I’ve been freelancing since January 2017. I’m a 3D generalist so I’ll be mostly talking about 3D artists but this applies for freelancing in general I think. Now, I’m not like super pro but somehow I’ve managed to survive just with that for more than 2 years now and there might be some things that I’ve learned so far that could help you out:

Why consider freelancing

  • In my personal experience as a Mexican that has no current way to get a work permit in Canada other than getting sponsored I can say this has saved me so so much from being sad and having to go back to my country in which I don’t want to live (I love to visit but not for too long).
  • I can work from anywhere and I did, my visa ended and I traveled with my laptop for months and it was great.
  • It’s not illegal if you’re working remotely with a tourist visa since you’re not stealing jobs from locals. It depends on who you ask really, while traveling I do say I’m a freelancer artist and have international clients, but if you get an immigration officer that for whatever reason doesn’t want you in the country they could pull the “you can’t work here without a work permit” card and ruin your plans if you don’t have documents to show them you’re legit.
  • Having projects in your portfolio that you did for someone and got paid for is more valuable than having only things you did on your own time or for school.
  • You choose your own hours! This is a double edged sword though, gotta wield it right.
  • You can do this while you’re applying to studios and start/stop freelancing basically whenever you want/need.
Me working at my host’s house in Amsterdam. Summer of 2017

Getting clients

There are some websites for this that you might have already heard of:
https://www.freelancer.com
https://www.guru.com/
https://www.upwork.com
https://www.cgtrader.com/projects
https://connect.unity.com/

And they’re fine, but most of the time they’re not enough and you’ll be competing for attention with many people that have a team or undersell themselves. The best clients I’ve gotten are because I met them personally. Some of them by chance, networking events, friends of friends, fb groups, some by Twitter. Most of the time it’s not your skills what gets you a job, it’s how you present yourself.

One of my first and best clients I have is a 3D printing shop that sends me stuff regularly and contacted me with the client that has paid me the most. I went there and printed something I did for a client at the time, the guys at the store told me it was a cool design (a modified Skulltula) and I said I did it, asked if they were looking for artists to help out and they said that not at the moment because they do it themselves. A week later they contact me and offered me this project that is now built in the City of White Rock because it was too complicated for them, I have kept working with this client and the store since. I’m shy and introverted, it was very hard for me to do that, go to a place that isn’t asking for any help and offer my services, but they were desperate times and I’m very glad I did.

You have to go to people’s faces and casually tell them what you do and that you’re open for gigs, and then eventually someone will tell you: hey would you be interested in blahblah? Once you have done this enough times and you have some regular clients then you did it! It’ll become way easier since you won’t have to be actively looking for work as much anymore. However, there might still come some dry times, prepare for them

Infinity Cycle. Photo credit to: Jenny Bray from South Rock Buzz

It’s also a good idea to have models for sell. Nowadays it’s super easy and there are so many options. Try putting to sell as many models as you can and some free ones because those will help you get more people to see your stuff. Don’t expect to make bank with this, it takes a lot of models and a lot of time for this to be able to give you some sustenance. But few extra dollars in your account for something you did once are always good and this also helps towards your image as a reliable professional artist.

https://sketchfab.com
https://www.cgtrader.com/
https://www.artstation.com/
https://www.highend3d.com/

For 3D printing models:
https://www.shapeways.com/
https://www.thingiverse.com/
https://www.myminifactory.com/
https://cults3d.com/en
https://pinshape.com/3d-marketplace

Modeling for 3D printing is a bit different than it is for games, I’d recommend to see Shapeways’ guide if you’re interested, or you can always ask me as well.

Payment

The main question is: how the duck do I know how much to charge?!?!? Yes, it’s a tough question. At first what I did was get the average salary and get how much it would be per hour, back in February of last year. That gave me $18 (CAD) per hour, desperate-for-money-and-ignorant-me accepted that and started charging that… few of my own clients told me that was too little and that I could be charging way more. I started to go up, then few months after up again, few months after up again… mostly because other people were telling me I could be charging more, not because I thought I could/should. Don’t undersell yourselves!

