Go freelance straight from education
According to Dave Chaplin, CEO and founder of freelancer organisation Contractor Calculator, graduates are increasingly setting up on their own after university. In a competitive industry, working freelance can offer more immediate employment than waiting for the perfect studio role, and with clients increasingly recognising the benefits of a younger, fresh perspective, there are plenty of opportunities out there – if you know where to look.
For Dutch art director, illustrator and designer Mart Biemans, the prospect was so appealing that he quit his studies before graduating. He’d been freelancing since the age of 14 and felt he wasn’t learning enough at school. “The career route I took isn’t something I would advise, unless you’re extremely confident that you can make it work,” he warns. “I struggled a lot after quitting school. Some months I didn’t have any projects to work on and no money was coming in.”
In the early days, Biemans took on every job he could. “From designing key visuals to doing business cards for local bars, I didn’t have the luxury to be picky and simply wanted to be able to make a living from what I love doing,” he says.
At first, he found work by emailing companies to see if they needed a designer (“I was happy if I got a reply from one in 10 companies”). He was also extremely active on platforms like DeviantArt and Behance: Biemans wasn’t just creating and sharing art, but also giving feedback to others – and listening to the feedback he received. The more followers he garnered, the quicker big brands like Pepsi, Diesel and Universal Music Group started noticing him – and from that moment on, it was an upwards spiral.
One problem with taking this route into freelance life can be a lack of experience on the legal side of things. Although most clients were kind, Biemans learned the intricacies of contracts, invoicing and NDAs the hard way. “Once a client didn’t pay me because no contracts were signed,” he recalls. “It’s just a matter of learning from your mistakes. Don’t let those events happen again.”
Freelance designer Guy Rodwell agrees. He went freelance straight after college and advises understanding the tax system and fully researching the different options for setting up a business before making the leap. He’s never been more busy but says the biggest hurdle he’s still tackling is overbooking himself. “I’ve had a brilliant time so far working for myself. But I often underestimate the time it takes to complete my work, and jobs and deadlines can quite easily stack up,” he says, adding that an understanding of your limits as a freelancer is important.
He’s right. Clients want to hire someone who will deliver brilliant results by the given deadline. They also want a designer with the right skills. Without access to the level of training you might receive in a studio, you need to find other ways to stay ahead. Rodwell recommends taking on smaller jobs to help learn new techniques or the basics of new software, and Biemans advises experimenting to keep your skills up to date.
“It’s very important to keep educating yourself,” he points out. “Things change so quickly. Programmes like Photoshop and Illustrator get amazing new features with almost every single update and you’d be a fool to keep doing the thing you’ve always done, instead of trying them out.”
“I DIDN’T HAVE THE LUXURY TO BE PICKY AT FIRST, I SIMPLY WANTED TO MAKE A LIVING FROM WHAT I LOVE DOING” MART BIEMANS ART DIRECTOR, ILLUSTRATOR AND DESIGNER