How to Be the Worst Freelance Designer in the Universe (in Just 10 Steps)

How to be a what? -asks you.

Well, yeah, being the honest freelancer seems a bit too mainstream. Besides, it’s way too difficult. So why not just be the worst one instead – the underachiever of the freelancing world if you will?

Now, why am I going with such an angle? Frankly, everyone knows that there’s more than one path to success, but there are certainly even more paths to failure, and I bet you any money that for every successful freelancer, there are at least 10 struggling. And don’t get me wrong, even though I personally embrace failure as the best way to learn things, I don’t actually want anyone to fail, so contrary to what the title says, this article is about succeeding.

The thing here is that, as it turns out, bad habits and bad practices often go unnoticed, and when you finally manage to realize the mistakes you’ve done, it can take a long while to fix the situation.

Therefore, here are the 10 steps to becoming the worst freelancer in the universe (and how not to be one). I encourage you to use this list for reference when assessing the things you are doing in your business.

Disclaimer. This post is written in a reverse manner. A rare approach, but I think this topic is perfect for it. In other words, instead of talking about things you’d do to improve at something, I’m listing the things you’d do to kill your career. So, if you indeed want to succeed in your freelance design journey, do the exact opposite.

All of the things featured below are practices that I’ve actually seen happening, either being done by my peers or being done to me (hey, even freelancers become freelance clients at some times).

1. Try Getting Almost All of the Money Upfront

instantShift - Try getting almost all of the money upfront

Asking for a 50/50 split (half of the money upfront and half upon completion) is just so 2006. Really, the new breed of freelancers does it differently … 60/40, or 50/30/20, which is even better.

The trick is to convince your client to give you as much as 80%+ of the money before the work is done.

This is all about crafting your pitch correctly. For instance, no one will take you up on your offer if you word it like this:

“Yeah, so you pay me 90% of the money upfront via Western Union, and then 10% upon completion. By the way, no revisions included.”

However, it’s a different story if you do it like this:

“We can start right after the initial 50% upfront payment. Then, we have one milestone point mid-project, at which we expect another 30% of the payment. The final batch is paid upon delivery.”

What the above means in plain English is “you pay me 80% of the money before you get any actual outcomes you can use for anything.” (Fairly common practice, by the way.)

2. Avoid Contracts at All Costs

Contracts are bad. First of all, they force you to meet deadlines (more about deadlines in a minute) and face some consequences if you miss them. Secondly, they hold you accountable for things. And as you’d guess, being vulnerable in any shape or form is not good for business.

Think about it, if you screw up, some legal action can actually be taken against you since there was a contract involved. So what’s the simplest solution here? … Not screwing up? No, too complicated. Not having any contract whatsoever? Yes!

3. Bash Your Peers (Your Freelancing Competition)

instantShift - Bash your peers

This is the first step after getting any new project on your radar. Always start by looking at some previous work that other freelance designers have done for your client and immediately laugh it off.

The idea is that instead of acknowledging your peers and trying to understand what the previous goals of the projects were (etc.), you’re boosting your ego and portraying yourself as the all-knowing expert.

4. Always Focus on What You Want Out of the Project

…as opposed to focusing on what the client wants.

And yes, this really is possible. It’s all in the execution. Here’s what you do, in that order:

  • Remember that just a minute ago you laughed off the previous freelancer’s work. So now, start by ensuring your client that their needs will be met and that you understand the project 100%. In short, this initial step is all about listening to what your client says and acting like you care; and then…
  • Do whatever you wanted to do in the first place.

Now, what if the client gets a bit angry. Simple:

  • Say that you know better and that it’s probably the reason they hired you (so you’re kind of using their actions as a weapon against them).
  • Say that it’s your way of working and that it’s how you’ve always worked.
  • Add that your previous clients always enjoyed the final result no matter what.
  • Revert responsibility by blaming the client for not explaining the project properly.

Then comes the best part. At this point, listen again to what the client has to say, and repeat the whole process all over again.

