Q: I’m a hard working freelance cartooning/comic making guy with a few decent clients and long studio hours. I work at an art related job during the day, and at night I do two different comics for a regular client as well as many freelance caricature commissions. I want to help boost my commissions and find some more good clients. Any advice on growing as a freelancer?
A: I get a lot of “How do I break into freelancing” type questions, but not too many from people already finding work but looking for more. Honestly the advice I’d give those just getting started and those already on the road is basically the same.
There are two aspects to successful freelancing:
1. Finding work
2. Doing a good job when you get the work
Number one is nothing more than marketing your work. The best methods are a strong web presence combined with direct postcard or 1/2 page card mailings to potential clients. The latter is to drive client traffic to the former. This can be very cost effective if you do your own legwork to put together a mailing list. Identify publishers, publications, ad agencies, etc who you think your work would appeal to and just send them your postcards on a regular basis (new ones each time… perhaps 4 mailings a year). You can spend money for things like iSpot or sourcebook ads, but I wouldn’t recommend that at first. Direct marketing yields better results for less money.
The second point involves not just doing great art, but doing a great JOB.There is no trick or secret for that beyond working hard, meeting and exceeding expectation for clients and building your reputation as a reliable freelancer who delivers good work on time and is easy to work with. That’s really it. You’d be surprised how few freelancers really accomplish all of those important elements consistently. The world is full of very talented illustrators working at copy centers because they can’t meet a deadline or they get defensive when an art director does some actual art direction on their work instead of just saying “that is go great!”. Doing a great job results in additional jobs from that same client and referral jobs as well. Client retention and a core group of clients that provide steady work is a must if you want to make a stable living freelancing.
Making a living as a freelancer is all about building a client base that will support you and then continually looking to expand that base so you can get more work and replace work you lose when a base client becomes a former client. This takes time, but it sounds like you have a great start and are already well past the “breaking in” part. As you build your client base, you gradually replace lower paying clients with higher paying ones as you climb the ladder.
Hard work and perseverance pays off. Good luck to you!
Thanks to R. Casey for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me your questions and I’ll try and answer them here!
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918 New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550
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