Freelance hacks: how to successfully go it alone

On the upside, being a freelancer means you have an enviable amount of independence. But as Voltaire (or was it Spiderman’s Uncle Ben?) said, "with great power comes great responsibility." You’re in the driving seat of your own career and there’s nothing more exciting and nerve-racking than that.

Whether you’re hunting down commissions, or trying to put aside money for a self-employed pension, there are plenty of trials and tribulations when it comes to working from home and being your own boss. 

To help freelancers overcome some of the challenges they face, we quizzed some talented creatives who are already going it alone to give you the inside scoop. 

01. Emmeline Pidgen

“Take care of yourself and your work will be better for it,” Emmeline Pidgen advises

Combining both digital and traditional media, award-winning illustrator Emmeline Pidgen works from her studio in the North West of England. Having honed her skills at University College Falmouth, she specialises in narrative illustration and her work spans picture books, comics, advertising and editorial. 

Pidgen was awarded IPSE Freelancer of the Year in 2016 and her editorial illustrations have been featured in a range of publications including The Guardian, Stylist and The Telegraph. 

Take care of yourself and your work will be better for it. You’re allowed time off!

Emmeline Pidgen

"Working from home is tough!," says Pidgen. "Yep, technically you can lie in, wear pyjamas, and take breaks when you want – but for the most part if you want to be successful in your field, it’s a lot of work, and an ongoing battle to keep your motivation, direction and self-confidence up. 

"One of the biggest issues I’ve had is the idea of ‘overwork’, which on the surface fires up images of creative people scrawling away at 2am for a deadline (does happen!), but it’s also that 'I’ll just check my email real quick' whilst you’re on your day off, or scrolling Twitter at midnight in case an opportunity crops up – it doesn’t feel like much, but to avoid burnout you need space away from work. The emails can wait until you’re back in the studio, and there are always more opportunities! Take care of yourself and your work will be better for it. You’re allowed time off!”

02. May van Millingen

May Van Millingen has made a name for herself with her colourful, line-based illustrations

London-based May van Millingen has made a name for herself with her bright, line-based illustrations. From OXO cubes to HP Sauce, van Millingen often recreates items from the world around us in her distinct signature style. Her unique take on the world has caught the attention of clients such as Topshop, Google, Cath Kidston, Saatchi & Saatchi and Toyota.

Here are van Millingen’s top tips for making the most of freelance life – from getting into a good routine to being ready for anything: 

"I always like to start the day with exercise, either a morning run or a yoga class. I always have a good breakfast – usually porridge and some strong coffee. I work all morning then take a break for lunch, I like to get out to a local cafe – I like having a bit of a walk – if it's not raining! – then work the rest of the afternoon.

“I like to mix it up and vary where I work, so I work from home in De Beauvoir a couple of days a week, from a studio a couple of days, then I go in-house at my various clients’ offices too.

“Never stop drawing. Don't compare yourself to others. Take inspiration from things you love. Travel and take inspiration from new places – take advantage of working remotely abroad if you can. Be flexible, sometimes exciting projects come in at the last minute. Be organised.”

03. Meg Hunt

Illustrator Meg Hunt dived straight into freelance life after graduating in 2005

Portland-based illustrator Meg Hunt is known for her colourful character-based illustrations. Inspired by everything from National Geographic to illustrators such as Charley Harper, Mary Blair and the Provensens, whether she’s working on character and narrative or conceptual illustration and products and explorations, Hunt’s quirky and lovable style is always on-point.

Hunt went to University of Connecticut and began freelance life after graduating in 2005. Since then her work has gone from strength to strength, from illustrating Deborah Underwood’s Interstellar Cinderella to creating designs for wine labels for Barrel + Ink. Signed by agent (aka Visual Ambassador) Scott Hull, Hunt received a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators in 2015. 

It’s important to cultivate a respectful working relationship with clients; work hard, but be honest and push them to be their best too

Meg Hunt

“As a freelancer you'll pick up a variety of clients, and work can come from many different places. It's important to cultivate a respectful working relationship with clients; work hard, but be honest and push them to be their best too.

“Don't be afraid to reach out to those clients you feel align with your strengths and values who might not know you yet – be proactive and think about what value you can add to the client beyond what you can draw. Clients will come to you not just because you can render something beautifully, but because you've got a mind that solves problems.

“Self-care is really important as a freelancer – it can be enticing to equate success with self-worth, but working yourself to the bone will lead to dull ideas and burnout. Find opportunities to stretch, get outside of your comfort zone, and spend some time exploring all your other interests. They can all feed into future work down the line.”

04. Lucie Sheridan

“Keep drawing, your creative brain is a muscle and needs exercising,” says Sheridan

Bristol-based Lucie Sheridan works in Centrespace studios and gallery. Specialising in screenprinting, her vibrant designs have been commissioned by everyone from Penguin Books to Habitat. 

From smiling ice cream cones (wearing bowler hats) to split-concept Labradoodles, a sense of fun is at the heart of her work. Sheridan is represented by YCN and runs the quirky and speedy project Rubbish Portraits, where she creates portraits in three minutes flat. Her bold illustrations have been seen in the likes of The Telegraph, The Sunday Times and Time Out.

Lucie’s words of wisdom are short and sweet: 

“Keep drawing, your creative brain is a muscle and needs exercising. It’s important to draw the rubbish stuff in order to get to the good stuff.

“Don’t look at what other people are doing too much, get some blinkers and stay healthy.”

05. Jane Foster

Jane Foster operates from her cute yellow-doored studio at the bottom of her garden

Music-teacher-turned-illustrator Jane Foster has been screenprinting since 2007. An illustrator/crafter/screenprinter hybrid, Foster won the Mollie Makes Established Handmade Business Award in 2014.

Known for her bold, cheery prints, Foster is inspired by Dick Bruna, Alain Gree, Marimekko and Lucienne Day – as well as ‘50s and ‘60s era designs. Whether it’s her poster design for IKEA or her range of Templar picture books, Foster’s simple and striking illustrations are sure to make you smile.

With her cute yellow-doored studio at the bottom of her garden, Jane doesn’t have to go far to create her work.

The AOI is a great resource for illustrators and is well worth subscribing to

Jane Foster

From making sure you don’t undersell yourself, to what to listen to as you draw, here are Foster’s top tips: 

“The AOI is a great resource for illustrators and is well worth subscribing to as the team can offer very good advice with regards to pricing commissions, contracts and licensing. They’re available to speak to direct and ensure that illustrators aren’t underselling themselves.”

“I love listening to podcasts when I’m working – I find it so inspiring listening to the background stories of other creatives in the industry, especially those that have arrived via an unconventional route! I especially like listening to Debbie Millman interview guests on her podcast Design Matters and also to Chase Jarvis’s podcast Creative Live, where he also interviews interesting creative people in the industry.”

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