Tuesday, September 30, 2008

To be a successful freelancer

4- Know your strengths and weaknesses. You aren't helping your client and you're not helping your reputation if you deliver a project that's not up to snuff. It's great to stretch and grow, but not at the expense of not pleasing your client. 

5- Enjoy what you are doing. Let's face it, getting a freelance career off the ground is going to take a lot of work. And when you are successful, you will be working late and on weekends. So you better like what you are doing or you won't be giving your full effort to succeeding as a freelancer. 

6- Ask yourself the following questions:
Are you comfortable working alone?
Are you disciplined enough to deliver your project on time all the time?
Do you have a financial cushion to carry you over during lean times?
IF you said NO to any of the questions above, you should seriously consider putting off a freelance career ( or I like to say a freelance "life style" )

I'll be posting more thoughts about how to be a successful freelancer and some business tips later on.

Monday, September 29, 2008

How to succeed as a freelancer

If you want to make it as a freelancer here are some helpful hints.

1- If you are fresh out of school DO NOT start our freelancing. Here's why:

You'll be cheating yourself out of making a lot of connections in the art/business world that will be valuable in the future.

It's important to understand what happens "on the other side of the desk". This means that when you do freelance, it's great to know how the person that is buying your services wants the process to go through. There were freelancers, who's work I was buying, that did things I didn't like. And I vowed not to do to MY clients what these freelancers were doing to me. Things like.. give me a quote, then charge me more when they delivered. Which brings me to my second hint:

2- If you quote a price, stick to it. Nobody likes surprises. It's fair to increase your price if your client changes the assignment. "I'd like an ad that sells this can of soup. Woops, we're not selling soup, we're selling a house instead". This is a different assignment so it's ok to re-negotiate your price.

3- Be open minded to your clients suggestions. Everyone has their own personal likes and dislikes They know their business better than you. If you are a pain to work with you won't be working with anyone. I did a great layout and my client said "I don't like brown".  Well, brown was the PERFECT color to use. But remember, you want to make the client happy... so change the color. When you say yes to things that are of a "personal preference" of your client, it will make things easier for you to "fight" for something, design wise, that is important...

Big project just came in!!!
I'll post some more info on how to succeed as a freelancer later...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Here comes the Computer

Who would have thought that techniques and tools that have been used by designers for hundreds of years (T-Square, triangle, ruling pens, brushes and paint) would become obsolete.

My friend Carl Levine of Creative Bubble was fond of asking me "when are you going to get a computer?" My answer was always "when the quality of a computer comp was the same or better than a hand drawn comp".

The year was 1991.

I had a client who showed me a "computer comp" when I delivered one of my hand drawn comps. "This is going to be easy to sell" he told me. I looked at the "computer comp" and saw that it was a composite of elements that were then copied on a color copier. The design was poor, the execution was worse but the key here was that my client thought "it would be easier to sell". The next day I asked my client how his meeting went and which design he sold. "Yours" he said.

I was happy about that, but I saw the writing on the wall... the computer was coming. But I still didn't see the quality that I was looking for... until I visited Combe Chemical. They make Grecian Formula and Odor Eaters.

I spoke to Dave Crockett ( a member of THE Crocket family as in Davey Crockett). HE told me they are doing all their comps on a computer. "Dave" I said.. "I've been hearing this bull about computer comps for a few months now and I've NEVER seen a computer comp as good as a hand drawn marker comp. Could you do me a favor, artist to artist, and show me what you're doing." He agreed.

I went to see him and although I was not impressed with what he was showing me... I saw in one small area of one of his comps the full potential of what could be created with the computer in my hands. 

I called my wife and said "the computer is here.. I have to make the switch or we will be out of business in three years".

It cost me $32,000 to buy my first system and all the software. I bought a Mac Quadra computer with a CPU speed of 33 MHz, and $2,000 accelerator for it. Photoshop, Quark, Illustrator, Painter software. My Wacom tablet was about $1200. A scanner with transparency adapter ($1200 then... now I use a $90 scanner that is faster and much better) and a $10,000 printer that needed a $1300 service contract every year.

I showed my list to someone at Reader's Digest (they were switching to computer from hand drawing at that time too) and asked what they thought. "Great system.. how long have you been into computers?" she asked. "Starting now." I replied.

"If I was you I wouldn't buy all that stuff, I'd start with the computer and one program and then build from there." 

I disagreed. My thought was to learn how ALL the programs and machines worked together. IT was like a pyramid. Learn a lot to start and it will be easier as I go along.

I hired a tutor and told him "this is my assignment... how do I do it?" 

As so it began... 3 months later I told my accounts that I was no longer doing marker comps, all comps were going to be the computer.

My contemporaries that made the switch from hand to computer were still in business a year later. The ones that didn't were out of business.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Leaving a full time job to become a Freelance graphic designer

In 1986 I decided to leave a well paying job as a senior graphic designer working for Marketing Corporation of America in Westport Ct, to go freelance.

I had no clients.

But I knew that there was a market for my skills as a comp artist because in addition to doing comps (that's short for "comprehensive"... a drawing of what an ad would look like) I was hiring people that would soon would be my competition.

In '86 computers were coming in but not for graphic design yet... comps were done by hand.

"Don't hire the freelancers" I was told. "We like your work better". Every time I would call a freelancer, they would either be busy, on vacation or if I was able to hire them, they made $350 a comp. 

Each project they did was for at least 3 to 10 drawings. Due usually 2 or 3 days later. At work I usually did 5 comps a day. (the other artists at MCA were doing 3 a day).

You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to see that there was a lot of money to be made if you could draw, you were reliable and fast.

So my wife and I decided on a plan.. it was called the 3Bs. We would Build a workspace for me in our home. Have a Baby (under our medical coverage from the company). Then start the Business.

We finished building my workspace, had our third child and I was up for my annual review. 

I told my wife that IF I got a really good raise, we would delay starting my freelance business. 

During my review, my boss used the Freelance Artist Payments sheet that showed how much each of the freelancers we used were making each week, to reveal my benefits as he was talking to me. What was he thinking of?

Here I was looking at these artists making THOUSANDS of DOLLARS every week while my boss was trying to tell me about all the benefits the company was giving me... then he followed it with a stingy raise. 

The following day I gave the company a months notice that I was leaving.

Then I started making calls to local Ad Agencies, Marketing Companies and Sales Promotion agencies. 

Back then I found getting business to be SIMPLE because I could draw and these companies needed TOP artists to illustrate their ideas. I would call them up and say "I'm a comp artist.. I can draw people, animals, products and hand letter." If they needed a comp artist, and they usually did, I got to see them. When they saw my portfolio, I had a new client. My acceptance rate was almost 90%

Soon I was either busy, on vacation or getting paid $350 a drawing and getting 10 drawings or more a WEEK to do.

Next... seeing the writing on the wall... here comes the computer!