As National Freelance Day approaches, we share the community’s best advice for making it as an independent creative.

Embarking on a freelance career is a weird mix of freedom and responsibility. On the one hand, the freedom it brings is truly exhilarating. No more horrible commutes. No more being hauled over the coals by managers. No more awkward water cooler encounters with that fellow office worker you really don’t like. No more plucking up the courage to ask for a raise only to be brutally rebuffed. Instead, the freedom to choose projects that align with your passions and set your own schedule. Bliss.

On the other hand, freelancing also brings new responsibilities: the responsibility to find clients, manage your workload, and, crucially, actually get paid on time. All this demands a high level of self-discipline and business acumen.

In honour of National Freelancers Day on 20 June, we reached out to seasoned creative freelancers to share their top tips for thriving in the freelance world. So whether you’re considering making the leap into freelancing or are already on your way, their advice can provide valuable guidance and encouragement.

We’ll share their best tips below, and you can read the full discussion on Threads and X.

1. Take the leap

We’ll start at the beginning. “The best advice I can say for anyone apprehensive of going freelance is to go headfirst into it!” says illustrator and designer Kohenoor Kamal. Muralist and illustrator Briks agrees, saying: “Go for it! This lifestyle is a tough one but rewarding. Hold onto the feels of the highs to carry you through the valleys. Don’t limit yourself.”

Yes, taking the leap into full-time freelancing is undoubtedly a terrifying prospect. But it’s a necessary step to fully commit to your new career. And if you speak to anyone who’s done it themselves, very few regret it; quite the reverse.

That said, you don’t necessarily have to do it overnight. You could always start with a side hustle while maintaining a steady job. This approach allows you to test the waters and build a portfolio without the pressure of relying solely on freelance income. When you’re ready, take the plunge and trust your ability to succeed.

“Take freelance work on the side for a year or two at least to build up a clientele and learn the ropes,” advises Isaac LeFever. “Start tracking where your inbound work comes from and how frequently you get it. By doing that, you’ll start to see when your business is really taking off and can make a more informed decision about when to go solo.”

Whether you go independent suddenly or slowly, though, remember every successful freelancer begins with that first step.

2. Find your niche

Our next tip comes from illustrator Ollie Hirst. “Find your USP!” he enthuses. “Clients buy into people as well as skills.” Or as fellow illustrator Megdalena Pankiewicz puts it: “Don’t look at what others are doing and develop your own style.”

They’re not wrong. One of the most crucial aspects of freelancing is identifying your niche. Because let’s face it, there are thousands of freelancers out there competing with you. So why should a client opt for you, specifically? Having a unique selling proposition (USP) and a distinct creative style can answer that question: literally, what makes you so special?

So, think about what makes your work unique. Is it a particular technique, a specific industry expertise, or a unique approach to problem-solving? Clients are drawn to freelancers who offer something different. Spend time refining your craft and developing a style that is unmistakably yours. By honing in on a niche, you make it easier for potential clients to recognise the value you bring.

3. Start local, grow global

Most of us all want, ultimately, to be working for the big, glam brands. But that’s not always the best place to start. Illustrator Lisa Fernández Karlsson believes you should instead: “Start local, think global. I started with my local contacts to get experience and then gained the confidence to grow and contact international clients.”

Starting locally is a strategic way to ease into freelancing. It means you can leverage your existing network of friends, family, and professional contacts to find your first clients. Local businesses are often more willing to work with freelancers they can meet face-to-face.

Then, as you build a solid portfolio and a reputation for delivering quality work, you can gradually expand your reach. The internet provides a global marketplace for your services, allowing you to connect with clients from around the world. So join online communities and platforms that cater to your niche, and don’t be afraid to pitch to international clients once you feel ready.

4. Manage your expectations

Freelancing is a rollercoaster with inevitable ups and downs. So as illustrator Con McHugh says: “Ease yourself into freelance life slowly and don’t be hard on yourself if you need to rely on income from a second job. It takes time to get exposure and clients.”

In other words, it’s important to manage your expectations and stay grounded. Go at your own pace and be prepared for fluctuations in your workload and income. Having a financial buffer is crucial to weathering the lean times.

Seasoned freelancers recommend saving enough to cover at least three to six months of expenses. This cushion provides peace of mind and allows you to focus on finding the right projects rather than taking on anything that comes your way out of necessity. And stay positive. As illustrator and designer Alice Roseberry-Haynes notes: “You’re in for a ride: just remind yourself of the highs when you’re in the lows.”

