Going freelance nowadays is a path many designers and developers take, not only because of job vacancies being on the low side, but also because there are some clear advantages to it.
While working for a company is more secure and organized, going freelance is something most of us have thought about at least once. Working by yourself means you need some special skills, such as being able to work alone, to respect schedules and deadlines and to be able to market yourself better than the others. None of these is easy to do and not being able to follow some specific rules will ruin your freelance career.
The Freelance Designer Toolbox
Unlimited Downloads: 500,000+ Web Templates, Icon Sets, Themes & Design Assets
Table of Contents:
- Questions to Ask Yourself Before Becoming a Freelancer
- Discover What Type of Designer Are You?
- Jacob Cass Shares His Insights
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Becoming a Freelancer
Below are questions that you need to answer yourself, before you finally decide to be a freelancer. Therefore before going freelance, take a look at the following questions and try to ask yourself if this is indeed the right path for you to follow.
1. How do you feel about working alone?
Freelancing can get pretty boring sometimes and working alone is not something everybody can do. If you find enjoyment in working with people in a group, then freelancing might be something to avoid. You will probably get lonely and might want to have someone to chat with and this is not likely to happen if you freelance – don’t forget there is a schedule to follow and a deadline to keep.
Moreover, there are lots of designers and developers who like to ask for feedback or ask people around for help, this is something you should consider as well.
On the other hand, working alone has some clear advantages. If you like to work in a peaceful and quiet environment then working freelance in your own office might suit you better than a nine to five company job. Some of us really need to concentrate when we work and therefore prefer to work alone.
Anyway, regardless of which way you like to work, it is always a good idea to have some backup places to go and work from if you need. As a busy freelancer your social life might suffer and being near people while working might even increase your results. Bookstores, libraries or any place like Starbucks or McDonald’s are sometimes good for your workflow.
2. How about motivation?
OK then, you like working alone and can’t wait to start, but are you motivated enough to keep this up when it becomes your everyday life? Otherwise freelancing might not be for you either. Think of all the moments when you will need to step it up a notch without anyone pushing you. Can you push yourself?
Source: somewhere on the internet
Can you get up in the morning, eat and start working immediately instead of connecting the yoke and flying that Boeing from Amsterdam’s Schiphol to Charles de Gaulle in Paris? Just think this is only one of the few moments when you will need to go make some money instead of having fun. Deadlines are always tight and you always need to meet them in time, otherwise you will be considered unreliable and will end up with no clients and without clients you end up with no money.
3. Are you pleased with just enough money?
Freelancing for extra money is a bit different from freelancing for a living. Unlike what everyone thinks, freelancing does not fill your bank account too much. Sure, you control the amount of money you charge, and to some extent the amount of money you make, but if you want lots of money at the end of the month, you will have to work a lot, because money doesn’t just fall from trees on the internet – as a matter of fact, there are not even trees on the internet. In the beginning you might not even make enough, because nobody knows you and you need a portfolio to land big jobs (sure, if you have a portfolio already, lucky you, but not everyone who starts freelancing has one).
The good part is that you have full control of your money. You decide if you charge per hour, per project or if you work for free just because you want to. You also decide how much you charge for maintenance of a previous project or for a client that has been with you for five years. This is all in your hands – and you need to be able to manage your money wisely. If you make a fortune this month, the following three could be dry.
4. Will you go abroad?
Working freelance allows people to collaborate with individuals or companies from all over the world. This is a huge opportunity for anybody who knows a foreign language (English should be enough though) and is willing to go abroad and look for work – not necessarily going there physically, but who knows, it might land you that dream job of yours.
Photo by fraserd
Thinking of this beforehand is important because you need to market yourself in such a way that clients from China, India, Croatia or Greece will all be interested in your services – or only some of them, depends who are you interested in. Working with local clients might not be so difficult, especially if you have lived somewhere for a long time and know the surroundings and the culture, but going abroad is definitely a challenge and you need strong personal skills for it. When the internet is full of scammers, only a strong portfolio and personality will convince someone abroad to hire you for big bucks.
If you market yourself to the local clients, then you will also rely on some other channels than internet. If you want to go abroad, internet is the only way to become known and get some work.
