Art school is great for teaching you all the technical stuff (like how to use software), the basics of aesthetics, and helping you see things from new perspectives.
I loved my time in school and learned a lot, but I also felt there were many things they didn’t teach me about. Most of those subjects revolved around the freelancing life (and how to maintain a successful one).
Maybe it’s because they figured it was better for us students to discover things on our own. Or, perhaps they believed that most students wouldn’t go on to start their own business, thus there wasn’t enough interest to push that subject.
Either way, once I decided to work for myself, there were quite a few topics I had to teach myself.
Here’s some things I’ve learned outside of school—AKA the hard way.
1. How to find work
This was my biggest fear in starting my business. How do you find clients? How do you keep them coming back? More than likely, your school preps you for graduation and job placement with a killer portfolio. But when it comes to working on your own, where do you start?!
I learned that you should always be marketing yourself in someway. It doesn’t have to feel sales-y, just make it very organic and authentic. Share your work to Instagram, engage with potential clients, and share your knowledge with a blog. There’s so many ways you can market yourself—the more diverse of marketing avenues, the better. Check out this article for all my tips to market your freelance business (and live your best life).
2. Managing the client process
So yay! You finally found clients! Now how do you create a workflow that goes smoothly?
This took me well over a year to refine, but it’s imperative to really reflect your process and find ways to streamline it. I came from a designer background, and I’ve experienced photography workflows as well. Since I didn’t know many others in the visual content creation field, I knew my process had to be a little different that would fit both me, my type of clients, and my business.
I’ve merged both the design and photography processes that I’m familiar with and started there. I often work on larger campaigns so it’s important that I get each concept correct before I ever start photographing. I hold conferences with my clients to work out all the details, send them concepts, and go through a couple rounds of approvals before each image is created.
For more behind the scenes into my process, check out this post!
3. How important your personality is
This one is kinda funny to me. If you would’ve met me when I was fresh out of college, you would’ve thought I was as interesting as a breadstick. I didn’t initiate conversation with anyone, I barely talked, and just stayed in my own bubble.
I’m still an introvert, of course, but I started to let my personality actually shine. No one wants to work with someone who appears rude, or doesn’t feel passionate about their work. I pushed myself to become more talkative, proactive, and let my inner bubbly persona reflect. I discovered that you become much more memorable this way and clients will be more apt to come back or refer you!
4. Charging your worth
In school, we very—and I mean very—briefly chatted about $$$. What I knew is that a lot of designers charged $50–$100 per hour. But when I started my business, I decided an hourly rate wasn’t the best fit.
But what’s the competition charging? And how can I properly compete with it?
The fact is, you just don’t know what others are charging—and that’s okay! My favorite bits of advice I discovered when it comes to figuring out your pricing:
• You shouldn’t be able to afford yourself (how are you going to pay your bills if so?!). Take taxes, credit card fees, and overhead costs into consideration.
• If you’re not getting many reactions about your prices being too high, then they’re probably too low.
• You don’t want the client who wants to pay the least amount of money, they’re usually the most difficult ones.
5. How to stay creative
I feel like this is something that a lot of creatives don’t talk about, really. In school, you’re constantly learning something new and have peers and instructors to give you feedback on your work to keep the ideas flowing.
When you’re starting on your own, however, there’s a lot more hats you have to wear to keep your business flowing smoothly. It’s pretty easy to get burnout quickly, too. Along the way, I discovered that consistently creating new work for myself is what helps me stay creative.
Keep educating yourself on your craft and take breaks often to avoid that burnout. Remember to put your mental health first, or else your creativity will suffer. For more tips on staying creative, check out this post or this one!
While school is great for teaching you the technical details of your craft, there’s still a lot to learn along the way afterwards. It’s definitely a challenge to get started, but diving into it is the best you can do to learn.
I feel the number one reason people quit freelancing is not because they’re unskilled in what they do, but because there’s so much involved in running your own business. From staying creative and pricing your work effectively to actually marketing yourself, it can be quite the difficult learning curve in your first few years.
Keep pushing at it, little by little everyday, and sticking it out. School won’t teach you everything you need to know (unfortunately), but that’s no excuse to stop doing what you love!
What’s something you wish you learned in art school? I’d love to answer any questions in the comments below!