How much can we earn?
Now this is a really interesting question. As a 3D artist, what is your earning potential? We can look at some simple math and say "Well, if I charge $50 per hour and work regular business hours, and take no days off work, I can earn $104,000." OR, we could say "If I charge $100 per hour and work 10 hour days, have 3-day weekends, take 6 weeks off for traveling in the summer, and 4 weeks off for holidays, I can earn $168,000."
Hmmmmm... wow! Now that IS interesting! The fact is, we can work up any variety of scenarios that yield very attractive schedules and annual earnings. However, the other fact is that the vast majority of freelance 3D artists are not earning anywhere near this much. Why not?? For lots of reasons- laziness, doubt, disbelief, poor ethics, low standards, fear.... to name a few. These aren't the type of things we want to admit to, but most all of us, myself included, fall victim to at least one of these at some time. Give this some thought. These reasons, or excuses, can be addressed with real solutions.
The most obvious "symptom" from these faults is that we don't have a steady influx of work, and sometimes go for weeks without a project. And even when things are going well, we still have smaller blocks of time that are not actively bringing in income. And that's why, regardless of the "earning scenario" you dreamt about in the first paragraph, the dream doesn't come true and at tax time your Form 1040 doesn't show the numbers you were hoping for.
What it boils down to
Let's get back to the question though. How much CAN you earn? What is realistic? As a solo freelancer, I can confidently tell you that it is possible to earn over $100,000. Also, realistically, you can earn $200,000. And, just in theory, if you worked 50 hours a week for 50 weeks of the year and charged $125 per hour, you would earn $312,500. It IS possible to stay that busy. But my point is, if it is possible to earn over $300K, doesn't earning $100K almost seem easy?
In this business, what we are really doing is trading our time for money. We have a finite amount of time that we can trade. In fact, it is a very limited amount. Especially when we consider that fact that we would really like to be doing OTHER more enjoyable things with our time. And although we can counter this time limit by raising our hourly fee, that is going to top out as well. The good news is, once you hit these limits, most likely, you are doing very well financially! But if you are feeling driven to even further increase your earning, what next?
What do we do about it?
One of the biggest contributors to your earnings is your ability to sell yourself. It is far beyond the scope of this article (nor the point) to dive into all the different techniques, however, I do plan to write a whole module about sales specifically for this business. But there is no need to wait for that in the meantime. There is a world of freely available info online that you can start using today.
A second simple and logical answer is to copy yourself! Should you proceed down this path, your status of "Freelancer" becomes questionable, however it IS possible to "augment" yourself and still be a solo gig. This allows you to multiply your income streams. It IS a bit of a step beyond pure freelancing though, as it involves working with other artists, and so it may be the point at which you discover complete happiness, and you decide to ride this wave by yourself for as long as you can. In a future article I go into more detail about how to build a 'flexible' team of artists while you continue to operate as a solo-preneur.
But perhaps before taking this step, take a really good look at your workflow. Document it from start to finish in as much detail as you can. Then, with every step, ask yourself where it's possible to speed up the process, automate workflows, or simply cut back the quality or level of detail. Are you exceeding your clients' expectations to the point they are not noticing the little extras you are incorporating into their projects?? We're all guilty of this at times. The cumulative effect of all this is killing your effective hourly rate. So, one of the easiest ways to improve your earnings is to study your process and make it as efficient as humanly possible.
The bottom line
For now, just know that this gig as a 3D artist has all the means necessary to support your financial ambitions, and easily provide you an income and the accompanying lifestyle above 90% of the rest of your fellow Americans (this is $117,000 USD by the way).