Whether you’re a designer, an actor, a writer, a camera operator, an accountant – the list goes on; you’re your own boss, you set your own hours, you charge own fees and you get to choose the types of projects you want to take on. All in all, it’s a pretty sweet deal!
That being said, there are some pitfalls you can be unlucky enough to run into along the way but what I hope to share with you today is some industry-neutral tips that anyone can take on board. From working as a full-time graphic designer in a creative agency to now being completely self employed, here are a few things I’ve learnt from and experienced throughout my career, thus far:
1. Be specific
Whatever kind of industry you’re in, when taking on a new project or client it’s vitally important to discuss the details of the project with your client and define a solid brief.
Talk, talk and talk some more; ensure that you know what the client is expecting and let them know how and if you can deliver it, document phone conversations and summarise in an email, tell your client what file types you need and how you need them supplying, tell them WHEN you need them supplying – whatever it is, leave absolutely no room for misunderstanding and both you and your client will be secure knowing you’re both on the same page.
2. Ask for a deposit
I have read and heard about every freelancers worst nightmare, even from friends; you liaise with your client for weeks, you develop the project, numerous emails are exchanged until you finally send over the finished project along with your invoice and suddenly they drop off the face of the earth. In short, you don’t get paid and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.
I am so grateful that up until this point I have not experienced this as I have always insisted on and had been advised to take a deposit up front. There is no golden rule on how much you should ask for, different projects may allow for different payment plans and as long as you can define and confirm these different stages for payment with your client there should be no problems. As a rough guide, I generally split my payments for smaller projects into 50% deposit up front and the final 50% on completion and before any final files are handed over. Larger projects may be split 50% / 25% / 25% with the same terms and conditions.
Taking a deposit is pure and simply to safeguard yourself and your time for further down the line and if your client is 100% serious about working with you, they should have no reservations about paying to secure your time.
3. Define timescales and manage expectations
So you’ve got your deposit, you’ve clarified a brief with your client and they’ve given you a deadline that you need to work to; sometimes this can be a manageable timescale and others it’s completely irrational but you’ve taken the project on regardless. The most important thing to do at this stage is to, in line with the brief you’ve been given, define estimated dates or times that they can expect to receive something from you. “No shit, Sherlock” I hear you say on hearing this but the worst thing that a client can experience (if I was thinking of it from my own perspective) is for them to hand over their money and then hear nothing from you for a few days or a week – depending on what date you’re working to.
Much like point 1, be specific. Be clear with your client about what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it but also allow yourself a little room for manoeuvre. The last thing you need is for something to pop up last minute and you’ve already tied yourself into a corner with a 3pm turnaround. It’s all about managing your clients expectations correctly and delivering on time, or if you’re looking to impress, ahead of schedule using that built-in leeway you’ve allocated.
If you continually deliver on time and to a high standard you’re likely to gain their trust and hopefully their future business.
4. “If you’re good at something, you should never do it for free” – Heath Ledger as the Joker, Batman
Now while the Joker is one of my favourite characters of all time (talk about psychotic badass) and what he says can ultimately be applied to a freelance situation please do not misunderstand what I am trying to say. My point here is not saying “never work for free” as you will naturally come across pro-bono projects, be it for friends or an organisation that you just WANT to help with. What I’m saying is DO donate your time and skills to a good cause, a friend, a charity, an event or a movement you feel strongly about… but DO NOT under any circumstances let people take advantage of you or trick you into working for free.
What I am not a fan of is “spec” work. This kind of project is offered to freelancers to complete, or partially complete ahead of payment as a “sample” to the prospective client. With no guarantee of further work, full pay or other “prize” or “promotion”, this work is not only completely unethical but also sees freelancers severely reduce their fees to compete for work with often, very little reward.
Another one which I detest is, “It’ll look great in your portfolio” or “oh, but my friend does it for half the price”. Walk away immediately. No question. Get out of there. The client does not value you, your time, your skills or the years you have spent refining those to get to where you are today and ultimately, exposure and ‘promotion’ pieces don’t pay the bills.
