Recently someone in one of my networks asked for tips about freelancing. I wrote her an email with my top tips, and I thought I’d share a more general version on here – this could be useful for people who are considering freelancing for the first time.
I freelanced straight out of uni because junior service design roles were few and far between back then. Even during more normal jobs or contracts, I’ve almost always continued to freelance. I graduated in 2012, so that’s about three and a half years, on and off.
So here are my tips on joys to make the most of, getting clients, how much work to take on, dealing with expenses, dealing with possible problems and how to be a ‘good freelancer’. Enjoy!
Joys to make the most of
You get to set the times you work. If you want a holiday, you don’t need to ask for time off work, you have it when you want it.
You work wherever you want to. (I did a tour around the London Coffee Guide map.)
You choose what you want to work on.
You’re answerable to your clients – you’re not in an organisational hierarchy.
Go to all the relevant networking events you possibly can, and some less relevant ones. I’ve picked up clients through events that seemed to have nothing to do with my work – but I was the only designer there, so that put me at an advantage for design work.
Meet up with interesting people you currently have in your network, but perhaps don’t know very well. They will provide an alternative perspective, if not more contacts or work. Sometimes these kind of meetings lead to work a few months later – play the long game, and invest regularly in these sorts of meetings.
Keep an amazing blog. I got my current contract through twitter and writing opinionated blogposts.
Do a whole lot of self marketing. Perfect your brand/pitch. Newsletter.
How much work to take on
Get good at saying no. Have criteria of work that you’re happy to do. If the project doesn’t meet the criteria, say no.
When you start out, you might need to just take on whatever you can to get the ball rolling.
Some freelance work is project-based and some is ongoing. The last time I freelanced, I did a project, then I took on some ongoing work, and fit other project-based work around it. That worked out fine for me.
I was careful to measure work by hours rather than output – this meant that I knew how much I could take on in any week. If you measure by output rather than hours, are you good at estimating how long things will take you?
Get an accountant and ask them how to record expenses and how to fill out a tax return. They can help you learn. It’s not worth messing this one up.
Getting lonely. If you work alone, you might start to miss office culture. If this happens to you, join a co-working space.
Losing structure. If you don’t have meetings on today, it’s possible for time to just slip by without achieving all that much tangibly. Set yourself deadlines. Set up a working week pattern and commit to 9-5 or 10-6 or whatever you’d like.
Getting ill and not getting paid. Look in to health insurance. Not everyone thinks it’s worth it – it’s your call.
Losing confidence. This seems to happen to people that work alone too much, that don’t have a team to bounce off against. Keep up with peers, and make sure you talk with people that you can be honest with about how you’re struggling. Only talking with clients is not good – make sure you talk to professionals in your field.
Being a ‘good freelancer’
Return calls/emails promptly.
Get comfortable, if you’re not already, with talking about how much you charge.
Deliver on time.
Be clear on how many revisions you’ll do without extra charge (if you decide to put in an extra charge – not everyone does, but things can drag on with some clients).
If you have to say no to some work, say no promptly so they can look for someone else.
Be patient with your clients. This might be different in other fields, but there’s lots of client education to do with any sort of design work – for example, explaining why it’s important to get all the copy by a deadline – copy changes mean lots more repeated design work.
I wrote a blogpost while I was in a dry spell in summer 2014 – I think it’s an apt insight of what it felt like. I’d still do pretty similar actions if the same thing happened again, but with more confidence. The more mature the network, the easier it is to get work.
Images here are my own photography of various artworks.