26 things I wish I'd known...about being freelance

Earlier this week I took part in an Employability Event for third year art, design and media students at Portsmouth University. I'd been invited to speak about my route from college to what I do now and my experience of working as a freelancer.

Professional Practice is something I have taught on several Illustration degree courses and that I feel particularly passionate about as when I graduated twenty years ago this just didn't feature on the curriculum.

I'm always wishing there was more discussion (online and in the real world) about the experiences and realities of being an illustrator so I thought I'd post here "26 things I wish I'd known...about being freelance" which were the headings to my powerpoint slides. I'd love to hear your thoughts, experiences and any additions to these...


  1. If you are self employed you need to be able to do a bit of everything

  1. Working from home can at times be very lonely and at other times a delightful and privileged experience

  1. Working in a shared studio space can be an immensely supportive experience. It can also give you a sense of professionalism, give structure to the day and can lead to making contacts.

  1. Networking is not a nasty 80s word but something that occurs naturally

  1. The best way to be able to keep in contact with existing clients is to have new work to show

  1. All commissioning and buying decisions are related to appropriateness and marketability. It can be a balancing act staying in the industry, staying “fashionable” yet staying true to self

  1. Your priorities might change

  1. As an illustrator you may be able to work from anywhere in the world!

  1. The way you might be working in five or ten years may not even be invented yet

  1. Your greatest creative spurt might still be to come

  1. Not everybody is ready at the same time

  1. The most important clients are the ones you already have

  1. It can often seem like good money - but you have to divide it over times you aren’t working or when you are focusing on promotion and business and office management and over holidays, etc

  1. Everything will constantly change so you will need to continue learning and developing new skills

  1. Sometimes work days will go by that don’t involve doing any creative work

  1. Some of the people you are sitting next to might be commissioning you in the future

  1. The grouchy people are just as likely to employ you as the enthusiastic people

  1. Self-promotion is about promoting yourself often as much as about your work

  1. It’s a competitive world but we are all different

  1. How hard you work doesn’t always relate to how well you do so sometimes it feels like Snakes and Ladders

  1. Don’t take things personally and persevere

  1. Be persistent (without being pushy) And follow up opportunities quickly

  1. Don’t hold back because things aren’t quite perfect. Get your work out there - into the world

  1. If offered poor pay or poor terms - consider the long term consequences as well as short term gains - both for you and for the industry

  1. Don’t get overwhelmed by what other people do

  1. Keep tapping into the things you are passionate about