1. When did you realise you wanted to be a freelance designer?
To make a long story short – I started teaching myself web and graphic design freshman year of high school. A friend and I had a comic and cartoon animation series that we wanted to share with the world. So what started out as rough sketches turned into digital painting, graphic design, animation, and then web design. At that point I was teaching myself everything (Google became one of my best friends). I enjoyed the excitement of learning and creating all by myself.
Moving onto my last two years of high school, I attended a technical career center half-day for interactive media. In this course I had the opportunity to do a few client websites pro bono – and this was when I realized that I could make money with what I loved to do!
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
Freelancing just sort of happened… I grew up teaching myself, working on a ton of side projects, but I never really thought of it as a full-time career.
Through college and working a part-time job at an office supply store, I tried to freelance as much as possible on the side. To be honest, I hated knowing that I was paying for an education I already had (self-taught), and working for what seemed to be a company ran by complete imbeciles. So early 2011 right after graduating college, I left my part-time job and decided to make the jump to freelance full-time!
The biggest hurdle was making that commitment, dropping a small but steady income, and trying to make it on my own doing what I loved to do.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
I know it’s a bit cliché, but word-of-mouth has to be the most successful way of getting clients. I can say however, the secret to finding new clients is to take action and start getting your name out there. Send out a tweet, Facebook post, tell family and friends, email any connections you might have, and someone will have a referral. The key is to actually try and actively get your name out there.
Other than word-of-mouth, over the past 9 months I’ve revamped and maintained my website and blog, which has been pulling in more traffic. I definitely think that taking the time to make something can help bring clients to you.
Use the free social tools you have to your advantage, and just try to connect with as many people as possible. (I have received a couple projects from twitter!)
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
This might come from my experience working in retail, but I try to attach services whenever possible; kinda like if a customer needed a printer, I’d attach ink and paper to the sale. I use this same method – if a client needs business cards, I use an affiliate printer so I can offer printing services. This gives me “more work” and saves the client the hassle of finding a printer and getting my designs printed successfully. Making the experience hassle-free and a one-stop-shop for them and their business.
In short: Being dependable, providing quality work on time, and keeping the client happy is what makes them stay.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
Thankfully I’ve built a pretty good relationship with all of my clients, so I haven’t had any issues. I always have some sort of contract in place, and depending on the size of the project I’d require a deposit.
I always have everything on file too: Contracts, emails with terms or agreements, and invoices (paid or unpaid). These files could be of use if someone ever decides not to pay.
6. What does your typical workday look like?
On my typical workday I’ll wake up around 6:30am and workout at the gym, shower, grab some coffee, check emails, figure out my tasks for the day, then start work.
Majority of the days are spent working on client projects and marketing myself to find more work. The rest are spent planning and working on my own projects; whether it’s some design experiments for dribbble, new blog posts, or other ideas I wish to bring to life.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
Find out what you’re passionate about and keep fueling it! A lot of people starting out stress about finding clients, but I think what makes freelancing so great is the ability to create something awesome. If you’re actively connecting and sharing, you’ll build an audience and this can lead to client work. Stay creative and keep that passion for what you love to do!
To those of you that might be starting out – plan everything! Figure out what you want to specialize in then brand yourself. If it’s just you, don’t be afraid to work under your own name—You don’t necessarily need to create a brand around a made-up business name if it’s just you.
Finally, no matter where you are in your freelance career, take action and don’t put anything off. Make the mental decision to start – whatever it might be. I promise that if you start now and don’t quit, it’ll happen!
I say this a lot and I know we’ve all heard it, “a year from now you’ll wish you started today!”