Clients pay us for the process, not the outcome

Working as a creative requires courage. A writer doesn’t know how his book will end when he writes the first page. An artist doesn’t know what her painting will look like when she starts mixing the colors. Even the most experienced professional cannot guarantee that his next work will be a masterpiece.

The final result is written in the stars. To charge for creative work, therefore, requires even more courage. The outcome is intangible, and its impact is initially hard to measure. We need confidence in ourselves, a form of self-awareness that makes us realize that we can only influence and control the process. We are paid for finding the idea, not for the idea itself.

Where do our clients spend time and hang around?

Asking ourselves this question is crucial to our business. If we are an illustrator or a designer, our clients are usually advertising agencies and publishers. To make them aware of our work, we have several options.

Social networks are one. But who are we really reaching on Instagram? Are our followers really potential clients or mainly students, fans of our work, family members, and friends? Even though fans can turn into clients now and then, we should be able to answer this question.

It gets more concrete on platforms like Behance and Dribbble. This is where designers of all kinds publish their work. Someone looking for a professional illustrator or book designer is more likely to find someone here than on Facebook.

At design conventions and award shows, we mostly meet fellow designers instead of new clients. Giving talks at local events may be more effective.

To see where our target group stands out, we can simulate their view and path. Let’s imagine that we, as an illustrator, go on a search for a suitable illustrator for our project ourselves. We observe and register all our actions in the process: What search terms do we enter? Which website does our search take us to? Which platform seems most promising?

We have to walk in their shoes to see where our customers stand.

Do you want to see the world like an artist?

Maybe you don’t feel blessed with creative talent or are not yet exceptional in your skills. But there is a hack that allows us to see the world differently and with a new view. It allows us to see it through the eyes of an artist right here and now. Are you ready? Ok.

Look for something natural in your environment, for example, a cloud or a leaf. Your task now is:

How would you explain what you see to a blind person?

Give it a try. I will go into more detail in a future post.

About criticizing creative work and being criticized for creative work

“Whoever has created something has to be asked.”

Florian Schroeder (reproduced quote from his friend)

This quote contains everything required to give and receive criticism. When we create something, it is basically to be valued. Provided is the abstinence from laziness and that it is not intended to be destructive in nature. It is, first of all, a contribution and, therefore, something positive. It is unimportant at what level the creator is. A student, as well as a professional, both deserve a minimum of respect.

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The difference between learning in school and studying design and art

The most significant difference between school and a design and art degree is that it’s no longer primarily about getting good grades. Studying is about experimenting, developing joy and ambition in creative work, gaining new perspectives, and learning from others.

It may happen that our vision of a project does not match the professor’s vision. This is fine, as long as we have considered and tried out his objections and idea in the creative process. After all, the long experience of professors is a gold mine for us. The chance to benefit from them is a privilege. But design and art are harder to measure in their impact than a math path or a Spanish exam.

So instead of chasing good grades as usual while satisfying parents and teachers, it’s all about being creative. In this way, we come closer to our own voice and calling. This is what makes us interesting for future clients and job applications. Once we have achieved this, no one is interested in grades anymore.

Saving money to keep the power of saying “No”

Last week’s post was about how “No” is a tool for freelancers. But to use it confidently, we need savings, a financial cushion that keeps us independent. It’s harder to say “No” when bills are piling up.

The freedom to say “No” when requests or price negotiations don’t suit us is fundamental in the long run. After all, we’d instead work on our portfolio or personal projects than accept a project request we had doubts about from the start.

Therefore, let’s set aside enough money to allow us to use “No.” This is only fair to clients and to us.

If we need more information from the client, let’s ask

Requests from potential clients can vary. Some are detailed and precise, while others are concise and sparse on necessary information.

If we lack information to provide a quote or to confirm our availability, we are not afraid to ask. These can be questions in the illustration: How, where, and how long will the illustration be used? When is the deadline? Color or black and white? What is the print run, or what size is the format?

If in doubt, we ask several times until we have all the necessary details to make a realistic, transparent, and binding statement. Let’s prefer to be a little demanding initially rather than again and again later in the working process.

