When I first started my journey as a freelance artist I had no experience and my skill level was very low. Looking back, I wonder how I was even able to earn a few hundred dollars, sometimes more by drawing how I did then. It definitely wasn’t the best way to start a freelancing career but I was able to learn everything on my own, every step of the way.
In this article I will share with you what I think are the best things you can do to have a stable income of over $3000 per month working from home as a freelance artist.
Building a client base
In the beginning, I had no clients and no connections to help me find work. On top of that, I had just moved to China and since I couldn’t speak any Chinese, finding clients locally was not really an option. I turned to a freelance platform called Elance at the time (now Upwork) and created an online portfolio and a profile. Within a week I found my very first client.
That project was a one-time thing and so were the majority of all projects I’ve worked on during my first years as a freelancer. Meeting my monthly goals was tough as I had to keep looking for new work all the time and I never knew how much I would earn.
Only after I began building long-term relationships with clients my income grew and became much more stable.
In order for this to work however, you must choose your long-term clients carefully. If they request many unpaid revisions and pay low you might be better off working for somebody else.
When choosing a client to work long-term with, make sure:
- You get paid a satisfactory rate for your work.
- You get paid on time (most of the time, at least).
- There is mutual respect – your client pays for extra hours spent on their project and you are able to meet deadlines and provide high-quality service.
To find long-term clients:
- Whenever possible avoid small and low paid jobs. Choose bigger projects even if they don’t pay as high as you would like. After a while, once you establish a connection you can try to negotiate a higher price.
- Avoid projects such as gifts for a family member, children’s books that ‘my daughter wrote’ or ‘draw a portrait of my cat’ kind of requests. Instead focus on finding projects from companies, studios, and people who need artwork done for the purposes of their professional work.
- Build a great reputation – As much as possible try to submit work on time and do the best you can to meet your clients needs. Give your clients a reason to make you their go-to freelancer for any art they will need.
- Keep improving your skills! Surprisingly, it’s not the most important thing in order to succeed as a freelancer but it will surely make finding work much easier and you will be able to establish yourself much faster.
The more trustworthy long-term clients you have the more stable your monthly income will be. Once you establish enough of such connections you will be able to afford taking on only very well paid one-time projects with new clients.
Working from home can be more challenging than it seems. There are many things we need or are tempted to do, such as sleeping late, doing house chores, going out for lunch and so on. In order to get any work done another skill is required – self-control!
Getting rid of distractions may be the hardest part of all but limiting the time spent watching YouTube, Netflix, or checking social media can free up to a few hours every day that you can spend working.
At the same time, in some cases YouTube or Netflix can actually help you focus. When doing tasks which don’t require much of creative thinking (such as inking, coloring, sorting layers, saving multiple files etc.) try playing a documentary or a series with a lot of talking and little action (or something you’ve already seen) so it will keep your mind occupied but at the same time won’t consume all of your attention. It is a great way to get the less interesting tasks done while still enjoying yourself.
Planning the next day before going to bed is a great way to stay on track. Once you have the schedule in your mind, you will be able to begin checking off each task right away without getting distracted.
Having a regular weekly schedule didn’t work for me. I would never stick to it longer than a few days and I kept falling out of it as unexpected events happened. Planning for just one day ahead seems to work much better in my case, however I have heard many professionals say that a regular schedule is the best option for them. If you have other family members at home then it may be a good idea for you to introduce them to your work hours and set boundaries.
Lastly, knowing when to stop and take a break is essential. Working for 14 hours every day won’t help you earn more in a long shot and telling yourself ‘no’ all the time will make you want to procrastinate. To keep yourself healthy and motivated, always reserve some time for leisure.
Setting your rates
Try to accurately calculate how much to charge per hour of your work. If you work for 8 hours a day, in order to earn $3000 you would need to set your rates at around $20 per hour (plus tax). That is, if you do have enough jobs to last a whole month working at this pace. It might be harder to set the right price when you get paid per finished illustration. At first, just track the time you spent on completing different projects to better understand how much to charge for your work.
When you are just starting out, it might not be easy to find offers that will pay as much as you want. Give it some time and experience. You will get there eventually.
Showing a unique style or area of expertise, instead of being a jack of all trades will attract long-term clients. They will more likely hire a person who specializes in the topic of their interest than a person who does a bit of everything.
Once you prove you can do a great job, they won’t likely try to look for someone new to hire – they will prefer to work with the person they already trust, who gets the job done right.
Choosing one or two areas of expertise is essential in becoming a unique artist. Focus on those areas and adjust your portfolio to reflect your special skills. For example, you may be good at painting environments that are so needed for concept design in games or movie productions. Your portfolio should consists mainly of environments with maybe a couple of different paintings showing that you are also versatile when needed. When looking at your portfolio, it should be clear what kind of work your client is going to get if they hire you.
Look for work in various places, instead of just staying on one freelance website. Try different platforms and choose those that suit you most and give you the most interesting job offers. Publish your portfolio online so that clients can find you and contact you.
With new clients, you might want to use a freelancing platform to have some kind of protection against scammers (It rarely happens when you choose your clients wisely but it’s better to be safe than sorry!). Consider working directly with the clients you trust.
If you can, attend events to make more personal connections. Actually meeting people in person will give you job opportunities that you may never find online. It is easier to trust somebody who you have met face to face instead of some stranger on the internet.
Before you establish yourself you may want to appear in as many places as you can, the majority of it being online. Use social media such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or Behance. Artstation is another popular platform for artists to showcase their work. Try to grow your audience by uploading new work regularly and you will start seeing results within a few months. Don’t be discouraged if not many people react at the beginning – with the popularity of social media it is not easy to get attention. With persistence, the right approach and good content you will get there eventually.
You may need a few months to fully adjust to working from home and being productive as a freelancer. It is not for everybody but if you have the discipline and willingness to make it on your own, there will be nothing really standing in your way. Good luck!