5. Don’t have any Data Security

instantShift - Don't have any data security

“Sorry Mr. Karol, but your project got lost due to a massive hard drive crash we had yesterday. There really was nothing we could do about it…”

Well, sure they couldn’t. After all, it’s 2013 and tools like SugarSync or Dropbox haven’t been invented yet. Oh wait, no, they have…

([Gimmick-off note]: SugarSync and Dropbox are both quite similar and allow easy data synchronization across multiple devices. Google Drive has also entered this game and should be considered a sensible alternative.)

All in all, not backing up your client’s ongoing project is a serious douchebag-freelancer practice. But when a crash happens, you can at least get away with prolonging the deadline, so there are always some benefits, right?

6. Don’t Introduce any Professionalism into your Way of doing Business

instantShift - Don't introduce any professionalism

First of all, don’t have any professional-looking email address. Your old high school email is still cool, clients will love it (or learn to love it, which is the same).

Next, be as inaccessible as possible. I mean, don’t respond to email in anything even remotely timely. Don’t care about any messages from your client marked as “urgent” and don’t care about anything they say is important.

Have no actual branding or no identifiable feel that would make you look like a real business on top of the traditional “I’m in my momma’s basement with this business anyway.”

Say no to any request of having a phone call to talk over some project details. “Email is enough, you client!”

Use no good-looking client proposals that can be viewed, examined, and responded-to online, which would speed up your prospecting considerably. After all, like I said, it’s 2013 and tools like Bidsketch haven’t been invented yet… Oh wait, no, this one has too.

Forget about project management software! No one needs this crap, it’s only some additional hassle. If your clients want to have a look into what’s going on, they will have to grab their car keys and visit you personally because giving them some online access through Basecamp would be too much for you.

To bring this all together, everything that would convey a message different than: “Take my offer or whatev, I don’t even care” is not worthy of a true freelance design underachiever.

7. Don’t do Marketing

This one’s a no-brainer. Frankly, you’re a genius. And geniuses don’t need marketing. Think of yourself like the Kanye West of freelance design. Kanye doesn’t need any marketing. All he has to do is sit and wait for some monies to come to him just like that.

In the freelancing world, if clients don’t come to you begging for a project, you’re not good enough.

8. Don’t have any Actual Client Service/Support

instantShift - Don't have any actual client service/support

When a project is done, it’s done. There’s no need to follow up with a client or listen to their suggestions. For instance, if you get contacted by a client with concerns, ignore them completely. It’s no longer your business. If they’re persistent, mark their email as spam. This is how modern freelancing business is done!

9. Deadlines; “whatev”-lines

Remember, deadlines are not any actual important points in time. They are just a guide for you as for when the most convenient moment to deliver the project would be. But, you don’t have to be bothered with them. In the end, when you miss a deadline, all you have to do is say you’re sorry and move it a couple of days forward.

Really, it’s not like some actual money can be lost if you miss a deadline. Scratch that, it’s not like some actual money of yours can be lost.

10. Don’t Set any Milestones

instantShift - Don't set any milestones

Milestones are also known as sub-deadlines. They are not cool for one main reason. Once set, they force you to work on a project gradually, and not just completing it at the last moment in a huge surge of creativity and freelancing power.

It’s really really difficult to fake work when you have some milestones set in the project calendar…

Conclusion (gimmick off)

Whether we like it or not, the freelancing world can be harsh, and just like in any other environment, here too are many douchebags and people who are just interested in the quick buck.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to recognize them at first sight. And what’s even sadder is that it’s also easy to do something quite douchebaggy yourself without realizing it at first.

When it’s all said and done, we are in this world to grow and to realize the dangers that lay before us. That’s why having your finger on the pulse is so important, not only when it comes to having an overall picture of the market, but also being 100% conscious of the things you’re doing and what impact they have on your image.

I hope that this article and its forcible tone will guide your attention to this issue and help you stay on the light side of the force.

Also, let’s not make this all that negative. Instead, let’s have some more fun. Do you know of any other douchebag-freelancer methods and tactics that you’ve seen in practice? Feel free to share.


Image CreditsepSos .de, dead cat, Dell Inc., Aaron

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  1. There is a dude I know on Rigel 7 that is the worst designer in the universe.

    • Haha, thanks for sharing, Tim! :)

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