16 years ago I started doing freelance design work. That makes my design career old enough to drive. And somehow it has never crashed. People ask me a lot, especially freelancers or aspiring freelancers, my secrets to success. And those who know me well know I don't have any secrets, so I'm happy to share any information that may help. It seems like numbered lists are a popular way to break it all down, so I'm going to give that a try...
1. Don't be a flake
I would attribute at least half of my initial clients to other designers being flaky. I was blown away by the number people that would tell me about a designer that started a project and then fell off the face of the earth leaving the project half completed. Meeting deadlines, responding to clients, and doing what you've promised all seem like no-brainers to me. But I'd like to thank all the flaky designers out there who don't abide by these no-brainers for launching my career.
2. Don't be too big for your britches
Look, we're doing graphic design here people. It's a certain skill set, but it's not brain surgery. If you come into a project as though you know it all, you're never going to grow and you're going to attract similarly unpleasant clients. Elliot Begoun from The Intertwine Group wrote an outstanding article about entering every project with a beginner's mind.
3. Your discounted price will become your regular price
No matter how you try to frame a discount extended to a client or how clearly you tell them "This is not my normal rate...I'm helping you out" your discounted rate will inevitably be viewed as your normal rate. I'm not saying you shouldn't give discounts, but only do so if you're prepared to always extend that discount to that client. Same with trade. I realized early on that I couldn't pay my rent with sushi, so there was a point when that trade had to stop. But the transition from trade to cash is almost tougher than pitching a new client.
4. Don't stop when you think you're done
We all have those amazing ideas that pop into our heads early on in a project. They're incredible! And sometimes they are the right solution to the project, but not always. So do your job and push yourself to do more versions and create more iterations. I've found some of my best work at the end of a long and difficult project when I thought that lightening strike in the beginning was the perfect solution.
5. Prepare yourself before you make the move
If you go out as a freelancer without any contacts, any networks or any advocates out there singing your praises, you're setting yourself up for failure. The freelance thing is romantic in your mind, but if you don't have the word of mouth out there and the hard work to back it up, then the romance will fade quickly. I worked an in-house job for years while I did freelance at night or on weekends. Moonlighting is tough, but it's worth putting in the time.
6. Over deliver
That's right, I said 5 recommendations, but if you want to be successful you must always over deliver. If your clients don't feel like they walked away getting more than they expected they're way less likely to spread the word.
- Brandt Hoekenga