5. How does your portfolio look?
It had better be good, otherwise everybody will skip it. Having a powerful internet presence is the only way you can make a name for yourself out there, with so much competition. Before going and marketing yourself, make sure your portfolio looks at least decent. Update the content, keep the latest contact information and make sure everybody gets what it is you offer. Your online portfolio is the place everything starts from, so make sure that when users look at it, they imagine and wish to hire you.
6. What are you good at?
This is a question you should ask yourself regardless of the career you choose and it is of utmost importance when freelancing because you have to market yourself in a specific way. In a company, once you get hired, you don’t need to advertise you or your services, but when you are a freelancer you need to do this all the time. Find out what it is you are good at and make sure people know it only by looking at your work.
It is also important to have general knowledge, but to specialize in something is crucial. Don’t market yourself as a generalist (and don’t be one either). Sure, it is good to know a bit of everything, but have strong knowledge of one or two things and call yourself an expert in those fields.
7. Where is your office going to be?
This is a bit different from the first question although it is closely related. If you like to work alone, then home might be a good choice, otherwise you might even need to rent an office in order to be around people, or maybe even work in a public place (although I do not recommend this third choice).
Photo by barunpatro
There are advantages and disadvantages to each of them and even if working from home seems the best one, it is really not. It is always difficult to stay focused on work and not start doing laundry, mop your floor or watch TV. In an office space you won’t have these problems, so this is the advantage of a more professional working space. However, if working from an office, talking too much with your colleagues will have the same effect and you will not be able to meet your deadlines. It is smart to find a balance between working alone and around other people and finding the right working space for you.
You can find some tips for your home office here.
8. Do you have future plans?
And if you do, where do you see yourself in five years? Will you be a freelancer forever or do you just want to do it now until you will be able to find an agency job? Do you wish to hire some more employees to work with you and turn your freelance hobby into a professional small company? Do you wish to work your way up in the freelance world and become well-known all over the internet?
You need to consider all these things; not only for the sake of having something to think about, but also because you need to run your business accordingly. Moreover, you don’t want to freelance for life if you don’t enjoy it too much. On the other hand, if you really like to be a freelancer, then why search for a more stable, agency job for the moment?
9. Should you become one of us?
Well, if you went through all the questions above and still think this is for you, then this is the final test. Do you really think freelancing is for you? Is it something you are truly passionate about? Are you ready for all the challenges, for getting clients on your own, be maybe close to starving in some bad months, take vacations rarely because you don’t have time for it and so on? Are you certain freelancing is the way you want to go? Because if your answer is still YES, then I am sure you will enjoy a lot of success and will avoid failure at all costs, only because this challenging career seems to suit you better than many others.
Do you think there is something else to consider when starting a freelance career? How was it when you started, what was the most challenging thing? How did you manage to go through with it?
Ever wondered, what kind of a designer are you? Let’s find out.
Discover What Type of Designer Are You?
Just like there are different client types, and different people in general – there are a few different types of designers. In this article we will have a look at some of the characteristics of some of these and give you some tips on how to improve. Hopefully you will have a few good tips on how you can become an even better designer when you’re done with this section!
Have you ever thought that you’re unique? Or felt that you’re just one of thousands out there struggling to get a project?
Most likely, both of these statements are true. Many designers are out there trying to get their next project and most of them are in a way unique. Still there are some characteristics that we all have more or less of. By understanding some of these and knowing how to take advantage of your better sides while getting rid of the bad ones, you will be more likely to succeed!
Very few are just one single type. Most of us have some characteristics from several of these types, giving us hundreds of possible combinations. So we are indeed unique. Being one specific type doesn’t mean that you’re better than everyone else, or worse for that matter. The best way to be is a nice mix of different ones if possible. Even some of the more negative sounding types do have their positive sides. Now let’s have a look at one way to divide us into these types:
More common within the ranks of fresh designers is the over-worker. This is the designer that spends a lot of time on even the smaller projects believing that this is the answer to everything. On the good side it’s always great when people try to make sure they’ve done the best they can. On the other hand this can be a dangerous path to go as you will have time for less projects during a month. If you’re being paid by the hour your designs will be more expensive than with several other designers and if you’re paid by the project there’s a good chance you’re working a lot for every dollar you get in. The key here is to learn when to say stop and getting more confident in what you do.
