“The number one question I’m asked by potential freelancers is “How do you find work?” Well, if you’re doing it right, work finds you.”
It’s been 1½ year since I left my position as Creative Director for a stellar agency in Utah and started freelancing full time. Over the course of that time I’ve been lucky enough to have some awesome clients around the world. While I do miss my old co-workers and crew, it’s been an unbelievable ride. I wanted to share just a few notes on my experience for anyone looking to branch out into the world of freelance.
How to find work
Obviously the most crucial step is to be certain you have enough requests for new work coming in before you can make the leap. There is a stark difference between knowing you’ll get paid a set amount at a set period, and hoping it.
The number one question I’m asked by potential freelancers is “How do you find work?” Well, if you’re doing it right, work finds you. The methods described below are what I attribute most of my success to. Following these guidelines has allowed me to curb the ebb and flow of new work, and make it so 100% of my time is focused on completing contracts (not finding work).
Share, Share, Share
A year before I actually started using Twitter, I registered, and let fly a single tweet. I simply said, “Lame.” I used to hate how everyone and their dog had a blog, used to hate twitter and Facebook, and couldn’t understand everyone’s obsession with “sharing.”
Today, my feeling is the exact opposite. Not only have I enjoyed becoming a vocal member of the design community (and the great friends I’ve made along the way), sharing the things I create has led to more potential jobs than almost anything else! Potential clients want to see your work, understand the role you played, and be confident in your abilities before they’re willing to invest in you.
An important method of sharing is writing about your work. If this means maintaining a blog, answering questions, posting on publishing sites and magazines, or a combination of these, just make sure that you have a voice, and you’re contributing real content. Not only will you grow your own abilities by participating, your strong skillsets will shine through, leading to more work requests.
The number one way I’ve found new work is from past jobs. 100% of my freelance clients have come back to me for more work, and at times have fought over my available hours. Almost all have also referred me to other clients. My secret? I deliver past expectations.
If the deadline for the next iteration is on Friday, deliver on Thursday. If your creating a new visual or interactive design, provide them with the requisite comps, but then add a few more where you take some creative liberty.
Make sure that you’ve managed expectations, and fully understand what the client is looking for. Then go above and beyond. Trust me, it will pay off in the short run, and again (tenfold) in the long run.
Don’t be evil
Google’s manta is don’t be evil. This is great advice! Make sure that you track your hours, project expenses, and handle all aspects of your relationship with integrity. Don’t ever let your client question what they’re paying you for.
Define a schedule
This is one area where I have sorely missed the mark. When I started freelancing, I was so anxious about pleasing clients and delivering past expectations that I made myself available 24/7. Don’t do that. The moment you go down that road, it’s exceedingly difficult to climb out of the pit.
Make sure you respect your client’s time, and demand they do the same for you. There will be less tension, and you’ll get more done in the time you have if you’re working happy.
As I mentioned, there is a clear difference between knowing you’ll get paid, and hoping it. Be certain that your invoices go out on time, and expect payment within a limited scope of receiving the bill.
Don’t do free. Ever. There is no place where the saying “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” applies more than to free work. The way I avoid this is by working by the hour. My hourly rate ensures that we are both getting a fair deal for our time. It applies to meetings, phone calls, research, and anything that takes my time for their business.
Realize that because of the lag in getting paid, you need to be at least a full month ahead on everything. Expect your clients to pay, but don’t depend on it. As a rule, I only take on very stable, well-established companies as my clients. If they are a startup, or seem risky at all, I require a pre-payment of 50% of the estimated project budget up front.
Do what you love
Right now, I love freelancing. It’s been a very successful year and a half. I am, however, under no delusions that this is the path for the rest of my career. There are pros and cons with working for an agency, a large corporation, and yourself.
Freelancing full time isn’t the right path for everyone, but the ideas outlined here will help you if you want to take up work on the side, have a little more job security, or start your own full time business.