10 Pieces of Advice for Freelancers

This article applies to more than just the comics industry. I’ve been working as a freelance artist since 1998 and this is some of what I learned along the way.  These are my ten best pieces of advice for working independently.

piece of advice


Keep Your Deadlines
Accountability is the no. 1 thing clients are after. Talent is on the list, sure, but waaay down. If what you hand in isn’t your best work, chances are they won’t notice. But if you don’t deliver on the agreed time – You bet they will notice!

If for some reason you can’t keep your deadlines – call! Most editors and clients are reasonable people who understand if your kid is sick or something made it impossible to make your deadline. Give a heads up if things look tight, ask if your deadline can be postponed. It usually can. Do not stick your head in the sand, dodge phone calls and ignore emails.

Communicate More!
Nothing wrong with a follow-up e-mail on a conversation or adding someone you just met on Facebook. On the contrary! It helps them remember you and vice-versa. With new clients I usually write them back with a short description of what we talked about, including price, delivery, deadline. Just so we’re on the same page. I don’t have a contract. As long as they don’t protest, the contents of that e-mail is just as good, if there’s ever a disagreement. I sometimes send clients a Christmas card and try to keep in touch in a hopefully non-obtrusive way, just letting them know I’m there and that I’m a sociable fellow. I try to be quick in responding to any e-mails I get and send out invoices no longer than a week after the conclusion of a job.


Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
If you only have one major client, your small business is very vulnerable to the changes of your industry. Keep several sources of income, so if a client decides to try something new, you still have food on the table.

Don’t take it personally
You’re not really employed as a freelancer. A client can hire whomever they want for the next job, they don’t have to tell you about it. However frustrating it may be when you loose a great gig, just let it go. Don’t ask for an explanation and if you do, don’t expect a straight answer. Don’t whine. Nobody likes a whiner. Sometimes clients and potential clients behave badly. They delay payment, they don’t reply to e-mails, some even lie and cheat. It’s not personal, they’re probably burning bridges every day. It’s not your problem, so don’t loose sleep over it. But if you consistently keep getting fired or running into “bad people,” it might be a sign you should change something about yourself.

Keep cool and think ahead
There will be periods with no work and no income. Keep at least 3 months of income in your savings account for dry spells. When you need the work, it’s usually too late to go out and find any. You should be looking for work when times are good. Don’t panic: you’re either going to be swamped or unemployed, that’s just how it goes.

Have your own project
Keep cool when no business is coming in by occupying your mind with other things. Make your own webcomic, develop new ideas, work on that big personal graphic novel or whatever. Don’t sit around waiting for clients to call, biting your nails and worrying. Do something you are enthusiastic about. You will do good work and it will stick out in your portfolio.


It’s OK to say “No”
Early on in your career, you probably can’t be too choosy with work. Say no only if it’s for free, if there’s nothing to learn from it and you get bad vibes from the people hiring you. Otherwise you do the work and you get better at whatever it is you do, while collecting a portfolio. Just beware that taking on a certain kind of work usually leads to more of the same work. When you’re being pushed for time and have too many jobs to juggle, maybe it’s time to focus on a certain kind of work. If you find it difficult to say no to work, try jacking up the price. If they agree, great. If they decide to take their business elsewhere, also great.

Find Ways to Manage Your Time
As a freelancer, the easiest thing in the world is to spend all your waking hours at work, but it can be just as easy not to get any work done at all, and spend a lot of time beating yourself up over it. Structure is essential. Decide how many hours you are going to work, how many pages you need to do in one week. Make a reasonable demand of yourself and reward yourself for sticking to it. Being your own boss requires discipline. Set a timer, set up some rules.

Find Others to Work With
Working at home in your bedroom can be very lonely and give way to an awful lot of Facebook time. If you can get an office or studio space somewhere, do it. It gets you out of the house and sitting with other talented people will hopefully inspire you creatively. It also helps divide the work and home life, so you don’t end up doing house chores in the middle of work and work late at night while the kids are asleep. If you have an office, you can “leave it at the office.” Find a peer group of others working in your field, someone who will inspire you and help deal with your self-doubts, and help you structure your work cycles. Maybe they can even throw some work your way someday, and you can do the same in periods where you are buried in work.

Hope these tips were helpful. For more go to my webpage, www.palleschmidt.com.  Best of luck with your comics career!


One Response to “10 Pieces of Advice for Freelancers”

  1. Mike Vosburg

    And the most important one is when you aren’t working, work harder at the type of things you like to do, so that when that job does come around, you’re qualified to do it. To many folks I know/knew seemed to think the need to improve stopped once they were hired for their first jobs.


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