Five deadly sins of a freelance designer

Book on a shelf labeled stop

It's hard to believe, but freelance designers make mistakes, mistakes of such epic proportions that they should be deemed "freelance sins", and I'm as guilty as the next. I'm not referring to those little mistakes, like a poor choice of color or whether you're a PC or Mac, I'm referring to mistakes that affect our livelihood as freelance designers.

Today I want to talk about five of those sins.

1: Working for free (or a fistful of dollars).

This is the frequent flyer of freelance sins, and the designer who says he's free of this one is either incredibly good, lucky or lying.

We all have friends and family members who call in favors, you know the kind, "hey Nathan can you take a look at this for me" or "I've got a friend who's starting a…"

People outside of the our world have a hard time putting a monetary value on design, it's an intangible mystery to them. As we don't create anything physical they tend to think of it as a bit of a hobby, something that's easy and that can be done in no time at all. Try this approach with your plumber the next time he's around and you'll feel the sharp end of a screwdriver (and don't forget to ask for a discount).

As a freelance designer, charging family friends and colleagues is complicated, sometimes even impossible but every time we work for free (excluding charity organizations) we reduce our value and that of our fellow designers.

Know your worth, be confident and be prepared to walk away (unless it's for your mum).

2: Working with undesirable clients.

Hands up if you've never had a bad client? I'm not talking about those clients who get on your nerves because they don't appreciate the difference between flat design and skeu… I'm talking about clients that are bad news; the tire kickers, the non-payers, the rude.

While it may seem that the luxury of working with hand-picked clients is reserved for a few superstar designers, us mortals have as much choice as they do.

Saying no is a right given to every freelancer. You don't have to earn it, it's yours. Use that right, exercise it and enjoy the thrill of feeling in control of your own life. (sorry office workers).

But beware, we don't always catch the undesirable clients and every now and again one will slip through the net and cause us pain and anguish. We have to chalk it down to experience and move forward, a little wiser and perhaps a little less green.

Designer using image editing software

3: Being a technological butterfly.

Much the same as a social butterfly, the technological butterfly can't sit still with one piece of software. He's a freelance designer in constant search of the ultimate time saver, that one app or technique that's going to save hours and hours of mismanaged time.

I'm guilty too. I sign-up for any new service or app that comes my way. There just aren't enough hours in the day and ultimately I resort to my tried and tested ways with the software I love.

It's a fine line, just ask yourself "Will I really save time with this?".

4: Not running your business like a business.

This is almost a miscellaneous section where we can bundle in multiple deadly sins. So here's a few to get started, I'm sure you can add your own to the list:

  • Not working with contracts.
  • Not trusting your instincts.
  • Not having a personal brand, portfolio etc.
  • Giving discounts just because people ask.
  • Thinking that if you turn this client down you'll never get another, ever!
  • Not have optimal systems in place for such administrative tasks as accounting, creating client proposals, marketing and such.
  • Not keeping up to date with the ever-moving world of design.

In other words, we risk treating our job as a poorly run hobby. We're not amateurs, we're professional freelance designers and we need to remember that the next time we move forward without a contract, or the next time we write down our email on a napkin (real world meetings do happen).

The better our systems and workflows are, means more time concentrating on the things that matter most.

5: Forgetting the balance between work and play.

As the majority of freelance designers tend to work from home, the separation between personal and professional grows ever smaller. We're surrounded by the web, and it's associated technologies permeate our lives at every level.

Even after spending all day in front of the computer, how many of us can truly say that we manage to switch off at the end of each day, and do we even want to?

How many of us still check our twitter accounts as we watch the tv, or rush away from supper as a message arrives from a client?

Technology is an integral part of any designers life, but we need to strive for a life outside of the screen also.

Get a hobby, get outside, and disconnect… And if you still can't disconnect, start thinking about your next side project, at least that's done for pleasure, right?

If you think I've missed some other fundamental freelance sins, then drop me a line or leave a comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts about which areas of the freelance life cause you the most pain.

Good luck!

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