Never ever undervalue yourself just because someone else charges less. Stick to your guns, know your capabilities and believe in yourself and the RIGHT clients will follow suit.
5. Keep your portfolio up to date
Another very important thing is to show people what you’re made of, show off your skills and refine the perfect portfolio for yourself that encapsulates who you are and what you do. Pick a handful of your strongest projects, no need to clutter your website or email with everything you’ve ever completed – ain’t nobody got time for that, and remember when applying for positions or new projects to tailor the application to what they’re asking for; keep it relevant.
Fresh content on your website (if you have one) is also important as it shows prospective clients you’re busy, people are investing in you and you are then re-investing in yourself to showcase their project. *COUGH* Hasn’t updated own website in over a year…. I’m working on it!
6. Push your limits
Finally, never be afraid to try something new! Experiment with a new illustration technique, work with a new piece of software, learn a new language, travel to a new destination, wear odd socks, test yourself and after a lot of failed attempts.. and forgetting how to do it.. or how you did it last time.. you’ll learn, you’ll develop and you’ll be able to broaden your offering to your new and existing clients. Winner!
Whatever happens though, no matter how many tips or tricks people give you along the way, I realise I’m not the first to share my two cents on the matter and I’m certain I won’t be the last, I personally think the most important thing you can do as a freelancer (or any career for that matter) is to love what you’re doing, have fun and remember to set time aside to invest in your own passions and interests from time to time.
Peace, tea, pencils and profanities. – Emily, over and out.
Hello, I’m Emily; vertically challenged, graphic designer, typography enthusiast, Welsh dragon, tea addict, bundle of sarcasm and soon-to-be nomad. I’m terrible at mental maths, I have a newly acquired obsession with peanut butter and I love dogs (I scream almost 99% of the time that I see one). How do you do?
WHAT’S YOUR ART?
My art is graphic design and hand-drawn typography (although I am hopelessly out of practice, or time to practice); I decided to begin freelancing before I left University in 2014 and had been successfully managing several projects, alongside a full-time graphic design job in Leicester ever since. More recently however I left my full time job and made the transition into becoming a full-time freelance graphic designer, which I am immensely excited about.
I specialise in a range of disciplines aimed at small/startup to medium sized businesses, including (but not limited to) graphic design, brand development, web design and illustration. I have also worked with a broad range of industries, sectors and business sizes, providing me with some great design challenges and the opportunity to meet and work with the people behind the business.
In my free time (laughs hysterically) I love to illustrate typography, be it quotes, single words or more often than not, swear words – firstly because I can turn something not so pleasant into something pretty and interesting, but mostly because it annoys my mother. *evil laughs*
WHAT’S COMING UP FOR YOU?
1. I’m leaving the UK! The recent turn of events (note the becoming full-time freelance mentioned above) also coincides with my impending departure from the UK to begin travelling around Europe, which is actually in 5 days time! Yikes! You can keep in touch with me and my other half, Bartek, who is well known in the HoV community via our joint travel page – Just BE.
I am more than sure that this kind of lifestyle will tie in well with my business type and open me up to many new opportunities and an abundance of inspiration as I go.
2. Freelance, freelance, freelance My new career decision also means that I need to step my game up with a fresh new look for my website (which is underway) and a deliciously-designy portfolio to send out to new potential clients. I’m equally as excited and anxious about all of these new pathways I will get to explore along my way, so stay tuned! You can connect with me via my Facebook design page – EM Design Studio – or via my website (soon to be changing) – www.emilymerchant.co.uk.
In the mean time, check out my most recent typographic project below which was created for a collaboration with many HoV ladies for International Womens Day 2017.
For it’s 37th reincarnation, Leicester’s eclectic artist collective will be making its way to the South Coast for an event which is fated to be Brightonnes of fun…
Consisting of 21 performers including beatboxers, rappers, spoken word artists, DJs, comedians, musicians and many more, this incredibly diverse and continuously evolving variety event takes energy and entertainment to another level, providing not only a great evening of entertainment but simultaneously allowing audiences to be a part of the ever-growing HOV community.
