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Top Tips for Creative Freelancers

As an ex-freelance art director, that moved into freelance (and permanent) creative recruitment, I like to think I have a good understanding of how ad agencies, design agencies and production houses recruit for creative freelance positions, but (unfortunately) I made many mistakes along the way.

Based on my experience both as a freelance creative and as a creative recruitment consultant, here are my top tips as a freelancer. I hope my tips will be insightful in your quest to freelance greatness.

If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to send me an email. greg@zebrapeople.com

1. Have your portfolio/showreel link on your LinkedIn

Why? The freelance market has a quick turnaround. If recruiters, hiring managers and creative services can’t see your work, ultimately, you’ll lose out.

2. Have your mobile number on your portfolio/showreel

Why? It takes time for a hiring manager to message asking for your phone number and for you to respond. In that time another recruiter could have briefed and submitted 3 other creative freelancers for the position. Essentially, if you make people’s lives easier, you’ll have more opportunities come your way and won’t put yourself at a disadvantage.

3. Have A CV that clearly states your recent experience…

  • Your job title (copywriter, creative team, 3D motion designer, etc.)
  • Your levels in those roles (junior, mid-weight, senior, etc.)
  • The places you’ve worked (Deliveroo, The Mill, BBH, etc.)
  • Your sector experience (automotive, fintech, sports, etc.)
  • Your brand experience (Nike, Toyota, Barclays, etc.)
  • Your program knowledge (After Effects, Photoshop, Sketch, etc.)
  • Pitch wins or awards
  • Any skills even if they’re obvious (scamping, rotoscoping, long copy, 3D animation, illustration, sound engineering, additional languages, script-writing, concepts, storyboarding, visualisation, wireframing, interaction design, leadership, mentoring, strategy) just to give you an idea
  • Your contact details

Why? Recruiters remember as much work from their freelancer’s portfolios as possible, but it’s not possible to remember every project from every creative freelancer. As a result, recruiters tend to use a database for their creative freelancers and perform tailored searches. Database search options allow recruiters to search for keywords such as job titles, program knowledge, skillsets and experience (all of which is extracted from a freelancer’s CV or Profile). Therefore, the more of this you have covered in your CV, the more you’ll come up on a recruiter’s database search.

4. Keep an eye on your phone and LinkedIn on a Friday

Why? The ad industry tends to be very last minute when it comes to creative recruitment. Most of my freelance briefs come in on a Friday afternoon for a Monday start. It is worth searching LinkedIn on Fridays for any last-minute freelance opportunities and chasing up on any missed calls from recruiters as it may be likely to be a hot job.

5. Register with 3 good recruiters

Why? Register with more and you’ll likely be getting briefed on the same roles.

How do I know who’s worth registering with? Talk to your freelance friends, to your network, ask any CDs you’re freelancing under who they would recommend, or even do a post on LinkedIn and ask for recommendations from your creative freelance connections of the names of recruiters that are worth registering with and why. People aren’t going to recommend you someone that’s not worthwhile and this will allow you to make a shortlist of the names of recruiters that come up most.

Remember to get the individual names of the recruitment consultants rather than the names of the place they work. Otherwise you may get put in touch with a bang average consultant that just happens to work at the same agency.

6. Connect with other freelancers that work the same roles on LinkedIn

Why? LinkedIn populates your feed with your connection’s actions. So, let’s say your freelance designer friend likes or comments on a “We’re looking for a freelancer designer” post from a hiring manager you’re not connected with. That post will now appear in your LinkedIn feed making it easier for you to discover more opportunities.

7. Cast your net further than LinkedIn

Why? LinkedIn is great but there are so many other places out there where people post freelance gigs. For example, as a keen Instagram user, I like lots of design related Instagram posts and follow many people that are designers, illustrators, motion artists and even calligraphy artists.

As a result of this, I see many sponsored adverts on Instagram Stories and my Instagram Feed for both freelance and perm designers, motion artists and other creative disciplines. I’m not saying Instagram is the ultimate recruitment platform to find freelance work, but there are lots of other platforms out there that are less saturated with people looking for work that you could be taking advantage of. I found my first ever perm role as an art director via Twitter, so it goes to show it works too!

Feel free to give me a follow on Instagram: www.instagram.com/gregjyoung

8. Be professional

If you accept a booking, work the full contract, if you accept a pencil give the agency or client that’s booked you first refusal if you have any confirmed contract offers come in. It’s a small industry and having trust between freelancers and recruiters/hiring managers is so important. Say thank you and how much you’ve enjoyed the gig to the Creative Directors / Design Directors / Creative Services Team the day your contract ends as these little things stick in peoples mind and will increase the chances of you getting booked by them again.

Generally, if you cut a contract early to take on another stint, or take another booking without giving the client you are already pencilled with first refusal, you will burn bridges both with the clients and with your recruiters. Once these bridges have been burnt, you’ll lose the trust you’ve built and in turn lose out on being briefed on future bookings.

9. Be confident but don’t be cocky

Why? Because no one wants to work with a dick!

10. Don’t bump up your day rate when on a rolling contract

It’s a freelancer heavy market and you’ve been put on a rolling contract normally for three reasons. You’re good at what you do, people like working with you and your day rate fits the client’s structure.

So why disrupt this? Generally, if you’ve been rolling somewhere for 5-months there is no reason why an agency or client won’t keep you rolling for 10-months or even longer. But if you change this by upping your rate, you will run the risk of no longer being good value for money. For example, you may jump from earning £350 per day to £400 per day for a 4-week period, but the client may then decide your day rate no longer fits their structure. So those extra 4-weeks at £400 per day play insignificance to what could have been an extra 5-months at £350 per day.

I made this mistake twice as a freelancer and I wish I would’ve seen the bigger picture. Two thirds of the time I was on rolling contracts, where I upped my rate and both times the contract finished within 6 weeks. The third time I learnt from this and left my rate alone and ended up on a rolling contract for just shy of a year, earning a lot more money in the long run. Something I wish I’d known the first time round.

11. Recommend people

Why? A recruiter phones you about a contract but you’re booked, why not recommend a mate who’s very good at what they do. The recruiter or hiring manager will very much remember that kindness and will be more likely to call you again the next time they’re in need. The people you’re recommending will also be very thankful and start recommending you back so it’s great karma and you’ll no doubt reap the benefits in the long run.

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