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Freelance Firsthand

August 9, 2016


A month ago we hosted our second annual Freelance Fresh – an event geared to inform and inspire local freelancers and helping to facilitate connections between our freelance community and local agencies and companies who may be in need of their services.

We sat down with one of the organizers, our Freelance Chair Lissa Mathis, to talk about her experience in the freelance world.

Of course, as in any work situation, there are a few pros and cons to freelancing. Mathis doesn’t shy away from talking about either side of the fence. She notes that while she does miss the social aspect of working in an office surrounded by other creatives and the daily face-to-face interaction with coworkers, the freelance lifestyle can be quiet – sometimes the best environment for concentrating and getting work done efficiently.

That’s not to say that she doesn’t get out and interface with others. Whether it’s going into an agency, meeting up with a client or other freelancers, she understands the importance of getting away from your desk, especially when you’re a one-woman/man show. She jokes “even my dog needs a break from me sometimes!”

Being a freelance art director isn’t just about your creative process and getting the work done. At an agency there’s someone else who handles proposals, estimates, billing invoices, etc. As a freelancer, you quickly learn that you wear all of the hats. Part of that includes handling the administrative bits. Whether like agency life or different, Mathis admits that you have to budget really well. “Some months are better than others, so you need to plan in advance for any dry periods. You can’t necessarily rely on a check every two weeks.” She notes that’s one of the most important things she’s learned since she started freelancing. “I had to learn to be a better decision maker.”

Trusting your instincts is also key. You don’t always have three other people behind you to give you direction or input so trust your gut. And expect mistakes. Learn from your own experiences and learn from everyone you meet in the community. There’s support out there, you just have to open yourself up to find it.

And speaking of finding it, Mathis found particular support in such common resources as Google and YouTube, but also Linda.com and LinkedIn groups. Your help doesn’t need to be restricted to just the Rochester community with today’s technology. A 15-year-old AfterEffects “geek” on YouTube can show you a new approach/tool you’d never thought to use before. With all of the tools we have at our disposal today, it’s not hard to find answers, or at least great suggestions.

For new freelancers, Mathis’s greatest piece of advice is to just put yourself out there. Identify your strongest talents and align yourself with others who can help, support, and promote that. Ask questions, and always be open to learning new things. She admits that self-promotion can be a challenge because there isn’t always time for it when you are so busy getting the work done you have. But it’s something you’ll need to make time for.

In the end, though, you have to love what you do. For Mathis, the variety and creativity of the work she gets to do keeps her creative juices going. The word “free” in freelance says a lot. For the most part, she is able to make her own schedule and choose the work she wants to do. That freedom and flexibility allows her to appreciate the work she does all the more.

Lissa Mathis has been an art director in the Rochester community for 15 years. She currently sits on the RAF Board as the Freelance Chair.