Take your freelance career to the next level

Level three: Become a freelance star

It's hard to predict what will win future work, new clients or positive media coverage, as there's no tried-and-tested formula. Solsona has exhibited his work at events in Barcelona, Helsinki and London.

He says the exhibitions helped him personally, but didn't win him new clients directly. That wasn't the aim, however. "All the pieces I exhibited at the shows were already produced beforehand and were then selected to be part of an exhibition," he explains.

It's also worth remembering that it's virtually impossible to measure the cumulative effect of social media, blogs and other profile-boosting activity in terms of commissions won or money earned.

"What really helps me to keep developing creatively is to have personal projects going on permanently and to be open to any sort of project, even though it may seem a bit out of my comfort zone, since there's always a professional challenge on offer," says Solsona.

Fowkes' freelance career snowballed after he created the Sony Music Timeline – a graphic installation documenting the company's 125-year history.

Since then he's created a typographic installation in the home of singer Olly Murs, worked on an array of commissions for Urban Outfitters, created a London Underground poster campaign for a dating website, and published a book titled Drawing Type: An Introduction to Illustrating Letterforms.

"I've been really fortunate because the design blogs have picked up a lot of these projects," he says. "I work on a lot of special projects and one-offs, and because of that the brand will really get behind the idea and push it. That means I get to play around with it, and then the blogs catch on because it's often something unique. That's great because I like to have fun and play."

Keep it fresh

What's problematic is when new clients expect him to repeat or reproduce a one-off project for them. "I get lots of people saying they want me to do something similar to the Sony piece," he explains. This is an example of why it's so important to have a sense of the person behind the portfolio. For Fowkes, this means creating a clear impression of his style and unique offering.

Many of Fowkes' projects have come through commissioning agencies. For these collaborations to work, it helps if you have a good understanding of where the agency sits in the overall process – and, he says, if you appreciate that the agency may approach the schedule and priorities differently. "Don't be afraid to keep in contact with them," he advises. "They're very hectic and are doing so many things at once."

"The fact that you're a freelancer means they see you as someone who's doing them a favour, and they won't mind if you email and say, 'Hey, I'd like to know what's going on with this project.' Don't assume you would have heard there was an update – they're doing 10 million things at once and the project that could be everything to you isn't necessarily everything to them at that time."

Be versatile

He gives the example of a two-week wait for news on whether a project is actually going ahead. "You might be sitting there thinking it must have fallen through because it's been two weeks, then all of a sudden it's on and they need it by the end of the week. It can be quite a rollercoaster and you need to be versatile."

Of course, the same could be said about almost any aspect of freelancing, but it's particularly important to keep in mind if you're working in-house.

"If you're freelancing at a studio, it's important to fit in and be part of the team," says MJ Jackson. "You'll get more out of it yourself – and the permanent members of the team will be more comfortable with you being parachuted in."

"I never liked it when a freelancer came into my studio and had the loudest voice," he admits, "but by the same token, a timid hermit who never stands the tea round is the very worst type of freelancer."

This article first appeared inside Computer Arts, the world's leading design magazine. Subscribe here.

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