15/01/2009

10 things no one told me - freelancing

Photo courtesy of edouard

A year or so ago i was asked to give a talk to students on the realities of working as a professional designer. I put together a presentation called '10 things no one told me'. What follows is a version of that presentation which has been
edited to aim it directly at freelancers...

If you've been through the rigours of your design course and your now out in the world learning your craft then the last thing you need is another jaded old hack like me telling you how to design, so I'll save my advice for some of the more practical aspects of working in this industry. The things no one told me at Uni, the things I've learnt (largely by getting it wrong) are based on how to be ready for work and how to successfully and quickly integrate yourself in to various studio cultures.

So here we have a selection of things, in no particular order, that I've learnt along my way. They are here for you to learn from if you wish. Documented in the hope i can prevent others from messing up were I did.

1. Tea is key
I hate tea. I don't drink tea, but I've made myself learn to make it, because making drinks for everyone is a cunningly good way to start conversations and reminding everyone that your there. Believe me there is nothing worse than doing your initial freelance stint and leaving with nobody knowing your name or what you were doing.

2. Get contacts, keep contacts
Despite what you think it's OK to contact people you've worked with in the past just to remind them your still out there. As long as your not spamming your contacts within an inch of their lives, it's nice to hear what people are up to. You need to stay on people's radar, so that when they have a juicy chunk of work they think of you first.

3. You've got the worst desk
Your temporary, so don't expect to be given the best equipment and the best desk. In fact you'll probably be given the worst of both. The key is to find the best way of working with what you've got, so don't refuse to sit down until everything is perfectly orchestrated for your needs.

4. Know all the tools
There are a number of industry standard tools, however there will always be differences in how studios work with software, so you need to able and willing to adapt. If you arrive six weeks in to a project that has been all be compiled in Indesign, don't expect to crack open Quark because you prefer it. You'll need to be ready to jump in to any set up. Refusing to do so can cost you further work.

5. It's good to talk
Whatever your going through in your work/career you can guarantee there is a least a hundred other freelancers in the same position. So talk to as many other freelancers as you can and share your experiences. Around the South East there is a growing number of groups, associations and drinking clubs you can join. So get out there and get talking.

6. Listen to Dr Scholl
"Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise"
It's a good piece of advice because it doesn't matter how good you are, if nobody else knows your on the market then your name won't be brought up when jobs and briefs are being handed out. Think of yourself as a business in this respect. You need to raise and maintain a profile, so get creative with promoting your skills.

7. Avoid the politics
It's rare to find any work environment, beyond a certain size, that doesn't have some kind of internal gossip, power struggle or maneuverings. To ensure you get used as a freelancer for as long as possible, i have found that a neutral stance on all of these matters is best. If you win the trust of your temporary workmates they will let you in on their gripes, but never be tempted to join in or even take sides. You run the risk of being caught up or even associated with staff who may not be there for very much longer.


8. Never, ever, ever steal

This is a two parter...
Part One: I used a freelancer in the past who's time in the studio always coincided with a notable amount of design books and equipment going missing. Needless to say we were less than tempted to use her again.
Part Two: As a freelancer you will be expected to step in and quickly start coming up with great ideas. This kind of pressure can be tough but never be tempted to fall back on someone else's ideas. Stolen ideas will always come back to bite you - no matter how obscure the website or magazine you've referenced, if you pinch somebody else's work it will find it's way back to you and your creative director. Don't do it, you'll only look stupid.

9. Present solutions, not problems
A few years back someone very clever gave me the best piece of advice I've ever had in my career. She said 'You need to present solutions, not problems. The ones who fix things are the ones who go the furthest'. Over the years this has become a bit of a personal mantra. If you run in to problems with your work, find a possible solution (or two) and then tell people about it. Don't fold your arms and wait for someone else to sort it out.

10. Take care
I realise I'm at the risk of sounding like your mum here, but when the call comes in for work it's very hard to turn it down. In a bid to keep your clients happy it can be easy to say 'yes' to everything, but your in danger of burning yourself out if you follow this for too long. So take care of yourself and remember to have a life away from the screen.