How to Become a Freelance Artist: Our Comprehensive Guide

How to Become a Freelance Artist: Our Comprehensive Guide

Welcome back! Today’s post is part personal story and part business guide. Becoming a freelance artist is a dream for so many creatives that crave to be their own boss. It’s having the freedom and the time to explore creative interests while making decisions for your own business without someone telling you how or when to create. Amen, right? 

While the path to a successful freelance art career is filled with challenges, it is also for those same reasons incredibly rewarding. And our artist community will probably all agree, it’s well worth the hard work. So we’re celebrating the journey and exploring the best ways to transition into a freelance artist career, covering everything from our mistakes to business plans to finding potential clients. 

1. Building Your Skills and Portfolio

Before diving into the freelance world, it’s crucial to hone your artistic skills. Perhaps you know what this is or you’re still exploring between mediums and products. That’s ok! Whether you’re a fine artist, graphic designer, or someone passionate about digital art, what’s important is knowing your market, and market gap and then developing a unique style and mastering your craft within that market comes next. And it’s not ‘wrong’ to find the market gap first and then build your skills and portfolio around that gap. It can actually be quite efficient. 

Ok, first question everyone asks – Do I need to possess formal education in the arts? 

 If attending college for the arts isn’t an option, or your uni days are behind you, online courses are an excellent way to learn specific skills and techniques at your own pace. That’s how I did it. I was so immersed in architecture in university that I barely had time or energy to take any visual arts courses, so I took them on my own time at local galleries or studios. That’s how I learned I had a love for the arts. 

Creating an Online Portfolio

An online portfolio is a must-have for any freelance artist. It will land you jobs or partnerships with other artists, wholesalers, retailers and many other collaborations that will help expand your reach. This digital showcase allows potential clients and partners to view your best work and understand your unique style and how they can help you sell. Make this branded, on point with your personality and style and extremely easy to read and understand if you’re including pricing or collaboration details. 

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2. Crafting a Business Plan

Don’t drop off here! 

A well-thought-out business plan is crucial for a successful freelance business. It should outline your business strategy, target market, financial aspects, and goals. It serves as a roadmap for entrepreneurs and any stakeholders or investors you might have, providing a detailed overview of how the business will be structured and managed to achieve its objectives.

Depending on your specific business, you may or may not have all the following but you should have the majority. Think of this as more for YOU, rather than a presentation for someone else. It’s being honest with yourself. 

Here’s what to include: 

  1. Executive Summary: A concise overview of the business idea, its objectives, and the key highlights of the plan. This section is usually written last after you’ve defined everything else, but appears first in your plan. 
  2. Business Description: Detailed information about the nature of the business, its industry, the kind of products or services offered, target market, and competitive advantage. Here’s where you need to do a bit of research. Start by really diving deep into the industry you’re carving into.
  3. Market Analysis: Research and analysis of the target customers and market, including its size, growth trends, demographics, buying behaviour, and competitors. Get REALLY specific, making sure you’re targeting the customer you want and need.
  4. Organization and Management: Maybe you’re not quite there yet, that’s ok. But in general terms this would be a description of the business’s organizational structure, ownership, management team, and key personnel if you have them. You can also use this section to outline the roles and responsibilities of each team member and their qualifications if you choose to share them with the public. 
  5. Products or Services: Detailed descriptions of the products or services offered by your business, including features, benefits, pricing, and any unique selling propositions you might have. 
  6. Marketing and Sales Strategy: A marketing plan, of sorts. This includes strategies for reaching and attracting customers, including marketing channels, promotional activities, advertising strategies, sales tactics, and customer acquisition methods. All the good stuff! 
  7. Financial Projections: This might be tricky but do your best to come up with a conservative, reasonable and optimistic forecast for what your business will make in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years… Outline your costs versus what you need to make to breakeven and then, make a profit. What are your profit margins for each product? Is it realistic to sell X units in order to breakeven? How long will that take? And when will you start to see a profit? You can also include how many hours various products and services take, so that you can determine what your cost per hour or cost per unit is. These projections don’t need to be overly complex, but you should have a general idea of how much you need to work and sell in order to break-even and make a profit. And the good news is, when you outline these things from the onset, you’re much more likely to succeed!

    For example, if you need to sell 1000 prints every month in your first year in order to cover your businesses expenses then something isn’t quite right in your business plan. 

3. Building a Client Base

Finding and retaining clients is one of the most challenging aspects of a freelance art career. This is where most of us find ourselves losing interest, passion and confidence. But more often than not, it’s more difficult than it needs to be because you haven’t identified your target customer correctly and you’re fishing with the wrong bait. 

Understanding your own brand means you understand your target customer. 

This means having a clear connection between your brand and the client it will attract. Or better, knowing your customer and then presenting your brand to align with them. You might have a few things in common; such as core values, hobbies, shopping habits, demographic similarities… or not. What you don’t want to do is force or hope that a wider audience will align with your brand without having the knowledge. It should all be very intentional. 

What happens if it’s not? 

You’re posting, emailing and sharing artwork to an audience that doesn’t understand your work or your brand and it’s unlikely they ever will. 

Start by defining who you want to sell your work to, study them and their habits, likes, dislikes… and then build a brand that relates to them. Leverage your online community and ask them for answers. 

But, how do you do this? Research, listen, ask questions… Find out what people like, what they don’t like and what others need. Your business should respond to a need or problem, what is that problem and who needs help with it? 

4. Time Management and Productivity

Treat it like a real job, because it is. 

Balancing creativity with the business side of things requires excellent time management skills. Whatever time you have to dedicate to your business now, make that time an official part of your work day. Don’t allow for distractions and respect the opportunity you’re creating for yourself by taking it seriously. And I know…I know it’s hard in a house full of kids and you’re working on the dining table, but try as much as possible to explain to your family that you need to create however many hours you can afford to undivided work time, despite where you’re sitting in the house. That respect for yourself will transfer to your business. 