In general, these questions are a sign of professionalism. However, it can also happen that our counterpart reacts impatiently or even annoyed, and cooperation does not arise. In this case: Congratulations! If it already fails at basic things, we have most likely saved ourselves an energy-sapping, time, money, and nerve-consuming collaboration.

The precious power of using “No”

For freelancers and self-employed people, “no” is a powerful tool, like the computer, the Internet, Excel, Photoshop, pen, and paper. We use it, for example, when we don’t feel comfortable with a project request or when we’re negotiating prices.

Over time, we become more confident in using “no” because we can justify it with our experience. We learn to use it at the right time and realize that it does not imply any personal valuation, neither when we say it nor when we receive it.

We see it as an adjustment, similar to when someone on the street asks us if he is on the right way to the train station. If he is going in the wrong direction, we reply “No” and show him the right way. An honest “No” is precious for all sides. Let’s use it.

Our portfolio should convey our passion, not all our talents

Our portfolio should only present the works that we like to repeat. Especially as beginners, we tend to show everything we have created. We should definitely resist this. Especially if the response to one of our works was strikingly positive, but we felt little ambition and passion about the work itself. Being good at something does not obligate us to do it for life.

Goethe says, “I can’t get rid of the spirits I called.” If we are not careful, we find ourselves doing years of work that do not fulfill us. Our hands may do it well, but our heart longs for something else. This will not make us happy.

Self-generated time pressure can be a productivity booster

I’ve been writing about creativity, freelancing, and illustration daily for over four months. Last Wednesday was a jam-packed day, and started to write around 11:30pm. I was tired and didn’t know what to write about at all.

The motivation was low. I almost broke the streak and just went to bed. Then I saw that the laptop battery was showing 7%. I decided not to plug in the charging cable. The time to write something was thus limited, and so now all decisions fell quickly. In the end, I wrote two sentences beside the headline. But that was perfectly fine, and I got to bed before midnight.

Without the time pressure, I probably would have worked on the post for a long time, or maybe I wouldn’t have written it. Instead of adjusting the situation to our needs, we can try to adapt to it ourselves now and then.

Inspiration – a romantic notion of the origin of creativity

Waiting for inspiration is not enough. We have to get it, work for it. From my experience, it only comes in the making and playing. Not necessarily at that exact moment, but when we switch our minds into discovery mode.

This happens as soon as we try to physically capture our idea. For example, when an advertiser scribbles his first ideas for a campaign on a napkin, a screenwriter writes down the plot for the first time, or a children’s book illustrator draws his first sketch of the character in his sketchbook.

Once we break through that initial barrier, we start to see things that we can relate to our project or story anytime, anywhere. We put out our feelers, and we pick only the best from what the world has to offer us.

Let’s embrace frustration in the creative process. It will strike us anyway

Frustration is usually perceived as something negative. In a way, it is. Who likes that uncomfortable burning feeling behind the chest when the drawing, the layout, or the story doesn’t look like we imagined it. In our minds, it looked already finished, so simple to accomplish.

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As freelancers, we need a daily cut, or we are not free at all

When I decided to go the freelance illustrator route, I quickly noticed the differences between permanent employment. We usually have a commute in a permanent position that we do every morning and after work. This one we can find annoying and a waste of time. But the commute home has a valuable advantage. It makes a clear cut between our work and our free time, which helps us structure our daily lives.

As freelancers, this physical cut is often missing. Often, the place where we work and create is the same place where we eat, watch movies, and go to sleep. As a result, we quickly tend to lose track of time and merge our free time with our work time. In short, we lose piece by piece our life outside work. In the times of Covid, many permanent employees are in home offices, so they have experienced the same thing.

There are simple methods to create physical cuts if we can’t or don’t want to go to an external place, such as a co-working space. A fundamentally important one is to dress for work as if we are going to the office. Maybe not in a suit and patent leather shoes, but not in sweatpants or pajamas. This daily routine affects our attitude during work hours. Then, after work is done, slipping into sweatpants is not only a signal to us that we can leave work behind for the day. It can also feel good and earned, and there’s nothing to stop us from enjoying it.