Written by Mat Casner

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5 Lessons Learned from My First Freelance Project

Business Strategy, Getting Started, Graphic Design Business 101, Lifestyle & Impact | 0 comments

A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. 

When I got my first freelance project, there was no way I could have foreseen that I was beginning a career in freelance design. But that first project gave me a glimpse of the path I was about to embark upon and taught me some very valuable lessons that would be invaluable to my future in freelancing.

In this post, I’ll share the details so that when the time comes, you can be ready to grab the opportunity when it presents itself and land your first freelance project.

In high school, I was an art nerd – always doing artistic projects. I loved it! My mom fostered a love of art in me when I was a young child, and it was a love that continued to grow even as I was becoming a high school student. But back then, I didn’t know there were careers in graphic design. All I knew was I liked art. 

As I thought ahead to my career, I was planning to go into broadcasting – maybe radio or TV. And I hadn’t really thought about art too much because honestly, I didn’t know that it would be something I could make money at. 

A Chance Encounter

When I was a junior in high school I attended a conference at a college campus in Ohio with friends. During the course of this conference, one of my adult sponsors was having a conversation with the college’s director of alumni relations about an upcoming alumni publication. They were looking for an illustrator who could provide an illustration for one of the articles. 

My sponsor knew I loved art and that I had some skill in that area and he recommended me for the job. By the end of the week, I had the specs from the administrator and was confident I could produce the type of work they were looking for. I headed home from the conference and within a week or so I had produced the illustration for them. Keep in mind, there were no digital input devices at the time. No iPads, and I didn’t have a computer. It was just me and a sketch pad.

I mailed the sketch to the administrator in Ohio, and a couple of weeks later received a check for $50. that was a pretty decent payment, seeing as how I created the sketch in two hours, especially for a high school kid back in 1990.

What I didn’t know then was that this project was the first in a long freelance journey, one that has lasted 30 years and counting!

Here are some of the lessons I learned from that first freelance project. Read on or watch the video for more!

Be Prepared

The first thing I want to share with you is the need for preparation. You should have determined the skill you want to employ before entering the marketplace. You don’t exactly have to be a master at it, but you at least have to be proficient.

As I mentioned, I was an art nerd. So I was getting lots of practice in my art classes, but that wasn’t all of it. I was also volunteering for different art-related projects. I was always taking opportunities to grow my skill set.

Success really happens when preparation meets opportunity. So once you are prepared and you have some skills in place, when the opportunity comes, then you’ll be ready to take action. So get prepared and stay prepared.

Share/Market Your Skill

I wasn’t marketing myself per se when I landed my first freelance project, but a lot of people knew me and I kind of had developed a reputation as becoming “the art guy”. I was the one always doing the projects – working on the murals for the class competitions and similar things. I kind of developed a little bit of a reputation for being the creative guy.

The made it so that when I was at the conference, my sponsor already knew I was the art person, and when he chatted with the administrator whom I didn’t know, he was still able to pass my name as a referral who then contacted me about an opportunity. So when you’re doing the things that you do, make sure you let people know! 

Start a social page, share your work with friends and family. Let everybody know what you’re doing so that when your friends and family have conversations with someone who needs the skills that you have, there’s an opportunity for you to have a conversation with them. 

Grab the Opportunity

When the opportunity comes, it may seem scary and you may hesitate.  I was scared when that first opportunity arose to create art for money. I didn’t want to let anyone down or have a bad experience. You may feel the same way.

But there was something exciting about having an opportunity and having some confidence that I could get the job done. Of course, I wasn’t 100% confident, since it was my first paid gig, but I still took the chance and figured it all out. 

So when you get an opportunity, don’t be afraid to say yes, and figure it out as you go. As a freelancer, you learn a lot by doing. You do need some essential skills in place that can get you off the starting block, but so much of what you do as a business owner is learning as you go, you’re going to be learning new skills, new techniques, learning how to do things, new, different and better ways of doing things. And so this was an excellent opportunity for me to get some experience, doing some things that I love like drawing and doing it for a customer who needs my skills.

So don’t be afraid to say yes when the opportunity presents itself!

Do Your Best, The Rest Will Follow

When you are practicing and when you are doing your best work, whether as volunteer or for pay, people will notice. If you’re doing an excellent job, your name will get out there. 

Over the past 30 years of being a freelancer, referrals have been my number one way of getting new work. So don’t be afraid to let people know so that they can share your name with other people. And then when you get those new clients, do your very best to serve them to the best of your abilities so that they will sing your praises out loud.

Stick with It

The final thing I want to share with you is to stick with it. My first freelance project was freelance journey started 30 years ago, though at the time I didn’t realize it. It’s been one day at a time, one week at a time, one year at a time, with tons of growth along the way. 

As I tell people and as my IGNITE students can tell you, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. The way you become successful is to be CONSISTENT.

I believe wholeheartedly that I’m able to survive and thrive as a freelancer because I’ve become comfortable with the skill set that I have and with my ability to serve clients. I believe all of us are created with a unique purpose. And when you’re able to find that purpose, longevity comes naturally.

I always challenge people to find out what their skills, talents, experiences, and passions are, and let those become fuel for you as you serve your clients.

Get Help to Go Farther, Faster

For 15 years freelancing was just my side-hustle while I worked my corporate 9 to 5. I spent that time honing my craft and learning. Now I’ve been a full-time freelancer for 15 years. 

Can you go faster? Heck yes! I wasn’t in any hurry and going slowly allowed me to learn and grow as I went. But if you want to get started as a freelancer, or if you’re a freelancer and want to grow your business, I’m here for you.

As a freelance business coach, I work with my freelance business students every week in my private coaching group, IGNITE. I help my students grow their businesses by helping them get past the little daily struggles and trials that come to us as a freelancer. With 30 years working my way through the process, I’m here to help shave off some of the rough corners and edges and help you get down the road faster!

To get you started, I’ve got a free resource to share – the Freelance Business Blueprint. I invite you to check it out where I show you step-by-step how to build and scale a profitable freelance business! Click here to get it now: www.freelanceonfire.com/blueprint.

Looking for help? Check out the IGNITE Freelance Business Membership and see how you can level-up your business.

Ignite freelance business membership
marketing for freelancers podcast

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