This is not exactly an uncommon advice. It is something you find a lot of freelancing blogs talk about. It is also one of the holy commandant of building a good business.
And why not, it is important.
You don’t know your audience, you don’t sell, it’s simple.
You’d be surprised how despite this is the one of the biggest fundamentals to creating a successful freelancing career, most artists I’ve talked to dragged their feet on it. They have a hard time believing that their lack of success is because they didn’t talk.
They think it is their portfolio website…
Or that their art is rather niche, so they just have to paint more and be patient…
Or they even much rather acknowledge they aren’t very good, but if they work harder, it’ll get better!
If there is one thing I learned in my own journey of figuring out how to be a freelancing artist, it is that doing more doesn’t necessarily means better.
So, why do they avoid talking to their fans?
Don’t have fans? I am pretty sure if you post art in any form of social media, you’ll get at least 1 Like and that’s really all you need to figure out what is the most appealing part of your craft.
So, it really isn’t not having fans. It is something deeper. Something more primal.
Something that’s more like irrational fear.
I can tell you why I avoided talking to the people buying my art in the beginning:
It seemed so foreign. I had this mental concept that most artists probably don’t send messages asking for opinions (this is entirely true). Oh my god, I’d come off so annoying and scare them away.
I’ll get laughed at. Honestly, I have no idea why they would laugh at me, but I just felt like that they would.
I am going to admit, I still get vastly uncomfortable trying to cold email/message people into talking to me, but it does work. Much to my own dismay. My feelings in this matter ended up being completely irrelevant.
And if you get uncomfortable like me, you have to push against it. It is really hard, but well worth it. Otherwise what I’ve seen other people do is that they end up using their discomfort to create reasons to why their art career isn’t launching exactly the way they want to.
Art doesn’t make money!
Making money is bad!
Creative direction is the most important!
They just don’t understand true art!
Artists saying they’d much rather create art they love than to make money, when the reality is that it is possible to have both.
And they much rather live in comfort – in denial – rather than actually taking active steps to learning more about how to sell their art.
Then because they have managed to make some money (but not enough, it’s never enough), they end up thinking that they can eventually make more money if they just do more.
Before they know it, they’ve spent 20 years creating art, selling a piece here or there, but never finding that magic that takes their art into the next level.
The cycle continues.
You don’t have to be like them.
So, here is one thing I want you to do today after reading this blog post.
Talk to the people that like your art and ask them what they liked about your work.
If you think you don’t have people that genuinely like your art (because friends and family can be nice, but they can sometimes just don’t really mean it)…
… If you’ve already done all that and all of this is old news…
GIVE YOURSELF A BIG PAT ON YOUR BACK.
Good job you!
Check out this podcast with Kai Davis on audience building. It goes a lot into the technical methods that I won’t go into here, but Kai also does an amazing job to explaining how to understand your audience.
The Ultimate Breakdown of Pricing (And What They Don’t Tell You About Pricing)
I remember that was the very first question that I typed into Google when I decided to turn my art skills into a freelancing career.
And it was horrendously frustrating, because this is what comes up when you search about pricing:
JUST GIVE ME A NUMBER ON HOW MUCH MY WORK IS WORTH. TELL ME HOW MUCH SOMEONE STARTING SHOULD CHARGE. WHERE IS MY CLEAR PATH TO BECOMING A COMPETENT FREELANCER???
It sounds stupid now that I have written it out.
As I matured as a freelancer (you might not need to mature as a freelancer to see how unreasonable those wishes were), I realized why those articles were written the way they were.
And I get it, as an experienced freelancer reading them, I nod in my sage wisdom about how true those articles are.
Oh, yes, definitely, that’s how the young ones should freelance.
Because by the end of the day, no one can tell you how much your work is worth. After all, it’s annoyingly subjective.
And it is frustrating because all you want is a number, so all of those don’t negotiate your rate or don’t price yourself too low advice can fly over your head. What is too cheap?! What is too expensive?! How do I know?!
But I am terribly sorry. I can’t tell you what your rates are. Because I am probably not your potential client. That’s really just it. I can’t tell you the numbers because I am not the one paying you for your work.
