New to the freelance design game? I’ve put together a brief list of tips that I wish someone had told me out of the gate. Good luck, and comments are appreciated!
1. Protect Your Design Work With Deposits
Always take a deposit before starting a project. One of the worst mistakes a business person can make is trusting a stranger to pay up for services.
In most cases you will want to take 50% of the estimated cost upfront. Some designers also work in thirds taking 1/3 upfront, another third at half, and the final portion before delivering design files. Here is a great post by David Airey providing insight from a whole slew of successful graphic designers. How 20 Designers Charge Their Clients
Starting out as a freelance designer can kick down your self-esteem trying to work with low paying clients that do not follow through on agreements. Taking money upfront may seem like a tough task, but serious clients will respect your fair business model. Protect your work from the start and you will have plenty of time to spend on quality clients who keep coming back to “snowball” your freelance design business.
2. Put Your Design Portfolio Online
Surviving as a freelance graphic designer takes a lot of work at first. Working as an individual takes a different approach than a normal business because you do not necessarily have the office space. An office space can serve as its own advertisement, just like a website can do for an individual. By putting your portfolio online, and blogging, you can make yourself available to the entire world. You can tell the potential clients you meet to visit your personal website.
Setting up your own portfolio can be very simple. All you really need is a domain name ( i.e. blakemccreary.com) and shared website hosting with WordPress. This can be achieved with as little as $4 (including support). It’s also a good idea to skip learning how to develop a WordPress template for now and just use an affordable premium WordPress theme. You can find portfolio themes at ThemeForest for less than $35.
So Here Are The Steps To Getting Your Portfolio Online The Easy Way If You Want Guidance
1. I recommend buying your domain and hosting package at theDesignerHost.com with one transaction. Your first domain is FREE. The package includes Cpanel, WordPress, and support getting your custom design portfolio up.
2. Login to your server CPanel control panel. The address should be http://YourName.com/cpanel/. Click the Fantastico Deluxe icon and setup a new WordPress Installation. Now you are basically setup with a functioning website.
If you don’t want to spend more than $4, use a free WordPress theme and read this article on setting up a WordPress Gallery with Lighbox Plus. If you want to give yourself a professional look then spend a few more bucks on a portfolio theme at ThemeForest.com. All themes come with installation instructions.
3. How To Seek Design Work When Times Get Tough
Almost all work that comes my way as a freelance designer is word-of-mouth advertising and return clients. Today’s economy has been quite unforgiving. Most of my clients are struggling to afford frequent updates to advertising campaigns and websites… Thus killing my return work.
So what do you do when the design work does not come to you? Most people don’t know that I seek the majority of my clients out personally via the internet market. Rentacoder.com (now VWorker.com) is actually the way I shoved my foot in the door of graphic design before attending college in the fall of 2004. The company was fairly young and unsaturated with graphic designers because it was primarily marketed to software programmers. Even today, I still use VWorker as a tool to acquire new clients for my business. By bidding every other day or so, I can keep locking in projects while having the money safely in VWorker escrow, prior to starting projects. By now my ratings have built up to well over 100 and convincing quality clients to lock in projects is not very difficult.
There are tons of auction sites like VWorker out there, but I haven’t tried them all yet. This is the backbone of my stable business model because when the money is in escrow I know I’m getting paid. It’s important to always seek clients so that your work flow stays consistent. When those satisfied clients need more work they’ll keep coming back to, once again, “snowball” your freelance design business.
4. Do One Thing Very Well
One thing that is easy to slip into, is getting “scrappy” with your design business. Designers get so desperate to make it that they’ll take just about any job at any price (will be addressed in #6). My advice to you on this would be to know your limits. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Learning is best done outside of contracted work. There is plenty of work and money to be made while specializing in a few services.
These days I tend to stick to WordPress driven websites and logo design. Why? I’ve become much faster at delivering those project types, therefore increasing my productivity and income.
5. Overshoot Project Deadlines
Overshooting project deadlines is a very important key to keeping clients satisfied. The business world is built on the concept that “time is money.” In most cases clients do not give you the freedom you would like with creativity. Clients typically do not account for communication gaps, revisions, and other miscellaneous problems that occur during the design development process. This is your job! Always give your deadlines a cushion. If you aren’t comfortable with the deadline turn down the job to save your reputation. A client who receives deliverance early or on time is always going to be satisfied.
Note: Generally, you will not want to deliver early to a “nit picky” client. You will notice that they will always want to change things that aren’t really important. Perhaps you may want to hold on to the files a bit longer if you suspect your client will abuse the extra time you saved.
6. Don’t Undersell Your Design Work
This point is straight forward. Take the time to build up a quality portfolio and master your trade. If you can always deliver quality work then you have value that serious clients will respect. Don’t fool around with clients who offer you $25 for a logo. Decide how much your single concept is worth and slightly discount the price for clients who require additional concepts.
What to Say.
“I cannot lower the quality of my work, therefore, I cannot lower my price.”
7. Engagement & Enthusiasm!
Engagement: There’s a lot to credit for a designer who contributes to the conversation. Join LinkedIn groups and comment on blogs to gain insight from other designers. Treat your job more like a hobby.
Enthusiasm: Clients react well to a designer who radiates excitement. Be optimistic and convey that everything is under control. Give frequent updates telling your client about progress and what you need from them. Also, if your work has a flaw you must give them proper support without charge. That’s how you keep your clients satisfied and paying.
I hope you were able to take something from this quick spill of experience, and if you want more follow me on Twitter or Facebook!