If we look at the numbers, being a freelance web designer is quite a lucrative career choice. On Upwork, which is one the biggest freelancing platform, the average experienced designer earns up to $150/hour, and if you also have some development experience, the hourly rate can go as high as $1,0000.
Considering that 2020 accelerated digital transformation and now most companies are looking for IT talent, freelance web design sounds like a dream come true: you have many job prospects, the earnings are high enough, and you can be your own. However, freelancing isn’t exactly the land of milk and honey. Without a company’s structure behind you, you have to work extra hard to stay productive, and you have to get ready for some overwhelming competition.
On the one hand, that means expanding your skillset, investing in continuous learning, and staying up to date with the latest web design standards, trends, and practices.
But even the most skilled designers can have trouble finding success alone, and that’s because being a freelancer also comes with additional challenges that have nothing to do with skill.
Here are four of these biggest challenges and what you can do to rebalance the scales:
1. Budget misunderstandings
Most misunderstandings (and hence, disputes) are caused by a disconnect between what the client assumes you can achieve on their budget and what you can realistically do.
It’s quite common for freelance designers to ask open-ended questions like “What budget do you have for your project”, and they’ll reply that they have no budget, only to frown when they hear that the price for a simple website starts at $500.
Or, they establish a budget, but when the freelancer asks extra for features added later on, they refuse to go over that budget.
Budget disputes are unpleasant from an interpersonal perspective because no one likes arguing over money, but they can also affect your success as a freelancer because you might not get paid, or you might receive poor reviews.
So how can you avoid them?
First of all, when negotiating with a prospective client, don’t start by asking what their budget is. Instead, give them several budget ranges, and ask them what they would feel comfortable paying. Then, tell them what you can offer them for that price, and be as transparent as possible. Explain to them how many free mockups they get, how many free revisions, and if you charge extra for emergency changes.
And secondly, to avoid disputes, itemize your tasks so that the client knows exactly what they’re paying for.
When dealing with clients who have low-budgets, you may feel tempted to drop your price to take the project, but that’s not the best course of action in the long run because your bigger competitors can always lower the cost too without making any sacrifices. Unless you know for sure that the client can give you long-term work, try to prove the quality of your work instead of selling yourself short.
2. Going head-to-head against big web design agencies
Working with a freelancer instead of an agency has many benefits: it’s cheaper, and you get more attention. However, some clients are still drawn towards agencies because they have a better reputation, and they can offer packages of web design, development, and SEO services.
Competing with agencies can be tough, especially when the client has never worked with a freelancer before or you don’t have that many reviews yet. Many freelancers drop their rates to absurdly low levels to win over customers, but that’s a race to the bottom because sooner or later, you won’t be able to support yourself.
To balance the scales and gain the confidence of potential clients, work on building a reputation for yourself. Show them examples of your work, do one or two free mockups, and pay extra attention to how you communicate because this is the biggest advantage you have over agencies. Agencies may take days to reply to messages, and clients may not even be able to talk to their designer directly. You, however, can work directly with the client, so show them that.
3. Lack of communication regarding time tracking
When you work on an hourly basis, the matter of trust comes in – especially if the client has never worked with you before.
You could, of course, rely on trust when counting hours and making invoices, but this doesn’t denote professionalism, and it can leave room for any misunderstandings down the line. To avoid that, use time tracking software. This type of online application keeps track of every minute spent on each project, including overtime, so that the client knows exactly how much they owe you and why. Plus, it boosts trust and shows that you’re a true professional.
4. Unclear goals
Many clients decide to hire a freelancer to redesign their website because their existing one feels old, or they believe it’s time for a change. However, they may not know what exactly was wrong with the old website and what will happen when the new one goes live. For example, many business owners are unaware that completely redesigning a website can affect their SEO performance, and thus traffic and conversions.
As a designer, you’re not to blame for these side-effects, but the client may not know that. Once the project is over and they notice a drop in rankings, they might believe that it’s because of something you did and avoid working with you in the future.
To prevent these discussions, it’s best to start each project with a transparent talk. Ask your client what their goals are, what they want to achieve with the website, and if the features they had in mind are consistent with their branding strategy. Web design is not a standalone job. It can intersect with SEO, development, and marketing, and the more you talk to your client about their expectations, the better.