Freelancing may look as a fun and easy way to live and work. No bosses, flexible working hours and interesting projects. It is not that easy once you get started, though. I have been freelancing myself for around 5 years now and learned some really painful lessons.
In this article, I’d like to share the most common freelance mistakes web designers make (including myself), so you might avoid them and save yourself time, money and stress.
Taking every client
This happens to every single, inexperienced freelancer at the beginning. A beginner freelancer can be so desperate to get the very first client, so he’ll work with anyone. A desperate freelancer usually doesn’t really care much of the project specifications, timeframe and budget.
Honestly speaking, I think you need to experience this mistake to understand how important it is to filter your clients and do the work that resonates with your values, gets you well paid, and generally interests you.
What you should do instead is to try to get more than one client at a time and have projects lined up in the future. Avoid big freelance portals like Freelancer, oDesk, Guru and similar ones as you will be underpaid and stressed due to tight time spans. You will learn how to find quality clients later in this article.
Wrong time and budget estimates
Estimating time and budget for the project is very difficult and even experienced freelancers tend to make inaccurate estimates. From my own experience, I’d say that suggesting that a project will take three times more (than you think) to complete, is pretty safe. If your clients wants results faster, I think you should rethink working with them, as it may cost a lot of stress for both parties and the quality of work won’t be the best too.
Break down the process
For better and more accurate time and budget estimates first of all you need to clarify the brief and break down all the process into actionable chunks.
Estimate hours and add some extra for project management
After you have broken down the process work out how much time it would take to complete such tasks. Don’t forget to add extra hours in case you screw up or tasks simply take more time than expected due to lack of experience, software issues and other potential challenges.
Always include 10-20% more hours for project management. Taking care of communication, hiring potential freelancers to outsource some of the work, reviews and presentations will take quite a lot of time.
Finally multiply all the hours you have got from time estimates and multiply that number by your hourly rate or use a tool that will help you.
Check out this comprehensive guide on effective time estimates strategy on Smashing Magazine.
Unhealthy work pipeline
It is very important to have projects coming all the time, make a healthy schedule and let your potential clients know when you are available. A very simple way to do so is to put a short message on your portfolio, Dribbble, Behance or any other platform you use to get clients, so they know if they can get you for the upcoming project.
In this way, you don’t waste your time once you’re done with a project. I’d say, ideally, you should have one big and one small project at a time so you can work on one or the other, once one of them is on hold (waiting for feedback, holidays, weekend, out of office hours etc.).
There are quite a bit of great communities that connect top freelancers with top companies so you will always have projects to choose from. Here are some of the most popular ones: Crew, YunoJuno, Folyo, Juiiicy and AwesomeWeb.
Unclear project specifications
You should never ever start on a project before knowing what you are creating. Make sure that both parties clearly know what has to be done. Simply put it on paper and sign it for future reference, as if some problems arise, you will have a proof. Doing any work without knowing the specifications is a waste of time and money that client is not going to cover.
For every project you take you need to clarify the objectives, needs, deliverables and deadlines. If you have never done anything like that it may look as a very scary stuff but there are tons of free templates you can use or online software like Bidsketch that allows you to create proposals that are easily reusable and will save you lots of time.
Another important thing is legally binding contract. You don’t have to know everything about contracts, just find a template, and quickly adapt it to your needs. Make sure you present it to your client, you both sign it and know under what conditions you are working on.
Undercharging and forgetting to include taxes
As a freelancer, you need to manage many things like marketing, design, client support and tons of other tasks, but you should never forget to manage your finances very seriously. Make sure you charge enough, so you can pay your rent, buy yourself food and make profit. For better understanding of the rates in the industry check how much other people are charging and what are the rates in your local area.
Another thing that may cost you money and moreover stress and energy is taxes. Include taxes in your final quote to avoid cash shortage when the time comes to pay your taxes. I’d highly recommend you to open up a separate bank account and set aside tax money every month so you have them collected when the time comes. Also make sure to check some tools for invoicing and accounting to make the whole process easier.
Wasting time on social media
Having an impressive Dribbble account and loads of Twitter followers don’t pay your bills. Stop wasting time talking about Breaking Bad or Lost. Do some work that is billable and pays for your time on Earth.
Social media is definitely one of the greatest ways to find clients and connect with fellow designers who will help you in your creative projects but you need to use it wisely. Put aside couple minutes a day to catch up on Twitter, Facebook and other networks you use. Very important thing is to share your work, in this way potential clients will see what are you up to and what value you could provide for them. From time to time do some “creative sharing” which is creating a project on Behance, uploading some work shots to Dribbble and so on.
Forsaking a good portfolio
Portfolio is a must-have asset in your freelance design business toolbox. It is your chance to express what are you standing for, show what value you provide to your clients and present your work that proves what you say. Check some cool portfolio websites for inspiration if you are just starting out.
Only the greatest work should be featured on your portfolio. Clients can sense the style and quality you are after just from one piece of your work. If you have very little to show, create some fictitious designs and put them on your portfolio. You can also take up a pro bono work for local community to build up your portfolio and express your creative talent as these projects limitations are pretty low compared to client work. And once again, only the best work should be shown. Make sure you are easy to get in touch on email or at least on social media.
Freelancing is certainly a great path to take for web designer who wants to have flexible working hours, freedom over projects and endless opportunities. On the other hand, it is a very challenging career that requires discipline, patience and a bit of luck. Hopefully, lessons I’ve learnt and shared with you in this article will help you to become a very successful and happy freelancer.
Did you enjoy this post?
Never miss a blog post. Subscribe below to get more posts like this sent straight to your inbox as soon as they're published.