Discover more about making a living as a freelance designer with my top tips for getting started, no matter what your level of experience.
By Simon McCade
The world of freelancing can be a tricky one to navigate, especially if you are new to it, but there are a few tricks of the trade that can help you not only find your way, but define it in a way that suits you.
Here are a few top tips for working as a freelance designer:
Know your value
Arguably the most important part of making a living as a freelancer is understanding what kind of living you can rightly make with the talents you have at your disposal. Go in too high and you’ll price yourself out of the market. Go in too low and you’ll do yourself out of work and, of course, precious money.
The rates you set yourself can be based on a number of factors. Your level of experience is obviously key, but it isn’t the sole factor that many seem to think it is.
What’s been more important in my experience is knowing confidently how much value you can bring to a client on any given project.
Great confidence coupled with great experience is a deadly combination. It means you can win the projects you deserve to win and walk away from the projects you deserve more money for if your client isn’t willing to pay you properly.
Stay humble and honest
To that end, a crucial code of conduct for good design designer is to stay grounded when it comes to rates. Unrealistic demands stick out like a sore thumb, so with knowing your value comes maintaining honesty and modesty.
People buy people, after all, so it literally doesn’t pay to be cocky and argue that you are worth a great deal more than the budget on the table. This is where respect comes into the game; treat your clients with respect and you’ll get the same in return.
Be curious and continue to learn
In line with the modesty mentioned above, it is very important to be open and willing to learn at every step of a design journey. Being open to criticism is a great trait for any designer to have, since it shows a willingness to get it exactly right for a client. What’s more, it’ll help you grow as a designer, too.
Research will also help you develop. Read about the mistakes that other designers have made. Read about the challenges and successes that other designers have had. Listen to design podcasts, watch design videos – the more you immerse yourself in the world of design, the more likely you are to become a key player in it.
Oftentimes, the research doesn’t stop at the research. Start your own little side-projects to put your newfound knowledge into practice. Think of it like learning a new language; the best way to become more fluent is to practise it for real.
Join discussions, start discussions, become part of the community. Get involved!
Be resilient and persistent
The truth is that freelancing is not easy. It often feels like a long slog and it can be difficult to resist the temptation to throw in the towel and find another full-time job. But trust me, it’s worth the persistence – if you value the freedom it brings to your professional and personal lives, that is.
Pushing yourself as hard as you can when times get tough can have great rewards. Giving everything and more for a client can have unexpected consequences like word-of-mouth recommendations. The crucial part is in knowing who to work with and why because working with good people will enable you to maintain interest, focus and determination to do a great job.
Keep a close eye on your finances
As a freelancer, you’re responsible for everything – and that obviously includes your finances, first and foremost. Make sure you always treat it like a business and you plan properly, you budget properly and you seek professional advice when you need it (after all, you’re a designer, not an accountant!). Accountants might seem expensive in the first instance, but they can save you a fortune in the long run. I personally find FreeAgent a very useful and efficient platform for keeping on top of my finances.
At risk of sounding clichéd: confidence is key. They always say it because it’s always true – in fact, it’s especially true when you are solely responsible for the growth of your business.
Making a living as a freelance designer is highly recommended if my experience is anything to go by. Of course I was nervous, of course I didn’t know what lay in store, but of course I ploughed on and made it work.
If you do decide to go for it like I did, best of luck to you – it’s honestly never as bad as you might think.