As part of a regular feature called Freelancer Focus one the questions that freelance graphic designers are asked is “What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone starting out freelancing?” Brian Yerkes made a great suggestion of creating a post with all the answers the freelancer designer who have taken part gave. Their names are linked to the full Freelancer Focus interviews they gave (apologies if I have inadvertently missed anyone). Where better to get advice on freelancing than from the freelancers themselves?
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone starting out freelancing?
Be confident in your own work, and don’t make the mistake of believing everyone else is doing something better than you – they’re not!
Never sit still.
Don’t under value yourself. Many starting designers do this and in the end, do it quite rough!
Get a clear idea of who will be your source for work. Have at least 3 months of finance in the bank to cater for those inevitable lean times. Get an accountant. Don’t feel you need to buy the latest kit. That reliable G4 Mac running OS9 may well be all you need to start. Structure your day to include at least one follow up call to a potential client. If you want more control over your working life, then give it a go.
Be determined to continually learn and increase your knowledge base. The more you know, the more you can sell yourself.
Don’t be afraid to make the jump but be sure you’re committed to the idea and to putting in the hours. If I didn’t work the extremly long hours sometimes, I don’t know where I’d be. Every hour you put in is worth it though in the end. You wake up when you want, be your own boss, and get to be constantly creative. I don’t know of a better position to be in, really. Also remember, there is always places to find work. When I was desperate (many times) I would even google search “logo needed” followed by the recent date and hope to find a forum where someone needed work. You have to be resourceful.
There are several small bits…
Be confident when talking to clients and agencies.
Be confident in your own skills and work.
Be organised, both when doing work for clients and keeping records of everything.
Set a rate/price for your work and stick to it. By all means negotiate a rate for a longer term project but be careful of projects overrunning!
Use a contract for all your work! I’ve included a couple of useful documents in a blog post on my site here if you need them
Always put the customer first, and try to see things from their perspective. Don’t take it personally if one customer doesn’t hire your services, your design style may just not have fit his market and needs, or budget
Put together a good website (well designed), and make sure there are links to it in as much (appropriate) places as possible
Make sure you have an online portfolio/design website before you go freelance and if possible start sending out letters/emails introducing yourself and before you leave your day job. Ideally have a few months wages in the bank. I regret having not gone freelance earlier, the more you start earning in a fulltime job the scarier it is to leave.
Tara – Graphic Design Blog
You will never know ’till you have tried, experiences is another income, experience in managing everything by myself thats is the biggest thing I got so far.
Perfect while you move. I’ve witnessed many people painfully trying to get everything perfect and in place before they actually start doing business. This is a weird form of procrastination as far as I’m concerned and though it may seem like the professional thing to do it just doesn’t work. Pick a starting point, a very simple one and get moving, meet people, write proposals, whip up a simple website or business card, just start somewhere even if you don’t have anything first and fore mostly know that even without a single resource you can add value immediately just by knowing what you know. Get moving, perfect as you go.
Nur Ahmad Furlong or nomad-one
It’s tough. And there are about 10-100 others out there who are freelancing against you. You have to take your work and make it special; make it stand out; make it so unique that people stop and look and go “Wow”.
Don’t make freelancing as a main activity if you are unsure with your budget planning. If you are making freelancing as a main activity, make a budget for several months in advance. Who knows what you might run into, it could be a recession month, or even a harvest month.
Keep receipts for EVERYTHING and have a professional do your taxes.
Have six months of expenses in the bank before you quit your day job.
It’s nice to have an opinion but not a massive ego.
If you have a job, stay there. Don’t announce you’re going freelance. Just do your job and start saving money and paying off your debt. Get those credit cards paid off. Don’t buy anything expensive. Save six months of living expenses or more. Live as frugally as you can. No debt and money in the bank is a HUGE confidence booster and will help you make better business decisions.
Keep your receipts for EVERYTHING – its so much easier later.
Know your market.
Do your market research.
Know who your competitors are.
Be utterly professional in all your dealings.
Believe in yourself 200% – confidence is so much more marketable and saleable than lack of belief. If you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to believe in you. people are buying you as much as your product.
Keep drawing. Stay happy. DON’T GET AN EGO! People like working with nice, easy going people who are excited about the work. Doesn’t matter if you’re the most brilliant person on the team – they’ll never hire you if they don’t like you personally. Having said that: Have a bit of Bitch inside you. Learn to stand up for yourself and what you know is right when is needed. The last thing you need/want is for people to think they can walk all over you.
Network like crazy, keep your clients satisfied and have ”can do” attitude.
Be prepared for the lowest of lows but the highest of highs.
Don’t think you cant do it just because you dont have experience in the design industry, build up your portfolio yourself in the evenings, get it online and sign up to freelance websites, hand out your buisness card, drop off a flyer with your skills on it at local shops/buisnesses. Keep at it and if you go through a quiet stage just keep creating your own work to showcase on your portfolio. Read and learn as much as you can about maintaining your own website.
Sarah Elizabeth Yates
Don’t wait until your slow to promote. Do it when your busy. That way you may have slow times but you’ll never be absolutely dead in the water.
Von R. Glitschka
Be prepared to spend at least half your time finding clients and networking for that purpose.
Just one piece? Hmmm that’s very hard! Can I give a few?
– Do lots of marketing and don’t neglect your marketing when you are busy with design work.
– Paid advertising rarely works as well as methods such as networking and search engine optimisation, in fact I’d go so far as to say don’t bother with paying for adverts, especially in directories.
– Be very very organised…deliver your projects on time.
– Don’t underestimate the importance of customer communications; be very clear in what you offer, ensure that a written acceptance of your ‘terms’ is in force and that the customer fully understands what exactly and specifically is on offer for what price, don’t forget to specify what happens for changes and revisions. Ensure that you take a deposit for every project before you start work, and that your attention to detail about your terms is also applied to your design brief information gathering; good design starts with good communication and research; listen to your client properly.
In fact that last one – all of that is probably the most important advice actually.
I set up a company to do business in the US, so there was some legal and accountancy advice necessary. The best part of freelancing is knowing you’re getting paid for everything you do – the harder you work, the more you earn – but you have to feel confident in yourself and be prepared for some slow times. Doing nothing is the hardest thing to do.
Make sure you’ve got a spare £1000 in the bank.
Back up your accounting. Actually, buy an external hard drive and back up everything at least every week. It is really, really expensive to retrieve information from a crashed hard drive. I had it fairly cheap, and it still cost me $1600 to retrieve the information of a 40Gb ibook hard drive, and all I needed was a few small excel documents.
Do it for the passion, and not for the money. If you stay focused on the former, the latter will follow.
Be ready to hear no from clients, and be ready to say no to clients.
I guess my biggest piece of advice would be not to be afraid to take that jump and don’t let people knock you down for it. As long as you understand what you would like to achieve, plan how you want things to work and what you plan to offer and be certain that you can get work its all generally a learning curve after that.
Go and speak to an accountant or startup company straight away. I didn’t for at least a year or two and during that time I was very amateur about everything I do. When you start to understand the backend aspects of you’re new freelancing career and all the pressures that come with it you will be a lot more organized and productive. I’d also highly recommend this link for aspiring freelancers:
Be confident and work out your rates well before you begin! Set everything in paper, always!
If you are going to work from home, make sure you have at least 3 months salary put aside to sustain you. I learned the hard way.