5 Tips When Starting Freelance
It's scary starting off on your own! Seriously, sometimes it feels like the wild west. There are absolutely some things you will just need to figure out with time, but who doesn't love a few tips along the way?
These are the five biggest lessons I learned within my first year of freelancing. Also shoutout to my Dad who helped me learn some of these tips sooner rather than later. He has several decades of freelance experience, thanks Dad!
1. Backup your work.
When someone is paying you for a project, keeping the elements of that project safe and secure are your job. Drives fail, and mistakes happen. If you are at work on a Mac like I am, be sure you have your Time Machine set up to an external drive, and always save to a secondary drive as you work. If it seems like extra hassle now, but just imagine the feeling of loosing an entire week of files. Don't let that happen to you! Even after the project is complete, keep those files in an archive. You never know when someone you contract with for a one-off project will return.
2. Focus on being an EXCELLENT communicator.
This tip is really for the sake of saving you time, and also offers a better client experience by its very nature. As a freelancer, you are expected to be "the expert". This can potentially mean that your client thinks you are a mindreader because you are supposed to know what good looks like. Well, you may know what good looks like, but we aren't psychics and we don't know what good looks like TO THEM (without clear communication). This is why communication is key on saving you time. I love it when I get a client that clearly outlines exactly what they are looking for. But other times you get the one that says something like:
"I need my business website to have Ecommerce and our brand color is pink".
Um ok great. Thank you. Now be prepared for my extremely detailed follow up email in which I include an outline of the items I need from you. I've found when you actually TYPE the thing you need and add a colon, people are more likely to actually answer your question.
- Main Menu Section Title:
- Sub Heading:
- Dropdown Content:
You get the idea. Don't let yourself be bullied into reading minds, chances are you will get a follow up email about how your design doesn't match their "vision".
3. Invoice on time.
Ugh, you became a freelancer because you DIDN'T want to be doing mindless paperwork am I right? Well, you still need to get paid and depending on who you are working for your disorganization with invoicing could cause extra annoyance.
If you are contracted for a project, once all of the final approvals done and the project is complete, send the invoice that week.
If you are doing continual hourly work, set an invoicing schedule BEFORE the dollar amount on that invoice gets too high. If that is every two weeks for you, great, if it's every week, so be it. Getting huge invoices just because you were too lazy to get your crap together will sometimes give your client hassle with attaining other approvals and months of no invoicing could be a nightmare for the accounting department of a larger company.
Be cool and invoice on time. Your perk is getting paid.
4. Know how far to push yourself.
There's nothing like baptism by fire on a project type that is new to you. This is totally ok, and is needed for your growth at some point in your career. Just be realistic between how big of a bite you can take, and what is too much for you to chew. Take chances, but be realistic with projects that will totally derail your life and potentially cost you to lose a client because you can't deliver at their level of expectation. Know yourself and your competencies.
5. Choose the clients that are worth your time.
I've heard people say "never turn down work". I completely disagree. You should turn down work if someone is not worth your time. As a freelancer, time is everything. You could spend one hour going back and forth with a client that will truly never be satisfied, or design a quick logo. Take some time to know your client (especially those requesting larger or long-term projects) and really interview THEM to see if they are worth your time.
I'll say it again, some people will truly NEVER be satisfied, (because they are lacking vision in the first place). Sometimes it's impossible to see a clients true colors before a project starts but use your intuition and when you feel a stage 5 clinger, know that it's ok to part ways and move on.
Last tip is a bonus and has gotten me through some really hard days.
Sometimes the best medicine for a frustrating day is laughter, and when it's someone who understands your woes, it makes it all the better. This site is for designers and freelancers to share stories... you will enjoy it in a time of need. You're welcome in advance.