Most today’s successful retouchers have learned how to build and maintain their retouching business the hard way, through trial and error. As time passes, I am working more as a freelancer, and even though the safety net from the day job has crumbled, I still manage to keep on going.
It is tempting to think that your mailbox will overflow with client emails offering piles of cash and thrilling creative projects from day one, because you’re a great retoucher. The truth is, though, that in the first days, weeks, months, and even years, it can be quite a struggle to get commissioned jobs regularly. And not all of them will be as exciting as creative collaborations you might have been working on when you fell in love with retouching.
You need to have the right mindset when you start out as a freelance retoucher. You might be a digital artist with multiple degrees and stellar retouching skill, but if you can’t get yourself noticed and close deals with your potential clients, none of that will do you any good.
The first thing to understand is that you must have the mindset of a determined entrepreneur and come equipped with some essential business skills. Great customer service, brilliant marketing strategies, financial acuity, etc. are just as important as your artistic skills and expertise.
Business is business. To start and maintain a profitable business, you need to create relationships with your potential and current clients to get your first assignments and to continue having more work coming in.
Know what makes you different from thousands of job-hungry retouchers out there? Ask yourself: What is my thing and what are my strongest skills? What sets me apart from other candidates my clients might have? Who would benefit most from my services? Who are my target clients?
You must find answers to these questions before you launch your business and depend on its profits, so you know where to search for your clients and who those clients are.
In the era of the Internet and social media, finding potential clients and creating new contacts is relatively easy. However, it isn’t enough that you ask a photographer or advertising agency’s art director to be your friend on Facebook or LinkedIn; you need to give them a good reason to consider giving you a chance to work with them, and become top-of-mind retoucher for them. Tell them why they would benefit from your services, not how you need work, so you can pay your rent.
It is your executive decision to offer free tests or not, but sometimes it can actually pay big. Your potential client has nothing to lose letting you test for them for free, so they will be more open to giving you the opportunity to show them what you can do. Clarify with them beforehand, whether or not you can use the retouched image in your portfolio afterwards, so that even if a paid job does not come from this client in the future – you at least have a new non-stock image to add to your retouching portfolio.
After you have created a relationship with your clients, remember that all relationships require nurturing. Understand your best clients’ needs, their problems, and demonstrate an ability to help solve them. Show them what you have been working on from time to time even if you have not heard from them in a while.
Remember, the key is to position yourself as a trusted and reliable resource and stay top of mind.
Although networking is quite easy in today’s day and age, keep in mind two things:
- Your clients and social media contacts are inundated with information, images, news, messages, emails, and etc., so don’t assume they read or even see everything you post;
- Your competitors use social media as well, so don’t expect to differentiate your business through social media alone.
Marketing yourself and your services with a personal touch is critically important so that people start to recognize you, your work, and your brand.
I learned the hard way that if you simply regularly upload your new work to your website and don’t do anything else, your time and effort will be wasted. Simply having a website won’t do anything to help you grow your business.
Give your audience many opportunities and avenues to notice you and want to see what you are up to. Right timing, correct choice of platform and content that you post can help you turn your marketing efforts into actual jobs. Successful marketing is so important for a freelancer that you should study it as intensely as you work on your artistic skills.
Although quality wins over quantity every time, freelance success lies in delivering both. Your work, whether it is a retouched image, a blog post, or an ad, needs to be of excellent quality, but for more exposure, you’ll need to generate quantity and be consistently visible as well. Create an efficient marketing plan and stick with it!
Believing in Yourself
Working as a freelancer can be a bumpy road. You need to be a professional retoucher, excellent marketing director, and a CEO who loves the smell of money and success. Everybody wants that, but not everyone will succeed at it. Why not?
Because being a freelancer is hard work. It requires long hours and extreme dedication to your craft, your business, and your clients. Everything you do needs to be done with your maximum effort. The retoucher-entrepreneur who goes the extra mile stays in business despite any bumps along the way.
You need to believe in yourself and practice daily – even when you don’t have a retouching job – to continue improving your skills. There are thousands of retouchers who want YOUR client and will take your place in a heartbeat, so you need to keep growing and keep getting better at your craft.
On the other hand, many retouchers have dropped their dreams of running their own retouching business because nine out of ten people were telling them, “Your retouching work is bullsh*t” in the first months of their journey. But understand this: above all, retouching is a skill, and you can get better if you really want to, and also that one person who likes your work and is willing to give you a chance may just be the one client you need to get going.
We at Retouching Academy wish you best of luck in your journey!