Brighton Fringe is England’s largest Arts festival, drawing a vast array of performers from across the globe and squeezing them into many beautiful venues within the city.
This year promises to be the biggest and best yet, with events being held at all hours in order to appeal to every character that happens to find themselves wandering around in search for stimulation for both body and mind!
Of course all sensory cravings will be catered for at the delightful Marwood Bar & Coffeehouse, which will be serving up multiple helpings of arts workshops, scrumptious sides of rhythmical jams and a huge dollop of live performance, along with their own delicious menus of food, coffee, cocktails and craft beers.
The House of Verse team cannot wait to get on the road and are more than excited to meet as many people as humanly possible.
If you spot us out and about flying the House of Verse flag in some format, come over and say hello, hang with us at or outside the events and let’s engage in wonderful friendships.
Very few of us bite, and the ones that do have been cleared of anything infectious.
Sat 3rd & Sun 4th June @ Marwood Bar & Coffeehouse
11am-12pm: Drumming workshop
1-2pm: Beatbox/Freestyle workshop
3-4pm: B-Boy workshop
5-6pm: Open jam
7-10.30pm: Live variety show
“Politics to me is simply the organisation of human life, and as such, it’s relevant to everything and everything is relevant to it.”
The same guy got that phrase stuck in his head, as he often does with phrases. It rattled around and bounced off everything else in there. It turned out that there was a lot more to say (which is fortunate, because I had a blog to write).
So, I make poems. Sometimes they’re very explicitly about politics. Sometimes they’re kind of about politics. Even if they’re more literally about food, or buildings, or, um, my haircut (It comes up a lot. I think I have some self-examination to do here), they’re always, always in the context of politics. Because how could they not be? We’re in a time where discourse is flying around everywhere and people’s lives are discussed more than ever. I don’t know about you folks, but once I started listening, I found it hard to stop hearing. Critical examination begets more of itself. When you make the jump to let voices into your bubble that force you to check yourself and the systems that made you, every day you see more of the mechanisms that go from the top to the bottom, moving everything.
That’s never truer than in a room full of artists. I’m not gonna wax lyrical about creative people bringing a unique perception to the table – we do, but so does everyone else. Everyone’s is worthwhile, valid, and rooted in valuable, individual experience and insight. What’s unique about politics in art is that we have the vehicle, the pretence and the attention of others that permits us to express it. Some people are lucky enough to grow up knowing this is an option.
Others step up at an open mic night for the first time, see a room full of people ready to receive what they’ve always needed to throw out there. I swear to god, you can see it their eyes – they glance around and say “…finally.”
I mentioned bubbles. It’s a tricky idea. One criticism that some people love to level at arts spaces is that they’re left-wing bubbles or echo chambers. This often comes bundled with the accusation that such spaces thus stifle free speech and debate. This is always backed up by the accuser conveniently missing Tracey Emin; Having a national paper column to praise Tory arts policy that’s kept her in her Spitalfields townhouse but left venues and projects in vulnerable areas devastated (and that’s before EU funding disappears). Skipping over Gilbert and George’s astonishing privilege-driven ignorance in saying “socialism wants everyone to be equal, but we want to be different.” This pulls off the astonishing feat of being both a false equivalence and a false binary, which, to be fair to the lads, is arguably a work of art. Just a shit one (In my opinion).
It breezes past the fact that cutting £165m from local arts budgets inevitably excludes marginalised voices, making it harder for them to find the footing they need to have any influence over their own circumstances. Isn’t it amazing how when these people complain about their freedom of speech being stifled, we can always hear them speak.
