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Any advice for beginning freelancing?
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M
Madi FergusonProduct Designer at Render
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What it says up there! 👆

I'd love any thoughts or advice on starting up a freelance stream for product and web design. How did you start, what do you wish you knew earlier or did differently, what's the worst and best part, etc. 💭

Richard Bruskowski and 2 others
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I freelanced 2011–2014. From my notes:

  • It's hard to plan ahead, because most freelance design work starts on short notice, even the long term projects. So enjoy the down time while it lasts.
  • A few times I had weeks turning into almost two months without proper gigs. I should have enjoyed that time but felt really anxious.
  • I had two types of jobs:
  • Small companies
  • Agencies working for big clients In the US and Europe you don't get to work for corporates without an intermediary (I imagine in the rest of the world it's the same). The intermediaries (typically agencies) ask about twice as much as they pay you. Knowing that gives you leverage negotiating your fees for subsequent jobs after you've proven your worth and have generated enough revenue to cover their acquisition costs.
  • The vast majority of my projects came through people I knew. I spend most of my marketing time updating my website but that gave me only about 10% of my total revenue. I think only a top 1% awesome looking website really can make a difference because it gets shared.
  • Recruiters were not reliable and often wasted my time.
  • Freelance job platforms are only usable if you want to compete on price.
  • Some of my best clients were small companies that decided to rely on freelancers for design work. It was important to maintain a good relationship with them. Looking back I should more often have done some quick jobs for free for them. To stay in the loop and make sure I was involved from the start. Because as a freelancer, often you're only contacted when big decisions have been made already. By doing small things for free, you avoid the need for invoicing small amounts, which creates a hurdle for your client to involve you.
  • If you want to work for big brands directly, get a partner and start an agency.
  • Some people tell you as a freelancer, you're an entrepreneur. That may be true in some way, but it's not a helpful way to think about your business.
  • I thought that freelancing would save me from spending time on useless meetings. It did, but instead I did a lot of useless client acquisition attempts.
  • Don't do "it's good for your portfolio" projects under bad conditions
  • Pro bono work is nice, but give it a scope and budget, so both you and the client know when it's time to stop.
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I second working with small agencies. They can give you cover with serial jobs and you’ll often get a heads up of new work coming up, which random gigs here and there don’t usually cover.

And, as these companies grow, so do their projects, and they might still rely on you to come through later, you may then do major digital projects as a freelance design lead, or could even lead entire teams.

Also second finding a partner. I ran an agency in Brooklyn for around 12 years by myself and it was touch and go at times, especially through the housing bust. If I’d had somebody with some business / sales chops I’d have had a much easier time, I had a great engineering lead, that was almost as good, but not quite. Again, working with smaller design agencies can give you the cover you may need to set out and get your own firm off the ground.

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Paul WebbFront-End Developer at Apple
2 mnths ago

Bookmarking this for future reference

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