A while back, I was talking with fellow designers from my college while working on a freelance project.
Knowing about my freelance business, they began to ask questions about freelancing – what to expect, how to get clients, and how they could make money with their design skills? They all expressed interest in freelancing, but were scared to make the jump.
Only three years ago, I was asking the same questions.
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I wanted to freelance, but I had no prior experience in the design business, which made me scared of freelancing. What if I would be making little to no money? What if I am hired by a bad client? What if I’m ripped off? Those “what ifs” popped in my mind every time I thought about freelancing.
Remembering all those feelings of fear, I knew exactly how to answer my designer friends. I drew all of the knowledge I learned from more successful designers, and answered their questions. Today, I want to help you ease your freelancing fears with advice from successful, established designers.
(If you have any advice you’d like to share, I’d love for you to post it in the comments.)
Paul Scrivens is a professional Product Designer at Media Temple and has been
loving design since 2002. He helps facilitate intelligent conversation with Drawar, a forum exclusively for designers who want to discuss fundamentals of design and the industry.
“Know your value. Too often people start off under pricing everything because they feel they have to do so because they don’t have the experience or it is the only way to get clients. If you aren’t uncomfortable with the price you are asking for then you are underbidding yourself. Don’t be afraid to lose some business because someone wasn’t willing to pay what you want. Being a design means having some sort of freedom, but it is up to you to make it happen.”
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Continue to stay updated on the latest trends in your field. People who are willing to learn on their own typically have more passion for their jobs, which shows through in their work. Your clients will appreciate that.”
Jacob Cass is a strategic, multidisciplinary designer, and art director who lives, and works in NYC, while also running three popular blogs; Just Creative Design, Logo of the Day and Logo Designer Blog.
“The biggest piece of advice that I would give an upcoming designer comes in a package based from the little things that I have learned over my short career as a designer. These would be perfect for someone just starting out: Don’t undervalue your work. Seek criticism, not praise. Always keep learning & don’t be a static learner: do this by reading books, magazines, blogs and by practicing. Collect & share things. Teach others. Never give up. Keep practicing. Again, keep practicing.”
Veerle Pieters is a graphic/web designer living in Belgium. Her personal journal reflects her journeys through design, the web, and life to help fellow designers.
“The very first question I would ask myself is: Am I motivated to work long days and to go all the way to get jobs done, seek new clients and work? Am I willing to go the extra mile to achieve what I want? If this answer is yes, than this is a start and it also means that you’re probably passionate in what you do.
This is very important, if not maybe the most important question at all. A doubtful answer is not allowed here, you would make the wrong decision already.”
Grace Smith is a seasoned designer and writer running a small, boutique webdesign studio — Postscript5, based in Northern Ireland.
“To any freelance newcomer I would say first and foremost you need to think realistically about costs, such as equipment, software, insurance, premises, tax, the list goes on. You also need to think about your potential earnings and ask yourself ‘what do I need to survive on?’ Being honest and realistic about your financial requirements is important.
I’ve found that financial planning is key, as you need to have the budgeting skills to set aside enough money to pay taxes (and other expenses) each year and live comfortably as well. Find a great accountant as they are worth their weight in gold and their advice is invaluable!
It’s essential to approach the business side of being a freelancer from a professional perspective, if you want it to flourish and be taken seriously.”
Brad Colbow is an independent web designer, best known for his comics that are published monthly in .Net magazine and “The Brads” a weekly strip found on his personal website. His work has appeared on the New York Time’s website, CNET, Smashing Magazine and elsewhere. You can find out more about him on his website colbowdesign.com
“Always work on projects that you’re really interested in, even if they are just personal projects. My work didn’t start to get notice outside of my circle of friends until I started to follow my interests. I’ve always wanted to draw comics so I just started drawing them one day, mostly to make my friends laugh. I only continued to do it because I found that I really looked forward to writing and drawing the things.
It turned out that the comics brought in a lot of visitors and in return more projects. With more projects I could be pickier and take on work that had the time and budget to do higher quality work. None of that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t working on things I loved, and that came from doing what I was most interested in.”
Tyler Galpin is a web and UI designer based out of Toronto, Canada. He has worked with a variety of clients, from startups to Fortune 500 companies. His portfolio can be found at http://galp.in. Tyler also co-founded the Lost Type Co-op .
“There are a million things I wish I knew before setting out working for clients and managing my business. I’ve whittled them down to a couple that I think are really important, and will steer you in the right direction.
- Don’t be afraid of raising your hourly rate.
This was a revelation for me when I began doing it. I was charging clients a measly rate because I was afraid I wasn’t worth anything more. Raising my rate improved my business on all fronts – I was getting more time to focus on just a few projects instead of several at a time, my clients were better and appreciated the value we provide as professionals, and I was getting work I actually wanted to do. A good rule I use is to raise your rate after each project until people start telling you “no.”
- Karma is everything.
Try your best to be nice and professional to everyone as often as you can. Now, you don’t need to go and kiss arse but you should keep in mind that what goes around, comes around. That kid who emailed you looking for a few tips on design might be the next huge thing in our industry – be careful you don’t dismiss anyone.
- No clients? Create passive income for yourself.
If work in coming in slow, don’t spend all your time seeking new clients. The best thing to do in slow times is create sources of passive income for yourself – income you don’t have to manage much beyond the initial investment of time/money. Whether that means creating Tumblr/Wordpress themes, or creating a design print – be creative, and hustle.”
BONUS: Tools we recommend as you build your freelance business from scratch
Here are a few tools you’ll want to bookmark and use as you start on your career:
- Freshbooks: the #1 invoicing software for freelancers & solopreneurs
- Bench: for bookkeeping & tax help.
- Bonsai: an All-in-one freelancing solution for the world’s best creative freelancers.
- Bluehost: for affordable, easy-to-use web hosting—because every business needs a web site.
- Chrometa: Time tracking to ensure you never lose time you spent working on a client’s project.
- ConvertKit: for sending marketing messages to previous or potential clients.
- Udemy: for continuous learning on all kinds of subjects (including business).
- LegalZoom: for help with trademarks, copyrights, and other legal issues.
What other advice can you offer to aspiring freelancers?
I know a lot of you have been freelancing for a long time. What other tips can you add to this awesome list? Share with us in the comments.
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