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What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Freelancing

I’ve been freelancing as a brand identity artist for about a year now and there are some things I have learned along the way. I researched a lot of articles about freelancing but all of them tended to say the same things, like don’t quit your day job until you have a solid plan in place, be prepared to market yourself, get to know your tax laws, etc etc etc. While this is all great advice, there are still some things that I feel people should have told me…

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

Dealing with Clients Link

Not all clients are going to be fantastic to work with. Link

In fact, many will contact you for work and then turn into ghosts once you tell them how much you charge. There will also be clients that you will wish you had never agreed to work with. Some will absorb your time and not care about the extra mile you are going to so that they can be happy. You have to learn very quickly how to spot these people and also learn how to handle them. However, no other designer will be able to tell you exactly how you should handle these types of clients because the choice is ultimately up to you and what you feel comfortable with.

Fantastic clients are worth their weight in gold. Link

On the flip side, an amazing client is something you won’t ever want to loose. Keep in contact with these clients even after the work is over. Even if you don’t see another project on the immediate horizon, that doesn’t mean that they won’t have one. Also, they may have a friend or one of their own clients that they could pass your name on to. Keeping in touch with them will keep you at the front of their minds for such an occasion. Send them holiday cards, attend their special events if you can, or just shoot them a “Hi, How are you?” email every once in a while. Basically, if you have the fortune of finding a fantastic client — don’t ever let them go.

Your clients want your advice — don’t be afraid to give it to them. Link

Most people hire a designer because they have no idea what they want. It’s your job to work as their guide to design. Be ready to take them from point A to point Z in a time efficient and cost effective manor. Always let your client know that you are available to answer any questions they may have. Also, if they have an idea that you feel may not be the best, be prepared to tell them — but in a kind way that won’t make them feel as if you are blowing them off. Keep in mind that this project may mean more to them than it does to you and they could have some emotional ties to their ideas. However, in the end, you are in charge and that is what they are paying you for so have confidence in your instincts and be ready to back them up with visuals.

It’s OK to “fire” a client. Link

Most people hire a designer because they have no idea what they want. It’s your job to work as their guide to design. Be ready to take them from point A to point Z in a time efficient and cost effective manor. Always let your client know that you are available to answer any questions they may have. Also, if they have an idea that you feel may not be the best, be prepared to tell them — but in a kind way that won’t make them feel as if you are blowing them off. Keep in mind that this project may mean more to them than it does to you and they could have some emotional ties to their ideas. However, in the end, you are in charge and that is what they are paying you for so have confidence in your instincts and be ready to back them up with visuals.

Dealing with Equipment and Software Link

Research your programs before you install them. Link

I once downloaded a 30 day trial of a program that I needed to use once to complete a project. When I went to uninstall the program, my OS decided not to let go. After doing a little research after the fact, I found that others were having the same issue and that the program had been designed not to uninstall unless you paid for their specific uninstall plug-in. Taking the time to Google “program troubleshooting” before you install anything may save you time, energy, and money. Along with this is – software licenses. Don’t skip reading them, that information is there for a reason.

Keeping your laptop plugged in all the time will kill your battery. Link

Don’t laugh at me for this one, I didn’t know this when I first started. I thought I was doing myself a favor by being plugged in all the time. I killed my battery in a matter of months and found that I was looking at an unexpected bill to replace it — and it wasn’t cheap! If you know that you are going to be plugged in for a long period of time, then remove your battery and give it a rest. The time out will actually restore the health of your laptop battery and then you won’t have to face the sudden need to replace it.

Read the Google Help page. Link

I’m not joking on this one. Even if you have been using Google since you were three years old, reading the help page will open your eyes to all that this search engine can do. There are shortcuts listed there that will actually speed up your research time, help you find what you are looking for on the first try, and give you ideas of how to better assist yourself and your clients. And if you don’t take full advantage of the Google Help page then you are just setting yourself up for frustration. If you don’t know how to efficiently Google something, then you might as well just pack it all up and go apply for a nine to five job.

Don’t pigeon-hole yourself to just using Adobe products. Link

Adobe is king, there is no doubt about that, but there are a lot of great programs out there that are complimentary to these wonderful little software packages. On-One, Blender, and Camtasia just to name a few. The point is, the more diverse you can make your skills then the more marketable you will become. If you know what’s out there besides Adobe, then you will increase your chances of obtaining new clients.

Dealing with Yourself Link

Get involved in a community. Link

There is an old saying that says,

“It takes a village
to raise a child.”

