Think like Michelangelo: A freelancer’s guide to choosing great clients.

part of the sistine chapelHistorically, artists have always needed to find a patron. Sometimes the church, sometimes a nobleman or a merchant.

Without the support of a patron, artists wouldn’t have had the resources to do great work. We all have to eat.

And those patrons often gave pretty clear instructions regarding the topic of the art. For example, painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel wasn’t Michelangelo’s idea. The work was commissioned by Pope Julius II.

In fact, Michelangelo was reluctant to take on the project. He would rather have been sculpting.

But you know how it goes…what the client wants, the client gets. (Particularly when, in addition to being the Pope, you are also referred to as “Il papa terribile”.)

The thing being, the artist’s life isn’t so very different from the freelancer’s life.

Artists need patrons, and those patrons often have very specific ideas about what they want the artist to do.

Freelancers need clients, and those clients will also have very specific ideas about what they want their freelancers to do.

Michelangelo did pretty well to have the Pope as his patron. True, he had to do a lot of painting before he could get back to his sculpture. But having the Pope as his patron allowed Michelangelo to create a remarkable piece of art in a place where thousands of people would see it.

Had he accepted a commission from a local shopkeeper to paint a portrait of his daughter, that job would have brought him a lot less value. He wouldn’t have the same cachet that comes with having the Pope as his patron. Nor would many people have seen the portrait.

As a freelancer, it makes sense to think like Michelangelo.

You don’t want to seek out any old client. You want to pursue the very best clients.

You want clients who will make big demands, and drive you to do your very best work. Your own Sistine Chapel.

You want clients with big budgets, so you have the resources to do your very best work.

You want clients who can get your work in front of a lot of people, so those people can admire your skills.

How do you go about choosing your own clients?

Do you accept work from any company that is prepared to offer you money? Do you take work from “shopkeepers”?

Or do you seek out the best possible clients, and give yourself the opportunity to create some of your very best work?

Whatever your skills as a freelancer, it is a creative craft. In part, you are an artist, whether you write, design or code.

If you are not doing so already, I recommend you stretch yourself – and scare yourself -by seeking out your own “Il papa terribile”.

Look for clients who share the scope and scale of your own vision.

It’s the only way to find out just how good you can be.

About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach.

4 thoughts on “Think like Michelangelo: A freelancer’s guide to choosing great clients.”

  1. Great post Nick – lovely way of thinking about it.

    I find that with each successive client you get nearer Il Papa. I’m probably in yoke to the equivalent of archbishops and cardinals at the moment!

  2. A good kick in the pants! it’s all too easy to become complacent and lazy. I have always been proud of the fact that all my work comes from referrals by other clients. Right?

    No. Totally wrong. I am just waking up to the fact that I am accepting anything that comes my way without any real consideration for quality work that I am worthy of. My goal right now is to start turning down jobs and actively pursuing the clients I want to work with. After all who you associate with says a lot about who you are!

    I have some serious work to do now!

  3. Ben, Shelli – thanks for the great feedback. Seeking out the best possible clients is certainly the best way to stretch yourself and do your very best work. Sometimes scary, but usually worthwhile!


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