9 basics & tips for freelancers
For beginners and pros
I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator from my home office for over 10 years. Here are 9 essential things and tips that I think make life easier as a freelancer:
1. Fixed working hours
As freelancers, there is no one to control whether we show up to work on time or not. This is entirely up to us. We must start in the morning. The myth that we are “night owls” who can only find or unleash inspiration and true creativity when the world is asleep is an unhealthy attitude and an excuse. In truth, we put off work during the day until the pressure is too much.
But as professionals, we can’t afford to do that. Clients who work in our time zone rely on us to be available. On top of that, family life suffers when we work through the nights and sleep through half the day. Painter Chuck Close puts it this way:
“Inspiration is for amateurs; professionals just show up and get the work done.” — Chuck Close
2. Separation between work and leisure
As a freelance illustrator, I love to think about art and creativity 24/7. If we have found an activity that brings us true joy, it should be so. That said, it’s important to know when we’re working on actual client orders, doing our bookkeeping, and tweaking our portfolio on the one hand and when we’re scheduling time with family, friends, and for ourselves on the other. Two simple things can help us with this.
2.1 Two phones
I quickly learned that being constantly available creates mental pressure that is not good for me, my clients, or the people around me in the long run. Having a business cell phone that you can leave on your desk or mute after hours is crucial. Personal and business don’t mix destructively.
2.2 Ban on sweatpants and pajamas at work
The temptation is great. We get up, have a little breakfast while we open the laptop, answer the client’s emails, and work on the changes. Suddenly it’s 12 o’clock, and we’re sitting in front of the computer in our pajamas. What the heck. The customer and the postman, who came in the meantime, couldn’t care less what we looked like.
But here, as so often, it’s about ourselves. We have a morning routine as permanent office employees, driving to and from work. As annoying as the commute may be, it allows us to set a clear cut between work and leisure.
As freelancers, we usually lack this ritual. Austin Kleon writes in his book Show your work,”If you never go to work, you never get to leave work.” Therefore, it is even more essential to create a working feeling or atmosphere in our own homes. By preparing and dressing as if we are leaving the house, we make that valuable cut, and all the more, we look forward to those well-deserved sweatpants after work.
3. Building a routine of creating and sharing
So we’ve found what we love to do. Now it’s a matter of finding people we can inspire, who see added value for themselves in what we offer, and who are ultimately willing to invest in us. So we need the courage to share our work with the world digitally or analogously. This takes time, especially in the beginning when we have no or few clients. In my experience, freelance work, in the beginning, is 50% creation and 50% communication.
4. English communication
The world is open to us. Countless potential clients can benefit from our creative offer and are willing to pay reasonably for it. Focusing on one region is not only a lost potential from a business perspective. We also miss out on exciting people, conversations, and projects. Therefore, let’s take advantage of the opportunities of our time and communicate in English on our homepage and on social networks. deepl.com and grammarly.com are just two of many tools that help us do this.
5. Portfolio website
For creative freelancers, the portfolio is the business card. Here we show what we offer, who we are, and how to reach us.
6. Weekly accounting
My accountant says, “Most self-employed people fail not because their idea or product is bad, but because they can’t handle finances and taxes.” How sad would it be if we deprived the world of our vision just because we got a new car we couldn’t afford? It’s helpful to schedule a fixed time each week for bookkeeping (writing invoices, recording income and expenses, transferring taxes to a separate account, etc.). This will save us from nasty surprises and a lot of time at the end of the year.
7. Mental balance
When I decided to freelance and work from home, many things changed. Suddenly, there was a lack of supervisors and colleagues around me with whom I could go take launch together. It was very quiet at home, and the ceiling was getting lower and lower. I had to get used to it for a long time. Many who were and are in the home office because of Covid can probably relate to that.
Especially when we are in our own four walls for hours, we need a balance, time with family, friends, and exercise. It’s no use to work day and night passionately on our career if we feel drained after a short time. Let’s recognize our path as a marathon and not a sprint.
8. Keep a list of clients and contacts
Once we decide to share our work with the world, new contacts emerge fast. Clients, agents, interview partners, fellow designers, and students. Keeping a list from the beginning, in Excel, for example, will help us when we organize promo emails, promotional materials, or gifts.
9. External storage media
The last point is so important that it deserves its own post. The moment we work with clients, we need to ensure that files cannot be lost. If the computer suddenly breaks down and shows only a dark screen, we will be incredibly relieved that the file we have been working on for hours, if not days, isn’t lost. For this purpose, we can use clouds, external hard drives that automatically back up data at intervals (see Time Machine for Mac), and program recovery functions (i.e., Auto recovery for Photoshop). I can’t repeat it often enough: Please make sure that the data is always backed up.