5. Establish value over cost

Trying to compete with other freelancers by lowering your rate? Then stop right now, says “There is always going to be someone who is ‘cheaper’,” stresses illustrator and designer Adrianne Walujo. “So don’t compete with price; focus on the value you give to your client that benefits them.”

Yes, it’s tempting to undercut your rates to win jobs, especially when starting out. And it’s easy to justify, in your own mind, at least. However, doing so can devalue your work and set a precedent that’s hard to break.

So, as Adrianne says, focus on establishing the value you provide instead. Clients who understand the worth of quality creative work will appreciate the skills, processes and professionalism you bring to the table.

Communicate the benefits of your services clearly and confidently. Show how your work can solve problems and contribute to your clients’ success. By positioning yourself as a premium provider, you attract clients who are willing to invest in excellence.

And here’s another aspect of knowing your worth. As fashion illustrator Mei Mei Agnieszka recommends: “Try to avoid underselling yourself and learn the art of licensing”.

In other words, getting properly compensated for your work isn’t just about setting the appropriate rates. It’s also about retaining rights over your intellectual property. This can be achieved through well-drafted licensing agreements. These agreements should outline the scope of usage for your work, duration, and compensation terms.

It’s essential to understand your rights and protect your creations. Consult with a legal professional if needed to draft contracts that safeguard your interests. By setting clear terms, you not only protect your worth but also establish a professional image that clients respect.

6. Network relentlessly

Are you the shy and retiring type? Then you’re not alone. Countless creatives, including this writer, go freelance because they prefer working at home quietly rather than dealing with the demands of constant human interaction. But there’s one area where you will have to make an exception.

As illustrator Ameesha Lee
puts it: “Network your little heart out! This can be hard, but it is so important not just for the client/business side of things but also for building a community of fellow freelancers.

“This can be a huge exchange of support and camaraderie in the wild world of freelancing, and for me personally, it has led to many amazing opportunities, conversations and the chance to help others along in their journey too. Rewarding all around!”

Still not convinced? Then we’ll be blunt. There’s no escaping it: networking is a cornerstone of freelancing success. It not only yields new job opportunities and connections but also provides a supportive community of like-minded professionals.

So, attend industry events, join online forums, and participate in social media groups relevant to your field. And remember: networking isn’t just about finding clients; it’s also about learning from others, sharing experiences, and staying updated with industry trends. Building relationships with other freelancers can lead to collaborations and referrals. Every connection you make can potentially open doors to new opportunities.

7. Save for a rainy day

Building an emergency fund is one of a freelancer’s smartest moves. Freelancing income can be unpredictable, with periods of feast and famine. Having a financial safety net allows you to navigate these fluctuations without stress.

With that in mind, illustrator, author and hand-lettering artist Linzie Hunter says: “This is very boring, but start a savings pot from your first paycheck. Even a small amount is a start. Throughout their lives, most people suffer from personal / family or health crises and need to take time off. Older You will thank Younger You for planning ahead.”

Illustrator Sam Rodriguez agrees. “When you get a big budget project, save some money for a rainy day,” he urges. “Feast and famine is the name of the game.”

8. Have solid contracts

One final point from art director and designer Asa Rodger. “It sounds the most basic, boring advice, but have a contract,” he urges. “It changes everything!”

Tom from Made by Loop agrees. “Use a contract!” he exclaims. “Always. No ifs, no buts! They’re the best indicator of client red flags. Good clients will never have an issue signing a contract. If a potential client does have an issue signing a contract, then it’s a sure-fire sign that you need one.”

He’s not wrong. Contracts are vital in freelancing as they protect both you and your clients by setting clear expectations.

A good contract should cover the scope of work, deliverables, payment terms, deadlines, and any contingencies. It provides a reference point in case of disputes and ensures both parties are on the same page.

So take the time to draft detailed contracts, and don’t hesitate to seek legal advice to ensure they are comprehensive. A solid contract protects you legally and reinforces your professionalism and commitment to quality work.

Conclusion

In summary, thriving as a freelancer involves a blend of strategic planning, confidence, and continuous effort.

By taking the leap, finding your niche, starting locally, managing expectations, establishing your value, networking relentlessly, protecting your worth, saving for a rainy day, and having solid contracts, you’ll be in a great position to build a successful freelance career.

Embrace the journey, learn from every experience, and enjoy the freedom and creativity that freelancing offers.

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