Freelancing websites, such as Upwork or PeoplePerHour are good places to find work on a monthly basis as long as you know how to avoid problems and choose your projects wisely. Some freelancers complain about very low budget job offers and trouble dealing with clients who want cheap and high quality work. Indeed, you can find this happening on each one of these platforms. Here are some tips to avoid working for half-free and build good relationships with clients who will value your work and pay accordingly.
Finding job offers
When going through your job feed there are two things to look for before you even click on the offer to see more details – the budget planned for the project and the title. For fixed price projects you can ignore budgets anywhere below $100, unless you are certain they will only take up to two or three hours of your time. More often than not you will end up spending longer than estimated, if you include replying to your client’s messages and doing any research for the project (like finding reference).
The title of the job should paint the big picture of what the project is about, e.g. “Seeking an illustrator for a children’s book” or “Fashion illustrations of women’s sports wear”. Once the project title catches your attention and the budget is over $100 you can take a moment and read the description. If it consists of less than two sentences then the client most likely isn’t very serious about the job they are offering or they don’t really know what exactly they need. This should be a red flag for you. Also, notice if there are any typos and if the sentences are written correctly, with comas and capital letters (unless the client is not writing in their native language in which case some mistakes are understandable, however consider if this will have impact on their ability to communicate with you later on). A detailed description written without mistakes shows that your client is being professional and it could be worth applying for their job offer.
Below are examples of some job offers that I wouldn’t apply for:
Title: Looking for a graphics illustrator, anime style.
Description: Looking for a highly talented illustrator with the skills to draw graphic art simmilar to league of legends etc.
Reason: They require highly detailed and quality illustrations for a very low cost.
Childrens Book Illustrator
Description: We are after one concept image. Then we will have more to do.
Reason: The description is vague and the budget is ridiculously low.
I would consider applying for these:
Illustrator for a magazine
Description: We are a women’s magazine looking for someone to create two custom illustrations for an article in our publication. The first image will be a complex scene that includes people – about the size of a quarter page – and the second will be a small, simple image depicting an object. The artist must have a good sense of colors, composition, and perspective, and know how to draw people and backgrounds in a realistic painting style. The scenes are mostly old-fashioned so the art will need to have a vintage touch. A detailed brief will be provided.
Facebook and Instagram Weekly Images
Budget: Not sure
Description: We are launching a new mobile game for kids. We are searching for someone creative to take images that we have or quotes and lay them out with interesting text overlay and filters so that they look good for us to post on Facebook and Instagram. Please quote your price per image. We are looking for 5 images to start and if quality is good we will buy ongoing.
Avoid clients who seem to be very demanding from the start, for example they used “I want” multiple times in their description or wrote a long list of qualities that their chosen freelancer needs to possess to get hired by them (and the budget isn’t proportional to that). In their offer, they should roughly describe the amount of work they need completed, e.g. “20 full-color spreads for a children’s book” or “4 pieces of environmental concept art for a mobile game”. When the scope of work is defined, you can then compare it to the budget they are offering and see if the project will be worth your time.
Be careful, sometimes the client may specify in the description that the budget is only for the first illustration or a part of the project. Sometimes the client will be willing to go over their budget if you request a little more but they won’t likely change their budget from $100 to $1000. If the project description says a client needs 24 full-color illustrations and their budget for the whole project is $500 then you should not waste your time discussing the terms with them. Here is an example of a very low budget job that you should not apply for:
Description: For our small cosmetics company we are looking for a creative illustrator who is an expert with watercolors and can make something beautiful for our packaging. We would like to have 10 illustrations in watercolor made for the packaging of our soaps, scrubs, etc. The things we want to illustrate are mainly leaves, flowers and some fruits. We are looking for something a little abstract and artistic but the ingredient must be recognizable.
We would like to have the illustrations delivered with a minimum resolution of 300 ppi, and a minimum size of 15cm x 15cm.
