How to freelance like a pro

Maya Lekach

Maybe one of the best things about the internet, and 99designs as a part of it, is the freedom it gives people to work from anywhere. Whether you’re making money from your couch in your apartment or in an internet café in Thailand, working remotely is one of the benefits of today’s internet culture. You are in charge of your destiny; the captain of your ship. Not to mention, you set your own hours.

Being a freelancer sounds pretty great, but there are some things you should know if you want to make the most out of it and achieve the most success. With just a few tips and tricks, you’ll be living the freelance life in no time.

Setting up for success

working

Photo: Startup Stock Photos

First things first, you’ve gotta know that you work well on your own. Spending long hours working on solo projects can be a lot, and freelancing means that there’s not always going to be someone sitting next to you to motivate you to reach your goals, so make sure that you’re the type of person who can thrive without the communal energy of coworkers.

Of course, that’s not to say that you can only freelance alone in your apartment! You can create a co-working space with a fellow freelancer or join online communities in order to feel more like a part of a collective rather than a lone ranger. The key is finding out what’s right for you, and what space will allow you to get your best work done.

The toolbox

office

Photo: Jeremy Levine Design (via Flickr)

Freelance designing is about more than just graphic design. Aside from hitting the good old mouse & keyboard, there is a whole lot of business, application to different projects, and financial management implicit in living the freelancer dream life. Be prepared for it. With that, here are some of the critical tools to help you make a living, while truly living, through freelancing.

A good working space

This is critical. Whereas office life clearly marks the difference between your work and your home, here there is none. If your couch is where you like to relax, maybe consider working at the little used dining room table or heading out to a wifi-hardwired coffee shop. Check out this link to some of our designers’ workspaces to get you inspired about what a freelancer’s space really looks like.

A backup device

Your career and your work are now functioning in the virtual world. Back them up. Anything could happen right before a deadline. You really can’t go wrong with this piece of equipment. For more information, check out this article on the pros and cons of some of the best backup methods on the market today.

A hearty collection of skills

Being a freelance designer is all about having specialties. Although It is great to specialize in one area, you’re more likely to get more work the more skills you have. Luckily, there are tons of ways to learn online. Great start reading through our blog (high-five!). We recommend in particular our article on online graphic design education.

A mentor

Breaking into freelancing is hard and being in touch with a trailblazer can be a great help to your career. On 99designs, we suggest you reach out to some of our top or long-term designers. If you can find someone to form a relationship with, they probably have even more great advice than you would expect.

An understanding of your finances

This is one of those pesky things that has to get tacked on to your job as designer once you go freelance. Know how you’re making your money, make sure you’re making enough money to get by, but also know what you deserve. These skills will go a long way. This includes keeping all of your receipts and papers in order, understanding your banking (and how to get the most bang for your buck at the bank), as well as learning about how to provide your own benefits. There’s a ton to be learned here, and I cannot under-emphasize the importance of this. For more information, this blog has a variety of information to help you to being your own money master.

Self-marketing skills

While an office job might continue to give you one project after another, in freelancing, you have to earn each and every one. Luckily, you have the internet and with the right moves, you can make it work for you. For a more in-depth look at some of the ways in which you can promote yourself online, read on.

A great reputation

This is invaluable – once its gone its gone. Don’t lose your reputation through inappropriate conduct with clients, poorly done work, or missed deadlines. These things can come back to haunt you, and as a freelancer, you don’t want those skeletons in your closet.

Crafting your online presence

dasa

Offsite portfolio of 99designer dasaideabox

You want to be able to show off your finished work to potential customers, and the web is full of ways to politely brag.

Create a custom web portfolio

You want to be able to show off your finished work to potential customers. An online portfolio is a great place to show off what you can do, all while attracting more potential clients to your work and business, making you look serious and professional. A client is more likely to respect you and your work if you have a clean and visually attractive webpage.

One not-so-small additional benefit is that it really amps up your visibility on the internet. Combined with social media (below), a portfolio is a great way to spread knowledge of your freelance business as well as increase your contacts.

Social media

Social media is a great way to increase your online presence, offer additional possibilities for clients to find and/or get in touch with you, as well as a link to the online designer community. The top sites used worldwide today are:

  • Facebook: A great alternate method of interacting with both clients and the community, as well as offering links to information not available elsewhere.
  • Twitter: A great way to maintain your contacts, and hopefully attract new ones, all while showing off your personality (not to mention its a fun, easy way to stay updated on the news).
  • LinkedIn: A tool especially suited to designers searching for jobs and work, and also allows past clients to testify to their experiences working with you.
  • Tumblr: A super visual medium that can show off your style, your visual interests and inspiration, and some of your own work. Customers can get to know you on a visual level without the parameters of any one project.
  • Pinterest: Now considered by many to be the third largest social media site around. Now that’s pretty wild. It is another great way to show off your visual interests and inspiration. Make sure to optimize your page with links to your portfolio and some key #hashtags.
  • Instagram: It’s about socially acceptable narcissism. So is freelancing. You gotta show yourself off in the game of marketing. Show your potential clients your great eye and give them an insight to the life you lead.

Overall these are all great ways to spread online knowledge of your freelance business as well as increase your contacts. Cross marketing your multiple social media pages, starting a blog to keep clients up-to-date with your work and happenings, and maintaining a solid brand (i.e. font and style) across these platforms. Additionally, there is a whole slew of social media just for graphic designers. For a more comprehensive list, please read on here.

Finally, don’t forget…

emember

Photo: The Secret History GRSG (via Flickr)

Things can go wrong

Last minute hard drive or program crashes. Family emergencies. Crazy weather. Expect the unexpected and do your back-up work to make sure it doesn’t nip your project in the bud. Make sure to have lots of back-ups of your files and give yourself a cushion period around your deadlines.

Deadlines are not flexible

A surefire way to piss off your client and potentially lose them as a long-term customer is to miss a deadline. Before having a client lose all trust in you – and ensure no repeat business – get involved with time management. Know how long it takes to complete your projects and stick to your schedule.

Not to burn yourself out

Let’s say you have a couple of successful gigs the help boost your reputation. So you’re doing a great job and everyone wants to work with you. You feel on top of the world. Until you have one (or three) too many projects on your plate and a boatload of stress.

Just because you are getting offers does not mean you have to take them. Choose the ones that inspire you and understand your limits. The clients who you choose will thank you for it, and so will your head when you avoid lots of last-minute headaches and all-nighters.

Conclusion

Getting behind the laptop is only half the battle, and it is most definitely a balancing act. However, with the right collection of skills and information, you’ll be – as they say – freelancing like a pro. Finally, best of luck and don’t forget to have fun!

Freelancers – if you have any tips or tricks of your own, please share in the comments!

Cover photo: Stokpic

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