Mark interviewed leading freelancers from the fields of 3D illustration, animation, visual effects, games and architectural visualisation to uncover their strategies for success. These were his key findings...
1. Test the market first
Make sure there is interest in your work before you begin. Freelancing part-time first will also enable you to experiment with standard assets and settings, optimizing them for quick, high-quality renders. And make sure you invest in a back-up computer!
2. Use online networking tools
While establishing a reputation, keep yourself in the public eye by maintaining an up-to-date presence on your own website, online communities such as CGSociety and CGarchitect.com, networking sites like LinkedIn and, if appropriate, IMDb.
3. Tap your network for leads
A network of fellow freelancers is one of your best resources for finding clients - and those that you do will be trustworthy. No one wants to recommend a bad client; and clients won't want to let down the freelancer who made the recommendation.
4. Meet in person where possible
Your work may be digital, but when contacting new clients, try to arrange a face-to-face meeting. This enables you to sell yourself and your services most effectively. Mail and email shots are almost useless unless you know exactly who to contact.
5. Research the client in detail
Find out the style the client likes to see work done in by researching their past projects. These can also help you to assess the level of quality they seek. A brief exchange of phone calls or emails will help you get a feel for the clients as people.
6. Always confirm the deadline!
Find out the deadline before you accept the work, particularly if you work in print or broadcast advertising. Advertising agencies are notorious for spending months planning a campaign, then leaving the illustration itself until the final week.
7. Calculate a minimum hourly rate
A blunt but effective formula for working out your hourly rate is to take what you think you should be getting as a yearly salary and dividing by a thousand. Tools like AllNetic Working Time Tracker (www.allnetic.com) help keep track of little jobs.
8. Refine the fee through discussion
Once you have calculated your minimum rate, assess whether a higher fee is reasonable. Talk to friends and trusted colleagues about salaries. Should a client ask you to reduce your rate, look for ways to offer services that cost you less time instead.
9. Always use a contract
Freelancers are in a relatively strong position when it comes to copyright: without a contract, the default position is that they own the work they produce, not the client. However, standard terms and conditions ensure there is no uncertainty about the job.
10. Use the contract to ensure prompt payment
Whether you use your own contract or the client's, use the wording to your advantage by linking transfer of work or intellectual property ownership to payments. Such clauses provide a simple, effective incentive for the client to pay promptly.
Mark Ramshaw started out as a videogame programmer in the early '80s before turning his hand to journalism. Since then he has edited magazines including Amiga Power and Sega Power, worked as a videogame producer, and contributed to magazines including NME, Vox, Computer Arts, PC Format, PC Gamer, Imagine FX, and Advanced Photoshop. As contributing editor for 3D World he has written for the magazine since the very first issue and edited a number of supplements focusing on 3D in education and architecture. He is also editor of Britain's newest movie magazine, Filmstar.