Food for Thought from a Professional Freelancer

photo-1493309907469-693921760e42As many of you know, I have been digging deep into the world of freelance. Primarily this is due to where I am right now and the income/skill opportunities that have come up within the past few months. As students in the Media Arts program, you get your first taste (unless you have a past in business) in Business Practices. In the class, you cover different types of work, contracts, and important forms to have when meeting clients. These are great things to get you started. But that is just it, the class is a starter kit for much more. Hence, I am in that “much more” category.

This need for more information and insight is how I met Chris Elliott. She was referred to me by Teresa. Chris is a delightful professional freelancer in multimedia with an impressive background (which is rather important to have) that provided her the foundation to start her own business, called Elliott Image. When Chris started working, she began in the restaurant business. Her responsibilities ranged from traveling to hiring managers. That, I thought, is quite a significant jump from multimedia. On her website, she stated that one word, however, had changed her life (these are my own words-not hers). I became greatly intrigued. When I asked her more about this, she said that after she started a family, she had wanted to return to school, but did not know what to pursue. When she went into U of O, she looked in a catalog and saw “Advertising.” You could now say that the rest is history, but there is so much more to tell. Anyway, what drew her to advertising was that, hopefully like many of us in the graphic design/multimedia programs, she wanted to do something that enabled her to be creative while also using strategical and analytical skills at the same time. Creative problem-solving-that is what we do.

This next question was geared towards whether Chris’s professional knowledge came mostly from her experience working for an ad agency (she was hired on after graduating) or research. Since I don’t have the solid background of prior experience, I have been wondering if I can make it still being a fish only swimming in the shallows, grasping at info-tidbits when I can understand them. Chris replied that most of her knowledge did indeed come straight off the job (again, in my paraphrase). While her restaurant experience gave her the ability to communicate with businesses (a HUGE plus being both a designer and a freelancer), she learned about doing creative work with television and radio and how to build campaigns for those creatives. But she learned the most while working at a tv station. It was here that she found herself doing more than what her education provided her with. And she succeeded to the point of becoming manager. This is where she did audio/video to help promote the tv station, worked with both small and large businesses, and software research (more for her know-how, but her research came in handy).

Hands-down, while you in are studying at Lane, either in the arts or not, you have either been asked, or pondering still, or already know what you want to do after graduating. For some of you, it may to work with an employer, others-freelance. So I asked Chris about when she knew that starting her own business was the right move. She replied that it has been a desire of hers for a long time. For the last 4 years of her 18-year employment with the tv station, the thought of starting out on her own was much heavier. I am used to hearing of freelancers being successful, but not so much when they were in a good position at their employers. Chris was scared and, despite her professional experience, still insecure. However, she has made a very successful business. Taking risks-that is definitely a trait of a freelancer. If you are not a risk taker, then being a freelancer may not be the right career move for you. Yet again, if you want to be moved out of your comfort zone and like making your own schedule, then it might be worth considering. When it came to resources, Chris said that it did not take much, such as equipment. I then asked about the business side since my research has not been super successful. Chris was very helpful in telling me that Commerce (I think) offers free consulting for small businesses or online research. Chris did need to research insurances a bit as there are a few different kinds to consider when taking your business startup to the next level.

If you are wondering what a multimedia freelancer’s day typically looks like, I did ask Chris. One of the perks of course is making your own schedule-that includes the ability to sleep-in or not. Overall though, she does a variety of tasks, especially those related most to multimedia. These tasks range from writing (she writes scripts and creates concepts), doing post-production, and photography. She did say though that 75% of her time goes to the computer.
Due to the variety of jobs she has and their varying complexity/priority, I was curious about her means of balancing it all. Her remedy? Lists. She said that lists help you keep current with projects. Sometimes those lists are categorized by the time frame of the project, sometimes it’s by type of job. As a freelancer, you could choose what you do during the day. Chris also uses a calendar as well to track information such as mileage (you may be needing to travel) and client work. I should say right now that if you are considering freelance, you need to be go-getter. As part of your job (maybe a large part of it) is going to go to self-marketing.

What about pay? This topic is tough and every freelancer I have talked to has a slightly different reply. Chris has a plan, though this part of her work is still challenging. Because she knows her skills, her capabilities, and resources, plus has an excellent work ethic (this is also HUGE), she treats each job with its own price. I have heard this from other designers too. She has a flat rate, but it varies. I currently have an hourly rate, but unlike Chris, I am starting right out of school. So my rate is also a lot cheaper. Even when bidding for projects, she provides a safety net within her budgeted price and never exceeds it. When considering how you’ll charge people for your work, be real about this. And really know yourself so that you charge what is fair for you, but also for the potential client.

I also inquired about industry competitors. This is a decision I am facing, and I am sure you will too. Chris’s approach (so that you maintain professionalism in everything) is to purposefully change gears. The people who work with Chris know that she is highly ethical and will not give out information. She literally changes ‘hats’ between jobs and solely forces herself to focus on that one job. As she said, “there’s always enough room for everyone to play in the sand.”

What about interns? She has worked with them before. However, she is not taking any right now. She loves providing them experience and understands the value of on-the-job-learning aspect of internships. So I asked her about an ideal intern. Her reply? Passionate and excited! Excited about learning and is energetic. That is contagious for lots of creative fun. So I asked her her advice for recent graduates. One of the bigger positives of getting employed after graduating is that you get to know a lot of people. That networking is very important, and could be helpful when freelancing.

Chris was incredibly insightful and really fun to meet. If you want to learn more, visit her website:

Image provided by: Verena Yunita Yapi from

By: Maurissa Kellerphoto-1493309907469-693921760e42