Besides the description, look at the client’s rating and comments left by other freelancers. I found that most freelancers are generous with their rating and will give their clients 5 stars even if there were minor difficulties. This is because to a freelancer, receiving a good review and a possibility for more work in the future is more important. If a client has less than 4.5 stars earned based on multiple reviews then it might be worth reading through the comments and checking what was the issue. You will have to decide yourself if it’s worth giving it a try or if it’s better to pass on the offer.
Writing your proposal
Once you’ve found an interesting project with a satisfying budget and your client seems to be trustworthy, it is time to write your proposal. A good proposal should catch your client’s attention and make them interested in hiring you.
Just as you expect your client to take their time and write a proper offer, you are also expected to show how reliable and professional you are by writing in full, correct sentences and describing your services in detail. Be detailed but also right on the topic. Don’t write essay long proposals to your client – they won’t likely have the time to read it among tens of other applications they received.
Start your proposal with a short introduction. It can be one or two sentences describing in general the kind of work you do and your experience. Also, remember to attach a link to your portfolio.
Here is an example of a short introduction:
My name is Jane Smith. I’m a digital illustrator with over one year of experience working as a freelancer. I specialize in children’s book illustration and 2D illustration for mobile games. For some examples of my work, please see my portfolio: janesmith.com.
Express your interest in working on the project and mention any jobs performed in the past relevant to it. Let the client know that you are aware of the requirements for the job and that you have taken the time to read the project description. Don’t forget to attach any samples of work similar to what is requested, if you have any. This is what your client is interested in the most and what will convince them that you are a good fit for the job. Be careful to keep the samples low quality and watermark them if needed, to protect your work and past clients from any possibility of theft.
I would be happy to create a series of illustrations for your book. Last year I illustrated a children’s book titled “Animal garden” (here’s the official website: animalgardenthebook.com) in a style that could work well for your project. Attached are a few sample spreads for reference.
Next, write your estimated budget for the project and the time needed to complete it. Also, be sure to specify how many revisions are included in the price. Ask questions if you need more information in order to give a more correct estimate.
Describe your process. Let’s say, you will begin the project by drawing a few rough sketches and then sending them to your client for approval. Then you will proceed to drawing a more detailed sketch and after that you will color it and bring the illustration to a finished state. Clients like to be updated on the progress often and to have control over the direction the work is going.
The total cost of the project will be $4200 (with up to 3 revisions per illustration included). I estimate the completion date to be by March, 31st.
I will draw sketches for each illustration and submit them to you for a review. After the sketches are approved, I will proceed to painting the illustrations in detail (you can request a preview of the work in progress at any point). Once I submit the final version to you for another review you can request minor revisions that won’t require changes in layout or composition. Every revision beyond that will cost additional $50 per illustration.
The final work will be delivered in a print-ready format (300ppi) along with any PSD files, if needed.
Please let me know if you have any questions!
The proposal should end with you asking them to contact you.
Please contact me to further discuss our cooperation. I look forward to your reply.
Remember to keep the contents of your proposal on point and relevant to the offer and to include samples of previous work with your portfolio. After all, more than words, the actual results of your past projects will be the most convincing proofs of your skill and experience.
You have found a great offer and sent your proposal to the client. Now you got a reply from them saying they are interested. Hurrah! You’re almost there. When discussing the job be sure to stay professional, answer any questions and reply as soon as you can.
Notice if your client is using a polite and respectful language towards you or seem like they are being arrogant. Be careful if their demands turn out to be larger than those in the job description, without an offer to increase the budget.
Lastly, remember to never begin any work until your client sends funds into escrow for the whole project or the first milestone, especially if instead they tell you excuses and ask you to begin work anyway.
Hopefully, these tips should minimize the risk of having a bad experience when working via a freelancing website but sometimes, even after being extra careful choosing your projects you might find out mid-way that the client you are working with is not what you expected. For some tips on how to deal with a troublesome client, visit this post.