Confident can be good. Actually it’s very good to some point. The confident designer knows that he’s doing well and sometimes dares to believe in his own gut feeling when making decisions. Balance is essential though. If you’re too confident you may be missing some important feedback from the client or not be critical enough to your own work.
The Nervous Wreck
I’ve met a few designers that are really nervous wrecks. They think that everything they do is bad or that clients will be unhappy with them no matter what they deliver. The confidence level is zero and I’ve many times thought that it must be really painful to have it this way. For some it can be just a matter of getting some quality feedback or polishing the skills a bit to feel more confident. Ask fellow designers for feedback, read up on what you do and do an evaluation of your routines. Maybe you’re someone who’s better off in another job?
The Average Designer
As the title says this is the average one. By average I don’t mean bad, just someone who’s right there in the middle with thousands of others without standing out much. A lot of us manage well in this segment and get a nice share of projects on a regular basis. These designers live by current trends without daring to take too many risks. They have the basic skills and understanding and usually make an ok living from designing.
The Creative Mess
The creative mess has a lot of ongoing projects simultaneously. He/she often has many projects outside the design terms as well, along with personal projects and dreams – all in the creative field. This can be a dangerous path to walk down if you’re not able to get done with what you’re doing. Try to get balance (the next characteristic) and work on time management. Sometimes it can be hard, but necessary to realise that you can’t do everything you want always. Priorities have to be made.
The Balanced Creative
This is the successful version of the creative mess type. With a lot of ongoing projects, this designer knows that it takes priority and hard work. Having multiple projects can be a really good thing and this designer has found the secrets to how to balance all projects in a satisfying way.
This designer works more for the design than for the money (usually). A person that focuses on design that is uncommon and rarely seen. He doesn’t always have enough work but occasionally there comes huge projects along from clients that dare to go for his unique groundbreaking style. Often this designer works part-time.
Many times the trendsetter can own his own company or work with a bigger one. But these can also be freelancers. This type is the first one to start-up new trends and often has a lot of success. He can choose from many available projects at most times and is well-known in his niche. To be able to stay on top this designer will need to spend a lot of time reading up on what’s happening in the market, have the latest software and keep the skills polished.
Haven’t we all met them at some point? The designer who believes he is a trend setter or that his designs are absolutely awesome at all times. This person needs to be better to listen to feedback and be more realistic. Instead of attracting clients he will be likely to drive them away. Clients that re-buy are few and he doesn’t understand why as he is “perfect” in his own eyes.
There are some designers that copy others work almost for a living sometimes. This will eventually be discovered and is a really bad thing. It gives a horrible reputation and most of these designers have to stop doing business after a short time. The secret is to do your research properly and learn to use trends without copying someone elses work.
The Lucky One and the Unlucky One
This is many times more a myth than a fact in my opinion. I’ve many times hear someone say they don’t succeed because they have bad luck or that someone else succeeded because they were “really lucky”. Obviously you can have good and bad luck with everything you do, that’s a fact. But using it as an excuse is not the way to go. While some succeed or hit that one client that is great referral or has a lot of money, it all comes down to hard work. The harder you work, the bigger the chance is for success!
There are many types of designers, and you’re probably a combination of several of these. My advice to you is to have a look at these, make up your own opinion and work towards becoming the type you think is the best for you. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some characteristics, so feel free to leave your feedback for everyone to hear. By doing things your own way without blaming the situation and working hard instead, you will have a better chance at success!
( Which type are you? )
To finish this article, we have an interview for you with Jacob Cass, who shares his story of freelancing.
Wildly Successful Freelance Designer Jacob Cass Shares His Insights
Jacob Cass, at the prime age of just 24, has already received numerous regional, national and international design awards for his work in identity, web and graphic design which makes him a wildly successful freelance designer. Jacob’s work also appears in a number of high-profile design-related books including The Best of Logo Lounge Master Series and the WOLDA Annual.
