Monday, 16 September 2013

Mike Swan on the challenges of a freelance career

Aston Martin by Mike Swan - final year project
Mike Swan is a recent graduate of the Animation, Games and Interactive Media course here at Bucks. He did some excellent work while a student at the University, studied hard, and left with a very strong portfolio, especially in the fields of digital modeling and architectural visualisation. We persuaded him to talk a little about what it takes for a graduate to build a successful career as a freelancer.

Bucks: You recently graduated from Bucks and have started work as a digital artist - how are things going so far? 

Mike: Well I actually started freelancing during my 2nd year while studying at Bucks. A client came up to me about a job. From then on I had a few projects going on until I finished, and I am currently still working for one of those clients today. Things are going great; it's so good to put my skills to work. 

Bucks: What are the challenges of managing a freelance career? 

Mike: Managing your time effectively is really tough. I've have been working part time for Waitrose for the last 5 years as well as balancing my degree and more recently my freelance work. However, I think because of that, it has put me in a good position because I've had to manage my time efficiently before.
Bucks: How is the market right now - are you finding it easy to find work? 

Mike: It's tough, there's is no doubt about it. It's still going to be tough, for a good few years yet. But it is getting better, slowly. 

Bucks: How are you finding work? Are you finding it or is it finding you?

Mike: So far it's finding me.

Architectural render by Mike Swan

Bucks: What skills are most in demand in the market place? 

Mike: Of course it goes without saying that students will be looking to perfect their skills in their particular field, but I feel like a lot of students don't always know the bare essentials of surviving in a working environment.

Having the right digital skills isn't enough. You also need to be able to communicate well with your client. Politeness is really important, and also staying in regular contact is critical. Another big life skill is punctuality. If I have a meeting with a client, it is vital that I arrive at least 15 minutes early. Being on time (or even early) means that you are reliable, which is exactly what a client wants to see in you. 

Bucks: What advice would you give to our students at Bucks on making the most of the opportunities here, so that they can be properly prepared to launch their careers? 

Mike: I made the most of my time at Bucks by juggling my part time job that I had since I was 16, plus my degree and - later on - my freelance work. The freelance work gave me great experience and further expanded my portfolio. My part time job supported me financially throughout my studying.

I think that taking on as much as you can is great, but don't bite off more than you can chew. Don't be afraid of ambitious projects; if you can manage your time effectively and put the work in, you will have a great piece of work for your portfolio.

Don't forget why you are there at University. You are paying for a service, an education, so try to make the most of your (great) tutors and learn from them. Balance your free time well; if you have a project that you know you're behind on, work on it.

Don't feel too much pressure to go out and party every night. You work is important and by all means socialise and have a great time, it is part of the experience, but make sure you are balancing work and play properly.

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