I’ve been a freelance graphic and web designer for a while now, and I’ve come across a lot of tips I wish I had known before I started my grand adventure in freelancing. I searched high and low for information that would help me in my pursuits, but honestly the best information I’ve collected has been by experience. Perhaps that’s how it goes, but I think most freelancers are holding out on valuable information. I’m not sure why, I’m assuming to keep the competition at bay, but I personally don’t see that side. I have confidence in my design abilities, and I don’t worry about the competition. I only worry about myself, perfecting my craft, and becoming the best version of me that I possibly can. In life and art I believe in the collective, and that applies for sharing information, so here are some tips I hope will help you budding freelancers.
1. Searching For Work
Don’t use oDesk, Elance, or any other bidding site. Sure, you might find an odd job here and there, and that’s fine, but you will not find solid, appreciated work. You also have to contend with low bidders from all over the world. People in other countries will lowball bids, get the job, and leave you in the dust. For them, this might work with conversion rates, but for you, it’s impossible to be valued at $10 an hour. Total waste of time.
I have known people to find odd jobs, but not steady, meaningful ones.
Use these sites:
If you’re not used to it, get ready. I don’t know how many firms I’ve contacted, emails I’ve sent out, hours I’ve spent collecting information, and ultimately didn’t end up with even a courtesy email. Yep, people are rude. I personally find it incredibly rude to not answer someone with a simple two second “thank you, but no” email. Which brings me to this bonus tip, ALWAYS RESPOND. I don’t care if you’re spread so thin your eyeballs are flat, you have to get into the habit of answering everyone and promptly. Why? Because it’s professional. I look at it this way, those people should be lucky you’re remotely interested in their firm and their work, and the only polite, professional thing to do is respond. If you’re so busy, make email templates, and this goes for freelancing as well.
Also, email is in your pocket 24/7 so USE IT. I have my phone with me all the time, and I’m borderline obsessive with checking my email, but I don’t miss a thing, and I promptly respond to any work related emails I get. If you’re not under the watchful eye of a boss, you have to be that boss, be responsible, and prove to your clients that you’re reliable.
You have no idea how important your portfolio really is. I’ve come to realize that your degree is toilet paper. Seriously, no one cares about your degree. “Oh, you went to college, that’s nice, crack open that portfolio.” This means online and off. You have to have a kickass online portfolio, as well as a print portfolio, especially if you’re a web and print designer, which most of us are. If you’re not interested in web design, if you suck at it, if you dread the words, that’s fine, but find someone who can help you code an awesome portfolio because if you aren’t online, you’re not going to get anywhere.
Same goes for print. If you’re going on an in-person interview, they want to see your portfolio. Spend $200 or so bucks to get a nice brushed aluminum portfolio, and a nice leather carrier for it. Why two portfolios? Because you unzip that leather one, pull out that aluminum portfolio, show off your awesome work, and then show them samples. The larger leather portfolio will keep all your samples crisp and clean, just like a potential client wants it.
It’s important, but don’t let it scare you away from freelancing. Almost every bit of “helpful” freelance advice talks explicitly about discipline and how important it is. Yes and no. It’s not as big of a deal as you might be thinking. We hear the word discipline and suddenly we’re full of self-doubt, but there is hope.
I’ve never been so free in my life, and although there are times I have to make myself work on something I’d rather not, I always get the work done, professionally, and on time. How? I want to eat. Yep, when you’re a freelancer work suddenly equals food, utilities, car payments, and a whole host of other needs/wants. This is a good motivator for discipline. Plus, for me, I don’t want to let my clients down, so if that means staying up all night to finish a project, then bring on the caffeine. Don’t let the discipline portion scare you. “Can I do it?” “Will I be disciplined enough?” Sure, you might not be, but don’t let that be a factor in whether or not you freelance because if you really want this, you’ll find a way, and you’ll probably surprise yourself in the long run. Honestly, don’t you have to be disciplined to wake up and go to work everyday anyway? It’s much better when it’s on your terms.
5. Don’t Be A Design Bitch
Sorry, but that’s the best way to put this portion. You are valuable, but you’re only as valuable as you make yourself. What I mean is, if you devalue yourself, others will devalue you, too. It’s like the saying “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have” well graphic design is no different, in fact this applies even more to designers because you can make yourself look good! If you’re not making yourself look and sound as good as you want to be, then no one will see how truly valuable you are.
I’m not saying don’t take stepping stone opportunities, but don’t let those stepping stone jobs walk all over you, you’re walking on them to get to the next point. There is nothing wrong with that. The truly valuable designer will continue to grow and prosper and those employing you know this. They can see the diamond in the ruff and they know deep down if you’re not paid well and valued you will be leaving them behind in pursuit of something better. It’s how the world works. If your goal is freelancing, then you have to break some hearts along the way. They’ll recover, I promise. I’m not saying burn bridges or toot your own horn, that just makes you a jerk. I am saying value yourself, invest in yourself, and do what’s necessary to get to the next point, but don’t be a jerk! Everyone you come in contact with is a connection, so leave good impressions. No one will hate you for being true to yourself, but they will hate you if you go about it the wrong way. Ultimately, kindness is your best friend, and will help you in the future.
The honest truth is most people don’t want to freelance bad enough, and that’s TOTALLY FINE. It’s also another reason fearing the competition is useless and takes energy away from your personal journey. Not everyone is cut out for it, it’s not appealing to everyone, but for those of us that it is appealing to, I hope this helps you in your freelancing journey.