Top 20 Life Hacks for Brand New Freelance Designers

Congratulations! You are a freelancer now. The journey ahead of you is super exciting, but it can also be higgledy-piggledy, so don’t neglect to accept some words of advice from those who have already been there, done that, and keep on fighting. Are there some things I wished I knew when I embarked on my freelance career? For sure, and I tried not to miss a single one below.

You will be surprised that most of these tips have nothing to do with actual design itself. But considering that you are now making your own living, you must be pretty good at what you do. Now the challenge is to learn to be better at managing your projects, getting new clients, sticking to the timeline and other tricks a self-employed person must know to survive.

About Getting Clients

Your income now depends on your own efforts. Of course, you probably already have a number of people who have worked with you or at least know your skills. They will be your first round of business. But eventually you will have to expand and look for other clients. No matter how good of a designer you are, knowing how to sell the service constitutes 50% of success here.

1. You have to be aggressive

People and businesses that are actively seeking design services are quite rare, actually. In everyday life you will find out that nobody really wants a website redo. You will have to come and suggest one. And prove that you are capable and worthy of doing it.

2. You will have to accept work you never thought you would be doing

Working through the agency you work with more or less similar client profile and know the expectations of your boss who is approving the design to go to the actual client. Being on your own you will be forced into hunting various kinds of projects and trying to meet the most diverse range of expectations.

3. Sometimes you will spend more time on a pitching proposal than on the project itself

You are your own seller now. And your proposals speak for yourself. So always make sure to make a good one. BidSketch is a good place to start off when you have no idea how to write a proposal, but gradually do change to having your own templates and signature style.

4. Don’t hesitate to ask for a referral

A word goes much further than you think and having somebody who can recommend you as a person and as a professional enlarges your potential client pool. Always make a point of asking a client to write a review or even suggest you to their colleagues and people.

5. Don’t do spam

Okey, marketing yourself is important. So go ahead: give out business cards, post inspiring pictures on social media, manage Freelancer and ODesk account portfolio. But don’t abuse professional forums trying to offer your services – most people come there for other reasons and won’t appreciate such bold approach.

The same goes for email marketing – I personally find it very ineffective for designers specifically. The best way in my experience is having your own blog and an interesting newsletter that people actually solicit to receive.

About Client Relations

Managing a client sometimes seems harder than getting one. Sometime I feel that one has to go to the diplomacy school to actually achieve things in the client-freelancer dialogue. Here are the most important things you have to know when building your approach:

6. Your clients suck at design

… and they will appreciate your design talent only if it goes in line with their expectations and worldview in general. Yes, their request might be too standard and so overworked, but if a classic poster in a Hollywood style is what the client wants – this is exactly what you have to deliver.

7. Never argue with a client

So what he wants a Mona Lisa on his construction site ad? Make sure that you don’t protest – you suggest, you show better examples and motivate your customer to want what you think is best for them.

But if the customer doesn’t yield, settle on agreeing to disagree and make sure your client leaves the conversation feeling appreciated and respected.

8. Talk to your client like to a grandma

There’s nothing more damaging for your relationship with the client than misunderstanding. Never try to play the expert by overwhelming the other side with a set of specialized vocabulary. Even if these words make up almost 20% of your daily language. Always try to explain your processes, challenges and delay reasons in the simplest expressions that can for sure be understood and interpreted correctly.

9. Constantly improve your service

This is the best advice to ensure returning business: Go that extra mile and give the client more than what they initially expected. There are many things you can do that don’t cost you a thing, but are very much appreciated by the client.

10. Respect deadlines. Always

No news you want to say? We all know that delivering on time is crucial, yet almost every second worker constantly fails deadline. Be it the Parkinson’s law that states that we take the maximum amount of time allowed for the task, or just our eternal laziness, but simply submitting everything on time will earn you a lot of credit.

About Pricing and Billing

Here comes the part where money appears. Being a freelancer means mastering the art of accounting and financial reporting to perfection. Thankfully, there are special apps that can help you with it. And with the right mindset and balance of harshness and sweetness you will manage just perfectly.

