The Art of Working for Yourself: 5 tips to help you succeed when you first begin freelancing

By Dorothy Groesbeck

Landing a freelance gig in and of itself is an accomplishment. But what happens after the handshakes are made and the offer letters are signed and sent back? While each freelance assignment is different, these are 5 things I have learned working as a freelancer that will make it easier for you to start your first freelance job and become your best employee while working from home.

My latest freelance job for Mecaer Aviation Group. I designed a wrap and a model of a truck. Here is the side of the vehicle.

My latest freelance job for Mecaer Aviation Group just came to an end last week. I designed a wrap and a model of a truck. Here is the side of the vehicle.

1. You don’t need a great program to be a great artist. When creating any form of art, there is not just one set tool that makes everything. Whenever I see a great reel on YouTube or an interesting illustration on someone’s blog, I will usually see comments from people who say something along the lines of, “OMG WHAT PROGRAM DID U USE 2 MAKE THAT? I WISH I HAD THAT PROGRAM #sadface.” While it is important to research programs and have an awareness of industry standards and procedures, buying the latest software won’t make you the best artist. Purchasing Maya won’t make you a skilled animator anymore than buying a frosting gun from Williams-Sonoma won’t make you a gifted cake decorator. What makes those cool reels and drawings, and really awesome-looking cakes if you are a freelancing cake decorator, is hard-earned talent. It is ultimately up to the artist to make a strong vision. You don’t need Maya to create an amazing model or Illustrator to draw compelling digital illustrations. You can still make great art that looks like it is fresh out of the Adobe Creative Suite even if you can’t afford those programs. For example, I got my start  in college using Lightwave. If you are just starting out on a freelance project and don’t have the money to use expensive programs, there are plenty of other cheaper options out there that you can utilize. Student licensing is a sometimes economical option and free programs like Blender (for 3D Modeling), (similar to Adobe Bridge) and Gimp (similar to Adobe Photoshop) will help you develop your technical skills and inspire your creativity while working on your first freelance gig.

2. Arm yourself with knowledge. As I touched on in the first step, great artists have great skill-sets. To add more dimensions to your work, it’s important to learn all you can about your craft. When I graduated from Edinboro University, I researched the animation industry and realized that I needed to learn 3D Studio Max in order to land work in the field. I learned that I had to adapt myself to other companies and make myself more marketable. I soon enrolled in a class teaching 3D Studio Max at my local community college and learned that the skills I learned in other programs could be easily applied to these industry standards. Recently, I started to attend figure drawing workshops at a local arts center to enhance my drawing abilities and become more efficient for a freelance gig I am doing at the moment for UNICEF which requires extensive illustration work.  Another avenue I utilized to improve my marketability was taking social media marketing classes through It’s important at any stage of life to try new things because you never know what will stick with you. There is nothing wrong with learning, so don’t be afraid to take new classes and learn from new people while you are freelancing.

Tools and vehicle I modeled in 3D Studio Max for Mecaer Aviation Group.

Tools and vehicle I modeled in 3D Studio Max for Mecaer Aviation Group.

3. Put yourself out there. How can anyone know you are this amazing artist with incredible freelance potential if no one knows who you are? I’ve noticed that sometimes, people will blame their environment for their lack of opportunities and exposure. While there may be more animation internships and freelance gigs in large metropolitan areas like New York City and Los Angeles, there are other ways to gain exposure even if you live in the middle of nowhere. Thanks to the internet, anyone can put a spotlight on their work and get themselves noticed. What I think is most effective is having a website. Having a place to keep your work and ideas organized and visible to possible employers, galleries and hey, even fans, is essential. Another tool that can be used to put yourself out there is simply just marketing yourself well. Create a Facebook page for your work and “like” professional artists, organizations and studios whose work you admire. Over the past few months, I’ve entered a few Facebook art contests with various studios such as Laika which boosted my visibility, widened my Facebook fan base and increased traffic to my website steadily. Even joining and posting work in forums within your field of interest can help you get exposure and contacts within your chosen industry. Some forums in my field are and Another thing you can do is to join up with a local arts organization and see if they have any networking events. Print up some business cards and shake some hands whenever the opportunity strikes. In addition to helping you get your name out there, utilizing all of these media and networking strategies is great for seeing what other artists and freelancers are doing to keep themselves relevant.

4. Stop being intimidated by other artists- choose to be inspired. With that being said, don’t compare yourself with other artists. I know it can be hard, but it’s important to keep an open mind and realize that just like you, the artist you are comparing yourself to is also in the middle of their creative process. You, too are making progress within your process, so instead of using another artist’s work as a benchmark and putting your work down, use their work to inspire you to push your ideas further. See how far you can stretch your ideas, and see how many new ideas you can come up with that will make your style unique. It is a waste of creative energy to perseverate on the weaknesses of your work instead of working to develop your strengths. Don’t force yourself into a negative thought-space. Some strategies I use to focus on my work are to have things going on in the background such as music or a movie that keep me inspired. Even something as simple as opening a window and getting some fresh air circulating can help keep my mind stimulated and too focused to wander off into the negative. By creating a positive atmosphere for yourself, you and your artwork will thrive.

5. Set yourself up to succeed, not fail. Be accountable. It’s important to understand that with freelance, there is a definite end to your time with a client, so with that understanding, it’s crucial to budget your time wisely in order to make the most out of the assignment. When you get that first freelance assignment, before you meet with your client, you need to first have a meeting with yourself to figure out a strategy and a plan to keep yourself organized and on schedule. For me, I need a planner and calendar in front of me to keep myself organized. Physically seeing what I need to accomplish and by what date helps me immensely. Having a running tally in my head has never worked for me. I think just keeping a mental note on your obligations can lead to forgetfulness which is disastrous when freelancing. The act of writing everything down gives you accountability. It’s just more responsible. If your meeting with a client, you can openly discuss your availability and set realistic goals if you have them written down in front of you. Being goal-oriented is also essential. In the end, you are providing a service to someone. Their time is just as important as yours. Maintain your bottom lines and keep people in the loop. Keep open communication with your client, ask for feedback and check in frequently so they can see your progress. This develops a mutual understanding and trust between both parties. This doesn’t mean that you and your client have to talk to each other at length everyday, but it’s important to check in to make your client know you are still enthusiastic about the project and to also make sure they are still on the same page as you are. Having a constant stream of steady communication makes it easier to navigate through times of unexpected delays or emergencies. Whenever there is an unforeseen delay or issue, sending a quick email making your client aware of the situation can help alleviate any stresses. Just remember that keeping your promises and trying your best to communicate effectively can give both you and your client peace of mind.

Back of the design I created for Mecaer Aviation Group.

Back of the design I created for Mecaer Aviation Group.

Want to learn how to make a helicopter of your own in 3D Studio Max? Check out my 10 easy steps to creating one in my next post.

2 responses to “The Art of Working for Yourself: 5 tips to help you succeed when you first begin freelancing

  1. Pingback: How to Model a Helicopter in 3D Studio Max in 10 Easy Steps | Dorothy Groesbeck·

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