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Becoming a Freelance Illustrator — Part 3/3

I have written about finding Freelance Projects and beginning with them in ‘Becoming a Freelance Illustrator — Part 1/3’ & about my approach and the tools I use to illustrate in ‘Becoming a Freelance Illustrator — Part 2/3’.


This article is about work-life balance, competition in the field and quoting the right price to your clients.


Let’s get started!

 

How do I balance freelancing with a full-time job?


I am by title a procrastinator. It is hard for me to do something that does not have a definitive timeline. I’d prefer binge-watching shows or listening to podcasts over work all day.

But I have learnt, if you wish to do something you definitely have to push yourselves hard, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. This does not mean I don’t go out and have fun. I do it restrictively over the weekends. I work one day and party on another.


I also sleep for at least 7 to 8 hours otherwise I am at discomfort mentally and physically. Working late at night makes me feel exhausted the next day. So, I try to avoid it. I generally work on my freelance projects say an hour or so after coming back home from work and save my social media shenanigans for until after. I ignore my phone for that one productive hour at least.


I won’t say I have figured out how to compartmentalize my time right, just yet. I try to meet all my deadlines and start with projects that don’t have a timeline, but sometimes I don’t. I don’t feel bad about it or tell myself I’ve done wrong. I just put a little more effort into it.

 

How do I manage my clients?


Clients if they have something in mind, they want you to manifest it into your design or drawing. But they sometimes take away your liberty to suggest a little different something, and become hard to manage.


Also, at times it gets difficult when a client has new ideas while your project is nearing completion. In such a case they are open to their own new ideas but not yours.


What helps is setting clear expectations at the beginning. I discuss all possibilities exhaustively at first and if it doesn’t seem like it’s working out I drop the project. If during the project I ever reach a point where we’re unsure how things will turn out, if an idea is good enough, we always go ahead and draw it. To have something in imagination is very different from having it in front of you. I don’t believe human imagination is that at par.

 

How do I charge for my work?


The trade secret!


When I began, I made a list of how much would I charge for a logo, poster, illustration, etc. But when I started working, I realized some projects didn’t take the expected effort while some others took way too much. It also depended a lot on who I was doing the project for. Some people kept asking for iterations, while some were satisfied with whatever was served.

This didn’t quite work out well.


I also had a dilemma. I only wanted to take bigger projects, they’d take longer to complete but would pay equally well. But with how I was charging, why would I want to do something that would take so much of my time and pay equal to a smaller project.


I personally don’t like doing small projects. I avoid them all the time. They are not so significant and do not help ‘publicize’.


So, I started estimating the hours I would require to complete a project.


For instance a full-coloured single page illustration for a fictional children’s book would take me anywhere around 8 hours to complete, including the iterations or changes I might have to do.

I now calculate my worth. I am being fairly reasonable and honest to myself here. I know what other illustrators are offering, their quality of work and delivery. I estimate how much I would make a month with all this in mind.


Let’s suppose it is ₹ 30,000 a month.


That would make it ₹ 1000 a day.


If you work 8–9 hours a day, that roughly means ₹ 100 an hour, for an easier calculation.

So, I’d charge ₹ 800 for an illustration typically.


I sometimes make adjustment to this amount based on who the client is. If you’re working for a company, you can charge more, even 2x or 3x. For an individual you can go to 1.5x. But I make sure I’d never charge less than ₹ 800 for this illustration, because that would be underpayment.


I simply deny taking up the work at this time.


This brings us to another important subject, the competition out there. A lot of designers who are beginning take up any amount of work, even though they know they will be underpaid. And if they don’t grab the opportunity, someone else will. This is okay for once if you get to ‘publicize’ because it is a famous client, which generally will not be the case. But this brings back the dilemma I had. Why would you want to work so hard, so much longer for something that won’t pay you enough? Personally, I have said ‘No’ to all such projects. I would rather wait and find a project which would have me put in equal effort but would pay back well. But this is truthfully what has worked out for me. We all need to experiment and find out our own mix of things that work well for us.


It is not one size fits all. We are different illustrators, with different processes, and different project preferences. What worked for me could become a starting point for you to experiment, and find your way forward.

 

How does someone build a portfolio?


I didn’t have a collection of work to show in the beginning because I had only been drawing random things for Instagram. I didn’t have any original pieces of art or illustration. I had a lot of drawings from college assignments, but they are meaningless without context. And I definitely did not expect any client to go through my class work.


I actually went around the internet and found some styles of drawings that resonate with what my drawing looks like. A little rough and incomplete forms and edges, no details in outlines mostly, but details in coloring. Just to present an idea to the author of what we could potentially achieve. I did not overpromise with these images.


A lot of artists have hypothetical projects in their portfolios. While these projects work to an extent they are more or less similar to class work. I suggest you take up small but actual client work and then keep filtering the best ones while building your portfolio. A portfolio does not mean an archive. Even 5 of your best projects are enough. Quality matters, quantity does not.


If you have any more questions, please go ahead and ask below.

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