9 things you can do to jumpstart your freelance art side-hustle.
No lie, these things were the hardest to learn when I started freelance art-ing on the side. And just between you and me art-ing is so NOT a word and yet here it is.
It’s easy to start something but maintaining and staying motivated to see it through is like a whole other thing. How do we take my unconventional love of saving the world through art and turn it into a mini business that I can (1) earn income from (2) not sell my soul (3) be taken seriously.
Well, my budding artist friend we’re going to go over 9 things that you can do to jumpstart your art side-hustle and keep it going.
So what do I need to do to get this “idea” going?
I’ve had this idea for literally the longest but it’s like information overload with the internet. There are so many resources and think-pieces on what to do and what not to do as an aspiring freelance artist. I spent more time googling endlessly than actually taking action.
If I could go back in time and tell my 16 yr old self what to focus on it would be these 9 things:
1) DO WHAT YOU ACTUALLY LOVE TO DO
I want to make art for people and get paid to do it. Super easy to say that until you realize that people see other uses for your artistic awesomeness:
“Wait, I draw portraits in a couple of mediums but people seem to like when I draw anime more.”
“I usually draw watercolor landscapes but this woman wants to pay me to draw her family in gouache”
So what do you do? You enjoy drawing X but so-and-so wants to pay for Y. Ask yourself what are you happiest creating and then actively target those types of people who would buy it.
I took on those projects because I actually love drawing faces and making gifts which is a win-win. I’ll tell you what isn’t a win for anyone though: taking on art projects where you half-heartedly agree because you know you can do it.
Just because I know I can draw portraits of animals doesn’t mean that I actually enjoy doing them. Fact: I enjoy drawing tigers & dogs personally. Drawing to appease your audience can lead to some serious burnout projects and you don’t want to go down that path my friend.
Let’s Try it: You can use this worksheet I made for you to jot down what you enjoy doing the most and we’ll use this for our next thing…
2) ATTRACT THE PEOPLE THAT LIKE WHAT LOVE DOING
Warning: Mindset shift - There will be people who love & hate what you’re doing, so why not just focus on the ones that DO love what you’re doing?
If you like drawing anime original characters or detailed floral watercolor paintings then do that. Then make a plan to attract the people who like those services. But how do you do this, you’re probably asking me.
By making an ideal person for your custom artwork. The more detailed you get the better so that you’ll be more intentional in the way that you attract this ideal person in real life.
If anyone has ever designed an original character before, it’s a lot like that. And if you’re more of a UX or graphic designer-y person then it’s a lot like making persona. Small world!
Here are some guided questions to help you get a basic understanding of who you are trying to attract:
What are her hobbies?
What are her interests?
What issues would affect her in the world?
What does she like to get art for?
Where does she like to hang out in her city?
Where problems does she run into getting art from other artists?
Which social media does she use the most?
Let’s try it! Copy and paste these questions in your favorite typing area and save them for later. By the way, it would be neat to draw out your ideal client as a visual so you know who you’re focusing on and filter out the rest. Just saying.
3) MAKE A PORTFOLIO WITH A FEW OF YOUR B-E-S-T WORK
Whoa, a portfolio? Yes.
I’m telling you to get a portfolio and with the helpfulness of the internet it’s not difficult to do either. With Wordpress and Squarespace folks are out here with whole online boutiques now without being held back from lack of coding skills.
Your portfolio is your proof that you can actually do the thing that you said you can do. It tells people what your abilities are and it also tells them what you don’t do. Which is why it’s so important that if you’re going to show your work at all, show your best work. And to add to that, make sure it’s something you enjoy doing.
If you don’t actually enjoy drawing digital oc’s for people then don’t include that in your portfolio because guess what, that’s what someone is going to end up commissioning you for.
A’ight so I know what and why a portfolio would help me but HOW do I make one and WHERE do I make one? Is what I think you’re asking me in your head. Luckily I have a whole post that goes in-depth into some of the portfolios I’ve used in the past for you.
And here is a mini list of places that you can start building on:
Instagram - example
Pinterest - example
DeviantArt Core Membership - example
Wordpress.com - example
Squarespace - example
4) TELL YOUR FAMILY, YOUR FRIENDS AND YOUR CIRCLE ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING.
They’ve been there since the beginning and they already have a connection with you. By telling them what you do and showing them you're serious ( the services & portfolio being your main proof) you’ll be setting yourself up for referrals.
When you’re first starting out referrals are awesome and can really help you get your feet wet. Once you start picking up momentum you’ll need to explore other forms of advertising. But for now, this will do just fine!
So now you told your auntie, your cousin, your dad and they know a friend that might want to use your services. You text them your website and email but oh, they accidentally deleted it. Or you send a message on Facebook with your contact info but oh, they forget to forward it to your friend.
It’s not that they aren’t helping you, maybe you just need to make it easier for them to share your information. Here are a few ways to make your contact info super shareable.
Sending an email to your friends & family with a link to your portfolio, best way to contact you, what you are offering and why.
Making a facebook post with a link to your website, your story and what you are offering and asking people to share it with anyone that might be interested.
Making business cards with the best information to contact you and keeping a few on hand for those chance encounters
5) GO OUT TO EVENTS, SCENES AND ONLINE COMMUNITIES - WHERE DOES YOUR AUDIENCE STAYS AT?
