The secrets to success as a designer, illustrator or artist

There are certain questions that cross the mind of every working creative. They might have greater pertinence at different times of a career, but they are recognised by everyone from the new graduate to the veteran freelancer or established studio owner.

A typical question that crops up is should you shell out and join one of the professional bodies in the creative space, such as the AOI or D&AD? Most creatives agree it’s your level of activity with the group that will determine what you’ll get out of it, but there are some benefits.

“Often they will offer free or subsidised business and legal advice,” says Rob O’Connor of Stylorouge. “Talking through your issues with peers is a very useful and cathartic experience, and can result in improvements in your industry as a whole.”

Another recurring question is whether you should do work for free. “What you have to decide is whether doing this will benefit you by bringing you future paid work, get you noticed by the right people – or if it’s just somebody trying to rip you off,” says Gavin Bailey, designer at MadBid. “Also, many employers ask for a design test to be completed before or after an interview. Just be sure that your designs will not be used without your consent.”

As for most of the other questions you’re likely to have, read on. We’ve attempted to gather these collective concerns and address them with advice from those experienced and successful in their chosen fields.

“What do I charge?”

It’s more than just picking a number and hoping they say yes

Stylorouge design for The Lucinda Belle Orchestra album, My Voice & 45 Strings

How much to charge is always a tricky question to answer, especially as it varies from region to region; some clients respond to a set fee for on a project basis, and others pay an hourly rate.

Wayne Dorrington, senior designer and illustrator at Beyond, says if you have a limited portfolio, you should start with a more reasonable costing, building up your rates as your experience grows. “You could try talking to some recruitment agencies that specialise in freelancers and see if they can advise you on what’s ideal for your region/experience,” he suggests. “You can also research on forums to find national averages for fees, or even ask directly what’s correct for you.”

Gavin Bailey of MadBid suggests quite a low rate of £8-12 per hour, or around £30 per logo to start off with – at least until you’ve built a client base.

Even more established professionals might have to drop their rates. “It sometimes makes sense to charge less when you’re not busy,” says smashLAB’s Eric Karjaluoto. “Just to keep active and maintain some cash flow.”

Design studio on-IDLE has a commercial day rate of £560, based on the number of resources that are needed, on average, to complete projects and day-to-day agency running costs. “Another method is to look at what contemporaries are earning in full-time positions and divide this [figure] by the number of workdays in a year – there’s your day rate,” says studio head Marc Peter.

THBOOM!’s Alec East says that as a freelancer, you have to know how much you want (or need) to make, then factor in the amount of time you will spend out of work and honing your skills, and divide this by how much money you can reasonably expect to get away with charging.

“If you want to earn £30k, for example, considering you may only work about 40 weeks per year, that’s about £150 per day,” he says. “If you intend to supply your own laptop and software, you have to look at how much that will cost you over a period of time and add that expense into your rates. You may also have to factor in conferences, training, magazine subscriptions and any other expenses.”

“How do I find good clients?”

Techniques to attract the kind of clients you’d be proud to tell your mum about

Gavin Bailey design for Monsieur Baron, a luxury men’s fashion retailer in London

Gareth Howat, creative director of Hat-trick Design, is of the opinion that if you do good work then everything else will follow from it. He says that “money will come, and if you do good work, then you will get good work.”

“Finding the perfect client is much, much harder,” says Odin Church, MD of Nation. “Getting the dynamics of two parties working on something creative right is based on good chemistry.  You’ll know when you have a great client because you’re able to overcome problems together and
do so in a way that makes both of you feel like winners.”

Raise your day rate if you offer specialist creative services, advises on-IDLE’s Marc Peter, but be flexible in the frequency of payments in the current economic climate.

“Being good at what you do isn’t enough anymore,” warns THBOOM! director Alec East. “People have to know how good you are. First impressions count, so make sure all the essential ingredients are in place. At the very least, your online folio must be up to date and a linkedIn profile complete with all possible means of contact.”

“If you exhibit a strong style, fresh approach and a visible passion in the work, clients will find you,” reckons Gavin Kelly, creative director of Piranha Bar. “Creative showcase sites like Motionographer or Stash will happily put up work where it will be seen by a wide range of potential clients – if it’s strong enough.”

Wayne Dorrington has a novel approach for finding the perfect client: research your client’s market of interest, see how creative work is (or isn’t) being used, then use that as your way in. “Pick some poorly executed work, [and] try reworking it and showing it to the client. Give them a taste of how good things could be,” he says.

You can also be too successful. “We always believed that to find the perfect client you need to produce and promote the kind of work you want to do,” says Matt Rice of Sennep. “If you do too many ‘money jobs’ or compromise your design principles too much along the way, you’ll end up with clients and projects that don’t inspire you.”


Elsewhere on IDG sites

Read Next...