How To Make It as a Creative Freelancer

NY Creative Interns FreelancePhoto courtesy of Stephanie Mauro

As kids we’re told we can do anything we want when we grow up and for a while, we believe it. As we get older, those dreams gradually appear less and less plausible, giving way to the common notion that art “ doesn’t pay the bills.” Find and Follow Your Passion was largely about breaking that misconception, providing the tools to actually make it happen and get paid in the process. In one session, Freelance and Side Projects: Balancing the 9-to-5, a diverse panel of creative freelancers gave firsthand insights on balancing their craft with business – and sometimes a full time job. By no accounts is it easy, but for these four creatives, the freelance hustle is worth it. You may not even have to leave your day job.

So I don’t have to quit my day job, but isn’t that the point?

Art can pay the bills – but usually not all of them, especially when you’re not yet established. Also, never underestimate the value that seemingly unrelated experiences can have on your creativity. Cory Cavin, Head Blogger for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, cited the name recognition of his day job as giving credibility to side projects, including a web series and stand up comedy. For some, like NY Magazine photographer, Melissa Hom, side jobs are necessary when the main job doesn’t pay enough for your desired lifestyle. Ma’ayan Rosenzweig, Interactive Designer for ABC News, believes freelancing gives her focus, which helps her creativity. Discovery Communications, Interactive Designer, Laura Galbraith added that some companies will even pay for classes so that can expand your skill base.

Sounds great. Now how do I get started?

Melissa, who studied journalism but wanted to get into photography, remembers combing through Craigslist for free and cheap photography gigs to build up her experience. One of them even led to her main job at NY Magazine. However, she doesn’t recommend doing work for free unless there is a real, tangible benefit or you feel very strongly about it. For her, the benefit was the experience and industry contacts to get established. All of the panelists emphasized the importance of networking and meeting people since most of their jobs came from recommendations from collaborators, friends, clients and other contacts.

This sounds like a lot of work. How do I follow my passion on the side without falling on my face?

Sometimes the best way to learn is to make mistakes – or at least learn from the mistakes of others. Ma’ayan emphasized the importance of time management by carefully managing her hours and never taking on too many projects. Laura also cited the importance of saying “No.” Taking on more than you can handle will only hurt you in the long run, as you want to keep a good reputation. Being unreliable is how you lose jobs and miss opportunities.

Should my boss know about my side jobs?

It depends. Some employers will be concerned that your side jobs are a distraction from your work with them. When you’re at your full time job, Cory says, “They have to know that you’re working for them.” Most of the panel stated that their bosses knew about their side work, but that they rarely talked about it in order to remain professional and show 100 percent dedication to their responsibilities. It is also important not to take jobs from competitors of your company.

Wow, that’s a lot to think about. Is it worth it?

From the panel, the answer was a resounding “Yes.” For the right person who is truly dedicated to their craft, freelancing can truly be the key to fulfillment – and a paycheck. As one who gets bored easily, Laura finds multitasking to be necessary and fun. Each of the creatives agreed that structure, discipline and accountability to clients were amazing motivators, inspiring work and growth they never thought possible and giving them useful business savvy in the process.

 Think you could leave your day job to pursue your dream job? Tell us why or why not in the comments. 

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