So you wanna be a 3d freelancer?
Why not? The notion is appealing enough: work at your own pace, take leaves whenever you want, no more long commutes to the workplace, all on top of being able to do whatever it is that interests you. That is, until you get your first few clients, and awaken to the smell of the bitter brew of long, sleepless days, unreasonable demands, maintenance costs, and heaps of unfulfilling work.
Were you imagining hitting “render” on your awesome character turnaround for Blizzard studios, and heading out of your beachfront home for some surfing to blow off some steam after a long but satisfying day?
Step into my office, son. There’s some things we need to talk about.
1. There’s rarely any freedom in freelancing
You may be able to work in your boxers all day, sure, but if freelancing is your main source of income, chances are your days are divided between doing what projects you can, and searching for whatever jobs out there you can lend your services to, hoping against hope that you’d outbid your 100,000 fellow freelancers with better portfolios this time around, while trying your best to ignore your inner realist telling you that this time won’t be any different than the last. The remainder of the time you will likely be using to perfect your portfolio and maintain your online presence.
2. You’re not going to get that beachfront home
At least, not right away. Freelancing is thankless work, with no promise of a pay raise for being a 24-time employee of the month. Unless you’ve got, or can hone in a remarkable amount of time, the skills hundreds of thousands of people like you all over the world could only dream of, you will definitely not be paying those proverbial “bills”.
3. You’re not going to be sculpting an Orc Warlock for a prominent game studio
You’d be lucky to even get a hold of a scrap from the Dream Job table. While established professionals who happen to do some freelancing on the side rake up the glorious jobs, you’d probably be applying your Digital Tutors knowledge to the creation of photo real office staplers.
4. You’re not going to get much done with the Macbook Air you got for Christmas.
Making a decent living off of freelancing means dealing with multiple, often difficult clients simultaneously. Which means even though you manage to make do with what you have, there’s still the time spent getting your computer to spit out renders while you sit idly by, biting your nails and hoping you get everything done by Saturday midnight.
Is that a solitary teardrop I see streaming down your cheek? Now, now… no need for that just yet. Although these are hard truths to swallow, being a freelancer may not be that bad with a few practical adjustments to your expectations, and some knowledge of the wonderful resources out there that can help you move up the ranks and eventually enjoy that sunset surf after all.
Manage your time, and look for long term relationships with clients
Instead of sowing your seeds in every goddamn patch of soil out there, look for the ones that are likely to bear some crispy $$$$ fruit in the long run. There’s plenty of the mundane kind of work to go around, but if you look hard enough, you’ll find a few clients here and there that will be more likely to keep needing services like yours. Look for clients that represent an establishment or business that may in one way or another rely on 3d graphics on a regular basis, like a product manufacturing firm, a furniture company or a Romanian television network for kids. Do your best to satisfy them, and check in on them from time to time if they’ve got some work that needs doing.
Say you had to do some interior rendering for a client. If time is short, only model what needs modelling, and use CC-0 assets online for the embellishing pieces. Invest in plugins for your software that provide solutions to common tasks, recycle setups you’ve previously made when you can. Got a perfect light rig/plastic shader for a shampoo bottle you did a few months ago? Keep it handy, and save yourself some time on your next product viz.
Manage your expectations
So you’ll be making staplers for a good 5 years or so, no big deal. Don’t let any job be beneath you. Once you get used to the kind of work you’re exposed to, you can reuse pieces of your work when possible, and you’ll be more likely to finish simpler, more mundane tasks faster, buying yourself time to keep sculpting orcs, or doing whatever it is you love about 3d.
Outsource your rendering
Keep your local resources ready for more work at all times. When you need a job rendered, send it to a render farm. Many provide a hefty amount of starting credits that may tide you over for your first few projects. GarageFarm.NET is one of those freelancer friendly farms that not only allows you to get started with no upfront cost, they will also make sure your project renders successfully. Down the line, the investment you make for more render credits will only allow you to take more high paying jobs, and establish lasting rapport with the clients you’ve impressed with your reliability. Take a note of this, you pay to save time, and time is all you got when starting out as a freelancer.
Keep these in mind, and you may be able to live the freelance life the way you thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to be a downer. Let’s just face the reality. You can achieve a lot and get really far being a freelance warrior. But remember, it’s the effort and hard work you put in that will measure your level of success.