What I can do for you is to break down on when I personally have done free work, work that didn’t paid as well, and work that paid very well. When did it worked and when did it not work. Because I’ve been there and I tried it.
Otherwise, the stuff below can fly over your head.
Why free work?
“Don’t ever work for exposure!”
If you ever ask any freelancer for their opinions, their first advice is usually to warn you against picking up projects that offers to pay you in “exposure”. There’s good thinking to that, but as it is with everything else, it is not as simple as black and white.
I am going to be honest upfront, I got my start by doing free work.
But what I did is very carefully chosen free work.
One of the problem with the concept of free work is that there’s a bunch of opportunists that are pretending that they have exposure to pay.
And exposure is great! The problem isn’t in exposure, but the fact they are usually lying about the exposure (either they have no exposure to give or that they are actually unwilling to give exposure).
Exposure also doesn’t put food on your table.
These opportunists also doesn’t understand that if it is free, the involved artist is also not obligated to meet any standards required since the work is done as a favor.
When I first started, I worked for authors that I admired, knowing that I will enjoy the process of bring their stories to life. They also understood that as I wasn’t demanding any payment, they can’t set any standards to whatever work I throw at them.
And it worked great because we didn’t expected much from each other, but they got artwork they loved (because I did love their stories in the first place) and I got their money the next time they wanted to hire an artist.
This article by Ryan Holiday is one of my favorite about how careful you have to be about free work. He also talks thoroughly about how you should approach it and when to use the “free work” card.
If done right, it can be a great way to getting yourself very exciting projects that you actually love and can learn from.
It can actually be great for exposure. It is also a great networking method.
If you aren’t careful, you can literally end up in a project that’s actually just work, but unpaid.
When should I work for free?
If you noticed a project you really want to work on and you feel like you can deliver value to that person.
If you are trying to expand your portfolio while doing a little bit of networking.
If you are working for your own creativity.
When should I not work for free?
If someone is offering you “exposure” instead of pay (make sure that you are the one that makes this call, not your potential client).
If you have no idea what you are doing and decided to just do something random to appease a big company or a popular figure.
Why offer a lower rate?
“Make sure you get paid what you are worth.”
I am going to be slightly controversial for a second.
I will tell you why — sometimes — you want to aim for something lower than the dream rate you want to go for.
And no, it’s not because your potential clients will tell you that they can find cheaper help elsewhere.
It also won’t be because your work isn’t valuable.
The simple truth is this — charging high requires a ridiculous amount of self-confidence. Or bullheadedness.
I see many extremely talented artists and freelancers fall into this trap. They can hardly believe they can be earning premium… so they just don’t ask for it.
Also, there is a surprising amount of freelancers and artists I’ve consulted that told me how they have trouble starting because of this advice:
Get paid a high rate or don’t do it.
So I tell them that if they have trouble stating what seems to be a high price without wincing at themselves, they should simply start by charging low.
Then they gawk at me.
“I can do that?”
Yes, yes! You can charge yourself a lower rate. Yes, there’s a lot of some higher moral ground crap about how charging low is killing your fellow artists’ livelihood… but that’s all just mental bullshit.
If you are one of those people that hesitates to start because you simply don’t feel ready to ever charge someone, start low.
Because it is better to be charging something, even if it is just $1, than sitting there and doing nothing. At least you are getting yourself started and making small progress.
There were times when I was offered projects that seemed like uncharted territories to me, so I offered a lower rate than the usual market rate. And it helps because it allowed me to genuinely figure out what my work’s value is at for that market.
Then the next time a similar project is being offered, I just increase the price. There is no problem with that.
And by that, I don’t mean just surfing in Fiverr, because it is easy to find freelancers that charge cheap just for the sake of it. I mean research as in go out there and talk to the people that made it in your specialty. Their perspectives are priceless and they can really paint the picture on what it takes to be successful with your craft.
