Part 1: How to freelance (successfully)..?

I’m getting asked this question regularly now. I’m taking it as a compliment and giving my take…

I ♥ (good) design

I ♥ (good) design

It’s almost 2yrs since I moved to Bristol – my home – after studying in Leeds (mum/dad – I confess: I never graduated). When I moved to Bristol I had no friends or family here, no job, no contacts, no clients… Not just that, but starting my own business – freelance is just part of [it] – began to cost lose me friends, relationships, and any chance of forging or rebuilding them again. Thankfully this is now the total opposite.

It made me realise that time is more important than money. Nobody ever tells you to put ‘emotion’ in your cost projections.

Starting my own design business has been the toughest thing I have ever done. I can confidently guarantee you that if your heart is in it, then it will be the same for you too. Notice I’ve used a question mark (?) in the title of this post and for good reason too: I’m still learning, thinking, and experimenting… I’ve now simply began to make more successes than mistakes – it has taken over 5yrs.

The only real reason I’ve decided to publish my findings on freelance now is because I’m feeling good about my output, my design cycle, and most of all: I’m happy content happy.

I’ll avoid the ‘key to happiness/success’ spiel and just pass on these tips instead. I hope they’re helpful to some of you:

Charge low and work your way up. Let gr££d do the rest…

Clients buy a process, not just an end product.

If you’ve been thinking about freelancing for a while, and aren’t already being proactive about it, then it’s probably not for you. Freelance found me, not the other way around.

In 2007, when I first started out professionally, the banks had just suffered their Worldwide mischief, and as a (not so) fresh-faced design ‘graduate’ with just a colourful portfolio and a (average) CV I accepted if I wanted to pursue a design career, unfortunately for me, I wasn’t going to be enjoying gainful employment any time soon…

Putting a valuation on my skill-set was a big hurdle. Annoyingly it took me a year of persistent under-charging and over-delivering on projects before I established a suitable rate of pay that was fair to my clients and was right for me; allowing me to stay in business. Saying that, I’m still convinced that there’s no longevity in over-charging and under-delivering – not in the design industry; not if you’re serious about the integrity of your brand. If everyone realised this then we’d have less agencies and less sh*t design around.

I remember once having to borrow £30.00 to buy a sketch pad and pens to use on a logo project for charity. I ended up billing only £100.00 for the job. I started out charging £7.50/per hour for my time and quickly realised it was less hassle not to take on the projects :|

In this scenario when you get an influx of work it won’t be because you’re any good – it will be because you’re cheap. Hell, it’s a nice feeling to be able to say you’re busy, right?..

After a few months – what with your ‘fantasy rota’ – your clients will quickly begin to start getting what they paid for – rubbish – and it won’t reflect well on you or your business. Strive for quality, not quantity, and you’ll have timeless work that shines and a reputation to match.

If you have a deadbeat client, walk away. You don’t need them.

Andy Clarke

This notion of the first year of any business being the hardest and the competing struggle to ‘break even’ – it’s true; until you discover what you’re worth and then everything tends to fall into place. If you’re a designer it’s a little pointless researching competitor rates. As multiple colleagues of mine will tell you: Clients buy a process, not just an end product.. Everyone’s process differs. Focus should always be on working faster and more efficiently, without compromising quality or client relations.

As my start-up costs amounted to next to nothing I was lucky… I had little money to lose; only time. This time later amounted to all the lost friendships and relationships I mentioned above. It made me realise that time is more important than money. Nobody ever tells you to put ’emotion’ in your cost projections.

Note

Keep your eyes peeled for the next instalment in this volume of posts: Part 2: Whore your stuff! If you have any questions or topics you’d like me to cover in future parts of this series of posts, then drop a request in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help!

5 Responses to “Part 1: How to freelance (successfully)..?”


  • Great article. I’ve being working freelance for a year now. Always good to hear other peoples stories.

    Bring on part two!

  • That was an interesting insight! I enjoyed reading that. You do have a few friends/relationships kicking around though! bx

  • Great article and so many truths in there!, From my experience starting a business is very tough and the more mistakes you make the better the business in the future in terms of performance I think, I have made loads of mistakes, but my business is better for them because I will never do them again!

  • Great article, appreciate the honesty about costing up your jobs although I also think undercharging can be as risky as overcharging. I really like the title of your next one too, ‘Whore your stuff!’, genius.

  • I know that this is coming along a lot later than the rest of the comments, but I have found that sometimes, when starting out as a freelancer, it is better to get contract work and budget for working 4 days for the contract client and 1 day at home doing freelance work. Then as the level of freelance work picks up you can start reducing the amount of time you are spending on your contract stuff until you can actually afford to drop working contracts and just concentrate on your freelance business.

    I was working freelance/contract a few years ago back in Australia and I found that if I was doing freelance work, I could do it after hours (I really had no life back then) and weekends and I had a full time job as well. Then when I decided to return to work in the UK once again, I moved to working contract for a design company in Perth for a few month to get the money together to move back here.

    From there, I have alternated between working full time and contract with zero freelance work in there. However, what I am planning on doing is to start approaching web design companies around where I live and get my name down on their lists as a freelance web application developer. The biggest issue with working full time or contract as a web app developer is that most of the time, the stuff you are working on is secured websites that only clients can access or they are intranet sites which have no world facing aspect… so my portfolio is rather thin.

    But if you really want to get into freelance work… do as Lewis says… whore your stuff out… get your name out there and run with it. In the end, it is worth the effort.

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