The idea of diving into freelancing as a college student can be haunting, but the reality is that the marketplace has room for college students, too! As a freelancer and a student at Columbus College of Art & Design, I've compiled a list of helpful tips & tricks for other college students in the design world to get hired.
#1: Work for Yourself First
How can you expect potential clients to hire you if they don't see the work they're looking for in your portfolio? This tip might be the most important advice I can give for getting started. The most effective way to get paid to do the work you want to do is to already be doing it and having it present in your portfolio. Sounds simple, right? The truth of this first tip, however, is that it tends to be the most time-consuming. Building your portfolio is like planting seeds: you have to plant, water, and study your seeds if you really want any substantial growth. If you're not planting those art seeds, START! The hardest thing about freelancing is often just having the courage to get started.
#2: Know Yourself
In addition to being the title of a Drake song, tip #2 is all about self-reflection. If you're a college student like me, you may not have exactly figured out who you are as an artist yet ― use it to your advantage! Use this beginning stage of your long art journey to plant seeds. Will Ferrell, in a commencement speech at the University of Southern California, attributes much of his career success to repeatedly “throwing darts at the dartboard.” Never designed a logo? Throw a dart and design a logo. Put it in your portfolio and see if any clients seeking logos throw you a bone. I never thought I'd be a children's book illustrator, but a few years ago an author seeking an affordable illustrator saw my portfolio and gave me a chance based on some children's illustration samples I had recently done. That client hired me to illustrate my first children's book ― the first of ten published children's books I've had the honor to illustrate. If you don't at least try to plant the seed, you'll never know what it could have grown into! Now go plant those seeds and make that “Hotline Bling”.
#3: Use Your Youth
You're a college student. Congratulations! You have an advantage over every professional designer out there. Your freshness is important in this evolving industry of design where employers are always seeking the “next big thing.” Design agencies, corporations, and small businesses have likely been using the same artists for years. They've been consistent in the marketplace. Maybe even static. Then you come along and say, “HEY! I'm fresh into the industry and am still learning in school while working with other awesome designers.” How can a college student connect with the industry? you may ask. Use social media to your advantage. Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr are all filled with art-loving consumers hungry for new, great content. Consistently post, engage with your audience and with other artists, and be yourself. Now you being fresh meat has all the sharks smelling your innovative art blood.
#4: Ring the Doorbell
Now you've got the knowledge and the work to get hired. What happens now? Avoid the temptation to bang loudly on the door of potential employers. Instead, kindly ring the doorbell. Introduce yourself to an art director or another designer, send a postcard to your favorite design agency, or send an email appreciating your favorite independent animator. This idea, also called “networking,” often gets confused with harassing professionals in your field for jobs or advice. Try ringing the doorbell. If an employer or designer looks out their window and sees your portfolio, they may just open the door.
#5: Be Ready, Don't Wait
Your time isn't coming. You've planted your seeds, explored your own tastes, and rung the doorbell. Your time is already here. When you aren't designing awesome products for companies or illustrating children's books, create something. Always be creating. Always be planting seeds. The competitive marketplace we live in today, with thousands of amazing artists all over the world, should inspire you to always be innovating and creating new things. The next generation of college students is coming to take your jobs. Be ready.
You've done it. You've got all the tools to be a successful freelance artist and an awesome college student. Celebrate by throwing some darts at the dartboard.
Like the article? Have suggestions, comments, or questions? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email.
Andrew Thomas is a freelance illustrator, animator, and designer in Columbus, Ohio. In addition, he is an animation student at Columbus College of Art and Design.