Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Introducing Thomas Cosby Jr of Cosby Art

Hi guys,

It's that time of the week, where once again we speak with a member of the oDesk workforce. Thomas Cosby Jr is a relative newcomer to oDesk, however, is a shining example of how well things can go if you put your mind to it.

So a round of applause please for Thomas, the floor is yours.

Thomas Cosby Jr

"Top 10% Photoshop Artist - Traditional and Digital Illustrator - Freelance Website / Graphic Designer, United States"

Name: Thomas Cosby Jr
Age: 30
Location: Vincennes, Indiana - USA
Occupation: Full-time college student, and freelance graphic designer and illustrator

Hi Thomas, can you tell us when you first started working as a freelancer and why?

I actually started out in high school when I was 16, drawing images for students for awhile; however, I started professionally about 8 years ago after putting together some web sites. I freelanced as a way to make some extra money, but since last year things picked-up and it is becoming a career.

And how did you discover oDesk?

My college professors recommended that we work over the summer break with jobs to fill our portfolios. I started searched online using Google and eventually found my way to oDesk.

When did you 1st start working on oDesk?

I joined oDesk on May 10, 2010 and spent several days setting up my profile and taking the tests.

How long did it take you to get your first job on oDesk?

It was ten days after I joined, and just a few days of sending out my first cover letters.

Tell us about your first project, what was it like?

A real eye opener. I thought it was for some simple website graphic redesign work in Adobe PhotoShop, it was more than that. I found it more challenging as the work involved me recreating large parts of the design so I could redesign it as instructed.

It taught me several valuable lessons about using oDesk, using the oDesk team software, and any work you think will take a certain amount of time always requires more time.

Did you ever doubt your calling as an Artist?

Indeed I did. I actually started out in college in the medical field for two years, and took a Drawing class for fun. I always heard from my family and friends that art is a good hobby but not a career, and then the usual starving artist line. I have pictures I drew dating back to when I was only three – I grew-up filling sketchbooks of drawings but never thought of it more than a hobby.

During my drawing class I talked to my professor Stephen Black all that I could about a career in art. Then once the semester was over I switched my major to Graphic Design/Illustration and I couldn't be happier.

Did you ever think twice about being a freelancer?

Yes, I did till just recently. I had a job on May 20th and did not see any more work on oDesk until the start of August. During that time I tried updating my oDesk profile, reading everything I could about selling my services, writing cover letters, and anything else without any luck.

I gave the freelancing a decent chance of several months, but had to look at getting a regular job to make ends meet. In a final act I lowered my oDesk hourly rate. I thought if my oDesk rate was the same as a job I would likely find locally, I could keep designing and avoid having to work a job I would hate. Within 24 hours on oDesk I had a couple interviews, several employers asking me additional questions, and had three new jobs.

Has telecommuting changed your life in any way?

It has allowed me to continue freelancing with a much larger client/employer base than I would ever have locally. This has allowed me to stop worrying about finding a job with a design company, or at worst a minimum wage job, and lets me work on projects I actually want too.

Are you a full time freelancer at the moment? If not, what else do you do?

Yes I am until my university starts back up this fall; however I plan to freelance as much as possible then as well. I am also a full-time college student in my final year at my university.

What did you do before you started a freelancing career?

I had many various jobs at restaurants, worked as a meat cutter at a restaurant, a butcher at a meat processing company, and then worked from a food stocker to the meat department manager of a grocery store chain. I left the management job to attend my university, and in my university health degree I also worked for a year at a local funeral home.

Do you think oDesk has changed since you joined?

It is hard to say as I only have been at Odesk for three months; however, it seems one of the biggest changes has been the site redesign, and the other would have to be the wording/definition changes of freelancer/provider to contractor and client to employer.

It seems the word changes are causing problems for many with accountants, some banks, student loan repayments, and more due to the legal definitions of the words now used on oDesk. I am unsure how/if I am affected until I file my taxes.

Do you find the community forums on oDesk helpful?

I stumbled into the forums one night when I mis-clicked the help tab. I found some interesting information and tips which did answer my question that night, and been helpful ever since. Often I browse and read the messages more than I respond. My only problem is that I often forget to read the forum, as I am often busy filling out cover letters or talking to clients.

Tell us about a positive experience you have had on oDesk or any other freelance market site.

My first job on oDesk would be a good example. I took a job that seemed to be simple, but was much more complicated than I would have imagined. This allowed me to learn first-hand many things that can only be learned from working my first job online. When I turned in the design the client was really happy, left me a 5 star feedback, paid me, and offered me some additional work.

Have you had any negative experiences through freelancing? If so how have you dealt with it?

The most negative experience has to be the potential clients that want free work which they call “samples” or a “test”. It is nothing more than spec work and I find it hard to believe how many people try to get it. The job postings often state, “Designers send in your logo designs and I will buy the best one”, “Include a finished design sample of one of the following items..”, and many others. I deal with it by avoiding those job posts and telling the client I will only do samples if I get paid for my time.

Have you any advice for newcomers?

My advice would be to find out what spec work is and avoid it, understand the rules of the freelance site so they do not get their account suspended (like getting paid directly by the client), do the online tests and put in your portfolio samples to create a great profile, learn how to write cover letters to apply to the job posts, and lastly set a reasonable hourly rate.

The hourly rate is the difference between getting jobs and filling out countless cover letters/job bids without getting the jobs. It seems in almost all cases no matter how many years someone has freelanced offline, how great their portfolio and cover letters are they will not get a high/decent pay rate as they have no feedback.

