Whether you’re a freelancing pro of fancy a career change, these 20 tips from industry experts will help you on your way.

Taking your first steps as a freelancer in an industry already heavily saturated with freelance talent can be nerve-wracking. Here, a carefully selected panel of veteran freelancers offers practical advice to those looking to go it alone. Read on for generous insight into finding success in the midst of a recession…

GOING IT ALONE

Play it safe Approach freelancing in a transitional way, so you are not dependent for it as 100% of your income. If you can work and slowly build up clients and relationships with people then you will find that makes for a smoother ride when first starting out. – Neil Maccormack

Get noticed I made the decision before going freelance to get my work seen on art forums, specifically ZBrush Central. I was visiting the forums for a good few years before taking the leap, and some of my first projects were from clients viewing my work on the ZBrush site. – Dan Crossland

WORK SMART

Be flexible As soon as you go freelance, you have to be ready to be very flexible. At the start I’d take lower-paid jobs through fear of not getting anything, only to later have to turn down a really good project. It’s a rollercoaster; you just have to go with it and keep focused on the client – even if it’s a little boring. Later, you can be picky. – Dan Crossland

Find the right balance For the first five years I did nothing but sit behind the computer for… 14 hours a day – until I got frequent pains in my chest that just wouldn’t allow me to continue to work. As seriously as you take your work is as serious as you should take care of your health. I am becoming more aware of this, and it feels good! – Rizon Parein

FINDING BLISS IN SOLITUDE

Get away from it all If possible, try to rent a small office space away from your home. This forms a clear barrier between work and home and enables you to focus more and succumb less to home distractions. – Neil Maccormack

Stay up to date It’s hard working on your own to stay up on all that’s going on. The challenges of staying social and staying up on industry trends are related; when I reach out to folks in the industry, I feel more connected and current with technical and creative trends. – Henk Dawson

PORTFOLIO BOOSTS Show off your stuff People only know what you tell them, and if your latest project is your best then show it. Because of the time it takes for bigger projects, this may turn out to be two or three times a year. If you find that you don’t have projects that stretch your limits, try doing a project for yourself that is in an area you want to enter. – Paul McCrorey

Be relevant Only show your best work. It’s like, if you want to specify only the type of work you want to be hired for, it’s no good showing concept art on your website and then applying for animation jobs. – Neil Maccormack

SURVIVAL GUIDE

It’s not all glamour It’s exciting to get a creative, highly visible assignment. The problem is that there are a lot of very talented artists chasing this kind of work. This pushes the fees down and the expectations up… There are more opportunities for less glamorous work. And it’s easier to establish long-term relationships with clients when there isn’t as much competition. – Henk Dawson

It’s all in the timing Try to make sure you make timing sheets, and that everybody involved in the process follows this as closely as possible. If someone breaks what you are agreed on, tell them about the consequences and make up new timing sheets. Be strict in a constructive way, otherwise you end up in goodwill misery! – Rizon Parein

FIND YOUR NICHE

Sure, you can [model] a super-detailed orc monster, but so can hundreds of other people. Try to be unique. Find your own style. Do different things, rather than the usual stuff. Even if you’re not particularly great at what you do, having something that is unique and noticeable is more valuable than most technical skills. – Andrew Hickinbottom

BE ADAPTIVE

Prepare for change The commercial artist has to constantly evolve with changes in the industry. The challenge is predicting what will be next and being willing to change. Listen to the kinds of requests that you’re getting, and develop skills in those areas. I’ve gotten many requests to convert CAD data into realistic renderings and several clients that need mobile apps for their business. That’s why I’ve been developing new skills in those areas. – Henk Dawson

Think outside the box Selling your work can be difficult. Don’t be afraid to email or contact places you might not think would necessarily be where you would find work. TV studios, advertising agencies or printers, for example, are all places you could try. – Neil Maccormack

UNDERSTAND YOUR FEE

The cost of an illustration is based on the usage. For example an illustration used for a presentation will cost less than it would if the same illustration was used for an ad campaign. Another important factor is complexity. When requesting a bid on a project it’s important to have the following information: • Description • Media (eg web) • Duration (eg one year) • Geographic area (eg USA) • Size (eg 8 by 10 inches at 300ppi) – Henk Dawson

AND THE REST

Secure that pitch When I first got started, I spent time developing a base template for my proposals. They are designed to reflect what I learn from the customer in my initial interviews. With the goal of clarity, I try to make the proposals as easy to read as possible. – Paul McCrorey

Get it approved Make sure there is an approval for each stage– modelling, texturing, rendering, retouching. Find out how many revision rounds are included, in days. It’s important there is mutual respect… but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes you have to deal with stuck-up egos. Breathe and bite [your tongue]. – Rizon Parein

Avoid complications Have everything laid out on paper in full and have the client sign this. Having a clear and concise document signed by the client can avoid any situations where changes are made and not paid for. If the client wants to change the signed arrangement – fine. Just know they have to pay for it. – Neil Mccormack

Communicate Don’t assume that clear communication is a given. Assume the opposite. Spend the extra time understanding and getting clarity on the objectives, the product message, the value proposition, the brand and the target. Keep your client informed about your progress throughout the project. Take on the burden to keep the lines of communication clear and efficient. – Paul McCrory

Bite off only what you can chew I’ve always been afraid of missing a deadline or not being able to deliver my best work. This has… kept me from taking on too much work. It’s tough to disappoint a client by saying ‘no’. But you will disappoint them anyway if you say ‘yes’ when you shouldn’t. – Henk Dawson

Scratch the creative itch Sometimes, when I’ve gone a while without a creative assignment, I’ll do a personal project – something to scratch that itch to be creative. It’s kind of funny how it turns out; these personal projects often bring in more client work. – Henk Dawson

Image by Jean-Marc Clain