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11 Practical Tips for Freelance Designers

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1. Find your niche

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Every professional is likely to be more successful focusing on specific areas instead of trying to master different ones. You can’t be an expert in everything — to create something outstanding you need to focus and dive deep.

Defining your niche will also help you get clear on what you do and what are your clients. Niching allows you to focus on what you’re good at, do more of it and get more clients as they usually prefer to work with a specialist that a generalist.

While we’re accepting all the offers, we’re missing out on the special projects that can take us to the next level of our career.

2. Organize your workplace

Good working space is critical. It is not easy to switch your mind from home mode to work mode and maintain consistent productivity throughout your working hours as a freelancer at home. Not to mention too many distractions and lonely feeling.

That’s why you may consider renting an office or co-working space, where you rent a desk somewhere and work alongside other freelancers, which usually are energy people willing to communicate. Co-working offers all the advantages of working in an office while allowing you to operate on your own.

Having a separated comfortable space that you go to for work may do wonders for your productivity and happiness.

3. Brand yourself

Since more and more designers and freelancers are coming into the industry, you have to stand out from the crowd and make yourself known. On the internet, you don’t just compete with designers in your region, but with those in the whole world.

Whether you’re just starting or already established, a strong personal brand is something worth investing. It’s a distinct way of telling your story so you will be remembered.

By building your personal brand, you identify ideal clients, separate yourself from competition, and build solid relationships.

4. Understand your finances

Money management is an important part of any business, freelance included. There will be days when you’re flush with cash, and days when you don’t have anything coming into your accounts. If you manage your money properly, you won’t have to worry those ups and downs.

It is also restlessly that many freelancers don’t invest or save money, hoping for future profits. That’s a big mistake, no matter what your income is — you have to save money and plan your budget. The retirement could come sooner than it may seem, it’s better to be prepared. Take a basic finances online class if you need more information, there’s a lot of great free options.

And hey, don’t forget to pay your taxes.

If you’ll manage your money properly, you won’t have to worry about unstable earnings or seasonal falls. Your financial plan will already include all risks and expectations, which means that you will be prepared and feel safe.

5. Make the connections

One of the downsides of being a freelancer is sort of informational and emotional vacuum. There’re no colleagues or sometimes even clients that you meet in face. It can feel lonely.

But apart from a cure for loneliness, there’re a couple of other important benefits of building your relations:

  • Good relations are the key to landing clients. We’re more likely to buy from someone if we trust them.
  • Networking is a way to build up your reputation and brand in professional communities, not only in design but your niche related too.
  • Through personal connections, you can often learn about projects and tools before they are made public.
  • You can share your experience and expertise with other people.

Get to know people, it’s hard to underestimate networking throughout your career. While it comes naturally to some people, while to others it can be stressful and awkward. That’s true for a lot of designers, myself included. I’m actually quite terrible at networking but it’s something I’ve been working on.

I advice you to participate in meetups or conferences in your city. No meet ups? Host your own. There’s a lot of great online communities and people willing to attend. Check these: nomadlist, meetup, indiehackers.

Relationships are everything. If you want to grow, you have to grow your connections.

6. Don’t overdo

Just because you are getting offers does not mean you have to take them. Choose the ones that drive you, understand your workload and plan ahead. When you work on too many projects, there’s a high risk that you will not deliver you best and will fail to become your best-designer-self.

Projects can often last longer than planned, so always have a reserved time for unforeseen edits, additional work, and case study preparation. If the project would end up earlier than planned you’ll have the perfect opportunity to update your portfolio or maybe start that side-project you’ve been wanting to do.

And don’t forget that you also need a vacation, a time to recharge your batteries. Being a freelancer, you might need a vacation more than most. So plan and warn your clients ahead, and enjoy your time off.

Working without any time off is a great way to burn yourself out. Extra money earned can’t cure that so don’t forget to take a break.

7. Partner up

Working on a freelance not mean that you have to do all your work alone. Even if you’re a one-man business you can still outsource things: contract a finance person to handle your books or marketer to help you build a customer base.

Another thing to consider is collaborations on some complex project. You can make what you do the best and transfer other parts to other designers. For example, if you’re more into interfaces you could outsource some illustrations or graphic-heavy part of the project. Focusing on what you do the best is always a good idea.

Sharing a part of the project with other designers or collaboration could be tricky but pays well. Let the creative synergy thrive.

8. Keep portfolio updated

Everyone knows how frustrating and time-consuming keeping your portfolio up to date is. But you can’t underestimate how crucial it’s for your brand and business. Your dream clients may not choose you because they had no chance to see your best fresh works! No matter what type of design you do, an online portfolio is a must. Reserve your time after each project to prepare case study, dribble shots and all other assets for a great presentation.

Another very important thing: get rid of any projects from your portfolio that don’t represent the kind of work you want to get. If you have a bunch of posters design in your portfolio, but you position yourself as a product designer — there’s a disconnect. Don’t have much client projects? Just make some self-initiated ones to get started or make a free work.

You never know what offers you could be missing out because your portfolio is poorly made or out of date.

9. Work Smarter

Well defined operational process is something that many designers not consider important. We’re creatives, isn’t it? But the truth is that if you have no processes and defined workflow you fail as a businessman.

Your ability to iterate quicky on tasks that make up the designer’s operational work is directly related to your income. The client doesn’t care how long you worked on the design or how many options you have in the trash, if he doesn’t satisfied with the final product. And vice versa — if you solve the client’s problem quickly and efficiently, he will definitely appreciate it.

In the designer’s work there are a large number of operations that can be automated or templatized. Take for example the work of the UI designer: you can use kits and design systems to quickly scale and re-use the components. There is no need to create blank artboards every time and waste your time and client’s money. Think how you can streamline your processes and increase productivity.

Streamlining your own processes means that you can make more actual work for the same time. That would lead to larger income even without changing your pricing. Or you would be able to finally devote more time to yourself.

10. Get a health insurance

Being a freelancer puts you at known risk because of unstable income. But being an uninsured freelancer puts you at even higher risk — imagine if you’re sick and can’t work? You’ll lose your income while having to pay hospital bills and costs of medication and treatment.

There’s a lot of possible ways you can get healthcare coverage as a freelancer, and many even qualify for a tax credit to subsidize the cost of coverage. While health insurance is still a huge expense for many freelancers, you need to understand how the system works, and what suits you best.

Health issues and accidents are things that can greatly affect your life while being completely unpredictable. Take care of yourself and your safety.

11. Be nice

Last but not least, one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your business is to be a kind person. Be a person of your word. Be sure to take ownership of your own mistakes, avoid deceit at all costs, and be someone your clients can always count on to do the right thing.

Your personality and how you act with other people has a great effect on your business and success.

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