Creative, Inc.: The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Freelance Business is aimed at people who want to start a creative freelancing career, mostly as a sole trader offering a creative service to clients e.g designers, photographers, stylists, illustrators, animators.
It’s more aimed at creatives who are working from their own studio space than regularly at their client’s (corporate) offices on ongoing longer term projects, which allows for more creative freedom and shorter projects.
It is a smallish but thick book (182 pages) with rounded corners, with a perfect stitched bound, printed in only a couple of retro colours. This doesn’t look like a business book at all!
The main text is in a fairly small font, with dense texts, making it sometimes hard to read. But then you probably would dip in and dip out of this book, and not read long chapters at once.
About the authors: Meg Mateo Ilasco & Joy Deangdeelert Cho
Meg Mateo Ilasco is a designer, illustrator and writer who started her freelance housewares, gift and stationary business in 2005. She has now written a whole series of ‘Inc’ books, including Craft, Inc.: Turn Your Creative Hobby into a Business: Turn Your Creative Hobby Into a Businees for makers, Blog, Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Communityfor bloggers, Mom, Inc.: The Essential Guide to Running a Successful Business Close to Home (you guessed it!) creative mumpreneurs.
Joy Deangdeelert Cho is a designer, writer, and award winning blogger who works with clients in the fashion and food industries on packaging, textiles and branding, as well as selling her own line of stationery.
You can sense their combined own personal experience throughout the book – from their advice and selection of case studies, to the book design and tytpography, and the format that reads ‘like a design or craft blog’ with short, very readable posts.
Creative, Inc.: The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Freelance Business is written for the American market, and although obviously the main principles and approaches are the same, most of the legal, tax and financial requirements are different. Make sure that you know the exact business startup requirements in your own country.
One of the best parts of the book are the 10+ freelance profiles: interviews and realistic case studies with various creatives, as well as professionals who work with and promote creatives such as agents and editors. Some creatives without a creative degree are included, and many started out balancing a day job with a freelancing career.
Really practical business questions are asked in these interviews such as:
‘How did you go from illustrating on your own to being represented by an agency?’,
‘How many projects do you work on at one time?’,
‘How did you determine how much to charge?’,
‘How can a freelancer find interesting work?’,
‘What advice do you have for putting together a portfolio?’,
‘Do you use any strategies for negotiating for better pay and rights?’,
‘Do you have any tips for time management and how to get things done when you are working independently?’.
There are also some very insightful interviews with professionals working with freelancers. Most notably Aviva Michaelov, the Art Director for the New York Times, where she candidly discusses the process of how she selects and works with freelance illustrators. And Lilla Rogers, a licensing and illustration agent who explains how to get representation and access to illustration agents (notoriously hard!)
Creative Inc: The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Freelance Business is really practical and realistic about ‘the freelance dream’ (often more like a roller coaster in your first three years!).
Creative freelancing isn’t for everybody
At the start of the book the authors jump straight in to share that freelancing isn’t for everybody with the 9 qualities of a successful freelancer:
- Strong business sense
- A love of your art
- Curiosity (I like the inclusion of that one, and indeed very true!)
- Confidence and a strong vision
- Good listening and observational skills
- Good communication skills
- An ability to handle criticism and rejection
- A positive attitude and professional demeanor
- Good work habits: get organised
There are some good tips on moonlighting (combining a paid job with starting your freelance career) especially on how to keep the work stress down! And the pro & cons of starting to freelance fresh out of school.
There are some really practical and up-to-date ideas about how to get your first clients. From creating a brand, to what to include in your portfolio, to your website (covered in just over one page) or starting a blog.
It’s fairly basic info but it covers the reality of the busy market place, and that working on your referrals and word-of-mouth is still most effective (plus getting repeat business).
The next chapter on ‘Working with clients’ is mostly about managing your client: from how to get a job and present your work, to negotiating deadlines, writing a design brief and signing a contract. And then approaching the job, and how to deal with unhappy clients.
There is also a couple of pages on licensing and copyright. It is all basic information, but it’s good to see it all together in one place in a logical order.
Chapter 5 is probably the most useful of the entire book on ‘getting paid’ with very good and detailed instructions on how to calculate your hourly or daily design rate, how to do a project quote and create a written estimate, with some detail on what to include in your terms and conditions.
Beautiful layouts of creating a budget and example of an invoice (see image in the middle of this blog post). Some good tips on how to negotiate your fee and the importance of having a contract.
Chapter 6 is devoted entirely to ‘agents’ – if they are right for your business, the pro and con’s of having one, how to find an agency, contrcts, working with an agent, and ending the relationship.
“Look for an agent who is a good fit with your aesthetic,
with whom you feel your artwork will thrive,
and who is with an agency you’d be proud to call your own.”
In my experience many creatives very quickly want to get an agent at the start of their careers as they don’t like to sell themselves or the financial negotiations with potential clients.
However I know that most agents only want to work with creatives who already have proven some commercial success, and it is important that you learn to represent yourself (you are the best sales person for your work!) and understand the selling process. I personally wouldn’t have included a whole chapter on agents in a book aimed at start ups, as it is fairly unrealistic that you will be able to afford one or get representation at all if you aren’t well-known yet.
I encourage the inclusion of ‘balancing your business and personal lives’ (chapter 7) as this is so crucial, as so many new freelancers underestimate how tough and lonely the freelance life can be. There are some basic time management, goal setting and ‘creating me-time’ tips in here, as well as tips to deal with he dreaded ‘creative block’. But just knowing that you aren’t the only one who is feeling like that might be just what you need!’
‘Some telltale signs that you are becoming a workaholic, and that your personal life is suffering:
1. Your family eats dinner without you multiple times a week because of the late hours you’re keeping.
2. Your friends dont invite you to social gatherings anymore, because hey are tired of being turned down in favour of your looming deadlines.
3. You check e-mail from your mobile phone while out for dinner, watching tv or lying in bed.
4. You cant fall asleep at night, or you wake up in the middle o the night thinking about a project or client.
5. You find yourself talking about work all the time.
6. You often miss birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates and events.
Understandably, freelancing is more than just a career. It’s a lifestyle that surrounds you daily and can consume your thoughts. But it shouldn’t give you license to immerse yourself completely in work.’
Watch out for burnout (more common than you think) as nothing destroys your creativity as much as that.
The final chapter is about ‘next steps’. Very useful to evaluate your career and where you are going on a regular basis.
Really honest to include “Shall you call it quits?” in here (don’t think there isn’t a successful freelancer out there who hasn’t pondered about that at some point!) and to remember that it’s OK and not a failure if you are considering to return to full time or part time work (I have personally gone from full time to freelance to part-time to full-time to freelance …!) You will hopefully have learned a great deal in the process!
This last chapter also discusses some growth strategies, not just in terms of finances, size of projects or profile of clients, but in terms of income streams (e.g. Teaching, ‘passive income’, royalties), partnering with others (including collaborating and outsourcing) and hiring interns and employees.
I would recommend Creative, Inc.: The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Freelance Business especially for the lovely design and layout, but also for its very practical tips from the authors who clearly have learned the hard way sometimes themselves.