So You Want to Be a Freelance Web Designer, Huh?
Have you absolutely had it up to here with your boss? Sick and tired of the demanding schedule, the stressful deadlines, the abysmal pay and office politics? Dreaming of days when you can work anytime, anywhere while still in your pajamas? Looking forward with gusto to long, creative-fueling walks spent with exotic coffee in hand?
Well, be forewarned – freelancing is not all sunshine and roses. It has its own unique set of advantages and challenges.
As someone who started doing freelance web design back when the web was relatively new, and has continued doing it for over 10 years, I’d love to go back in time and pull starry-eyed 20-year-old fresh freelancer me aside and share a few realities, tips and advice with them. Since time travel isn’t yet a possibility, I’ll share these valuable points and tips with you instead, in the hopes that you’ll be able to cut through the clutter and myths and get straight to the truth about working in the freelance world.
Let’s get started!
The truth is, not everyone is cut out for life as a freelancer. There are people who play with the idea in their head, but are miserable the moment they let go of the security and stability of their 9-to-5 job. There are also those who start freelancing, but don’t take it as seriously as they would a job where they have to report to a superior. Some people thrive on that kind of structure and routine, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But realize that you’re going to have clients who are scattered across a dozen time zones, projects that require more time and effort than you originally planned for, and people who will stubbornly drag their feet to get you what you need so that you can finish the project and get paid. These are the realities of working freelance, and if you’re the kind of person who is self-disciplined, flexible, and accommodating when it comes to a few bumps in the road – you’ll find that freelancing suits your personality well.
Stretch Your Comfort Zone
I’m assuming that you already have the skills you need to make a serious go of web design work. But you should know that not every project you do will be strictly web design. Some of the projects will involve logo design, WordPress or other content management systems, basic search engine optimization and even print design and layout. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone to try your hand at these things and see how you like them.
I found out quite by accident how much I enjoyed copywriting, split testing different websites against each other, and understanding how demographics and psychology play a role in getting people to take action. In short, I found my niche as a conversion optimization specialist, with web design going from the bulk of my work, to a small part of the overall package. Try out different things and see which type of design work really appeals to you! You can always change and refine the scope of the work you do over time. No one ever said you had to get it 100% right, right from the start!
Truth be told, even though you might be a phenomenal web designer, you have to be an even more phenomenal marketer. No one’s going to sell your services for you, so it’s up to you to pound the digital pavement and reach out to your ideal customers. Take the time to discover who this “ideal customer” is. They could be fellow start-ups like yourself, or people who already have a website but are in dire need of a redesign. They could even be members of a specific profession like lawyers or chiropractors. Whatever your chosen community, you’ve got to reach out and make sure your name is top-of-mind when someone thinks “web designer”.
Find online forums, local events, social communities or other places where your customers spend their time. By meeting them on their level, you’re more likely to connect with their colleagues, associates and others. Referrals can do wonders for your client roster, so it pays to network and get to know people both online and offline who can send business your way.
One of the things that really helps me win over clients to this day is a good proposal. It doesn’t have to be full of numbers and complicated diagrams – just something simple and straightforward that lays out the whole process in a way that’s easy for the client to understand. It also has to be the kind of proposal that’s quick and easy to create. I’ve closed many high paying projects on account of having a professional estimate sent to the client within hours.
Have a Backup Plan, including Finances
I was fortunate that when I started freelancing, I was attending a local university and still lived at home while paying toward my share of utilities, groceries and basic rent. Many people start freelancing while working at their normal job or even splitting their time between part time work and moonlighting as a freelancer. Whatever the case, have a few months worth of savings stashed away so that you aren’t living on crackers and Ramen noodles if things fall through.
Take Note of Important Tax and Insurance Differences
If you live in the U.S., and you quit your full-time job to freelance, there will be a few notable differences. If you’re not on your parents’ or spouse’s insurance, be prepared to have to pay a higher premium for rather basic insurance as someone who is self-employed. Also bear in mind that you will need to pay quarterly self-employment taxes. At your normal job, your social security and Medicare contributions were taken out of your check automatically. As a self-employed business owner (also known as a sole proprietor), you’ll be responsible for taking care of these fees yourself. I highly recommend consulting a tax advisor once you decide to take that leap into full-time freelancing.
Choose Your Brand Well
I cringe when I thought of the domain name I first registered in 1999, thinking how cool and edgy it sounded. It never occurred to me what a pain it would be to try and spell it to clients over the phone. Thankfully, by 2002, I had my current domain and business name, and it was much more memorable.
That being said, consider your domain name and brand – avoid domains with hyphens, unusual spellings or numbers. If you’re not confident designing your own logo, hire a reputable company to do it for you.
Set Your Prices
This part could be a topic in and of itself, but setting prices is another one of those points that hardly anyone gets right, right from the start. Here’s a helpful online calculator that factors in many of the monthly living expenses you’ll need to consider. Also keep in mind the hourly rates that are consistent with your particular skill-set, demand for your service and so forth. Create a base pricing figure you can easily work from and then adjust as necessary.
Create a Routine that Works for You
Remember that part about working in your pajamas? Well, there is a slice of truth to that. One of the advantages of being a freelancer is that you can develop your own routine. After a few weeks, your body will settle into a natural schedule of highs and lows throughout the day. Whether you feel your best tackling tough projects first thing in the morning, or you get your best ideas at midnight, it pays to listen to your body and group your work into chunks or tasks accordingly.
Now It’s Your Turn!
It is my hope that you’ll not only be able to learn from this list, but also set about forging your own career path with confidence! Still have questions? Post below and let’s see if we can help! Already a freelance web designer? Share your thoughts below in the comments!
Images provided by Shutterstock
In Post Image: Business background, market analysis concept with financial data via Shutterstock