If you are an illustrator or artist that’s looking to work for a company in a major project (marketing, concept design, etc.), I highly recommend picking up this book (I don’t get affiliation for this). It covers almost all sort of graphic artists jobs and the average payment for the job as well as the average freelancing price.
Good to build your confidence — starting cheap is a good way to start building that confidence.
A good way to start getting the feeling of being paid and how freelancing feels like.
If someone isn’t sure if you are the person for the project, offering a small project to try things out can also help.
Attracts mostly bad clients.
Create a psychology barrier for you to increase your rate later on your career.
When should you price your work lowly?
You are just starting and you are worried you cannot deliver the value expected.
You have no idea if freelancing is your thing and you don’t want to owe people a massive amount of money if you fail to complete the projects.
You are actually confident that your work is better than the same people that charge far higher.
You are getting way too many low quality clients.
Why Charge a Higher Rate?
“Premium prices mean premium clients.”
This is where every freelancer’s ultimate dream is.
One big fat paycheck for one quality project.
The funniest thing is that good quality clients want that to be true too. After all, if you aren’t distracted on other projects, you are putting your best in their work. And they would pay premium for that sort of attention and care.
That’s why researching your pricing is important. Your market might actually have price expectations. When something matters to your clients, the last thing they actually want is a cheap service, because people don’t usually think highly on cheap services. They also don’t trust cheap services.
And you can capitalize on that.
Usually gets the best quality clients.
You can focus on delivering better work instead of spending time and energy in outreach.
Clients usually have more confidence in your work if they are convinced to pay you a higher rate.
You don’t actually have the technical skills to back it up.
You aren’t actually sure if you can deliver the results.
You have no idea if freelancing is your thing.
In the end, when you are deciding what’s the best rate for you, I say choose something you are comfortable with. That’s the most important part. A number you truly feel represents your work.
A number that you aren’t ashamed to say to your potential clients.
Because there’s always ways to fix your rates later. Reputations aren’t set in stone either. What is hot news today isn’t going to be hot news tomorrow. There’s also no rule or actual expectations out there that say you have to stay with the first rate you choose.
I had to fixed my rate when I first started. And I had to increase my rate later when I had a steady client base as well.
Was it awkward? Yes. Was it nerve-wrecking? Oh hell yes.
But it always did work out rather well.
Still confused and still tearing your hair out about what pricing your art is worth? I understand that it can feel very life and death and no “just set a price and try” advice can sway you from it.
I encourage you to send me an email. I might not be able to tell you the exact pricing, but I can definitely help you in figuring out how you can find the right answer.
As usual, if you know a freelancer or an artist ripping their hair out because of PRICING. Help them out, send them this article.
A few months ago, I submitted a super ugly commission. Something that was way below my usual standards.
But there was a deadline and that was it. Time’s up.
I remember thinking, “Oh man, this client is going to give me an EARFUL about how I produced such a bad artwork for such a high price. MY CAREER IS DONE.”
This was just going to be a complete disaster. She’d tell her friends and post on social media what a fraud I was… and I’d have to pack my freelancing career into a coffin.
And then… I received a message from her. I was saying goodbye to my short-lived career…
She told me she LOVED my work and she will continue to tell all her friends to check me out.
CAN’T SHE SEE EVERYTHING WRONG? IT IS THE UGLIEST PIECE OF CRAP—
She didn’t care.
I learned a very important lesson that day.
People gives very little shit about what you think or do as an artist.
That can be a very depressing revelation, but it wasn’t for me.
Before that, I demanded all my work to be perfect before submission. It’s how I thought I delivered the value that they paid me to do. So I only did one project per month. Pushing all my energy to perfecting my craft for my clients. One perfect little project at a time.
But that was wrong.
Their idea of perfection had very little to do with what I had in mind. They weren’t looking for technical perfection. So I stopped trying to be technically perfect.
And you know what happened?
I got even better as an artist.
By constantly demanding myself to be perfect, it sapped me from the improvements I could have gained.
It was the simple act of doing more that made me into a better artist. Because when I did things, I got active feedback about what was actually going wrong and it wasn’t just a part of my imagination.
