New to Freelancing? This one’s for you.

This CreativeMornings Chat by Mike Monteiro is a classic, and you have probably been shown this is school, or by fellow creatives. He brings up so many bumps in the road that you WILL deal with, they aren’t avoidable. Along with this video I wanted to share some advice that I’ve picked up along the road, hoping that you will carry it with you along your own journey.

First of all, congratulations on your choice to freelance your work. It is an incredible, liberating and joyful experience learning how to run your own business. Sure, it comes with some confusing, frustrating and upsetting times but what’s the yin without the yang? Here’s three things I would stay to get started on first:

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1. BUILD YOUR  COMMUNITY AND NETWORK

I’m sure when you pictured freelancing while still a student in school, you imagined sitting at your desk marking off all the deadlines of all your fullfilling projects on the calendar. But day one of freelancing will look nothing like that, sorry to pop that bubble of yours. You need to build your community (those who may be in a similar field to you, or friends) and your network (clients, or potential clients). Failing to build that community will leave you in a pretty lonely situation. You need those people you can count on to talk through a contract, pass a job off if you are unable to do it, or ask a tech question when trying to deal with a glitchy design program. You can find “your people” by attending local events, joining Facebook groups or simply connecting to those who inspire you on Instagram. Pleaseeee don’t be that person who meets another designer at an event and ghosts them because you see them as competition. You are missing the big picture - there are literally 1000s of gigs out there and you both have different skill sets. Befriend each other, you will thank me later. You aren’t alone! To build your network of clients will take time, so be patient. I’m sorry to tell you, but you do have to put yourself out there. Either in-person at events, or online at meet-ups. No one can hire you if they don’t know who you are or understand what you do. I have also found joy in helping others get connected. After a few years you get to know people, and it’s been an easy way to make new friends to help get them referrals. In conclusion, I can’t stress this advice enough. Get out there! 

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2. KNOW YOUR WORTH (THEN ADD TAX)

You should always pay yourself first. Along with that, I hope you are charging enough for your work because you probably aren’t at this very moment. Money is always an uncomfortable subject, but the more you talk about it the easier it will get, trust me. Before you tell that client you can do a logo for $200, ask yourself these questions: 

  • “Does the compensation fairly represent all my years of learning?” 
  • “With the estimated time going into this project, what would the hourly rate be? Can I live off that?” 
  • “Does that amount of compensation realistically represent the rights to the work that the client is looking for?”

I hope you said no to all those. $200 is way too low for amount of work that goes into logo development. It may be a hard sell to a client to up the budget, but try to put yourself in their shoes. They want to hear an explanation why the price is “so high” if they could just get a pre-made logo off an another website. You could go into why we study psychology, colour, themes, metaphors and explain it to them, or maybe just realize that they maybe aren’t your client and kindly guide them to the solution they need. It’s something you have to feel out, and it does get better with experience. Do remember that both are human and be kind. Even if you were too expensive for a client, you can still spend a few minutes writing out an email guiding them to some resources.  We do have to give the client a bit of a break, sometimes they have never worked with a designer/illustrator and simply don’t know the ropes. But you will figure out who is your ideal client, and who isn’t. It’s a hard thing to do, to say no to a project when to you just start out, but it’s leaving you open for an even better project headed your way. (Especially us women in business, I know we mean well, but our hearts aren’t always in the business of working with the brain in making money!)

One last thing to add, make sure you know what your client is going to use your work for. They may agree upon one use for the product, but then years later you find out they are using it for much more than they originally said they were going to. If you agreed upon the rights for 1 thing - they owe you much more than the original contract for that. Most things can be solved in a friendly matter, and I hope you never have to bring in lawyers, that would get pretty messy.

Illustration by Carolina Búzio

3. ALWAYS BE LEARNING!

The design industry is forever changing. You are forever changing and growing. It makes no sense to become stationary, and just keep outputting the same kind of work because you are comfortable with it. You should include a plan in your business for personal development. This could be Youtube videos, Skillshare, Linkedin, books, conferences, or workshops. Don’t tell me you don’t have time or you don’t want to spend the money. I’m sure you spent a pretty penny on your tuition, and that was an investment in you. You don’t just invest once and expect it to grow exponentially on its own. $300 is not a lot of money to spend on a conference that will gain friends for life as well as new life skills. Just buy the ticket, do the thing or send the message already!


Three things to watch out for in the coming years:

1. SHIFT IN SERVICES/BRANDING

You may get 2-3 years into your work and be thriving, and that’s awesome. But for myself, I got 2-3 years in offering some web, social media services and realized how unhappy that work made me. At the same time, I discovered a new service to offer. You may have branded yourself one way in the beginning, but it’s totally okay to switch gears. No sense in putting your energy into something that doesn’t bring you joy, you are the boss!

2. CLIENTS AND CLIENT FATIGUE

1) You may start to feel a loss of control with some clients. They may have hired you to do a certain project, but you feel like you are just a workhorse. In other words, you were hired for expertise yet they are telling you where to draw your lines, micromanaging in a sense. Clients may not realize that they are doing this, and you may need to speak up. This is business, and you don’t want to create something that you are not happy with and have your name on it. Let that client know, “Hey, a bright purple logo isn’t going to work for this funeral home, even though I know it’s your favourite colour. This is what we should be doing and why.” Hopefully they take that advice with an open mind - if not maybe best for you both to go your separate ways. It’s happened, and that’s okay. Not everyone is your client, it’s not personal, it’s business. 

2) Another piece to add to this is “scope creep”. Basically when a client asks for one thing to be done, and once the product is delivered, they slowly ask for more and more revisions under the previously agreed on price. So be clear in your contact. Like, stupidly clear. “This is for me to draw an apple, only an apple, in black and white line drawing style.” Be so obvious that it sounds overdone. You’ll thank me after said client comes back asking for that apple to be animated and you wave the contract saying “That’s going to cost extra as it wasn’t in our contract, but sure if you are willing to pay!”

3) One more thing to add when dealing with clients. Underpromise and overdeliver rings so true, and I try my best to make this a habit. Be that person that is always 3 steps ahead of your client’s needs, they will love you for it. If they are running a small business or a department of a large corporation, they are busy people. They can’t answer your 4 emails on what colours they want to pick or discuss how sharp the lines are. Be easy to work with, and try and put yourself in their shoes. As much as you realllllllly don’t want to talk to clients over the phone, sometimes it’s much more effective than a one-line email to get what information you need.

3. TAXES AND EARNINGS

Please make sure that you are deducting at LEAST 25%-30% from your invoices and put it away. Like really put it away. It’s not yours, don’t look at it. It’s not a new computer or a new set of headphones. It’s the governments money, and they want it back, so don’t let it become a shock to you come tax time! Hopefully you’ve found yourself a decent accountant that has your back, and can give you tips on how to reduce your taxes. With the leftover money after paying back your taxes should be the “investment in business” money. What does your business need to continue? More personal development? Equipment? Whatever you need, just don’t be put into a sticky situation come tax season. It’s the least fun part of doing everything yourself I know, but it must be done!

I hope that helps! You can always reach out to me for a virtual coffee chat, I’d love to meet you!

Laura Hanek  |  laurahanek@swoopmedia.ca

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