I’ve been a freelance designer since 2008 and I can confirm, freelancing is a tough gig. I’ve worked on projects of all sizes, ranging from Exhibition Design, Branding, Licensed product design, Packaging, Print and of course, UI / UX Design.
I thought I would share with you a few lessons I’ve learned to be a better freelance designer and how they will aid you in the years to come.
1. Work when you are at your most creative.
– Don’t just sit there and stress about it, get up, move around, watch TV and do everything you can to switch off from the design challenges you face as I guarantee you will come back stronger. Be strict, don’t let the day slip away, as you have important work to do.
2. Get a contract in place.
– It was years before I started sending contracts to new clients, I survived on good luck and not much else. I was bitten a few times and took advice from some of my wonderful Twitter followers and got a contract in place. Sure it takes extra admin time but its worth it, you will go into the project with confidence and both sides will know where they stand from day one. I recommend looking up Andy Clarke’s Contract Killer. [Link]
3. Write Proposals.
– When you receive briefs work out how long each section of the project is going to take you and write it down! Use Excel, create a fancy PDF, heck – fax it to them but make sure you have clearly stated what you will do, how long it will take and when you can start. Make sure you clearly state your payment schedule as you can refer to this document in the contract.
4. Get a deposit & be strict about it.
– Working on month to month invoices are fine if you have regular, reliable clients, but when new clients approach you be prepared. Asking for a 30% – 50% deposit of the project costs is actually a pretty standard thing and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask, remember you have control and it’s your skill they seek. Work it into your contract and everyone’s happy. Don’t start work until it’s in the bank, otherwise you might as well just risk it with a monthly invoice and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.
5. Don’t be afraid to say no.
– For a time I was taking on far too much work, tipping my work-life balance against everything I believe in, I was afraid that if I said no to the work that it would be gone forever. When I started telling new clients that I was fully booked a few interesting things started happening. 1. Clients would often get back to me and book me for the coming months. 2. They would keep in touch and offer me further projects, one client came back to me 12 months after rejecting the work.
6. Be friendly & reveal your personality to clients.
– At the core of my personality is an old hippy, I’m sure of it. I love people, I love talking and engaging with all kinds of people, the ability to talk openly to clients will serve you in many ways. They will get an instant idea for if they can work with you, they will understand and see your human side rather than the pixel pushing psycho you probably are. They know that at the end of the line/email/skype call is someone who is real and isn’t part of a big digital agency / machine. They are investing in you and your talents, so why should you mask it?
7. Sort out your SEO
– You are probably the worlds most talented designer, destined for great things but if your SEO sucks then so does your chances of survival. Research and refine your site, you will be surprised to actually how easy it is. I recommend using Yoast for WordPress.
– I never networked, not once. I stayed inside, blissfully unaware of the power of networking. When I stepped out and started going to events and conferences instantly I was getting new enquiries, contracts and even on-the-spot job offers. Search meetup.com and get involved.
9. Get on Dribbble.
– Getting yourself into Dribbble is really tough, invites are rare and you have to fight to get one. I got mine by replying to a tweet and putting my work forward – luckily they liked my work and the invite was mine. Work hard to find one, as once you get in you won’t regret it. Sure it’s not the most amazing site for feedback but the ‘Pro’ account for $20 is worth thousands and thousands of dollars in freelance contracts. MAKE SURE YOUR FIRST POST IS THE BEST YOU CAN OFFER. As you will be discovered in their special ‘Debut’ collection. More eyes, more exposure, just go Pro first. Also, follow me. @zer0mike
10. Focus on one thing you’re really good at & invest in passion projects.
– For many years I was doing anything that would pay, it made me unhappy and the work quality was low. I love product design and one day I risked some of my savings into releasing a game. I had an idea, it got out of control and then before I knew it 50,000 people were playing it and I was designing apps for a living. So my advice would be to invest in passion projects and trim down your services to focus on only a few things that you’re really good at.
I love what I do and the most important lesson I’ve learned is to love your work.
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Thanks for reading and remember, you can be a better freelance designer!
Mike Hince is a UI & UX Designer and the co-founder of Bossanova Design.