Well, it takes a community to raise a freelancer. Find a group that involves your work and get to know the people within that group. Make friends, network, increase your contact list. These people will become your support for times that you are sick, for when you are in need of information, for when you are at the end of your rope and don’t know where to go next. Also, help them out and be active as much as you can in your community and it will come back to you in spades.

Set aside ‘Me Time’ every day. Link

Living the online or freelance life can get addicting and can leave you open to people clamoring for your attention at all hours. Without giving yourself the give of time to back away from the work, you may just reach a point of blood-boiling anger that will cause you to blow a fuse and shut down for weeks. Even though you are doing the work “for you”, time away from it is not only forgivable but also necessary.

Don’t give away too much of yourself through Social Media clients. Link

Once people know your name they can sometimes have the impression that they know You. And the more information you give about your personal life through a social media client, the more that impression is reinforced. Next thing you know, you have people you’ve never heard from before asking for favors because they think you are their close personal friend. If you have a need to release personal info out onto the Internet, then it is a great idea to have two accounts; one for business and one just for your real friends and family. Then, whatever you do, don’t mix them up!

Act with confidence even if you aren’t feeling it. Link

Growing up my mom would always say to me,

“Sometimes you have to fake it until you make it.”

I didn’t really get what she meant until I started freelancing. When I first started I was always changing things and second guessing myself and eventually, that just made it look like I had no idea what I was doing. Once I started to stand behind my decisions then people started to take notice. Even if I was right or wrong, the point was that I was doing it and keeping an eye out for what was working and what wasn’t. Then I took notes; and this in turn took my fake bravado, and turned it into something that I could be proud of.

This is just a little bit of what I have learned over the last year. There is a lot more to the freelance life than meets the eye, but it can be a very wonderful life should you choose it. So I hope this information helps all of you future freelancers out there. Because I know it would have helped me. The End!

Footnotes Link

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Firgs has been an independent designer for over ten years, specializing in Photoshop art. Her favorite areas of design include photo-manipulation, illustration, and creating web graphics. Currently she is working as a freelance graphic artist in Chicago, IL, and when she isn’t "pushing pixels," you can find her working on her website, or just hanging out on Twitter and Facebook. If you see her, say Hi!

  1. 1

    That’s really neat Davy. I’m actually planning to buy a Mac laptop soon, so I’m sure that would come in handy.

    And yes, about clients, some are definitely tough to deal with but the good clients really make freelancing worth it. :D

  2. 3

    Thank you, Thank you, I’ve just pulled the battery out of the laptop. That’s one I didn’t know, just hope I learned that little tip in time to save the battery. Excellent post.:)

    • 4

      Jad Limcaco

      April 6, 2010 4:58 pm

      Hey Tyrone, I think it’s good advice, but after reading up on it, I’m actually a bit confused.

      I decided to do a bit more digging up, and what’s weird is different companies all have different guidelines, etc.

      Apple –
      HP –

      Notice that HP tells you to remove the battery if:

      Remove the battery if the notebook will be stored (turned off and not plugged into AC power) for more than 2 weeks. Remove the battery if the notebook will be plugged into AC power continuously (via a wall adapter or docking station) for more than 2 weeks.

      On the other hand, Apple says it’s okay. So really, it’s quite an interesting subject. Here’s a great article on Marco about this whole battery issue.

  3. 5

    Hm, I didn’t know the battery bit…Will definatelly have this in mind. I’m not a freelancer but I’m well aware of the client issues. Hard to deal with some people. Especially when they have no idea what you are doing but they feel obliged to tell you HOW to do it. Had a guy who told me Go to this site (which was actually mine), go to file, Save as and we will just change the content. I need this done in 2 hours…
    Great article!

  4. 7

    Remco Steenwijk

    April 5, 2010 12:51 am

    Great read, currently grabbing any information about freelancing as I plan to go for it myself (Well, combined with a part-time job at least until I know if I can make it on my own. Read some (to me) new information here. Thanks :)

    • 8

      Jad Limcaco

      April 6, 2010 4:55 pm

      That’s always good to have a main source of income until you can be fully self-sufficient with freelancing. Also, it’s a good idea that before you dive into freelancing full-time, that you have at least 6 months of living expenses saved up in the bank. :D

  5. 9

    Its an awesome post, thanks sharing, additionally the design is absolute stunning!

  6. 10

    Interesting read, thanks. Some great tips. I particularly liked section 3, dealing with yourself.


  7. 11

    Beautiful article. I couldn’t have said it any better. I would also add NOT to whore yourself out just for the business. Set a price guide and stick to it. And limit how much free, promotional work you give out because some clients will take advantage of your kindness.

