Experience can be a harsh teacher. Through my experiences as a freelancer and business owner, I have learned many lessons that I now consider priceless – lessons that I unfortunately learned the hard way. While I believe that experiencing challenges for yourself is an essential element to success, I hope that you will learn from my mistakes instead of making them yourself.
Be Picky About Clients
Design would be the perfect industry if it weren’t for clients. I have been in worst-case scenarios quite a few times with my company’s clients: clients refusing to pay, projects which take five times as long as they should, contacts who want to take over your design project, even a legal battle over ownership of our work. That being said, I’ve also had great experiences.
Who you accept as a client, and how you interact with them, can make or break you as a designer. I realize that not everyone is in a position where they have the liberty to turn down potential clients, but believe me when I say that working for the wrong people can cost you more than you are willing to invest.
When clients are interviewing you as a freelancer, interview them right back. Evaluate what their expectations are, what there mindset is, and imagine yourself working for them. If you have any hesitation on selecting that person or group as a client, I strongly recommend taking some time to consider whether or not the benefits outweigh the risk. Remember, as a freelancer your time is your most valuable asset. This means that if someone wants your time, they should be willing to pay a fair price, and treat you as a professional.
When clients are interviewing you as a freelancer, interview them right back.
Contracts, proposals, invoices, forms and documents are your best friend as a freelancer. If you don’t have one already, you should make either a physical or digital filing system and create paperwork to fill out for all necessary aspects of your work. Yes, it can be tiring to fill out documents, but it will help you in several ways:
- History is your friend. By going back and reviewing how you handled different projects and clients, you can get a solid overview of your strengths, weaknesses, habits, and mistakes. This will allow you to reevaluate how you work, and how you can improve.
- It gives you legal protection. Clients occasionally tell me that we agreed upon something that I have no knowledge of. This can lead to dangerous legal disagreements that can end up in a courtroom. By properly documenting all work and communication, you can provide proof of what was agreed upon, and when.
- It speeds up your work. Sifting through dozens of emails and scattered documents is a pain. By creating an organized system, you can efficiently find any information that you may need.
Get Paid for Your Work
The title may sound strange, but this really is a big issue among young freelancers. It may take a little while before you are able to build up a portfolio, and really start charging for your work, but once you are able to – do so! Working for free is a dangerous road to take and should only be considered by those who have the extra time and resources to spare on a charity project.
A side-note: if you have to work for free, find the biggest, most prestigious company who will talk to you and offer your services on a project. If they accept you, you will forever have the ability to ‘name drop’ during meeting – a secret weapon which gives you great leverage amongst clients.
I recommend breaking down payments into installments for your clients, in order to make affording your work easier on them. Also, make sure your clients are aware that extra work and changes that are not including on your initial contract will be expensed to them on the next invoice. Clients (especially opinionated ones) can ask for many changes to your designs, they will ask to see a dozen mockups before you start, and change their minds on things when you are almost done a project. To help keep those people in check, as well as keep you from being abused, let them know that those types of things will be reflected on their next bill.
Stay tuned for Part 2!