14 Freelance design mistakes you might be guilty of

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This article contains a list of common mistakes that freelance designers make. If you enjoy this article you may also want to read “10 Steps to becoming a successful freelance designer” and “22 logo design mistakes you might be guilty of“. Here we go:

1. Charging too much. Unfortunately, we have to face the fact: most people hire a freelance designer above a creative agency because they think they can get a better price. Finding a balance between charging too much and not charging enough is one of the hardest aspects of freelance design.

2. Charging too little. On the other hand, many freelance designers do not charge enough for the services they provide. Although freelancing is not the same as running an entire business with employees etc., as a freelancer you have overhead too. Charge enough that you can make money and advance your freelance career.

freelance-mistakes3. Billing per the hour. It’s a logical fallacy. You tell a client they will be charged X amount per hour and when you finish the job, you send the bill. But think about it for just a minute. Why would you punish yourself for getting a job done quickly? Charging by the hour means if you take 12 hours to do a 15 hour project, you are losing money. Find an effective way to charge on a per-project basis.

4. Waiting to bill until a project is completely finished. There is nothing wrong with asking for payment on work you have completed. I like to include the design process in my client contract. I tell them what stages we will go through during the process and at what point(s) I will bill them. This ensures I don’t go weeks or months without getting paid.

5. Saying yes to everything. It’s okay to say no. Sometimes you don’t want to take on a project because it doesn’t pay enough, or because your morals go against it. Often times, you may have too much on your plate to take on a huge project. If you feel like you cannot fulfill your end of the bargain, don’t simply agree so that people “don’t hate you”. Most clients will respect you for being organized enough to know what you can and cannot do.

6. Ignoring small clients/jobs. Surprisingly, all of the high-paying “big” jobs I’ve ever received were from clients who started out “small”. Many times a company may ask you to do something simple like a brochure or business card design. Take advantage of that situation and offer to design a logo, web site, or anything else that will increase profitability of the project. Blowing off “small” clients is a big mistake in the freelancing business.

7. Getting lazy. A lot of designers think the idea of freelancing means they get to sit on the couch all day, with their laptops on the cushion next to them, eating crackers and watching TV while they work. While one of the perks of freelancing may be that you work from home, try to maintain a professional atmosphere. Set up a home office, get up early and get ready for the day and try to avoid distractions. Your professionalism will be reflected in your work.

8. Wasting time. It’s easy to find more entertaining things to do than some of your design jobs. Social media and blogging opportunities may sound more appealing than designing this week’s ad for the newspaper, but be sure to set priorities. Then, after the work is done, be sure to do what you really enjoy. It is more fulfilling if you do the work first and play later.

9. Being unorganized. A lot of freelance designers lack business skills. Take a class or read a book on how to manage a small busines and incorporate elements of what you learn into your freelance business. There is nothing more unprofessional to a client than a freelancer who can’t keep track of his billing, payments received, project status, etc. Organize yourself.

10. Not treating your freelance career as a business. It’s not a hobby. It’s a business. Freelancing, while entertaining and enjoyable, is also a way to make money. Treat it that way. Maintain a professional image (both online and otherwise) and act as if you were a top-notch creative agency. Take billing and organization seriously and show your clients you “mean business”

11. Lacking courage. As a freelancer, you will have to constantly be selling your services. Be confident that you can do a good job for your client and show of your work whenever you can. Be sure to stay updated on the latest trends and techniques so you have a natural sense of confidence.

12. Lacking education/ability. The truth of the matter is there are a lot of “freelance designers” who simply freelance because they lack the necessary skills to work for an agency. While I hope this is NOT your motivation and it is certainly not mine, I admit there are a number of freelancers that seriously lack the needed skills to be successful. Take time to learn as much as you can by going to school, reading books, following blogs (by the way, you should subscribe for FREE via RSS or email if you haven’t yet), talking on twitter, and more.

13. Settling for mediocrity. Just because you don’t have a huge firm backing your design doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of putting out great work for your clients. Never say or think things like “Well here is your logo. Sorry it’s not better, but you got a great deal.” Always make your work top-notch.

14. Being unprepared. As a freelance designer, you are always a salesman. You have to sell your work to get more work. This means you should always have a business card ready and an elevator pitch.  Look for opportunities to solicit work wherever you go.

What other mistakes have you seen as a freelance designer? Please share in the comments.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

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  1. #4: I have a clause in my contract that says “incurred expenses throughout the project may be billed immediately.” I have another clause that says something to the effect of “if progress is halted [as a result of the client] for more than 30 days the outstanding balance may be billed immediately.”

  2. LOL at number 5. Saying yes to everything.

    I gues this is what makes me always spend extra time to make new designs each time my client ask for it.

    I will try to say no to my clients.


  3. welll these are the real things which one should keep in mind ,,,I m a freelancer and i knw it…..thanks again for this amazing and original post… cheers

  4. This is a very informative and amusing post for anyone who could relate to every situation you have cited. Graphic designers of various age, level of expertise and length of experience should take put all of these in mind to avoid committing the same mistakes and make themselves better people and the best of what they do.

    • Hi,

      I am a freelancer who is just starting in the business and would like to ask you one of the most important questions in the freelancing industry for beginners….how do you get clients? Do you ask anyone and everyone? I know it may sound wrong but I studied Art & Design and have learnt the graphic design packages but lack the knowledge of how to get clients. It’s been over a year since I’ve been trying but I am learning more and more.

      Any advice would be very much appreciated.

      Thank you!



  1. […] 14 Freelance Design Mistakes You Might Be Guilty Of […]

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