As artists, we are trained to make sure our vision of perfection is met. Just the concept of polishing till it gleams, till it is standing perfect to us.
And this toxic mindset translates to everything else too.
My friend (who graduated from SCAD as a graphic designer) spent 4 years refining her portfolio before she applied to her FIRST design job. All because she wanted to submit a “perfect portfolio”.
Her mentor, which she found later in her job, told her it wasn’t actually a good portfolio and she was crushed.
That’s a very long time to put your career on hold simply because you were trying to pursue a perfect version of yourself. And it didn’t even turned out good.
Is being a perfectionist stopping you?
With the amount of horror stories out there about freelancing, it can feel like that you are only a step away from a nightmare.
But you can’t be better without trying first. And that might mean failure in some levels or it might mean small errors that you can do better in your next opportunity.
Until you try though, theories and practical strategies mean nothing. That’s the important part. Theories and strategies are all tweaks to something that you’ve tried and are just feedback to how you can be better.
And I get it, mistakes can seem like the end of everything:
What if your bad portfolio chases that one important client away?
What if no one will hire you because you have no website?
What if you priced yourself too low and you become known as a “cheap artist”?
What if you priced yourself too high and everyone remembers that one time?
I’ve done every single mistake that a freelancer shouldn’t do and I’ve simply bounced back from it. Know that every single mistake you might make IS COMPLETELY REVERSIBLE.
Here is a somewhat well-known fact about Starbucks, actual baristas hate them.
The barista that taught me how to brew a perfect coffee told me to “stop drinking that crap unless you wanted to die.”
So, I know how to pull a supposedly perfect latte that’s not too harsh or acidic and all that coffee mumbo jumbos. I do not have to spend $3.65 for a latte.
I love Starbucks though.
It’s a deeply shameful secret of mine.
Regardless of your opinion of Starbucks, I actually think coffee brewing has a lot of similarity to any artistic endeavour. An actual good cup of coffee takes a lot of work surprisingly.
Which is why it is baffling how in blind taste tests, even McDonald’s is reported to have better coffee than Starbucks.
So what happened there?
Once upon a time, there was a guy named Howard, who was struggling to make ends meet. One day, he was drinking a cup of coffee in Milan when he realized something: the owners there knew customers by name. The café he was at was homely, and the customers were encouraged to lounge and enjoy their time. The skies opened up and the angels sang to him.
But something similar did actually happen when Howard Schultz (who was struggling to make ends meet) was drinking a cup of coffee in Milan when he realized that the café there was simply nice. And he decided to import the culture of that coffee shop to America. And that was the beginning of Starbucks as we know it.
Yes, Howard Schultz went into the coffee business wanting to focus on bringing a certain lifestyle to America. He wanted to show how you could enjoy a cup of coffee instead of just downing it as a source of energy. As many marketing gurus would say, he wanted to sell an “experience”.
Now many people go to Starbucks, knowing that they can spend $3.65 for a cozy seat and a table (if it’s not packed) for their own purposes. People go to Starbucks to work, to read, to study, to catch up with an old friend.
As one of my friends said, “Where else can I pay $3.65 and spend four hours at the same table without being shooed out?”
Coffee might be what Starbucks sell as a product, but it isn’t why people buy it.
You might be asking… how does this apply to you as an artist?
As people that love our craft, we run into a very similar situation as the baristas that hate Starbucks. We have a great appreciation for our craft perfected. It’s why we became artists after all.
However, it is important to remember — art is only a medium to what we really want to say. And we are doing ourselves a huge disservice if we don’t learn from the people who succeed. No matter what their technical skills are.
We all went into art and stuck with it because we have something inside of us that we want to show the world. But in the pursuit of perfecting our technique, we forget that people simply just care more about the message that your art has. Of course, a perfectly polished art piece is only one of the many ways you can showcase your message.
The truth is unless you are planning to sell your art to other critical artists, you only just need to be good enough.
It’s simple, but yet it has won awards simply because the artist understood that geek humor is the focus. People don’t care if it is stickmen or a properly rendered comic, their audience only cared about the jokes.