11. Don’t go cheap

It’s easy to get a little desperate being turned down a couple of times, but always know the value of your time and don’t underprice your services.

Another thing is that not all your clients can pay the same price and it’s absolutely OK to offer different pricing schemes to a small local flower shop and big international corporation.

12. Don’t hesitate to ask for upfront payment

It’s absolutely OK to ask for 25-30% in advance. Many of the freelancer-finding websites already have this practice as a rule and I personally think that every freelancer should make it a code of conduct too.

13. Always have a brief approved before proceeding

Many of us call it a brief, but experienced businessmen call it a contract where you write all the terms and conditions of the service offered and paid for. Today, free contract depositories, such as Shake or many others make even the most inexperienced freelancers pros at contract drafting.

This saves you time on figuring out what the client actually wants and serves as a safety net when the boss of your manager suddenly changes his mind (believe me, this happens more often than you wish).

14. It’s not client’s priority to pay you

So don’t expect that they will pay quickly and always have a reminder template and schedule. Besides billing and expenses tracking, Wave Accounting has an option of regular client reminders, so you don’t have to stress over having to write another embarrassing email.

15. Forecast possible revisions

Almost every project has a possibility to turn into a retainer. And even if your client isn’t talking about it now, they will eventually need to open up another page or update the date on the booklet.

Come up with a special price on revising your own work and make sure they know about it. Be prepared to do free revisions if there’s some concern about the quality of your work but set the limits to what goes beyond “fixing bugs” and should be remunerated additionally.

About Actual Design

As always, the most interesting part is the last on the list. Sometimes you will feel that going freelance killed everything you loved about the design and made you a secretary. But such moments are temporarily and tend to pass away pretty quickly when you land a big project and execute it in the utmost manner. Immense growth opportunities, diversity of clients and having the freedom to control your own time are the benefits that you will love being a freelance designer.

16. Don’t underestimate a sketch

Whether you do it in pencil or using your preferred software, drafting your ideas is a great way to perfect them. And sending this draft as a pitch is a great way to prove your serious intentions and worthiness of handling the order.

I always go back to my sketches in a middle of working on the project – sometimes the details get lost while fine-tuning the overall picture and it is useful to see where it all started.

17. Focus on the message

For us, creative minds, it is so easy to get lost in the world of our ideas. But among clients art for the sake of art is not very much appreciated. Every client has a specific goal, which your design must fulfill. Discover that goal, find out more about their target audience and always test your product whether it conveys that message your client wants to deliver.

18. Ask questions

There is no other way to find out what the client wants exactly. Don’t be afraid to appear in your client’s mailbox too often – believe me, the client wants to hear from you and know about your progress.

Also, it is absolutely normal when the final product is somewhat different from what was discussed in the beginning. But every time you have an idea on how to shift the focus or change the brief – talk to your customer. Persuade them providing both examples proving that the modified one looks better.

19. Gain inspiration from real life, not other designs

Get away from your computer. Go outside, exercise, talk to people who have no idea what designers do and why they are needed, read fiction books, watch series and do gardening. Everything you do that makes you closer to real world serves as an endless source of inspiration no other agency or competitor can steal from you.

20. Don’t stray away from competition

Hanging around other designers will not only bring you a better market understanding. What will you do when you suddenly have a bigger project that you can’t handle yourself? Right – look for subcontracting someone professional. The same works vice versa when other designers need someone to give them a hand on their projects.

The list of the life hacks I’ve learned over 10 years of freelancing is endless, but you got the main idea: be forgiving as Nelson Mandela when it comes to client relations, tough as Steve Jobs when it comes to financial issues and innovative as David Ogilvy when it comes to your product. And what freelancing lessons have you already learned?

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  1. Nice one. Keep up the great articles. I would love to read an article on budget and asking the client for it.

  2. Thanks for the post! Like the part about going outside and view other sources rather than the computer. Good advice. Thanks!!

  3. Asking for referrals is definitely something not enough people do. It seems unimportant but you’d be surprised how much work it can actually get you. Although I do suppose that if your work is good enough, you’ll end up getting referrals without even having to ask… but asking doesn’t hurt, either ;)

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