Jacob also runs the wildly popular graphic design blog Just Creative where he freelances as a graphic, web and logo designer. Jacob also runs the websites Logo Designer Blog and Logo Of The Day – two blogs dedicated entirely to branding & logo design. Throughout the day you will find him at Ammirati, where he specialises in interaction design for some of the world’s most vaunted brands (Jerry Seinfeld, VitaminWater & OMEGA to name a few). When not at his desk you will find him traveling the world.
Would You Like to Become a Successful Freelance Designer? Read on!
How did you get into design in the first place?
“Like many designers I know, becoming a designer seemed like a natural progression. Even looking back on it now, throughout all years of my schooling, the creative subjects were always what I loved most. I was always drawn to art and creating things, however, at the time I had no idea what ‘design’ was. I thought of design as art, rather than problem solving.
With this said, I fell into design over time. It initially started by putting photos online for friends (before MySpace or Facebook) so I had to learn some basic HTML, CSS and Photoshop. I then got asked by friends if I could create designs for them and it went from there. I initially did it for free, then for a small fee, then as my skills & knowledge progressed, I eventually made a living out of it.”
How did you start your career as a freelance web designer?
“I started at the bottom, just like everyone else. Through practice, reading, and doing, I built my business from the ground up. While I was studying design, I also blogged about my studies which allowed me to reflect on my studies, and at the same time get freelance clients. My blog was, and is, a great self promotional and learning tool. It’s literally the backbone of my business.”
What were the biggest mistakes you’ve made as a newbie freelance web designer? What are the key things that people who are new to freelancing should keep in mind?
“Making mistakes is a great way to learn and I’ve made many mistakes along the way, and still do. The biggest ones were probably undercharging, presenting too many options to clients and not keeping control of my accounting & taxes. These are all things to keep in mind, as well as learning how to run a business, which is crucial to success. You can be the best designer in the world, but if you can’t run a business and deal with clients & invoicing, it’s going to be a very bumpy road.”
How did you get clients when you were only starting out? What would you advise to people who aim to build a solid client base from scratch?
“Clients mostly came through referrals and my blog, which is still the same way I get clients today. I’ve never spent a cent on advertising or sent out any promotional material. Instead I spend time on my own site and across the social networks. I recently did a talk at TEDxCMU on this topic so check it out if your interested.”
What was your daily routine when you were a full-time freelancer? Maybe you can share some productivity tips and tricks with our readers?
“I usually have a coffee in the morning, do my emails and then go straight into design. I find the morning is the most productive and creative part of my day. In the afternoon I do more emails and less creative tasks. As far my tools and productivity goes, you can see a list of my software and hardware here. Coffee in the afternoon also helps.”
How did you handle the uncertainty factor that comes with full-time freelancing? What are the measures someone who is a bit stressed about that can take to make themselves feel more secure?
“Having a back up plan and funds to fall back onto is handy, as well as a second source of income. For me, this would be advertising from my blogs. Having this back up and secondary income, gives you peace of mind and allows you to focus on the business of design.”
What was your experience with transitioning from a full-time freelancing to having a full-time job and freelancing on the side? What are the pros and cons of both? Which one do you like more?
“I am still doing both, and over time, have figured out how much work I can or can not take on. There is no easy way around this, and one can only learn how much to take on, by knowing how long things take you to do.
At my full-time job, I work on mostly digital projects and to keep things fresh and interesting, for my freelance work, I take on branding and identity projects. The downside of this is that you have a lot of work, but if you manage your time & energy right then you will reap the benefits. One goal to aspire to is to be able to work less and charge more.”
Many people struggle to find the right work and play balance, meanwhile you have an impressive career, yet still find time to travel and do things you love. What’s your secret?
“There is no ‘secret’ but I’ve got a number of systems and tools in place to help things stay ‘efficient’. I’ve got an email system that weeds out low-tier clients, questionnaires & contact forms to generate leads, FAQs and articles for clients to read without needing me to personally explain things, as well as high SEO rankings and a modest following across social networks. All of these things form a solid foundation for me to stand upon, while I do what I love, which is design and travel.”
Last, but not least, if you would have to give a single piece of advice to someone who’s just starting out as a freelance web designer, what would it be?
“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, watching video courses and by practising. Collect & share things. Teach others. Never give up. Keep practising. Again, keep practising.
Thanks for having me!”