I can’t give you something to start with because it depends on each person’s experience and art, but I’d say $20 – $28 (CAD) per hour in general are good amounts to start (here in Vancouver, Canada) and then go up and see how clients react to it. You should also take into account your own expenses, here’s a nice Twitter thread about that (I’m a savage not embedding because it refuses to change either text or background color and it comes with dark text)

Twitter thread screenshot

It’ll also be easier to build your client base when you have no experience by charging not too much, this way you’ll also feel less responsibility and you can build it up to what you feel comfortable while still being a fair rate for both you and the client. As you start gaining confidence and experience on working with clients it’ll also facilitate you to feel comfortable defending your rate and to identify a bad deal before accepting it, sadly it’s a skill you’ll definitely need.

Most clients prefer to have a fixed price, they want to know how much it’s gonna cost them and how long it will take you (days/weeks wise). So you’ll need to be able to estimate how long a project will take you before starting it; personally I am still learning this hehe.

Ask for half of the payment before starting and half after or by milestone deliveries. If they’re gonna pay you anyway then what difference does it make they pay a part first? This way you protect yourself, believe me, it’s important.

If you can make or get a contract for them to sign, even if it’s very basic, do it. This is just a thin protection against the client just ducking off without paying, which will sadly most likely eventually happen at some point, but this helps shortening that possibility a lot. There’s several templates you can find online.

For invoicing I like to use WaveApps.com It’s very efficient and helps to keep track of payments.

I usually get payments through PayPal, although I don’t really like it because it takes a percentage off, with Canadians I get e-transfers. There’s also Square, it’s easy to set up and seems like a good choice, but I personally haven’t used it yet. Bank transfers between countries tend to be more expensive than using PayPal.
I’ve gotten to notice that if you ask nicely for your clients to cover the PayPal fees, they tend to say yes. Or you can just include it in the price without asking if you see fit, it’s really your choice since it ends up being an expense you gotta cover.

Watch this, and bookmark it if you want for whenever you get asked for free work:

General tips

  • Freelancing is not like a job at a studio with coworkers where it would be easier to specialize in something and just focus on that, generally. Being able to wear multiple hats is highly useful and necessary.
  • As a 3D generalist I’ve found that the easiest way to survive freelancing is modeling for 3D printing and/or being able to do beauty renders (including pretty lights and everything) because you need to be able to give your client a finished product starting from scratch if you want to compete, you need to be able to deliver the whole pipeline. Or you can work in a team but you’ll need to divide the earnings so you’ll need to get even more projects.
  • You’ll also need to be your own boss, marketer, HR, manager, accountant… everything.
  • DON’T accept to work for exposure. Ever. You hurt yourself and you hurt the rest of freelancers. If they have a platform that can get you really good exposure then they have the money to pay, if they don’t then flip them the finger respectfully turn the terrible offer down.
  • Find efficient ways to track your hours! What works best for me is ManicTime, it’s a very nice free software that tracks how much time you spend on each program and/or file. This gives you a very good idea of how you’re spending your time while it’s running, and how much time you spent on each project doing what. It’s free but if you pay you get premium features, not needed though. And you don’t gotta be starting/pausing a timer or something.
  • Put your work in as many places as you can, connect everything (your Instagram to your Twitter to your portfolio to your email to your face to everywhere). Twitter is very good for opportunities! I totally recommend it! I even got free tickets for myself and my best friend to GDC 2017 thanks to that and a rad guy.
  • Being active in social media helps you not only for freelancing but to get a job at a studio as well, even if you only RT others’ art and post your own every now and then it’ll help you professionally as an artist to get your work out there. There are communities of game artists and being part of them helps you boost your reach and opportunities, while also seeing cool stuff others are making.
  • The best thing about freelancing is that everything you do for this also increases your possibility of being hired for a more stable job.
  • Make sure you don’t over work, it’s easy when you get more than enough offers to just say yes to everything, but be wary of burning out. Set a limit of hours to work per week and stick to it. It might not seem a problem at first, but if you keep doing it it’ll catch up with you and it won’t be pretty.
  • Take care of your needs. This includes the social needs, now you won’t be forced to see other people and the loneliness can creep on you, make plans with your friends or join local groups that share your hobbies. Now you gotta actively do the social part, this goes mostly for my fellow introverts. If you’re looking to meet new people a good place to start is Meetup.com or Tinder (yes, it’s not only for hookups) if you prefer more one on one.
Rent Due? Pay It With ‘Exposure Bucks’ As Suggested By This Humorous T-Shirt - DesignTAXI.com

Another good Twitter thread with some nice tips for freelancing:

Twitter thread screenshot