Working as a freelance illustrator, it’s often difficult to keep on task, especially if you are used to working for someone else or come specifically from an agency background. In any other type of job besides freelancing, the decision of what you need to do has already been made for you. With freelance anything, you are the one deciding what direction to take your business and what projects you need to work on. The problem is making that decision between all your ideas—both figuring out what you are going to work on next and keeping on task.
One thing I learned from working as a graphic designer in both a mid-sized and boutique style agency is the importance of a creative brief. A creative brief is like having a map of your projects’ direction that you can reference if you start feeling a little lost. Here’s the three ways writing creative briefs for yourself can help you navigate your freelance career:
A creative brief helps you decide which projects to pursue
If your like me, you have a million ideas of what you want to do as a freelancer. Not only is there no feasible way I can complete all those projects, but also most of them are probably not going to benefit my career as much as I think they will while I’m still in the dreaming phase.
Writing down your ideas, then mapping out their true potential helps you weed out the ones that might be nice dreams, but won’t be feasible or won’t have enough of a return on the investment of your time and effort. Also there might be some ideas you have that are a bit shy and you think they are nothing more than a dream, but in fact are far more practical and will be far more successful than those projects that seem more level headed at first glance.
So write down everything. Especially your wildest ideas.
A creative brief helps you stay on track
We’ve all been there—you’re in the middle of working on your project, and you feel like you’ve gotten way off course and don’t know how to get back on track. If you’ve written a creative brief, you can just pull it out and see where you’ve ended up and how to get back to where you should be.
Or, sometimes where you thought you were going is a totally different place than where you’ve found the road really leads. A map is only as good as where things really stand. A good map has everything dutifully plotted out so you know exactly where you’re going. But here is where a creative brief differs from a map: a creative brief is essentially a map of the future, and you don’t know the future.
Yes, you can make your best educated guess, but ultimately something wrong is going to happen, and it usually does. In this case, you don’t throw away the map, you adjust it.
Go back and compare what you thought was going to happen against what has happened and ask yourself honestly if what you need to do at this point is get back on the path you drew before you set out, or if you need to adjust your map and make a new educated guess of where you will end up based on the new knowledge you have gained along the way. An educated guess is only as good as the knowledge you have to draw on. You know next to nothing when you write your creative brief, but when you find your path goes off a cliff or through quicksand, you now know how to navigate around those things and find the real path.
A creative brief helps you discover how you work
A creative brief has not worn out its use when you can finally tick off all your to-do boxes. If anything it’s more valuable after you finish your project than before or during. Take some time to review how you thought the project would go vs how it really went. Perhaps it took you less or more time to achieve certain goals than you initially thought. Or perhaps your main goals shifted significantly from start to finish.
You made an educated guess when you wrote you creative brief, and you probably met a lot of problems during your travels to the end goal. Now that you know how the path really turned out, you have a better understanding of how to write the next creative brief so that you don’t repeat your same mistakes.
Use your completed creative brief to discover what worked for you, what didn’t, and what could work better next time. A creative brief is a tool to help you gain insight on not only how you work but how you could work better.

Next time, I will explain how to write the creative brief.
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