The lack of job feedback on the site is the same for a sellers feedback on the eBay auction site. With little to no feedback it is hard to sell anything. Once the seller starts to receive feedback they sell much more often and even at a higher cost – as the buyers/clients are less worried of getting ripped-off.

My advice is to start your hourly rate at the price you would expect from a local job that you would get hired for. The lower the hourly rate at first the better, you have to build feedback/reputation on the site before you can get what you think you deserve. Once you start to get the jobs and feedback then the hourly rate can be increased, and you can continue slowly increasing to the pay you deserve.

What do you do in your spare time?

I like to sketch, watch MST3K, read cartoon strips (Garfield, Snuffy Smith, etc) and comic books.

What is the dream?

To have a comfortable income from freelancing – that is it in a nutshell; however how I do it can vary. This may include work on oDesk, illustrating book covers and children books, selling cartoons to magazines, working on a cartoon strip, perhaps being one of “the usual gang of idiots” for Mad magazine, or doing comic book work (as a penciller or inker for DC, Dark Horse, Image, or perhaps independently).

Where do you see your career in 5 years?

In five years I see myself working freelance making a comfortable living doing something I love.

As a freelancer who works from home, how do you separate work from home life?

In all honestly it blends together, until one or the other requires my full attention. I think if there is a real way to separate the two it could come from working only a few hours each day at a high pay rate.

Do you have set hours you work every day or do change from day to day depending on demand?

I work as required so there is no set time for me to work, and often the same is true for my sleep – I do it as needed.

How’s business?

As of lately it has gotten busy, and I find myself filling out cover letters much less often on oDesk and working more. Also my website has been receiving more visitors as well due to all the various search engines listing it and site links. I just hope it keeps up!

On a lighter note:

Favourite colour: Orange
Lucky number: 6
Star sign: Libra
Something to make us smile: :)
What would you do if you won the lottery?

Start my own publishing company creating a large outlet for my endeavours. Perhaps a new magazine, or published works of indie comics and cartoons.

Tell us a joke:

Well one of my favorite quotes is, “Always remember that you're unique. Just like everyone else.”

A big thanks to Thomas, who it was an absolute pleasure to talk with and who I'm sure will be running a very successful freelance design business for many years to come. Visit him any time at

Thanks Again Thomas.

Until tomorrow..........


  1. Another great interview! Thanks Jo and glad to get to know your freelancing story Thomas. :) But I'm so curious right now that I'll just post my question here:

    What's it like working as a butcher?


  2. Hello Stef,

    Being a butcher was a goal that took me several years to get into the trade (and just as long to get good at); sadly, here in the US it is a job that is being phased out by stores using all prepacked meat. Here is a link about that

    Anyway back to your question - In general working as a butcher was a great job. I apologize for the long post, but it answers your question better than a "it was great" response.

    Everything is done for customer service. We would sell what the customer wanted, the amount needed, the size and thickness, when they wanted (even seasonal), etc.

    I worked for customers, not for my job/boss, at every job I had as a butcher. I knew my customers by name and what they wanted, and was the only place they would purchase meat - in many cases they would only shop when I was working. Services such as packing specific sizes (several people wanted meat packed two to a pack - as it was just her and her husband), cutting a ham in various sizes to meet all their family members needs, or cutting things into many various cuts (an example is pork lion to ribs, butterfly chops, thick/thin/tenderized chops, stuffed chops, roasts, etc). It was nice to meet people, understand their needs, and deliver what they wanted - usually seeing them several times each week.

    It was great to be able to deliver a cut of meat, or type of meat, the customer was looking for else where and could not get. Many of the new customers came by phone calls or referrals by friends looking for what they wanted.

    Beyond working for the customer, the job itself had up's and down's, but each job does. The daily hours varied depending on sales ranging from 8 to 12+ hours at times. The work environment is cold at about 35 F (About 2 C) varying slightly, and full of sharp tools and machines.

    All that said it was a great trade, and one I would return to if the job/store cared as much I do. It seems most are only after the bottom line, profits, and by cutting corners or eliminating the butchers they can ensure higher profits.

    I left my job as meat manager as the store I worked for as they were cutting corners in machine maintenance. The meat display cases I had were old and never maintained properly, the coolers would often freeze up and the meat would be a total loss as the case would heat up. This was one of the reasons the previous meat department manager left.

    This lead to several problems including large amount of money loss on throw out (meat loss), customer dissatisfaction as the meat display case would be empty or not fully stocked, or the customer would purchase some meat that was affected from the meat case malfunctioning. Bottom line was the store was chasing away the customers by not fixing the case machines until it was too late - and by then the store owners thought prepackaged meats would be cheaper to sell than fixing the problems they let happen.

    At that point with the store owners, and the ever increasing prepackaged meat stores, I decided it was time for a career change.

    Sadly customer needs are not met by the prepackaged meats. If someone wants something cut, looking for some meat that is not a popular seller, wanting a fresh cut of meat, a amount of meat in a certain quantity, packed in certain sizes, or so many other things they are out of luck.


  3. Hi Thomas, great answer and very interesting, sounds like you really used to enjoy it at the start!

  4. Hello Jo, thanks for the comments. I did enjoy it; however, I wouldn't switch back now. I enjoy my illustration work too much :)

  5. I thought I would write to include my new website. I had to update my domain as CosbyART is used by so many, including variations of the name. So I created - and just recently finished my new website.

    Come visit me at