10 quick tips for first time freelancers

Beginning your freelance career can be a scary time in your life, no matter how excited you are at taking the plunge. On one hand, you’re excited to know that you are going to be leaving your job and doing something you’re passionate about & on the other hand, you’re scared out of your mind because you’ve never done this before and you’re not sure where the money is going to come from to keep your family secure.

Luckily, this article will outline 10 quick tips for first time freelancers, so you’ll be able to put a lot of your nervousness to rest. I hope you enjoy it and learn something from what I’ve written for you.

Tip #1: Don’t do spec-work … Design for yourself instead

When you’re building a portfolio, you might want to join some design contests to try and pad out your portfolio with a few pieces you can show off to potential clients. Instead, spend some time creating work that you’d not only be proud of, but create the type of work you’d like to create for other clients.

By creating grunge inspired designs, what type of clients do you think you’ll attract? If you’re after the upscale business, make sure your designs reflect that and it’ll help attract the proper clients as well as pad out your portfolio without working for some cheap contest on the web.

Tip #2: Always require a non-refundable deposit

Lets face it, one of the biggest concerns first time freelancers have (and even seasoned freelancers too) is ‘where is the money coming from and how often will it come in?’. By requiring a non-refundable deposit, you kill two birds with one stone.

First, you’re making sure that you’re receiving money for the work you’re about to put in, which will help your cash flow keep moving and allow you to create amazing work without the stress of money hanging over your head. Second, the non-refundable part is so that you don’t get stuck in a situation where you’re working for someone for 1-2 weeks and then they decide to pull the plug and try to get their money back from you, leaving you out of the money and out of the time you spent on the job.

Tip #3: Keep your ear to the pulse of the web

When you’re looking for work to do for clients and you’ve started the process of writing potential clients, are you looking over job boards? By checking into job board once or twice a day, you’re able to keep up with who’s looking for work to be completed and you’re able to respond to them quickly, which is always a plus in the eyes of the potential client.

What about twitter? Have you utilized Twitter Search to keep a stream of people who are talking about specific terms you should be looking at (for example, “need a website designer”)? By keeping your ear to different areas on the web where people are talking about work they need done, you can respond first and land jobs quickly.

Tip #4: Use social media to talk to potential clients, not your designer friends

Sure, there are positive aspects of using social media to talk to designer friends, but the real benefit from being on social sites like Facebook and Twitter is that you can network with your potential clients on a regular basis. Are you a blog designer? If so, why not connect with bloggers (large or small) and chat with them every day?

Offer them advice if they ask for it, become friends and keep your face in front of their mind so that the next time they even think about a blog design, you’re the first person they think of.

Tip #5: Keep up with your industry and where it’s going

I’m sure that most people reading this blog are already aware of this tip, but for those who aren’t, you should really subscribe to a few blogs in your industry that will help you keep up with the changes that are happening. Design blogs like Spyre Studios are great because you can see what is happening and what trends are happening right now and either follow them or avoid them and start your own trends :)

Tip #6: Don’t pay attention to your competition

When you’re starting out, there’s no reason to spend hours upon hours analyzing what your competition is doing, what social media sites they use, what fonts they design with, etc. Instead, spend more time on what you’re going to do to make your business stand out and be looked at as a professional service worth hiring.

Tip #7: Outsource what you don’t want to do

The rage lately online has been for Virtual Assistants who do everything from handle your emails to book flights, run your social media accounts, etc, which is great but that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is outsourcing any aspect of your business that you don’t like to do. For instance, a blog designer might really love designing but doesn’t really like the coding process. What should they do?

Outsource the coding to a coding service like Shop HTML or the other various PSD to HTML services out there. This will allow you more time to focus on your business, growing your client base and doing what you really love while not worrying about the rest.

Tip #8: Avoid App Overload

In the beginning you might think that getting Invoicing, Project Management, To Do Lists, Contact Managers and the various other kinds of apps out there is essential to the growth of your business, but hold off on the excess that you don’t need right away. Can you print out your own invoices for the time being (or utilize a free account like the one at Invoice Machine)? Can you handle your to do items and project management right inside your inbox (utilizing gmail for business)?

Not everything is a requirement to begin and by being resourceful in the beginning, you’ll be able to save money and learn what items are 100% required and which ones are just fluff that’ll cut into your profits.

Tip #9: Always, Always, ALWAYS use a contract

Without this piece of paper, you’re letting your life ride on the word of the person you’re working for. Will they be stand up business owners who keep their word? Not all of the time and by having a business contract drawn up with specific items drawn into it, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and a lot of hassle if/when they decide to take off and not give you the money you’re owed.

Tip #10: Enjoy every minute of it

If you don’t enjoy the ride, get off and head back to your regular 9-5 life. Freelancing has its feast or famine cycles, but at the end of the day, if it’s something you’re truly passionate about, you’ll be happy doing it and you’ll get everything out of it that you want. More time with family? Check! More opportunities to do what you want to do? Check! More money? Check! It’s all here, all you have to do is get out there and get it – and make sure you’re equip with the knowledge needed to thrive in your freelance business.

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  1. Reyvenb says

    I might be a freelancer sooner.. Hopefully this article will be a big help. Thanks for sharing.

  2. says

    Great post Mike,

    Another quick tip I have in a recent post in my blog is to know why you are going to become a freelancer or graphic design boss ;-)

    Often people think its cool to be freelancing with the aim of growing into a fully fledged business with understanding the consequences or the steps they are taking.

    Here are my 10 quick tips on why they shouldn’t consider freelancing or starting their own business.

    1) Spend More Time With The Kids
    2) You Are In It For The Money Alone
    3) You Will Be A Better Manager Of Your Time
    4) You Don’t Like Working With The People Where You Are Now
    5) Be The Master Of Your Own Destiny
    6) Work Less, Earn More
    7) You Are A Good Designer
    8) You Want To Be Famous
    9) You Only Want To Work With Nice Clients
    10) Charge What You Want

    I’ve got more ideas on why they should go into freelancing or start their own business on my blog.

  3. Victor says

    Hi Mike, Great tips.

    The one thing I would add regarding your comment on outsourcing, is to outsource your work to a local affiliate, as opposed to a foreign web-based service.

    This will allow you to personally meet, interview, and test the skill-set of the person whom you’re going to be rewarding the work to. In this way you can be confident in their capabilities beforehand. This is important because their work will have your name on it, and will ultimately be a reflection of you. Being local also means that you can work more intimately with this person. You can meet with them when necessary, give more direction and get a more tailored result, as opposed to a “one-size-fits-all” manufactured solution.

    Outsourcing locally, while potentially more costly, will allow to create higher quality work without the hassle of foul-ups and communication break-downs. Besides, there are plenty of talented people locally who would willing to take the work for a reasonable wage, and do a great job if offered the promise of future projects.

    Specifically referencing your example of outsourcing the coding; I think this is a bad idea for anyone trying to build a reputation for quality. I’ve seen the very poor programming work that some of those html-psd businesses output first hand. I would never put my name on it, not even for low-budget jobs. The truth is that you will save money, but you will also get what you pay for. And if you want anything more than a basic static site, you will end up paying a lot anyway in headaches and additional hours trying to get it right over the phone and through email.

    Just my two-cents. Awesome article!!

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