Harsh truths and mistakes about running a freelance business

It takes time to become successful

You may be transitioning from a full time role, but the truth is you will need some kind of experience in an agency to showcase projects, so you then have leverage to sell your services to potential clients. Also, you need to really work on your personal brand to project the right image, this does take time and you have to put the work in upfront. This is one of the main reasons designers give up because they don’t spend enough time investing in themselves.

You need to polish your skills and knowledge

This is 100% true, you have to bring your ‘A’ game because you can get hired fast and fired off a project even quicker if you’re no good, so polish your skills and knowledge of design trends and software. You also need maintain good people and communication skills – that’s something I never went on a course for, but a life skill you definitely need.

You need to wear many hats, you’re running a business

Did you know when you decide to become freelance, you’re not just a designer anymore? You’re a business owner, salesmen, client service coordinator, account manager, marketing manager, SEO expert, finance manager and debt collector to name a few.

Something else that can happen when you don’t think of yourself as a business is that you let clients run it – be clear and in control as you’re the boss!

You’re in charge — not your clients

Remember to not act like an employee to your client and set boundaries for working hours and always be mindful of your time. If unrealistic deadlines are proposed be careful not to agree to them. If you think it would best to just say ‘yes’ you are preparing to fail and ultimately the client will blame you for not sticking to your promise.

Money management

I’d say, be smart about this or you won’t last too long, this is a crucial skill to develop as you progress in your freelance career. Initially, establish outgoings and know what you need to make each month to at least break even. 

When you set up your company you’ll need a business account and make sure you have a saver account within it and save 20% each month for your Tax bills, if you don’t make provisions for this you may find that you’re not going on that holiday Maldives you promised the wife and kids. You also have to account for late payments and bad debt or if a client decides to disappear. I’d always ask for deposits to help manage your cashflow – clients in general don’t have a problem with this.

Assuming all clients are looking for cheap

This is a mindset you have to change over time as you won’t fill any good clients with confidence if you charge peanuts, in-fact you’ll just encourage more high maintenance low paying clients. If a good client recognises talent and sees that you could add value to their business, they’ll be willing to pay for it.

A client could just ditch you tomorrow

I have good relationships with my clients and always maintain good communication to make sure everything runs smoothly. However, it might be a year or so down the line where you’ve done some great work and then suddenly they disappear with no explanation or warning. This could be down to resource, budget or a change of direction in their business. My advice is to always be mindful of this and try to keep multiple revenue streams coming in.

Final thoughts

Hopefully I’ve highlighted a few points that may help you if you decide to become a freelance designer, if you get it right it can be extremely rewarding. I also go into my experience as a freelance UX designer if you want a few more tips.



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