Thursday, September 1, 2011

5 Ways to Find Work as a Freelance Artist

Let's face it, being an artist in today's economy is hard. No matter what your forte, it seems the traditional method of finishing school and going to work in this business is harder than it used to be. Some of this can be attributed to the internet and its ever-increasing ability to deliver information at lightning speed — the easier it is for potential clients to find what they want (or what they think they want) on the web, the easier it is for said employers to miss your presence altogether. As if that didn't make matters bad enough in the previous decade, now nearly everyone is holding the W3 in the palm of their hand. So there is a lot of face-to-face missing from today's job acquisition process in the place of social networking and search engine reliance.

Of course, there is also the issue of saturation. The world's population has grown by about one billion people since the year 2000 and is expected to exceed nine billion by 2050. That's a lot of people looking for jobs.

The question then, is how to make these seemingly disruptive aspects of the digital age work for you rather than against you. I am reminded of the scene from Cast Away where Tom Hanks' character (who is stranded on an island with no discernible hope of being rescued), suddenly sees his salvation in the form of a plastic sail. I believe the dynamic of that scene is analogous to surviving in the creative workforce of today. Here are five ways to escape from the isle of unemployment as a freelance artist:

When it comes to websites that facilitate the networking of professionals, Twitter is hard to beat. Finding work through Twitter is sometimes as easy as logging in and using the "#freelance" search string. Similar queries such as "#artjobs" or even "#jobs" will sometimes yield opportunities that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. It is important to remember, however, that Twitter is not all about YOU. Setting up a profile, customizing its appearance, linking to a website/blog/portfolio, establishing connections, communicating in a selfless way — these are all basic steps toward discovering work on Twitter. Keep the self promotion and tweeting to a minimum. Focus instead on reaching out and learning about your peers.

Thumbtack is a newer site, and while it may not appear to offer anything particularly unique at first glance, it does boast some interesting features that can help you land a job. At its core, Thumbtack is a site that helps customers find professionals in their area. On the other side of the fence, of course, are hoards of hungry freelancers waiting to sink their teeth into a project. This is where Thumbtack really shines. Upon signing up and creating a profile, it's only a matter of time before leads start showing up in your email inbox. All correspondence regarding a job takes place under the Thumbtack umbrella with only a small percentage of the proceeds going back to the site.

Ah, Craigslist. While there is no shortage of negative connotations associated with this famous website, it is also a consistently great place to find work. The "Jobs" and "Gigs" sections are good places to start. After wading through the spam and exhibiting a little patience, you may find that your artistic skill set is in demand! One plus side to a crippled economy is that marketing divisions within companies tend to become more aggressive and spend more on their messaging. Keep an eye out for this outsourcing. Use common sense to avoid the typical pitfalls of Craigslist and steer clear of clients who refuse to sign contracts.

Never underestimate the value of an internet forum. It may seem like a strange place to gain respectable employment, but some of my first projects as a struggling artist came from stalking message boards in the middle of the night. Start by searching for a forum relating to a topic you have interest in. It doesn't have to be work related. Just concentrate on finding a quality site with high readership. Become active in the community. Offer advice. Listen. Be helpful. Before long the clue you're looking for will surface. Providing you are lucky, this clue will be as obvious as a thread entitled: "HELP WANTED". In all likelihood, however, the gig will come from casual conversation when you least expect it.

Finally, there is the tried and true method of getting one's foot in the proverbial door: Facebook. Your friends use it. Your mom uses it. You should use it too. Make a page dedicated to your creative services, whatever they may be, and tell everyone about it. Suggest that your friends "like" the page and share its content. Befriend organizations and like-minded peers who support your goals. Link to articles and resources relating to your field. Become a formidable force in your realm of expertise. Try to avoid haters and stick to what you believe in. Offer discounts. Offer consultation and advice. You're in charge.

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In the end, networking is key. Finding work as a freelance artist is never a guaranteed thing, even in the context of long-term business relationships. It is sometimes as easy as taking a good look at the available tools and putting them to work in a way that may not have been previously imagined, and other times it is downright frustrating. Having the tenacity to live through mistakes and learn from them is what separates chumps from champions. Stay focused on the end goal, and you'll be a rock star.