    • 12

      Jad Limcaco

      April 6, 2010 5:03 pm

      Hey Jay, those are some great additions to the list. A price guide is definitely something that a freelancer should consider, rather than just quoting random prices.

  8. 13

    The one thing I wish I would have told myself was to not be afraid to ask for advice. Find someone you trust to help guide you through some of these murky waters better known as freelancing.

    Know that becoming your own boss can feel like you are living on an island by yourself. For me, at least, that is what it felt like for the first couple of years. I researched as much as I could but decided to just go with a trial by error method which came with its own set of growing pains.

    • 14

      Erik, I love that you posted this comment! It backs up everything I was saying about finding yourself a community to become involved in.

      And, you are so right! The only bad question is the one that goes unasked. ;)

      Thanks for commenting!

    • 15

      Jad Limcaco

      April 6, 2010 5:03 pm

      Asking questions is definitely beneficial. I’ve learned that the hard way as well. :)

  9. 16

    Preston –

    Thanks for that article link. Nichole has a lot of great info on it to consider! And all of it is right on target!

    I do wish, however, that she had expanded upon her points a bit. Although quickly getting to the point is pertinent in this fast paced world we live in, I’ve found that information tends to sink in and stay with us better if we tell people why we think our points are valid.

    Thanks for commenting! :)

    • 17

      Jad Limcaco

      April 6, 2010 5:05 pm

      That’s a nice article Preston. Thanks for sharing it with us. Also, I do agree with Firgs as well.

      Anyway, keep up the great work on GDB.

  10. 18

    That would be a great idea Firgs. Keep them coming. By the way, your article was very well written and easy to grasp while Jad’s post design is fantastic.

  11. 19

    Great article! Thanks for the information! Adobe is king and that’s what I use but I will take the advice about looking into others as well and I will start with the three you listed! Thanks!

    • 20

      Jad Limcaco

      April 6, 2010 5:08 pm

      I use Adobe as well, and I love it. I think what Firgs was trying to say is not necessarily change your software, but rather to expand your skillset.

  12. 21

    One thing you left out. If you live by the computer, you’ll die by the computer. Have a backup plan in case your computer goes down. Most of all, backup everything and then back it up again. You can’t have too many backups.

  13. 22

    And Taxes…

  14. 23

    Very helpful and well written article. It is always helpful to read that someone else found freelancing scary at the beginning as my own self-confidence was on a shaky peg. Its been a bit of building block as each new job is completed. Thanks Elizabeth.

  15. 24

    Very interesting and valuable tips, nice tip about the laptop battery :)

  16. 25

    This is a beginner freelancer talking and I am telling you I read your article and thought you were just speaking my mind out loud (in words :))
    Really some great tips, especially the “Dealing with yourself” part. Very well said.
    Thanks for sharing.

  17. 26

    Hi Firgs

    One thing I have learnt is to log all your time for each client even if you don’t bill all the hours. it’s useful for quoting on future jobs rather than suck your finger, stick it in the air and think of a number!

    I find that I have a 75/25% split on client work, 75% billable and 25% is research and self teaching. I always log all hours spent on each so that I can show my clients I have researched best options for them but given them value on the hours. I find this honesty gets me repeat work and a great deal of trust as they know I am looking for the best options for each project. There will always be the odd job that comes in where the profit margin picks up the slack. ;)


  18. 27

    Well I’m also a freelancer, work as it for about one year and it’s funny because I experience something similar to your article subject. However, I just never use battery in my laptop, just plugin but I know many people don’t remmember about it… A recent story about it: I have a friend who he never removed battery from his laptop and his laptop was always plugin. One day he tried to powered his laptop and was dead! True, it was just wasn’t plugin and the battery was dead completely! He freak out for and over nothing…

    Your article is very good, just missed one issue that I think is important: how to gain clients confidence. You spooked about it but some points were missed. But good job!! And wish you the best.

  19. 28

    Great Article! interesting tips.

  20. 29

    This is sooooo true.

    Resourcefulness has been my most helpful ally. Nobody cannot just know everything. There are times when technical problems of any sort will arise. Do you have what it takes to do a full system restore with Windows or OS X when your computer is malfunctioning? Or how to accomplish a certain result in Photoshop, InDesign, Fireworks, or Illustrator? How about modifying the terms of a contract so that both parties can come to a mutual agreement?

  21. 30

    Cool post, I wish it was a bit longer though it seems like there is so much more to talk about

  22. 31

    Thanks everyone for the comments and extra suggestions! I agree that there is a lot more to talk about when it comes to freelancing. Maybe if we all ask really nicely, Jad will have me back for another article. What do you think? :D

  23. 32

    Hey!!! Great article. As am planning to start my freelancing career, this article will help me a lot.

