The great opportunities freelancers should ignore<br>

Lee Ray is Nottingham-based freelance designer, specialising is 3-D design, conceptual , prop and product design. His video game credits include Blast Corps,  Donkey Kong 3  and The Simpsons. More recently, he worked in television as the concept designer on CBBC’s Hounded.

Q: Tell us a bit about what you do, when you started out and what drives you.

I am a freelance designer, mainly conceptual and prop. I worked in video games for 15 years before I had an opportunity to work on a cartoon show called Hounded for CBBC. I enjoy my work more now than when I first started. Turning a script description into something real is one of the most satisfying elements of what I do.

Q: How do you find clients? Do you market yourself to any particular types of client, if so why and how?

I have only been in this particular sector for a little under two years now but, as always for micro businesses, good word-of-mouth has proved the best foundation to build on. I have also advertised on several paid and unpaid forums and directories. But because I am not that well-known, they are not proving to be as successful for me as they would like to believe they are!

That said, LinkedIn has provided me with the most promising contracts so far and I intend to capitalise on these leads by getting my clients and past employers to recommend me on the network.

Q: What lessons can you pass on, to those starting out, and what about the main concern of freelancers- finding the ‘right’ clients to work with?

Perseverance. You are going to get knock-backs as with every venture but if you are committed to freelancing then, for me, the rewards outweigh the risks, Still, be aware of the following: as a way of working, freelancing is less secure and more volatile, but ultimately a lot more rewarding, both financially and mentally, than working for the same company every day, year in year out. Just imagining that makes me groan!

Also, consider targeted advertising; get involved in forums, ask questions and join interest groups and websites where you can be found if a potential client or recruiter is looking for someone with your skills. If you’re really after the creditable, no-nonsense assignments, try to avoid the ‘Great Opportunity’ offers. These are where the prospective client almost always says ‘We can’t pay you now, but after you have done the work we will settle up with you.’ Translated to me, that’s as good as saying, ‘Fork out for our project now and you could get paid later from the pile of cash we generate out of your effort.’ In my book, AVOID at all costs.

If you’re still tempted by the ‘Great Opportunity’, bear in mind that there are a lot of these “professionals” and “next biggest things” out there. One could argue that if their idea is THAT good then they should have the backing to pay you already.

At the least, they should be able to offer you a stake in the project or a small return related to the project’s eventual success. To make these normally emailed approaches more palatable, suggest this as an alternative to the “work for free” part of their “Great Opportunity.” In my experience, this offer serves to separate the time-wasters from the creditable prospects.

But even with clients who you’re sure aren’t opportunists, they key for freelancers is to invest in some basic due diligence to ensure the company they are about to engage is legitimate, reputable and not on the road to ruin. Of the three major clients under my belt; two didn’t provide me with a contract – although they did still pay. To me, this says it’s critical freelancers do their homework on the end-user before they start working, even when dealing with a big brand.

Registered companies will show up online – officially, at the likes of Companies House, and unofficially, in forums – or perhaps on a blog post. So do some online searching to find out about your prospective end-user. In the main, people’s stories or accounts, although to be taken with a pinch of salt, are worth reading before you invest your time and effort in engaging a new organisation. Of course not all clients are bad, but it doesn’t pay to be naïve when dealing with a client for the first time. After all, they will have done their checking up on you, so why wouldn’t you do the same on them?

Q: Businesses have been through a tough time recently, how has yours fared? Plus, any tips you’d recommend others to try?

I have had a patchy time since the CBBC work, but luckily I am back on a short-term contract with a lot of promise for repeat business when it finishes.

As a freelancer, particularly a relatively new one, you should never stop looking for the next safety net even if you are sure that your current work is sustainable. On the jobs front, it’s still a very turbulent time so this is another reason to have your ‘Plan B’ at the ready. But it’s also a factor that could play to freelancers’ strengths, as employers know a short-term, freelance hire is easier on the bottom line than recruiting a full time member of staff, with all of their added costs and entitlements.

Above all be positive, taking into account that the current climate could be the springboard to the role you want next.

Q: When it comes to deciding to place a brief with an agency or a freelancer, what benefits does the freelancer offer the client?

There is no middle man. I have had dealings with employment agencies and unfortunately they haven’t been exemplary. If I was looking to hire talent I would prefer to talk direct to the person concerned rather than through a third person – I know some clients feel the same.

That said, if you are starting out as a freelancer, contract recruitment agencies and temporary staffing firms do have their obvious uses. If you have at least five years under your belt as a freelancer, think long and hard about remote recruiters or job bidding sites. With half a decade as a freelancer, I’m sure that you could do a better job 'selling' yourself than someone who doesn’t really know you beyond a CV.

Q: What have you been working on recently?

Around the end of November last year, I was approached by a Producer at Endemol Productions through LinkedIn to sit an ‘art test’ for a Prop Designer role on the second series of The 99s, a new cartoon show. I passed and was hired to work on the first four episodes designing vehicles, smart phones, weapons, artefacts - you name it, I had to do it! The work went well and, as of January this year, I was hired for the entire 22-episode run. Now you know why I recommend both perseverance and LinkedIn!

Q. What's in store for your freelance business next and any plans for the rest of 2011?

About a month ago, the same producer contacted me and invited me to join the team for their next production - another unique proposition that I couldn’t turn down! This is in its infancy so, for now, all I can say is that I hope to roll straight onto it once The 99s wraps.

Meanwhile, and some way off in the distance - even in 2012, is the prospect of a second and possibly third series of Hounded, which I would love to be involved with again.

That was a hoot to work on.

Q: In short, what makes for a happy freelancing lifestyle?

Good feedback and being paid on time. Oh, and no emails entitled ‘Great Opportunity.’


2nd March 2011

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