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
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.
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 www.cosbyart.com
Thanks Again Thomas.