Freelancing is regarded as the holy grail in our industry. It’s something most people look to as a magical fantasy land where all dreams come true. However, being a freelancer can be very difficult if you don’t know much about the business of design.
I’ve freelanced on and off for quite some time now. I’ve had good and bad experiences, which have taught me some valuable lessons. I hope to pass just a couple of those on to you now.
Talk to an Accountant
This is a big one. No matter where you live, your government requires you to pay them taxes. Being self-employed means that *you* are now in charge of putting aside a certain amount of every paycheck. At least where I live, there is a separate tax on top just for being self-employed.
It’s scary to hear all the money the government plans to take from you, but at least this way you’re prepared and can make adjustments as necessary. As intimidating as it might be, they are professionals and having them worry about the tax laws allows you to focus on the things you love. Talk to an accountant, you won’t regret it.
Talk to a Lawyer
A good lawyer has your back and can give you sound advice on a variety of things. Will you do a sole-proprietorship? Form an LLC? S-Corp? Do you know the benefits and drawbacks of each? A lawyer can inform you and recommend what the best avenue might be in your case.
An attorney can also help with contracts. No one wants to have a bad interaction with a client, but guess what? It happens. It may happen with the nicest client. At the end of the day, remember that this is business and that the client, since they’re paying you out of the their hard earned dollars, will try to squeeze everything and anything they can get. The contract is there to prevent this. This brings us to our next point.
A lot of people complain about scope creep. “Oh my goodness, I was hired to do x but ended up doing y and z too!”. You know why? Because your contract wasn't tight enough and loopholes lead to clients having too much freedom. The contract should define the scope of the project perfectly. When something is requested, you’ll be able to consult your contract and see whether it’s within scope or not.
Some designers do the “revisions” thing. The line that says, “You can make up to three revisions on the design”. Personally, I feel that it’s unfair. The truth is, most clients will want to make some drastic changes and that’s ok. Bill it as a change request. In my contract I have a line that states that any changes outside the original scope will be billed at x dollars an hour. If you do it this way, the “never-ending changes” scenario won’t happen and any changes that are requested, you’ll be paid for.
Get the Respect of Your Clients
No client will respect you if you do and try every little thing they want. The fact is, they hired you to be the expert. You are the design professional and you know what you’re doing (or at least I hope you do). You’ve done your research and you understand what will and won't work.
You’ll quickly figure out that a lot of the business of design is selling what you make. I think Mike Monteiro said that in his book. Some say that good design sells itself but, I don’t believe that. Some clients will think they have fantastic design taste when they don’t. Your job is to convince them that the solutions you are creating are the right ones and you have the research to back them up.
This is a partnership. They are not your boss. Yet, listen to their suggestions and be humble when they recommend something that is correct. It’s important to understand that they grasp their business very well and what you both really want at the end of it, is for the project to be a success.
Have confidence in yourself and don’t let the client dictate the project. Yes, I know they’re paying the bills. However, if you present your reasoning with respect and tact, you will gain the respect and confidence of your clients. Not to mention, you’ll be creating things you’re proud to show off.
Freelancing isn’t paradise. It’s hard work. But, if you get the hang of doing business a bit better, the experience can be a lot smoother and you’ll be able to enjoy it. I hope these tips help and if you feel there were things I should’ve touched on, please let me know!