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Going Freelance : how to build a career but keep your free time


By Sebastien Hue

Web: http://www.shue-digital.com/ (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 11th September 2017

The decision to go freelance is a massive step that many artists decide to take at least once in their career. Here we explore best practices and ways to keep a work-life balance...


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Freelance; that is a big word. Many people fancy becoming free in their job. No boss, no orders; free to make your own decisions and even free to work or not. This way of life, like any other, has very positive sides, but may not correspond to everyone and should be considered wisely. It is mostly a self-centered experience in which you are judging yourself all the time, your aptitude to do this or that rely on you, your success is yours, your failure is yours too. Motivation and the will to succeed, to be challenged, are key to building a career as a freelancer. Doubts, disorganization, and time killing are the enemies you have to fight against to find your own balance and turn those into advantages. It will free your mind to run a good business and to profit from the benefits of this particular job status.

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Organize your day and your work – find your own balance

After 15 years of experience in logistics, working in-house on different activities from oil, trading, shipping, to the game industry and DVD manufacturing; I decided to change my way of life and go to the opposite side with an artistic activity at home 4 years ago. It was a risky change not only in terms of income but also in terms of mind status.

Indeed working in-house for a company structures your day, because you have a day to day job to do. Running a freelance life after that can be striking as the structure is yours to own. You define the rules and what to do during the day, and temptations are everywhere, like TV, computers, music, and so on. This is the time where corporate organization, discipline you might have been confronted with during your in-house working experience can save you a lot of time and prevent you from failing in this new ‘free to do anything' experience.

Somehow you need to apply the same organization and wake up early, do your work, grant yourself a coffee break, and have a lunch break. Structure your own day, with or without commission work to do. No art to do for a client? Save time now and do some papers, accounting or just practice your art, do something for yourself. At some stage you will find your own balance during the day, and then you will keep your true free time for yourself and your family.

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Healthy moments to break from work

Just like in any company, having a break with your colleagues, chatting a bit and even going to the bathroom are moments when you are not having your ass sat down and your eyes on a screen. These are almost automatic social moments you might lose when you are freelance at home. To avoid being stuck all day long on your computer, it is important to grant yourself some healthy moments to breathe outside. Enjoy a quick walk or just watch a series on TV to cut from your actual work activity and help the mind breathe and process what you were doing. Even better, take advantage of the situation of something you can rarely do when at work; taking a full 30-minutes nap is so good for the brain. Your work will benefit from it without a doubt. You are not a lazy boy, this is very healthy. You will be more accurate doing your art and more efficient during the day.

Those who may find it difficult to do these things would be strongly advised to go to co-working spaces, possibly to acquire some in-house references and rhythm. Above all do not feel guilty of your free time to do such things, these are important parts of your own balance.

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Social media time in the day; free time, or work?

Speaking of social life at work we need social connections too as a freelance, and so social media is pretty important for our business, but as a human being too. This is the reason why social media moments are a cornerstone of our career, just to spread the word about our art, but also to meet and share with people. Don't feel guilty about spending one or two hours every morning on social media, this is part of the job even though some freelance artists do great without them. It strongly depends on your goals and your will to connect with people, create your own community of fans and friends, and get inspiration from others.

This is both free time and work in my opinion but, don't get me wrong… there's no need to push it to become the next CG rockstar, running after LIKEs won't pay your bills. Social media can be tricky, comforting somehow if you get good vibes on your art, or pretty depressing if no Likes and comments show up. Try just to take the most from it; they are tools so use them to serve your art so you get noticed to build a comfortable career. Social media can be a huge asset for your freelance career and so is worth spending some time on as it could eventually pay off later on to catch the big fish.

Empathy and the art of decoding the client

Another factor that could help your career a great deal, even more when you work remotely, is the psychological aspects when dealing with a new client. As a freelance you can be in touch with very different people from all over the world, working differently at different times of the day. Each time you may need to adapt your ways of working. Sometimes the relationship can be really painful just because you and the client are not on the same wavelength in describing needs and thoughts. While you are probably a technician in your specific skill (3D, 2D, matte painting, concept art, modeling and so on…) the client is maybe not. So often you need to decode his basic art language into your own technical, sharp art language. Developing a strong empathy towards your client's needs will definitely save you a lot of time from going back and forth to guess what is on your counterpart's mind. It's kind of a game you have to play each time just like the fee-quote sales game you played earlier with your new client. At least consider it as a ‘game' – it will be less painful if it turns out not the way you wanted.

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No commission to do, build yourself an IP and produce artworks for yourself

As mentioned earlier in the introduction, the most risky part of being freelance is to have no work to do. No commissions and no money, so free time becomes a stressful period, even more if you experienced a very heavy loaded project before with absolutely no free time for yourself. Always directed to create this or that, this is the right time to produce art for yourself. Why not use this time to develop your own IP, make your own website, create your logo or produce personal artworks to showcase on social media and CG platforms. Very busy freelancers envy getting that free time to create something for themselves, so even though you are not that busy, turn those moments to your advantage to help you grow as an artist, but as a business man too.

Business management

Yes, you are supposed to be a business man or woman. As such you are a micro company in which you are supposed to manage what each department is specialized for in the bigger structure. Finance and accounting for invoices and administration. Sales for selling your art properly. Legal for contracts. Art and marketing for doing good and appealing products to get more clients, and finally IT for being up-to-date in software and devices. The only department disappearing is the Human Resources one since you have nobody to manage in the company but yourself (laugh…) and the Shipping department since it's mostly digital media you deliver. Some skills here do come pretty easily, but some are more difficult to grasp because they're not really related to what makes you thrill – Art – and what helps you create art.

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I'm precisely thinking of Finance, Administration, and Legal that can be really time consuming for your art productivity, and may lead to a real catastrophe in the success of your business. It's important to take the time to dig around and find the right information and tools to save time and keep track of your business. Staying up-to-date in your accounting is as important as staying up-to-date with your computer system. There are online tools that can help you follow-up your accounting like invoicing, freelance local legal terms and conditions, cash in, cash out cashflow, business plan and so on… Check out: blog.hubstaff.com/invoicing-software-for-freelancers, Wave, Moneybird, or Freelance-app depending on your country.

The other option is just to pay someone to do those tasks. It's money but after all paying your accountant to do that professionally will definitely make your life easier. It really depends on your level of income so think about it.

What to keep in mind is the faster you treat those boring tasks as they're coming in, the more time you get to create, produce, focus and sell your art. In other words, the front office is nothing without an efficient back office to manage the operations and money once the product has been sold! DON'T NEGLECT THOSE TASKS IF YOU WANT TO DO EVERYTHING ON YOUR OWN!

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We may wonder if the famous saying "Time is money” does apply to the freelance career you want to build. This answer is probably not that straightforward to answer. As we mentioned above, the free time you can earn from good self-organization in your day, a good workflow, as well as the good management of your back-office are very important elements to optimize your freelance position. The time you are spending not painting or doing art for a client is a valuable time, to breathe and reload your batteries to become more productive, more inventive, more efficient, more popular, and more connected in the future. You are alone in this job so grant yourself a bit of time to rest, train yourself, and get the best of whatever can serve your art, boost your talent, and motivate your will to succeed (social network, online solutions, freelance networks, forums). You no longer have someone above you to report to, how crazy a luxury is that?

Related links

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