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.

Savings

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

Accountant

  • 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).


Health care

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

There are some great websites such as Freelance Switch. They have a hourly rate calcuator  that you can use to help determine 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.”

Scheduling

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.”

Payments

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.

Deductions

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

Recommendations

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!

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Mon Jun 22, 2009 at 05.40 pm

dava

Thanks for the tips; you give good advice in this post.  I am just dipping my toe in the freelance waters, so to speak, and appreciate advice from those with more experience.

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Mon Jun 22, 2009 at 05.52 pm

David Sokolik

Thank you for your advice.

I’m one of the far too many graphic designers hit by the economy, and finding themselves in a freelance or starve situation.

Advice is always welcome.

David Sokolik

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Mon Jun 22, 2009 at 06.06 pm

Lewro

This is excellent list. Thanks a lot for taking time. I specially like the point about not taking spec work. Might need to follow this list myself quite soon. Wish you lots of great customers and insipiring projects .

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Mon Jun 22, 2009 at 06.14 pm

Cindy

@Lewro: I updated the spec work section just now so you can see two websites that have posts that are more indepth.

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Mon Jun 22, 2009 at 06.20 pm

Joe Spooner

I really enjoyed this article. It helps remove some of my anxiety from doing freelance work and making it profitable. This plus your article on frequent flyer miles makes me wonder why you don’t start a book (with illustrations) on the life of a freelancer :)

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Mon Jun 22, 2009 at 07.02 pm

Gaia

This is excellent :) I am just starting as a freelancer and I found this article very helpful. ^_^
Cheers!

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Mon Jun 22, 2009 at 07.09 pm

Russ Henneberry

Very nice post.  Retweeted.  Take extra time thinking through your payment process—- this can be a major hang up for a freelancer.

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Mon Jun 22, 2009 at 07.24 pm

Cody

Great article. Hope I don’t come across as spammy by recommending a few (non-free) guides:

How to Be a Rockstar Freelancer

The Unlimited Freelancer

StepByStep to Starting a Freelance Business

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Mon Jun 22, 2009 at 08.48 pm

lewro

Thanks a lot @Cindy for pointing to those sources.

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Mon Jun 22, 2009 at 10.04 pm

Eddie Sutton

Nicely done! Congrats on taking the leap into the freelance pool - the water is great in here! If I can offer another tip - client relations. One of the most valuable things a freelancer can offer a client is quick, convenient and personal contact. When the client reaches out, YOU respond, not some other body in the “office”. Valuable clients love that personal touch.

Good luck with the business!

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Tue Jun 23, 2009 at 01.52 am

Jason Stanfill

Thanks for this post, very helpful info for getting started as a freelancer as I am attempting to do right now.

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Tue Jun 23, 2009 at 01.48 pm

Pedro Duarte

Thanks for the tips. 1 thing… I hate bacon ;)

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Tue Jun 23, 2009 at 03.11 pm

Bruno Lima

Truly great advice, especially about the savings account.

I just got left in the cold by a client a few days ago. =/

But at least I got the deposit, so remember always demand a deposit before starting freelance work!

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Wed Jun 24, 2009 at 01.04 pm

Ryan Bickett

Thank you for the post. As a web designer looking to move into the full-time freelance world, I found this post to be quite valuable. It’s been helpful and encouraging for me to read tips and thoughts of experienced freelancers.

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Wed Jun 24, 2009 at 01.50 pm

Brad C

Some great advice. I’m pretty disciplined about finances and like many freelancers I have an “I can do it myself” attitude. But I found that one of the best things I did was finding a good accountant. It has saved me way more than it will ever cost me.

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Wed Jun 24, 2009 at 07.28 pm

Arjun Chodhary

Thanks a lot,
It will be very useful to me. You done a good job for other. i like you spirit.
Because, you know cheating is not uncommon in this world. it is necessary to fit some first aid in backpack.
Thanks again for your suggestion.
With Regards.

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Thu Jun 25, 2009 at 10.24 am

Michelle White

Freelancing is great, but I guess apart from being a good designer its equally important to market yourself.

And managed to do that…for instance I collaborat with my clients using this web app Uhurooand it makes them see how things are taking shape. So my client are happy, yay!

I love freelancing don’t think I would give that up!

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Fri Jun 26, 2009 at 02.03 am

scrapbook supplies

I think you made a great point about the savings. If you’re going to have a go at being freelance, you have to make sure that you can support yourself if a client falls through. Another thing you mentioned, BUSINESS CARDS! So many people think that its a waste of money. But it really is a great investment. If you design your cards to reflect your ability, people are more likely to remember you, and less likely to throw the card away. I never leave without mine, because opportunities are EVERYWHERE

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Sun Jun 28, 2009 at 03.01 pm

Agnes

Yeah, all good advice there. I am friends with a freelance designer and she was lucky enough to find one project which is ongoing filling one day a week so her cash flow is boosted by this one job. I do envy you freelancers though if I’m honest because it must be nice to work for yourself.

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Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 04.34 pm

Bruce Floyd

I found this post very useful, especially the parts dealing with setting your rate and developing a contract.

I’ve spent too many years providing a low flat rate, only to find myself working way more hours than I should. I’ve developed a more appropriate and “professional” rate based on what my colleagues charge and what people expect to pay for pro services.

Great job, Cindy!

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Thu Nov 12, 2009 at 06.32 am

Nick - Graphic Designer Sydney

Sticking to a rate can be hard, especially when a couple of clients get turned away because they don’t want to pay your rate.
I had a case recently where I quoted out a job, and it was quite a reasonable price considering the amount of work involved, only to be told they had a budget of a hundred dollars (after I went to the effort of giving them the itemized quote they requested)
But if you are working for peanuts for someone, you can’t do the job that comes in paying a decent amount.

And yes, you do need a little cash saved up for when the invoices aren’t paid on time.

The best way to start is by moonlighting on weekends to build up a bit of a client base and to learn the ropes whilst having a steady income.

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