Lessons Learned from Freelancing in 2018
With 2019 upon us, this is the perfect time to recap your goals and growth as a creative professional. Around this time last year, I wrote my very first post on this blog, Set Goals. Kick a Million Butts. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend giving it a look over, as I used the structure I describe in that post to build my own set of goals for 2018.
I’m going to lay out my past year of experiences as a case study for you to see how to set and achieve your own creative goals. At the start of 2018, I came up with a handful of personal and professional goals, some of which I accomplished better than others, but I think that all of them can offer some insight into how to keep yourself hungry and always growing creatively.
2017 was my first year going full time with creative freelancing and much of it was spent just getting my footing. For 2018, my aim was to create processes for myself to treat it more like a proper job and less like a frantic mess. I wanted to create routines that could help expand my visibility, build new relationships, and potentially attract some new clients. These routines had to strike a balance between being simple enough I felt I could stick with them, but impactful enough to be worth doing. The two I settled on were:
- Posting one blog write up per month for the entire year.
- Posting at least one original illustration per week the entire year on my Twitter and Instagram.
Monthly Blog Posts
I love giving advice and talking shop with other creatives and entrepreneurs, so my primary goal with this blog was to share what I’ve learned (both successes and mistakes) with other artists across the world. Each month’s topic sprouted organically from my own struggles, issues I discussed with other freelancers, or topics I felt needed some light shed upon them.
CONSENSUS: Moderate Success. I’m really proud of the blog and the content I’ve shared here. I’ve had numerous people reach out just to tell me how much a certain post meant to them, or how much they looked forward to my new write ups each month. My primary self-critique would be that the lack of proper structure probably meant the blog didn’t have as effective of a reach as it could have. I’m not sure whether I’ll continue with the monthly schedule in 2019, but I do think I want to pay closer attention to which topics I choose and why in the future.
Weekly Illustration Posts
This one ended up being less challenging than I expected. I made a habit of stockpiling illustrations I made on my iPad in Procreate when I had downtime, and would stagger their posting dates so when I was busy I wouldn’t have to stress about making them last minute.
CONSENSUS: Success! My followers on Twitter and Instagram grew significantly, I pushed myself creatively, and I built some great new professional relationships. I also used my self-imposed weekly illustration routine as an excuse to initiate two fun holiday-themed series of illustrations I might not have made otherwise. It was a good reason to be present and engaged on social media.
Maybe it’s just my inner hippie, but I’m a big believer in relationship building rather than “selling” yourself as a freelancer. I don’t do cold calls or cold emails, and I don’t approach people or businesses with “making the sale” in mind. Creating a robust catalog of written content and illustrations really helped to display my expertise and help more people find me. These routines have served me well and I fully plan to continue them through the next year.
Diversifying Sources of Income.
In the previous year, two thirds of my entire freelance income came from a single client. On the one hand, it was nice having a consistent income source as a baseline even when other projects would slow down, but I was acutely aware losing that client would kneecap my entire creative practice. With that contract coming to an end in early 2018, I aimed to do two things to try and stabilize my income: bring on more clients and projects, and find new income sources I hadn’t explored previously.
I was lucky to have many repeat clients and direct referrals in 2018. A lot of the customer service skills I’ve outlined in the past resulted in happy clients who were excited to team up with me again. Relationships I built with other freelance creatives helped as well—multiple projects were referred to me by friends who thought I’d be a good fit.
CONSENSUS: Moderate Success. I closed out the year with almost exactly the same level of income as 2017. Without the “mega” client I had in 2017, I’ll consider this a success since I managed to fully fill that gap with new work. I’m still aiming for a larger level of income and a larger project load in 2019, building off the success of this year.
My Creative Agency
I started to leverage my fluid creative agency, Pretty Picture Club, to attract larger clients that might not have been as eager to work with a solo freelancer. I landed a large contract with a city government, in addition to others with a national organization and a popular subscription box. In addition to bolstering my own income, this also enabled me to subcontract work to my peers, which felt great. I’m excited to continue expanding PPC into the new year.
CONSENSUS: Moderate Success. 2018 was the year I gave Pretty Picture Club more structure and definition. I filed an LLC, created business bank accounts, and successfully pursued work under its umbrella. My eventual goal is to work with even more clients on larger-scale projects, but 2018 was a decent start to that goal.
Merchandising My Work
Last in the realm of diversifying income was physical merchandise. I’ve had many requests for merch of my artwork, but I always hesitated because it felt so inconsistent and random to just put out art prints “when I felt like it.” To help myself focus the scope, I created a microbrand called Super Tough Baddies Club, through which I could release limited run collectible merchandise. I made (and successfully funded) a Kickstarter to create the launch line of “membership kits” which included patches, pins, and stickers.
CONSENSUS: Work in Progress. Super Tough Baddies Club operated at a loss in 2018, because designing, producing, and setting up eCommerce for a new brand is a big task. I’m really pleased with where it’s at, and aim to launch a full online store in early 2019 with scheduled limited edition releases all year.
If I envision my first few years of full time freelancing as chapters in a book, I think they’d be named as follows:
- 2017: Figuring Out What the Heck I’m Doing
- 2018: Refining My Goals and Processes
With those in mind, I’m going to preemptively name the next chapter, “2019: Big Time Growth.” I’m more confident in myself and the type of work I make, I’ve got a much better handle on my processes, taxes, and how to conduct business, and as a result I feel like I’m well-positioned to expand my creative practice in all regards.
How did your year of freelancing and creative growth play out compared to what you had planned for? Need help planning your goals for the next year? Let’s talk!