Why should people care about you? Why should they look at your work when there are so many other artists out there?
Of course, you can always wait for social media jackpot to choose you, but why should you when you can do more to create more exposure for yourself?
What is the experience you are trying to sell? What is that little extra something that will connect you to your prospective clients?
Think outside of the art you create.
The Art of Commissions Podcast Episode 1: Dissecting the Science of Social Media Success Feat. Benjamin Ee
I am super excited that I am finally revealing the first podcast episode of Art of Commissions!
From now on, I intend to showcase artist feature via podcast instead, since I believe that audio will give the interview format a more personal touch to our listeners and it also allows for greater details to be communicated. As always, I am open to feedback and any other ways to improve Art of Commissions as a resource website for budding freelancing artists.
Much to my greatest pleasure, I’ve had the chance to talk to Benjamin Ee — Art Director of Wymac Gaming Solution and Freelancing Artist as our first podcast guest!
“I could paint like some artsy piece about society and their obsession with technology or I could just paint a picture of a Pikachu, I don’t know, doing a backflip. There will be that satisfaction of creating something. If it makes one more person happy, job done!”
For this episode podcast, Ben and I talked about using social media to represent yourself as an artist, expanding on the previous blog post. This is something that Ben is amazing at, with his art getting regular social media attention. On top of having a good handle on social media, he uses his social media platforms to generate leads for his freelancing business on the side. While there are advantages that social media can have for artists, we also talked about certain dangers that social media can have to growing artists and how to avoid these pitfalls that social media presents.
In this episode — one hour of packed-in goodness — we discuss important topics such as:
Ben’s favorite social media platform as well as the important factors to choosing the social media platform that you are comfortable in.
The fatal mistakes that most artists do when using social media and how to distinguish yourself from your competitions with it.
The concept and fallacy of viral marketing and why you shouldn’t solely focus on getting your art viral.
The dangers of using social media to measure the value of your art and why you shouldn’t rely solely on social media to get people talking about your art.
Why showcasing yourself as a person is more important than showcasing yourself as an artist in social media and how that can increase the likelihood to you being hired as an artist.
The do’s and do not’s of using social media for networking.
“I think it is a legitimate danger that people should be aware of focusing so much on getting better or getting popular that they forget why they wanted to paint in the first place.”
Benjamin Ee hugely believes in that the most important thing about being an artist is recognizing your own individual uniqueness. He also voiced concerns that many artists nowadays can find themselves in the toxic black hole of social media – using social media to validate the value of the art they created and forgetting the reason to why they started drawing in the first place.
While dialog and discussion about art (after all, who doesn’t like a bit of attention from their own hard work?) is important, he believes that artists should understand that passion behind their art and the message they want to spread to the world. This is the key to finding the perseverance to a long art career.
As he himself said, it doesn’t have to be something overly artsy and meaningful and it could be something as simple as a silly drawing that makes people smile. Even with a simple reason, remembering the meaning behind it will help on the days when you don’t feel like your art is not worthy.
Got any questions or comments for Benjamin Ee? Do leave the comments below and I will forward the questions to Ben!
“I am terrified of networking! What if they don’t like me?”
“I am simply this nobody, why would someone famous will even work with me?”
“Oh, my skill sucks! There are so many people out there that is better than me… they’ll definitely reject me.”
Does any of this sound like you?
If yes, don’t worry, you are definitely not alone.
If no, then I am not entirely sure why you are reading this, you are probably a networking master already.
The reality for most people is that… NETWORKING IS NERVE WRECKING.
Go online, you will see lots of articles about it and a lot of why’s and people being concerned about it. Search Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, you will continue to see people hem-hawing about networking.
At Art of Commissions, we have definitely done our fair share of it. In fact, our latest Artist Feature mentioned the necessity of it and she considers it as that one advice she wished her younger self had followed.
But you know what isn’t talked much about?
The mindset that you bring to networking.
We all know that the worst thing that could happen is that they don’t reply to us… but how many of you guys have lost sleep because of that exact worry? Probably tons. I have definitely lost nights of sleep after pitching to some pretty important potential clients.