I once had a discussion with Nathan Human; one of Leicester’s most underappreciated, creative powerhouses, where he mentioned to me that he’d once heard someone of a conservative persuasion say they felt unwelcome and intimidated at poetry nights due to the prevalence of leftist politics among the attendees. That this was at odds with ideas of tolerance and diversity. My counterpoint to that is little more than “You reap what you sow”. If you’re happy to embrace an ideology rooted in the preservation of old wealth and empirical power. In particular, if you’re comfortable voting and campaigning for a party whose policies have consistently trod on the already-marginalised, cementing a draining grind into a life that ordinary people are resigned to, then you can expect two things:
They will create spaces to heal and recover from this and you may not be welcome in them!
I’ve sat and watched friends and strangers alike jump on stage and take the mic. Let fly all the suffering they’ve ever had inflicted on them. From racism, to transphobia, to child sex abuse, to ableism (hi!), to real home-grown poverty, and underpinning it all. The never-ending fucking drudge of having to sell your time and labour to stay alive and see all of it keep happening. I’m not exaggerating when I say every one of those situations has been permitted or worsened by the work, actions or words of a right-wing politician somewhere in the world. I’m lucky enough to sometimes be able to muster the energy to articulate all of this in detail, with examples.
However, when I and others can’t, and you burst into the space we made for ourselves to get this off our chest to find a way forwards for ourselves, when you demand a platform and attention you can create for yourself like we had to, then don’t expect a Harvard-referenced essay detailing our positions. Expect a weary, resentful “fuck off”, and the freedom to Google the rest for yourself when you get home.
Okay, time to be happy again! You have to schedule it in sometimes. Please do not for a second think I’m having a pop at everyone who comes into an arts event, encounters politics, and doesn’t immediately storm Parliament with placards and megaphones. I would’ve once been the same. This system isn’t designed for us to get it. Our brains aren’t designed for us to all get it in the same way. Our education is also grossly inadequate on this and many other fronts (I recommend Jess Green’s Burning Books for more on this – the poem, the book or the play, they’re all great). All I can recommend is what I’d recommend for every other aspect of life too:
Come with open ears and a critical mind. Use your context – your valid, real context that you’re gifted just by existing. To examine everything around you, but also use new contexts to examine yourself.
As a member of a political party that isn’t scared to call the Russian Revolution “the greatest event in human history.” Stalinism is an easy stick to beat me with (no matter howoftenwecriticiseit), but I assure you I’m not here to dictate. It’s my firm belief that only proper engagement from everyone, on their own terms, is the only thing that can possibly succeed in building a better world.
Next disclaimer: your art isn’t political? I’ll say this bit loud: THAT’S TOTALLY COOL AND YOU ARE WELCOME HERE. Y’know how not every poem is like the ones you studied in school? Or how every painting isn’t like the countryside scenes hanging on your gran’s wall? It’s the same deal. Cynthia Rodriguez, one of my favourite Housemates, has a wonderful poem about there being “no such thing as frivolous art.” It was written in response to the also-wonderful Anna My Charlotte apologising for singing a “frivolous” song after one of Cynthia’s performances at the Y Theatre’s sorely-missed Open Stage night. Cynthia nails it better than I ever could. Suffice to say, you don’t have to get up there and give me dialectical Marxism in iambic pentameter to impress me. You definitely don’t have to impress me to be valid anyway.
Get up there and say, sing, dance or show us whatever you feel. Write or draw or play whatever your reality is.
It’s probably more political than you think, because in the face of rising global fascism and a conservative establishment ever more willing to embrace it, just being unapologetically you is a perfectly radical act. Just existing as an artist is part of the fightback. And if you can’t or don’t want to fight, you’ll find that even the most militant of us quite like just hanging out and sharing fun stuff with each other. We all need to get some of our soul back sometimes. That doesn’t mitigate whatever struggles we pursue – it backs them up with an assertion of our right to exist as free, creative humans. It reminds us exactly what those of us who can and want to fight are fighting for.
This is my politics and my art – a place for voices, nuance and authenticity to have their long-overdue 15 minutes. With a view to a future where we never, ever have to answer for those as if they’re a bloody question.