Go free­lance straight from ed­u­ca­tion

Computer Arts - - Industry Issues -

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.”


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