The Secret to Freelance Success: Time
As of right now, I’ve been working full time as a freelance graphic designer, illustrator, and programmer for over 2 years. I will happily admit that my current job brings me a lot of joy and fulfillment, thus making “going to work” feel more like a fun time then a chore time. Simply put, being a freelance designer, illustrator, and programmer is amazing. But the road to where I am wasn’t always easy to traverse and often times was full of personal struggle, financial worries, and feelings of never ending work loads. So how does someone become a freelance designer? What tools and knowledge do you need in order to make a business? How do you make yourself stand out in a crowd full of equally qualified competitors? While I can’t say I have the perfect answer, I can tell you one of the biggest factors in your success – time.
Being a freelancer takes time, and I’m putting a big, extra huge emphasis on time. You literally need to put in hours upon hours perfecting your craft, making contacts, and finishing your projects. When you’re a freelancer, your portfolio is your shop window and your clients are your spokes people. If you do a good job on a project, people will praise your work and your name will be passed around to more people. More people means more contacts and more contacts means more projects. It’s a fun, amazing cycle once it gets started, but getting the ball rolling can feel like a never ending battle. For those starting out on the road of freelance, I highly recommend that you focus on these three key elements:
- Your Online Presence – mainly your portfolio and social media (Twitter, Facebook, G+).
- Making New Connections – the more who know your name, the better.
- Professional Quality Products – sub par projects leaves a bad impression, so make it worth their money.
Your Online Presence: Before people even write you an e-mail, call you on the phone or meet you in person, good chances are that they will Google your name and see what information they can find. With your online portfolio, people will be able to see your previous works, read client testimonials, and get a general feeling for your styles and project types. Make sure you take time to make your site look good, check for spelling errors and that your content is easy to navigate. For those just starting out and don’t have many projects under their belts, try doing some charity work! Many local animal shelters, homeless shelters or soup kitchens are in need of help with promoting and you can be that help. Offer to design a logo, flyer or poster to help promote their services. They get advertising material and you get something to post to your portfolio, it’s a win-win for everyone.
If your online portfolio is your shop window, then social media is your shop voice. Set up a Twitter, Facebook, or G+ account for your professional self. Take the time to get to know the platform and really own that space. Meeting and interacting with others in your field online will lead to a rich community of people who can help you with feedback, new leads, and much more. For those who don’t have all day to talk on the social networks, I suggest that you pick one or two outlets and focus on them. For me, I chose Twitter. I try to post something new at least once a day as well as participating in conversations, posting interesting articles I’ve found and making new connections. Once you have established yourself, people will see that you’re active and engaging, both will help sell you to new potential clients.
Making new Connections: Much like social media, making new friends in real life is extremely important. Take time to meet new people and let them know who you are and what you do. If you leave a good impression with someone, the chances of them thinking of you for future projects or suggesting your services to those who might need it go up. And that is the real success of connections, you never know who will be your next client or who will recommend your name to someone who can use your services.
Now I know that walking up to a total stranger and telling them about your freelance design business can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be! Chances are that there are social gatherings in or near your city for potential clients. Maybe there’s an art opening, award ceremony or Meet Up group going on that you can attend. Bring business cards and start practicing your professional pitch. I know that large crowds can be terrifying sometimes, but remember that you don’t have to meet all of them. Determine what a successful meeting is for you and stick to that goal. Just remember, that talking to one person and leaving them with a great impression of who you are and what you do will go a long way.
Professional Quality Products: Lets be honest, no one wants to pay for sub-par work, so don’t do it. The fact that you’re going down the road of freelance means that you’re a professional, so start doing work that lives up to that standard. If for some reason your work isn’t up to that quality, then take some time to practice. As a freelancer, you’ll constantly change focus, acquire new skills and stay up with the current trends. This will require you to constantly work to get better. While I’m not saying everything you do needs to be award winning, make sure that your work is polished and professional. Since every product and client you have will be different, it’s hard to give a generic gauge of what is “professional”, but I can tell you this: When you finish a project, you should be able to look back upon your work with pride knowing that you did your best with the time you were given and that your client will be happy with the work. If you feel you’ve met those requirements, then you’re doing it right.
I hope that these few tips help you on your way to becoming a full time freelancer. For those of you who are already in the thick of it, what tips do you have for those starting out? Have you tried these suggestions before? Were they successful? Let us know in the comments below!