  24. 33

    I really like your website. The color selection is beautiful.

  25. 34

    Wonderful article! Thankyou very much for sharing your experience!

    Here’s a little tip for all the mac laptop lovers:

  26. 35

    Just wanted to say this is a great read! And your advice about “giving your laptop battery a rest” is dead on. I wish I would’ve read it sooner, because my laptop battery is on its last legs.

  27. 36

    Jad Limcaco

    April 6, 2010 5:01 pm

    Thanks Melody. Glad you liked the design.

  28. 37

    Jad Limcaco

    April 6, 2010 5:02 pm

    Hmmm, good idea. I might just turn it into a PDF.

  29. 38

    Jad Limcaco

    April 6, 2010 5:07 pm

    Julien, I definitely understand what you mean about that. There are some warning signs that we should be aware of when dealing with clients. Actually, that good make for a really good post. Thanks! ;)

  30. 39

    Jad Limcaco

    April 6, 2010 5:09 pm

    Yes, there are definitely tons of other alternatives, some even open-source. I just generally stick with what’s the most efficient and useful for me. If it’s Adobe, then so be it. :D

  31. 40

    Brilliant post! Thanks for the laptop battery advice, I had no idea… that explains a thing or two.

  32. 41

    This is a really nice post and it summerizes exactly the things that one needs to know when starting to freelance… I would really recommend this to somebody starting out. And I love the way you customize the post design! Beautiful! Cheers, ML
    Oh and BTW, the Google Help page thing…priceless! Thanks!

  33. 42

    You’ve stated Facts. I’m thankful, Its a good read

  34. 43

    One of the most important lessons i’ve learned over the years is to determine why am I taking this project. There should only be 3 reasons, 1. Make Money 2. Build a Relationship 3. Build your skills or portfolio.

    Keep your motivation in mind while doing the work and maximize the potential for each job

  35. 44

    Great post. All of this was very helpful for a beginner freelancer that I am. Thanks!

  36. 45

    “Most people hire a designer because they have no idea what they want.” This is the reality of most client designer relationships. Often, unless you’re dealing with an established company, people have no idea which direction they want to take their brand. You may ask, what are your preferred color choices? Their response will be “I don’t know…oooh wait, purple is my favorite color. I want a purple background with pink or yellow text”. You don’t have to be an advanced designer to know that color scheme is doomed from the start. That’s where giving your advice to your client becomes important; inform them politely why their ideas may or may not work.

    @Elizabeth, I absolutely love how you took the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” and made it relevant to freelancers. Becoming more active in the design community is something I’m now starting to work on. I’ve been solo freelancing, and the isolation definitely starts to take its toll.

    @Jad, the blogazine is working for Design Informer, keep at it!

  37. 46

    As a 20+ year freelancer – I have to concur with the article – some great advice there.

    However as a 20+ year freelancer, I have to mention I couldn’t get past the typo in the second paragraph – you know, about the clients you don’t want to “loose”..

    .. sorry, pet-peeve

  38. 47

    “Living the on-line or freelance life can get addicting and can leave you open to people clamoring for your attention at all hours. ”

    totaly agree, I still didn’t figure out how to stop it, but I’m working on it

    • 48

      Hi Red. :)

      I have the alarm set on my phone to go off three times a day. When it goes off, I’ll either get up to eat or just get up and stretch/get some exercise. Sometimes I’ll blow through them, but for the most part it helps me not to get so caught up in what I’m doing on the computer. :)

  39. 49

    The bit about batteries is a matter of some dispute. A decent laptop should stop charging the battery once it’s full, that’s what they are made to do. The idea of unplugging it quite possibly comes from worrying about batteries exploding if the battery is faulty and allows itself to overcharge and/or get too hot.

  40. 50

    Not all decent laptops do that. Apart from Macs I have seen only recent mid-top ends that do that. To check, just wait till it’s fully charged and then check if it shows ‘Not charging’ in Windows 7.

  41. 51

    Great article, there are some really good pointers in there and although I knew about the battery thing, I didn’t realise the latest MacBook Pro had a cut out – very interesting considering I’ve just bought one and have been running mine on battery and then on power to not kill the battery! I think the article also raises a lot of issues that are also in the full time design world as well as the freelance design world – great stuff!

  42. 52

    Thanks for the awesome article, it was very informative.

  43. 53

    This is a really helpful post! Everyone can use tips on how to deal with clients properly.


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