Saturday, December 12, 2015

Freelancer Tips

So I've been on and off freelancing for the past 9 years, and I thought I'd share some tips and tricks I've picked up along the way. These are geared towards art jobs, but many of them can apply to other types of work!

There's a few other people that I asked for input too, because many sources make for a better guide!

1- Stay on top of your accounts. This includes tracking receipts, invoices and paying your taxes. If any of that makes you twitch uncomfortably, do two things. Firstly, suck it up. You're in business, and that's part of it. Secondly, hire an accountant. They'll make sure that you fill out any forms you need, and you learn *quickly* what you should be keeping track of and how.

2- Respect others' time. Reply to emails promptly. Turn up at meetings on time. Hit your deadlines. There's probably one or more people after you in a production schedule, and lost time snowballs the further down the line.

3- Respect your OWN time. If you work 9-5, work hard. Work well. Then, stop. I'm getting better at this, though recently it's been more a case of logging multiple jobs to morning, afternoon slots at 4 hours each. I've experimented over the past few months doing blazes of 16 hour work days, 6 days a week and then taking a full week off. It's nice, but dangerous. Those hard weeks burn you out quicker the longer you are at it, even with a week off. It's better to be in a solid habit every day, so you're body is trained to turn on and off at the beginning and the end of each day.

4- Train yourself. I've set up a bunch of Pavlovian responses to keep me in the zone. I wear over-ear headphones when I'm working- ONLY when I'm working. I usually get bumped up from a 45 minute focus to a  90 minute window. I try and put on audio from games that I've put MANY hours of grind into, like Skyrim or Dragon Age. They're ambient and unobtrusive, and there's a built in experience of hearing them for many hours. For late nights, If you've seen the Shawshank Redemption a few times, that's a great film to minimise as you work, because Morgan Freeman's voice on a three hour track that ends with 'I HOPE. That's a great little uplift if you can aim to finish at that point. 

5- Stop checking your email. I said earlier that I've got a 90 minute work window, and it's at the end of that I QUICKLY check my email, twitter and facebook, use the bathroom and get a fresh cup of tea. The only exception to this is if I'm doing a morning of quick fixes, I keep my inbox open on my second screen so I don't waste my time doing fixes that'll be cut for one reason or another.

6- Have an office space. If you can, have it in a room that ISN'T your bedroom, and preferably a room you can close the door on and have your own space. I don't have kids or pets, but I've heard that there needs to be a divide to get any sort of productivity out of the day. Trying to go from working all day in a room to sleeping in the same room will mess your body rhythm up

I've had to do this several times in the past, and I've found several ways to break up the feel. 
-Use different lighting when you're in 'bedroom mode'. For me, that means airing the room for a few minutes, switching to just lamps instead of overhead lights, and getting out for a brief walk.
If you've a weirdly large bedroffice, you can keep to different parts of the room.
If you can help it, don't have your computer in eyesight while you're in bed, so you can add more of a mental gap. 
Anything you can do to create two distinct room feels will help get you better sleep.

7- Sleep well. If you get a decent 8 hours kip, or whatever your body actually needs, it'll show. You'll have better focus,  make better decisions and feel better.

8- Too much coffee? Drink water. This sounds weird, but it works. I am a voracious tea drinker, and a coffee lover, even if it doesn't love me. I had to cut down to one coffee a day, and a friend recommended drinking more water.  It's made such a difference, so it's getting included. In winter, I usually go for hot honey and lemon, or MiWaDi, or just tea :)

9- Eat well. I try and eat good meals, as it's most practical to make your own when you work from home. I do go out to lunch at least once a week, so I can do a bit of sketching as well as get some fresh air during the day!

10- You will get hired to do what people KNOW you can do. If you have a web presence full of doodles, don't expect a job as a concept artist. When studios hire they are looking for people to solve a specific problem. You need to show them that you can solve their 

For me, I specialise in colour keys and lighting. This has got me work in tabletop games, TV, magazines and comics, but only because I had put something online that exemplified their requirements. 

If you want to colour comics, colour comics. If you want to storyboard, ACTUALLY STORYBOARD. As a freelancer, the ball is in your court. Schedule time to work on those projects. If you keep an eye on your cashflow, you can upskill at your own pace and branch out. 

11- Go places! Expos like CTN Expo, Comic Conventions, film festivals or the absolutely amazing Trojan Horse Was a Unicorn will open doors for you in almost every sense of the word. You'll meet new people, learn new things and maybe get some job leads. I spent a considerable amount travelling to events last year, but I'm still trying to put into practice all of the great things I learned. 

12- Spoonful of Sugar- Research maketh the project, and I find it can be useful to build it into your downtime. I like to watch relevant films to projects I'm working on to build my vocabulary, or if relevant go on a little trip to take in the sights and sounds of the setting. I tend to end up studying random stuff like how a tree has cracked, or the spread of rocks heading away from a river- not necessarily related to what's needed for the project, but it adds to the visual library. 
That's the kind of thing that'll resurface when you're doing thumbnails.

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