To be a successful designer, you have to set yourself up for success. Great work doesn’t just fall out of your head. And while anyone can get lucky do successful work once, creating effective work over and over again, for any client, in any circumstance, is the mark of a true professional.
And frankly, it’s something many freelancers struggle with. A young designer intent on becoming a freelancer quickly finds a way to make it work, or strikes out and gets a regular day job.
And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a traditional 9-5 design job, if you want to be a professional freelancer, you need to make sure you bring just as much structure and process to your work life and environment as you do to the work itself.
So with that in mind, here are our top 7 tips for succeeding as a professional freelancer.
#1. Have a clean, professional work space
You need to signal to yourself that you are in work mode, which means wearing professional clothing, having a quiet, professional environment to work in, i.e., don’t wear pajamas and sit on your couch. Or in your bed.
#2. Always keep your deadlines
The best way to signal your professionalism is by doing what you say you’re going to do, when you say you will do it. Keeping deadlines and staying in communication with your client show you are professional and can follow directions. Meeting deadlines helps build a strong rapport as a freelancer/vendor/company they can rely on, and often would refer out to friends needing your services. Think long term.
#3. Be transparent about what you can and cannot do
By taking on work you’re not qualified for, you’re setting yourself up for a bad experience down the road. And while you may feel the urge to represent yourself as being capable on all fronts, ready to tackle any job at all, take our word for it. Don’t. Your clients will respect you more for your honesty, rather than taking on a job and not delivering when it’s time.
#4. Be honest about setbacks and delays
Even though this seemingly contracts the point about deadlines, setbacks do happen. Real life happens as we’re busy planning for it. If you run into a problem down the road, be open and honest about it. A client isn’t paying you to lie to them and tell them what they want to hear, they deserve the truth. The client will respect you more for your honesty, as long as you deliver by the revised deadline.
#5. Have total clarity in the scope of work
Make sure you end the initial kickoff conversation with total clarity over your roles and expectations. Bullet points work best because they are easily gathered without going through long contracts. What we’re trying to do is avoid ambiguity over what you’re being contracted to do vs. what you are not.
#6. Have total clarity on the specs of your hand-off
You need to know what deliverables the client is expecting, and in what form they’re expecting them. A good way to look at this is that they are paying for the results; so why not share with them your project at specific milestones to ensure that the project is on track? Getting good feedback early on from the client will ensure that you are getting exactly (well, almost!) what they want.
#7. Track your time diligently, and honestly
Bill for everything you do that pertains to the work, this means you should be billing for the calls, long emails, anything you have to research, ideation, brainstorming sessions, tools, etc. If it’s work, you deserve to get paid for it. Be sure to keep a clear and transparent accounting of how you spent your time.
In conclusion – getting good at anything takes time and practice, and running/operating your own freelance enterprise is no different. The tips above are by no means a comprehensive review of what you need to do in order to be successful, but our commentary on the common reasons why individuals fail.