TDmonthly Magazine!
July 2010 | Vol. IX - No. 7


Careers in Toy Design: Freelance vs. Full Time

What to Evaluate When Going Out on Your Own

“You have to ask yourself what kind of a person you are, and what level of risk you are willing to take”
Almost everyone in toy and entertainment design asks himself at some point, “Should I work full time for a toy company, or freelance and start my own thing?”

At the end of the day, it depends on what kind of a person you are. First, try answering these questions:

• Do you like to work at a steady job with a regular paycheck and guaranteed health benefits?
• Do you appreciate being around co-workers who share your goals?
• Do you like to work on projects that are bigger than yourself?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, you’d most likely be a good fit for a toy company full time.

But perhaps you feel like branching out or taking more risks. If so, ask yourself these questions:

• Are you good at managing time, working long and unpredictable hours, creating your own work, and being responsible for what, when and who you work for?
• Are you able to save money, network and expand your base of operations?
• Are you able to think into the future beyond today and next month?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, freelancing or starting your own business may be right for you. But before you embrace that idea, let’s talk about what that means. You must:

1. Plan. Not only are you your own support team, but you also have to be responsible for due dates, creating a timeline and sense of urgency for progress, and managing the complexity of any project.
2. Put away funds. Before going out on your own, first save up at least six months of living expenses to cover your efforts.
3. Network. Use sites like Linked In and Coroflot to connect with jobs, projects, inventors and companies within the toy and entertainment industry.
4. Self-evaluate. At the six-month point, re-evaluate your steps and progress, and decide to either change strategy or continue with your current plan. (see sidebar)
5. Work backward. Visualize the end result first. For example, if you want to design an item to be sold at Target, find out what companies sell to Target, what those companies are looking for, and what you can design/invent that fits into their category.

Fight or Flight?

After six months of trying to establish your own business, consider the following.

It may be time to rethink or abandon your idea if:
- You cannot get your idea to work.
- You lose interest.
- You discover something similar on the market.
- The cost of producing your idea exceeds the net return.
- Your funds are low or depleted.

Is your idea still as great as it was when it started, but you can’t continue on your own finances?

If so, seek funding from friends or relatives, asking if they would like to partner on the idea. Tread this ground carefully, though; if no one’s genuinely interested, it may be time to try a new idea.

My 18-year career in the toy and entertainment business has combined both full-time and freelance work, so I have learned ”the ropes.”

I recommend that you work in the industry first before heading out on your own, in order to gain not only knowledge and experience of how companies and people work and think about product, but also to learn the tasks involved in getting a product to market.


Through full-time positions at more than 10 toy and entertainment companies, including FAO Schwartz, Marvel Entertainment, Six Flags Theme Parks and Jakks Pacific, I learned how to think, design, build, market, and learn from my mistakes. Sometimes I was too eager and overlooked important information or discoveries that could have improved an idea. It took a lot of listening and learning for me to pick up on marketing and sales strategies.

I’ve worked on projects and had opportunities that are bigger than myself — designing Viper, Batman and other rides at Six Flags, and hobnobbing with celebrities, billionaires and other famous individuals, some of whom have become my mentors. As time went on, thanks to the diverse experiences I’d had, I decided to experiment and explore new avenues: inventing, teaching and writing.


In today’s economy, anything can happen. You have to ask yourself what kind of a person you are, and what level of risk you are willing to take.

Through the ups and downs, you have to believe in yourself, even if it seems no one else does. At one point, I had only a few clients, and very low funds. To broaden my abilities, I reinvested in new ideas, networked, and returned to school to learn new programs and subjects. I took a few sales and marketing classes and created a new website. With the help of the Web, LinkedIn and Facebook, my business has quadrupled in size.

At the end of the day, do what makes you happy, but also something that will pay the bills and keep a nice roof over your head. You may get fired, face a lay-off, be rejected, or invent the next great thing — it all has happened to me. If you are willing to live by your own terms, you have to be willing to crash and burn, and get up and keep going.

Peter WachtelWriter's Bio: Peter Wachtel (aka “KID Toyology") is an award-winning creative toy and entertainment designer, inventor and teacher. He has designed more than 500 products for the toy, entertainment and design education industries, many of which can be found at Peter was recently the chair/academic director and design instructor at Ai Hollywood for Graphic & Industrial Design, and has taught toy design at Pratt Institute, Parsons School of Design and Otis College of Art & Design. Read more articles by this author


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