Creating a Schedule

?Set a specific time for your freelance work and stick to it. Whether you’re transitioning from a day job or diving into full-time freelance work, maintaining a schedule helps ensure productivity.

Prioritizing Tasks

Focus on high-priority tasks that move your business forward. This includes completing client work, marketing your services, and managing administrative duties like legal documents and financial records. Ask yourself, is what I’m doing now the best use of my time?  

This will help you concentrate on tasks that move you forward. 

5. Marketing Your Services

Effective marketing is key to growing your freelance art career. Actually, I’d even say without it it’s probably not going to go anywhere. You can have the most beautiful website in the world, but if it’s not marketed properly no one will ever see it. Here are a few marketing strategies to really hone in on:

Building an Online Presence

?Your website and social media channels should reflect your brand and showcase your portfolio. Regularly update them with new projects and client testimonials.

Engaging with the Community

Join online forums and groups related to your field. Engaging with the community can lead to collaborations and new opportunities. Being an active member of the art community can open doors to new opportunities. Join local art groups, participate in exhibitions, and connect with fellow artists. These interactions can provide valuable insights, inspiration, and potential collaborations.

Offering Freebies, Collaborations and Promotions

Occasionally offering free services or promotions can attract new clients and showcase your skills. Partnering with local businesses like coffee shops, galleries, and interior designers can provide additional exposure for your art. Displaying your art in high-traffic locations can attract new customers and generate sales, online or in person! 

6. The Importance of Continuous Learning – Never Stop Learning!

Invest in yourself and your skills. 

The art world is ever-evolving, and staying updated with the latest trends and techniques is crucial. Continually improving your skills and expanding your artistic talents is crucial for sustained success. Whenever you can, attend workshops, take classes, and stay updated with trends in the art world to keep your work fresh and appealing. 

Attending Workshops and Conferences

Workshops and conferences provide opportunities to learn new skills and network with industry professionals. You’ll learn more than you can imagine – and connect with likeminded people that are struggling with the exact same issues. 

Taking Online Courses

Continuing education through online courses helps you stay ahead of the curve and expand your skill set. There are plenty online resources – masterclass, aire, coursera, skillshare are great places to start. 

7. Legal and Financial Aspects

And a bit of the dry stuff. Running a freelance business involves understanding the legal and financial aspects – the earlier the better so you’re setting yourself up for easier processes later on. 

Registering Your Business

?Depending on your location, you may need to register your business and obtain the necessary permits and licenses.

Managing Finances

?Keep track of your income and expenses, and consider hiring an accountant to help with taxes and financial planning.

8. Maintaining Work-Life Balance

This has to be said. 

?Starting your own business is going to take more work than you think. In order to make it work, you’ll have to give it 150% non-stop until it’s stable. It’ll be the thing you think about when you wake up and the thing you’ll fall asleep worrying about for a while. And then, if you’re like me you’ll dream about it. 

And if you’re not careful that will lead to some level of burnout, which you don’t want. 

So my very honest suggestion is to establish boundaries early on – time limits, physical barriers and clear compartmentalization of work – life, otherwise everything will blur into one giant ball of stress and you’ll struggle. Some find it useful to turn off their phone, close the door to their office or set timers and stick to them. 

And for the part you’ve been waiting for, the mistakes! 

There’s no shortage of them, that you can bet on. And while some see them as mistakes they’re actually progress and growth. 

They get you to the best possible outcome.

Here are our “mistakes”, if you will. Comment below if you can relate and what you learned from it!

1. We started our email newsletter too late. 

?Honestly, this is my NUMBER ONE regret. I wish that on the same day that I started my business, I gave people a way to subscribe and join my newsletter. 


?My newsletter is the heart of my business. It’s the group of people and friends who choose, with each email to receive content from me and who take the time to read, follow and purchase my artwork. I’m incredibly loyal to them because they’re loyal to me. They give me purpose, feedback and encouragement making each minute I spend working more than worth it. 

And what about those who drop off? 

As much as I would love to see zero unsubscribes after every email, that fluctuation is a good thing. It’s not for everyone, forever. Some join for a certain reason that gets solved, or they discover they’re interested in something else. I’d prefer for them to unsubscribe than receive emails they’re not interested in receiving. If you do your part and create good and valuable content, it’s not a reflection of the quality of your work. It’s simply you honing in on your target audience. 

2. We didn’t track our finances from the get-go. 

There are a few reasons why I wish we did. 

First, to help me better see where I was spending and where I was making money. If I knew this from the beginning, I probably would have invested in things a bit differently. 

Second, to give my business the ‘real-business treatment’. If you’re not aware of how much you’re spending and making, it’s not really a business. And you’re doing yourself a disservice but skipping this part. You’ll also really regret it at tax season when your finances are no where to be found and you’re digging to remember and track everything all at once. 

3. It was too personal for too long. 

What do I mean by this? There are moments in your business when you make decisions that are somewhat emotional; maybe starting it was an emotional decision. But then, for the most part, the decisions you make that follow should be rational and practical ones. Risks, we all take them. Gut intuition can lead to great things. But by and large, lead with your head. And if you’re struggling to let something go that you really love because it’s not selling or it’s financially viable, make the decision rationally. In creative business this is even more challenging because what we create is often emotionally triggered but use that sensitivity to create and not to make business decisions. 

Want Help Growing The Business of your Dreams?

If you’re considering help but want to just chat first and ask some more questions, that’s ok! I offer a complimentary 30 min strategy call to help you with anything you’re curious about and different ways to grow your business online. You can book a call here.

Thanks for reading!

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