After a while it gets hard to keep bugging your uncle to see if he needs more wall art for his man cave. Get out there and explore.
Is there a section of your city that’s known for being an art hang out? Is there an live-painting event coming up at a bar or an art festival?
Meeting people in these one-on-one encounters can be so helpful when you’re starting out doing freelance art. Just introduce yourself as a freelance artist, your day job isn’t important to note. Keep connected with the new people you meet on social media.
The same goes for online communities! Find a Facebook group, a Twitter chat, or a Instagram community or a forum. Stay connected, ask questions or help answer someone else. The thing about spending money is that we don’t spend money on things we don’t know or trust. Build up your trust with your audience and the abundance of funds will soon come.
6) SPEAKING OF FUNDS, YOU SHOULD PROBABLY FIGURE OUT YOUR PRICES
Some say it’s the root of all evil but now I’m changing my mindset to think of it as more of a tool to help me get to the next goal.
In spirit of that, let’s figure out how we should price our services. Back in the day, which was not so long ago, I was charging minimum wage per hour which in my state is $7.25. Why?
It was the only price I knew as a high schooler. And I wanted to be “affordable” but the problem with that I was calculating affordability basis on my own income and not the income of who I was trying to attract.
By under pricing my work I was actually devaluing my ability and it led to all sorts of artwork-drama like, not being taken seriously or people refusing to pay for artwork after the work was done.
After I built up my portfolio of the kind of work I was proud of I started charging a higher fee. This time the costs included things like costs of supplies, time spent on the project, my years of experience and attracting people with the income to spend on custom artwork.
When you start creating prices for yourself, you can get a quick look at what other people are charging for something similar for reference but ultimately go with your instincts. Even today I still try to gauge my prices at affordability but I also keep in mind the work that was put into it.
7) ADD VALUE TO YOUR CRAFT
It’s frustrating sometimes when you could across that one person on Instagram that is DMing you, talking about your prices are too high or you should do it for free. Like, why are people not taking the work I put into my art seriously?
They could just be someone that wants free are but sometimes they just don’t know how much work you actually DO put into the art. How do we fix that?
Start showing behind-the-scenes of your artwork. Show the time and the effort you put into each piece. This helps explain to the audience why your portraits cost $125 + shipping each.
It adds value to the experience that they will be paying you for, and trust, and excitement once they decided you are the one they want to work with.
8) USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
It’s like a blessing and a curse sometimes.
The key is how you use social media to your advantage!
When I first started getting serious about this whole freelance art-ing thing, I hopped on so many social media accounts and tried to be super engaging on ALL OF THEM.
It. Was. A. Mess.
Instead of being this super engaging artist, I ended up becoming like a robot.
“Oh, nice picture”
“Hey check out my stuff”
“Oh wow, awesome”
All of these meaningless comments and follow backs got me a little attention. I was suppose to be building an engaging audience.
With some help from amazing bloggers of the interwebs I learned how to focus my energies on just 1-2 social media accounts. To do this I went through all of my accounts and wrote down which ones do I communicate the most on, which ones do I have actual conversations on, which ones has a strong following. I got narrowed down to Twitter and Instagram.
Ever since then, many of my email subscribers, recent clients and even some of you reading probably found me through one of those connections.
You don’t have to be everywhere all the time, take time to focus on where your energy naturally works and keep building at it.
9) AND EVERY ONCE IN AWHILE OFFER SOMETHING FOR FREE
Now, when I say free, I don’t mean start telling people that they can get free commissions off of you for exposure. Nuh.
What I’m saying is intentionally make a free item to use as a sample or as a thank you. This could be anything from a free postcard to free information about a topic that you’re an expert in (like being an artist).
I tend to do things like this when I’m (a) experimenting with a new style and want to see what people think of it (b) have merchandise that didn’t pass inspection or have a some kind of defect or ( c ) just to say thank you for being here because I love you guys.
Remember it’s your choice to offer these freebie items not the audience. It helps get your artwork to travel like word-of-mouth so don’t be surprised when you get a message from someone saying
“I saw the free postcard you gave to my cousin and I have a wedding coming up, how much do you charge for a wedding portrait”
Okay so mybe it’s not that specific, but hey maybe it is. You never know. These are my words o’ wisdom to my past 16 year old self about starting freelance art-ing.
Q: What advice would you give to your 16 yr old self about freelance art-ing and what would you have done differently?
Let me know in the comments below
Trenita Finney is a Pittsburgh-based creative entrepreneur, artist and the Founder of Trenita Made it! She is most recognized for her vibrant watercolor works of women of color and photo-realistic portraits of inspirational musicians. As the creator of Trenita Made it! she promotes wellness + career development for artists + women of color through her youtube, podcast, Instagram, Pinterest and lifestyle illustrations + products.
Trenita has launched The Syllestial Collection VOL.1, an illustration book showcasing a collection of three years worth of illustrations during college. Trenita and her artwork have been featured in Raw Artist Pittsburgh, Redfish Bowl Art Festival, The Pittsburgh Comicon, Steel City Comicon and Layer Cake Festival. Follow on Instagram for the latest art creations.