Anniversary - Seventeen Things I Have Learned in Seventeen Years By
Megan E. Jeffery
week marks my Seventeenth Year of being a self-employed freelance illustrator.
I know it's 17, 'cuz that's the age my nephew Nathan (he of "Sit
floor? Play toys?" fame) just turned, and I was doing my very first
illustration (for Baby Talk Magazine) the night he was born.
Coincidentally, that illustration was of babies running.
thought I'd pass on 17 things that I've learned over the past years,
listed in really no particular order of importance:
Not Miss Deadlines. Want to keep on doing what you're doing?
Then do not give people a reason not to hire you again. If you feel
that it's going to be a close-call, give the Art Director the head's
up so s/he can make an adjustment. Doing this will accomplish two things:
it will let the A.D. know that you are conscientious, and it will most
likely give you more time/relief.
Records. It doesn't take that long to jot down your beginning
mileage and your ending mileage if you keep a little notebook in your
car. And keeping up with your receipts and logging them at regular intervals
will make your Future-Self happy with your Present-Self. And your Tax-Time-Self
will be the happiest of all! If you need cute little pens and cute little
stickers to make bookkeeping attractive, do it.
Whatever encourages you.
"Thank you!" If you had a shop, and people came into
your shop to buy something, you'd say 'Thank you, please come again!'
Doing this in your metaphorical 'shop' never hurts either. These people
are choosing YOU out of a LEGION of other artists, it's something to
be grateful for. People remember who was pleasant to work with, and
will choose to work with them again.
That Telephone Manners/Attitude Are Important. Building on
the point before, keep in mind that as a freelancer, chances are most
of your contacts with clients will be over the phone. Keep your tone
friendly & professional, don't interrupt, and ask questions when
you're confused over an art spec. Better to hash it out in the talking
stage than after tons of time has been spent in drawing.
Health Insurance. I know, I know: it's expensive. But it's
important. You can go through a professional organization, but what
I've found to be the most expedient is to go through your local Chamber
of Commerce. They can hook you up with health insurance plans that cater
to 1-person businesses. If you have a spouse who is employed and has
health insurance, well, then, you've hit the jackpot! :-)
a Retirement Plan and Contribute Regularly. Again, your Future-Self
will thank you. Find a stockbroker that you trust and that can guide
you through which stocks/ mutual funds, etc.will be best for you.
Management. You know how much time the job you have will take,
approximately. You know you have a deadline. You know you have to sleep,
and eat, and probably mow the lawn. Designing is not just about putting
little swirls on a piece of paper, it's about taking into account there
only being so many hours in a given day. Giving yourself some padding,
timewise, is never a bad idea. Gives you a chance to do any 'tweaking'
on a piece, and you never know if someone's gonna get sick, or if the
car will need to be taken in and you'll have to sit and wait for it.
I often hear the comment, "I could NEVER be self-employed! You
must be so disciplined!" I don't think that I'm any more disciplined
than the next person, and my answer is usually something along the lines
of, "There's nothing more motivating than bills to pay." I
think that there is a misconception that artists have to wait until
there is a 'muse' who will inspire them toward creativity and industry.
Nah. You work until 'it' comes, and THEN you ride the wave.
Schedule. If you're going to be a freelancer, you're gonna
have to know yourself pretty well. When do you work best? Are you a
morning person or a night owl? Get sleepy at 2pm? Work during the times
that you work best, if you can swing it. I know that there are other
extenuating circumstances in a person's life that make working 9am-
5pm a more likely prospect, but: if you work at your best time, you
work more efficiently, and get more done in a shorter amount of time.
There will be days when NO time is your best time. Work anyway.
Time-Off/Vacations. I still have not conquered this one. I
find that when I have the time, I feel as though I do not have the money.
And: when I have the money, I do not have the time. As a result, I haven't
had a full-on vacation since '94, but don't think that this needs to
be what you do. Give me your tips on this one, as I could use them!
Stress. As a freelancer, I can pretty much guarantee that there
will be stress in your life. Whether it's the stress of meeting a deadline,
or the stress of finding work, or the stress of waiting for a check
to come in: Count on it. But, deal with it, too. Exercise, eat right,
get proper sleep: all those things that your mom told you to do when
you were a kid but that you rolled your eyes at. Yeah, those things.
With People's Questions.
You will have interesting questions posed to you as a freelancer. Some
people have ideas that all freelancers are of the of fuzzy slippers
and jammy pant wearing, constant soap opera watching or constantly sleeping
variety. There is really no solution to this line of questioning other
than to answer their questions as honestly (not defensively) as possible.
After awhile, they should see that you are a diligent worker who might
have a slightly different schedule than most, but who still punches
a "time-clock". Be patient, the comments will eventually stop.
Times of No Work. Don't panic. Panic causes productivity and
creativity to come to screeching halt. You have other jobs to do during
times when you do not have "paying" work. Market. Create a
new promotional postcard. Work on some of your own projects that you
'never have time for'. Re-do your portfolio (online or real). Do some
portfolio drop-offs. Got a backlog of laundry? dishes? yardwork? Do
it! I have found from personal experience that more work always comes,
and if I've spent the intervening time worrying, I have wasted the opportunity
to get other stuff done, or have wasted the opportunity to rest/relax.
System. Have one. :-) If you are working for yourself, by yourself,
from your home, you will need human contact. Make sure you know some
humans, and interface with them once in a while. If you are also fortunate
enough to know other freelancers, form your own "support group".
Be Under the Misguided Notion that an Agent Will Work Magic For You.
Maybe they will, I don't know. But don't think that once you have found
an agent that is willing to take you on, that this will instantaneously
bring you in truckloads of work. I would also suggest that you still
'keep on top of' your business. Do not abdicate your role as CEO of
your company to your agent, or to your accountant, or to whomever else
has a piece of your business. Know where the numbers are coming from.
As my dad says, "Trust but Verify."
Be Too Proud to Call. Haven't heard from a client for awhile?
Do not assume that they no longer like you, or your work, or that they
think that your mother was a hamster that smells of elderberries. Contact
them, remind them that you're still around, that you'd LOVE to work
with them again, that working on the blahblahblah project was a blast,
etc. Gentle reminders have gotten me work. Put your pride in your back
Yourself Creative. You know that old chestnut, "All work
and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Well, how can you keep putting
out creatively if you're never taking in? Go to a museum... Go look
in the children's section of a book store... Take your camera with you
on a walk... Take a class...Take up a new hobby... Get a pile of magazines
on a subject you know nothing about.... You'll be surprised what following
these other creative pursuits will do for your "paying"
E. Jeffery received her BFA in Illustration from Rhode Island
School of Design in 1987, and has been a freelance illustrator since 1989.
Specializing in children's educational and entertainment markets, Megan
also works for publications for adults that need a light, whimsical touch.
In addition to illustration, Megan has started working in the fiber arts,
creating pillows that can be found online at www.megillustrations.etsy.com.
Her website is: www.megillustrations.com
and her blog, Beetlegrass, can be found at www.megillustrations.typepad.com/beetlegrass/.
E. Jeffery copyright 2006
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