enthusiastic buyers for less than $50 a set.

Photo: Jacob Lund, YFS Magazine, Adobe Stock
Photo: Jacob Lund, YFS Magazine

Those buyers not only wear her art around; they post photos of them wearing her sets and tag her in her stories. She’s not a nail artist – she’s a painter. But in thinking bigger about her craft, and, by extension, thinking beyond just selling traditional paintings, she’s managed to brilliantly open up a new stream of revenue for herself and expand her exposure that much further.

Part of being a successful freelancer is not just being good at what you do, but being good at seeing what small things you can do to promote yourself. Make stickers to give away for free and sell back patches with graphics you’ve designed.

Keep going.

  • Do local bands need videos or album covers?
  • Would a local business be open to you painting a mural on a blank wall?
  • Does a beloved annual event need a new logo or eye-catching posters?
  • Would a local boutique be open to selling a small run of shirts or jewelery you’ve made?
  • Is there a popular local podcast that could use a jingle or some new graphics for their site?
  • Can you edit or animate a commercial for a local business?
  • Can you revamp the graphics on their website?

 

4. Kill your ego

The history of just about every creative form – painting, photography, music, writing, dance, drama, you get it – has no shortage of big egos. But having one of those generally won’t work in your favor in this day and age.

Let’s get one thing straight: when I say don’t have a big ego, I’m not saying don’t believe in what you’re doing, value your vision, and turn down projects that don’t suit you for whatever reason. What I am saying is don’t be overly precious about your work. Be flexible and accept feedback. Be willing to hear the full pitch before you turn something down.

To that extent, be willing to use your talents and work in ways that don’t require being front and center or the only piece of content in the room. Videos, for instance, require any number of additional content creation projects that are part of the whole and not necessarily in the spotlight: scripts, background music, costume design, and so on. You might be surprised at how effective this tactic is at getting your work in front of potential clients who are looking for, say, a good script, mood-enhancing background music, creative costume design, and so on.

You never know where your work is going to go once it’s out there, so have some faith. So much of successful freelance content creation is collaborative, and by extension, full of opportunities to demonstrate how much your particular contributions can enhance and elevate something bigger. The right clients will respond to as much.

 

Build and sustain a successful freelance career

Building and maintaining a freelance career isn’t easy work. Much of it comes down to thinking on your feet, trusting your gut, doing your homework, and taking the initiative. Juggling lots of roles is par for the course, overnight success is certainly not.

A DIY mentality is something of a requirement – expect to be your own secretary, finance department, marketing team, logistics coordinator, and more, particularly in the early stages. By the same token, there are so many ways to be a freelance creator, and so many ways in which this kind of work is deeply rewarding.

If you’ve read this far, you probably already suspect as much. So yes, in plain terms, it’s worth it. You’re not only your own boss. You’re making new things all the time. You’re realizing your own ideas, one after another. You’re making the world look and sound more interesting. And that’s as good as it gets.

 

Liran Friedman is the Vice President of Creative and Digital at Artlist. Liran previously worked as a freelance video creator, a filmmaking teacher, and co-founded Friedman Brothers Creative & Video in 2012. He has written, directed, filmed, and produced hundreds of commercial videos for clients around the world. He joined Artlist in 2017 and has served as VP of Creative and Digital since 2019, focusing on leading the strategy for content creation related to performance marketing, branding, visual design, social presence, and video content and currently resides in Israel.

 

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Photo: Jacob Lund, YFS Magazine, Adobe Stock
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