“A sustainable freelance career? In this economy?”
We feel you. Putting food on the table is tough, especially when your freelancer income is unpredictable and clients are lowballing you every chance they get. But hey, cheer up. There’s a way to hustle through the struggle.
Elbert Or started out like most freelance creatives. In the first few years of going freelance, he struggled with self-doubt and always wondered if he really had the talent to “make it” as a freelance artist. Still, despite his insecurities, he was able to create a body of work that led him to where he is today. According to him, what kept him going was his willingness to “power through the pangit” and get on with the work.
“If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be a graphic designer, design. If you want to be an artist….then, art.”
Then again, it’s not enough to just keep doing the work itself. Eventually, the bills pile up and you’ll have to create opportunities to showcase your work and get paid for it.
Or emphasized the importance of networking and finding clients in whatever way possible—whether it’s by emailing your portfolio to potential clients or shamelessly giving your business card to every person you meet (Yes, you need a business card). Then, when you do find work, don’t be intimidated by the prospect of asking for money in exchange for your services.
“Asking for payment shouldn’t be a taboo,” Or says. He adds that it is very important that you assign a specific (but realistic) value to your work and stick to it as much as possible, instead of always adjusting your fee according to your client’s budget.
Serica Roxas echoed this sentiment, saying that most brands will see you as an individual and would think that it’s fine to demand a lesser price for your services. When this happens, it’s important to be prepared. Communicating and justifying your fee is a skill, and you must learn how to do it throughout your freelance career.
When you’re starting out as a freelancer, building your own team may seem like the least feasible thing to do, especially when you’re accepting small gigs that barely cover your most basic expenses.
“You don’t have to do everything yourself. In fact, you shouldn’t.” This is something Or said that he and Roxas both agree on. According to them, you can look at it in terms of opportunity cost. Think of it this way: When you’re too busy doing all the work yourself, you’re missing out on the chance to accept bigger projects that can be more lucrative in the long run.
“When you’re short on manpower, you end up doing everything,” says Roxas. This includes coming up with concepts, negotiating rates, fixing terms of agreements, securing permits, fixing production schedules, booking outsourced help, directing, filming, editing, styling, and even driving. “That’s not a smart and efficient way to make a living.”
Or also pointed out that every hour you spend doing menial work (like invoicing or traveling to pick up checks) is an hour in which “you’re not focused on the main thing you’re supposed to be the best at.” Which is, of course, working on your craft.
The key is to focus your energy on what only you can do, or, as Or puts it: “Go where you bring most value.”
*Insights were gathered from GetCraft’s Philippine Creative Meetup “Hustle Hard and Smart:
Building A Sustainable Creative Business” held last September 27.