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Ask Lawrence: What Makes a Great Creative Freelancer?

31 Aug 10:00 By Lawrence Akers

What makes a great creative freelancer

"I'm living the dream!"

I imagine that's what many people think when they think of being a professional creative freelancer. Yes, it is true that you get to determine when you work and where you work. You may even have a say in what kind of work that you get to work on. There are certainly many ticks to make the thought of being a professional freelancer appealing however there are also a lot of challenges and stresses that come with being a professional freelancer.

Many years ago, I worked with a wonderful Production Manager named Pauline. I recall one conversation with her where she told me about how she viewed freelancing as being her job and not something that she did between jobs. I found her attitude towards her work refreshing and empowering; she knew what she had to offer and she was her own product. As a result, she had many clients who would wait to get her in to help them.

I also recall a wonderful designer named Kelsey. Back in my music industry days, Kelsey and I worked together at a record label. When I moved into creative recruitment, Kelsey decided to give it a try and shared with me that, after 12 months of working as a freelancer, she had learned more about her craft than she had the previous four years working full time. The reason for that is simple; as a freelancer, you need to fine tune your skills with going into a studio with people you don't know and building rapport, asking all the right questions to gain insight into a brief that could be at any stage of progress, and then to consider their system set up and the way in which they may do any one of a number of techniques and approaches that could be done differently elsewhere.

There are obviously many contributing factors to what makes a great creative freelancer and these will be subjective opinion however, for what it is worth, these are the key requirements of a great creative freelancer.



Obviously, you need to be able to do your job well and to be fast, yet accurate. This is where it becomes a contradiction in some ways because you want a good cross section of skills but the ideal also has a niche area of specialisation as well. A great freelancer keeps across the trends out there to ensure that they know what the emerging technologies are and how it will impact on the kind of work that they get. Possibly one of the key requests I've had over the years have often been for 'Finished artists with an eye for design', which should probably be more accurately called a 'Graphic designer who can take their work through to finish.'


There is a skill to being able to have that balance between communicating to your client on a regular basis while not being in their face all the time.  For recruiters it’s great to be able to know when you’re going to be available for work and when you’re not. It’s also great to ensure that you’re going to be easy to contact (no 10 second voicemail to text services) and that you get back to your calls within a reasonable time frame.


If you say you’re going to do the job, that you go through with it. There have been instances of people accepting jobs and then pulling out for a ‘better offer’ and that just leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.  


The best creatives are the ones who realise that there is always something new to learn and who take the initiative to develop new skills. I’m not just talking technically, because they are important, but creatively as well.  I know someone who recently just finished the ACMI Bootcamp to develop their skills further and not only did it sound fascinating, it helped to build their credibility as a designer who took their craft seriously.


On the flip side of that, knowing where your limitations are and not just accepting work because you ‘think’ you can do it. The only up side from people who do that is that they generally only make that mistake once and have such a horrible experience from it that they never make that mistake again.


When I say this, I’m not just talking about being professional, service focused and proactive, but also being able to handle and manage your stress because you are walking into environments that might be under the pump, dealing with people who are stressed and who may expect you to be a mindreader, and you’re going to need to know how to remain calm, ask all the right questions and reassure them that you can get the work done. The other thing is to be accountable and responsible for your career and your current situation; people who blame other people for their lack of success are clearly stuck in a 'victim mentality' and need to be responsible for what actions they need to take to create better opportunities for themselves.


The reason you should approach your freelance work like it is a business is because... it is a business! Being able to budget your own finances so that you can ride through the slow periods without freaking out and being able to save during the peak periods so that you can take time off when the holiday period hits. Being able to approach how you present yourself as you would expect any other service is going to help ensure you have multiple revenue streams with income.

​People have often asked me if they should become a freelancer and that isn’t a question that I can ever answer. Everyone is different and has their different strengths and resources so there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. It has to be your decision to make due to the risk vs reward aspect of it however for those who do dive into the freelance pool and who find how successful they can be at it, they discover a different and empowering way of working because your success is dependent on you.


If you want to see what freelance opportunities we currently have at Creative Recruiters, check out our website.