By the end of the day, you realize that them not replying is a really big deal and it is a scenario you’d much rather avoid. So, you go back to just… avoiding networking in general.
So, now what then? How are you going to talk to people that really matter to your freelancing career? Are you going to just give up on networking? No, of course not. Damn networking is too important to neglect.
Insert forlorn sigh.
So, this article is going to talk about how you can break down your mental barrier to networking and bypass your own shy syndrome.
No more “I am just really shy!” or “I don’t really know what to write!”
All those excuses go straight out of the window after this.
Below, I will share three techniques on how you can shatter your mental barriers to networking.
1. Imagine what’s the worst that could happen
Wait a second, didn’t I just say that is not helpful?
Yes, I did.
But please, let me finish!
A lot of people do tell us to imagine the worst thing that could happen. They are like, “oh, if they don’t reply, try again!”
However, that concept is so soul crushing, you are not entirely sure if you even want to go through it again. So, when I say to imagine the worst that could happen, I want you to imagine what happens afterwards.
In fact, don’t just imagine it; I heavily recommend that you open a Word document and write it down.
They don’t reply to you, then what happens? How do you bounce back? Do you have a plan B? Of course you do! Write all of it down.
The point of this is to remind yourself that despite painful rejections (is it even a rejection? It is such a shitty rejection!), you will continue to forge forward. You will find out how to get your next networking opportunity! There will be a next step.
Isn’t that a comforting thought?
Sending that email will still be nerve-wrecking (oh, trust me, I know ALL about it), but if you write down your worst case scenario aftermath, you will have a solid plan that you can bounce back on. And that can be a huge comfort when you are struggling with the fear of rejections.
2. Start at the bottom of the social ladder
You don’t have to go to those hot shots immediately. Most people think that they have to become popular overnight.
Popularity. Takes. Time.
So, as becoming popular takes its time, you should first build up your comfort zones. Start in the lower part of the social ladder!
Find the lowest point where you feel comfortable putting yourself out there. If it is your friends, so be it.
Build your confidence. Put your art out there! Ask those friends to share and showcase them when possible, get used to that feeling associated with the act of asking others for help.
And once you have gotten comfortable with having your friends share your art, move up the ladder. Message fellow artists on a forum. Ask them for advice and tips.
You’ll be surprised by how many of us are just dying to give our wisdom away to fledgeling freelancers. We have so many nuggets of wisdom that we wish we could share with our younger selves!
Once you have gotten a hang of talking to fellow artists, start emailing editors, writers, and publishing houses.
You have a voice and a vision you are desperate to share — so SHARE IT. You just need some time and practice to grow into it.
3. Write a list of your dream contacts
So, you have written out your lows and you are not entirely sure if you really want to email this fellow artist. Or maybe that publishing house doesn’t seem to have work you are interested in.
You know what else you can write down to break through your mental blockades?
A list of our dream contacts.
This provides perspective to the way you want to go. It allows you visualize the social ladder a little bit more clearer.
Not to mention, you can quite easily find out how they started and simply start there too.
It also gives you the motivation to keep climbing that ladder… so that one day, you can get that collaboration with that artist you really admire. Or even do a commission for one of your dream companies!
The possibilities are endless, so write it down. Find the direction you want go for. Once you have a direction, everything else just becomes minor distraction on a seemingly straight path.
Now, the reality is… you will feel nervous.
And that’s okay; feeling nervous is okay.
But now you can visualize that it will be okay, you have a plan; you have a next step. So, the next time you hear crickets, you know which direction you’ll go. You will be able to say, “okay, that really sucks, but I can get over it and move onto the next thing.”
And that’s powerful.
You are now ready to fling your art throughout the internet. Go do it, you tiger!
Do you ever sweat bullets at trying to figure out what your dream clients are thinking when they read your emails? No more of that!
Click above to get our free gift to our readers; The Five Components of a Killer Pitch. In this free eBook, we break down what exactly is the client looking for and how you can position yourself in a place where you become an irresistible option to them. They will have a hard time turning you down once you used the exact techniques listed in the eBook!