So you want to be a freelance designer?
Let’s be honest: designing isn’t the most difficult part of a designer’s job. Anyone can be good at it if they put in the time. What really prevents most freelancers from earning a decent living from their craft in how they handle the non-design aspects of it. A lot of what you need to survive will not be learned in a design school.
Here are a few solid pointers every freelancer must remember:
1. Always get paid.
Sure, there will be times that you will have to work for considerably less than you need to, or even for free. But these instances should always be the exception. Ideally, they should not happen at all. If you find yourself constantly doing this, then what you have is a hobby, not a job.
Be sure to get a deposit before starting a project and never send the final files until the remaining balance has been paid.
2. Know what you’re worth
Or at the very least, know what your expenses are! Beyond that, it pays to have a realistic idea of how much your work might be worth to clients. Most will try to lowball you, but always stick to your guns. Provided you’re not deluded about your real worth, of course.
3. Make everything clear
Project specifications, REVISION GUIDELINES, and deadlines should be as unambiguous as possible and on a clear timeline. If you’re working within a larger team, try to learn their project management tools in a way that helps make things immediately understandable.
4. Never start work without a written contract
Time you spend working on something you’re not paid for can very well be spent on something that you’re paid for. No matter how much a client complains, you’re simply not obligated to start work until both parties have formally signed a contract.
5. Keep all your documents
Save all your receipts and print out anything you buy online for tax purposes. Freelancers in many countries (including the United States) have to handle their own taxes, so it’s critical that you save documentation of every transaction you’ve made. This will make things so much easier for you, whether you hire an accountant or do your taxes yourself.
6. Organize your workspace
Make sure every client and project has their own clearly marked folders. This applies to both physical and electronic files. It’s also best to optimize your workspace to ensure you’re as productive as your circumstances permit.
7. Always keep backups
Your workstation should have a good UPS and laptops should always have a functioning battery in them, to prevent the off chance of a power surge or a playful pet cutting off power to your computer.
Make it a habit to back up files regularly. At this point, hard disk space is the cheapest it’s ever been, so don’t think a second level of backups (whether on the cloud or on your own hard disks) is out of the question.
8. Be professional!
Being on time to meetings, submitting thoughtful, well-considered, feedback, being well-spoken and conscientious — these are what you want your personal brand to be.
If you’re expected to make physical appearances, make sure to dress appropriately for the situation, as this is part of your personal brand as well.
But another often overlooked part of being professional is the ability to set boundaries for the people you work with. If you let clients walk all over you, chances are they do not respect you as a professional. Chances are they don’t respect you at all!
9. Don’t overwork yourself
This is easier said than done, but you have to allot some “me-time”, even if it means putting yourself on a schedule. Look up productivity hacks like the classic Pomodoro technique to keep yourself on schedule, but properly rested.
10. Always network!
You’ll never know who your next client will be or where they’ll come from. Always be on the lookout for different prospects and collaborators. Attend events where you’d find designers, artists, writers, programmers, entrepreneurs — any group of people who could expand your horizons is a good place to be.
Always, always, always keep a few business cards handy with you. Have you tried exchanging details with smartphones? It’s a lot more annoying and involved than you might expect.
11. Make sure people know who you are!
If no one knows who you are or how to contact you, your career as a freelance designer will likely be a short one. Make sure that you are present where the clients you want can find you. This means more than just having accounts on the right social networks. This means being involved in the right communities and using the right tools to make yourself known.
12. Always keep learning
Allot time and money if necessary to further increase your knowledge in your craft. Always check out new developments to see how they might relate to your field.
Also be sure to check out current events and developments in tech and design as these often have implications for designers not just in terms of what aesthetics and techniques are trending, but also which tools might be worth looking into.
photo credits: Animation student #13 via photopin (license), letterpress business cards via photopin (license), 中国制造 – Seagull 1963 Overview via photopin (license), Oversized Bookworm via photopin (license),Project 365 – Day 151 – 04/12/08 via photopin (license), and StartupStockPhotos.com
What other pointers did we miss? Comment below!