The Adventures of Cindy Li
Are you ready to freelance?
June 20 , 2009
Once upon a time
I appeared on the “50 Best Female Web Designers around the world” list. It’s an honor to be recognized on this list but as a freelancer you still have to work really hard to get the word out that you’re available. It’s great publicity but it doesn’t guarantee you to bring home the bacon (who doesn’t love bacon?).
I am freelancing and am available for work (feel free to contact me). I hope this article will help other freelancers and I’ve intereviewed some other freelancers for their tips. I’ve had over 10 years of experience in large companies, startups and even designing brands for other professionals. As I get back into freelancing again I’d like to share what I’ve learned and I’ve also collected some tips from other freelancers.
Look at your savings account. Make sure you have enough for at least a few months or even 6 to cover when clients don’t pay on time. It does happen more often than you’d imagine. Plus contracts sometimes end abruptly and that income you were counting on just isn’t going to be there til you land another client. Clients also delay because they are trigger shy due to economy, or other factors that have nothing to do with you. Yes, you may have to sit through a round of its us not you. :P
- If you are disciplined save money for taxes by using Quicken or some financial software.
- If you are not disciplined or get easily confused by tax forms. Speak to an accountant to figure out what taxes you will owe in each quarter. It’s called estimated taxes. Do it or pay later (possibly a lot more money because of interest later).
This is not the time to skimp. I know your sitting there thinking that your healthy, young and nothing will happen. Think again. If you could save the thousands of dollars to pay for it “if” you got ill. You would have already done so. If you are freelancing you can deduct it.
Go with a major insurance company. It’s easier and they will be less likely of denying your insurance claim vs a small company. When I was researching insurance companies I even figured out that a small time insurance company formed an independent contractor association so that they could scam money out of people. If it seems like too good of a deal it is.
Getting the word out
How do you get the word out?
- You start by telling friends, colleagues, and Twitter of course.
- Redesign your site.
- Redo your resume, LinkedIn, and whatever forum you are on to let people know you are freelancing.
- Join some groups on-line that need freelancers
- Don’t do spec work. It devalues our business. Your mechanic won’t even look at your car for free so why should you do the same? The AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) even has an article no spec work. a No!Spec website that has more information.
- Always carry your business cards with you remember that American Express saying, Don’t leave home without it.
A fellow consultant, Thomas Vander Wal (he consults on strategy, mentoring, interaction design and project management) suggests, “Getting involved with user groups/meet ups with potential clients. Don’t just hang around other design freelancers.Mingle. Meet-up is a good place to link to. Make friends with developers, project managers, marketing, etc. They need your help and convince them of it.”
Matt Harris, freelance client side, and server side developer, says, “Keep an eye out for community events. They’re a great place to meet other people in the field and to keep your skills and knowledge up-to-date. Some events may be outside of your immediate area but you still try and go. Travel by train or bus to these events so you can work on the way there.” “Invest in EVDO or mobile broadband. Not only will it mean you can stay on-line when out of the office, but it also means your not reliant on conference wifi”
Craig Cook, a front end web designer suggests that, “it’s *good* to know some other freelancers and have a network of referrals and collaborators in those cases where you can’t take on a job, you can pass it on to a friend, and your friends will do the same.”
Craig and I also suggest attending conferences (which is deductible) to meet up with other people in the field.
Setting your rate
Daniel Ryan, freelance front end web designer, says, “Don’t get desperate. Figure out a rate that works for you and that your market will bear and stick with it. It’s easy, especially in the early goings, to do work for less money just to get work; but that’s a hard hole to climb out of.”
Craig also suggests, “Don’t overextend yourself and take on more work than you can actually do just because you want the money. Schedule your time sensibly and don’t be afraid to say no if you just can’t take on a project.”
Marianne Masculino, a freelance web designer, suggests “getting a deposit and a state of work signed before starting a project.”
If you don’t have one take a look at the one that Andy Clarke wrote a contract killer post. It will help you get started.
Getting an accountant makes it easier but you still need to know what you can deduct. Here are some tips:
- Keep a record of your meetings.
- Keep the receipts so you can deduct business coffee meetings, lunches or dinners.
- Write down the mileage for your meetings from your house to the meeting.
- Having a dedicated office space for your work allows you to deduct the square footage for your taxes
This takes time to build a good reputation. I’ve worked for large companies, startups, and individuals. I have had numerous colleagues vouch for me. They have helped me land the jobs because I take recommendations very seriously. I see it as a reflection of them and I want to make those that vouch for me appear even brighter for recommending me. Thankfully this has worked many times and continues. People like knowing they are getting quality work. They want you to care about their business as much as you do your own.
Another freelancer Christopher Schmitt (who is also available for web design work) suggests asking for a recommendation as soon as a successful project ends.
Take recommendations very seriously. Your colleagues and friends are putting their reputations on the line for you. Don’t make them regret it. Make them look better for it.
Hoping this helps!