Top 5 mistakes freelance designers make

Becoming a freelance designer came out of necessity. I had just graduated from an art school and was eager to set out and change the world with good design. Fast forward two months later and I was still desperately searching for a full time position. At that time nobody was hiring and bills were piling up.

Tips for freelance designers

Nowadays being a designer can still be tough in the job market so a lot of us turn to freelancing.

Here are some things from that I've learned through trial and error:

 Having a contract

I cannot emphasise this enough. I learned this early on after being way too trusting of a client who was a friend of a friend. They were an established business and took advantage of the fact that I was new to this and didn't know these things.

Make an airtight contract! I looked up a lot of contract examples and came up with one that fit my needs.

A few things to remember:

- Put the project description, all components due for the project and list the stages of the design (e.g. Stage 1: Comps, Stage 2: revisions etc.).
- Have payments due with each stage.
- Always get a down payment.

Richard Stewart who owns Commoner Inc. says "It's important that the scope of the project is crystal clear to your client. The type of work we do tends to be very intimate and a semi-personal relationship that is formed with the client can sometimes lead to being taken advantage of, unfortunately."

 Not charging enough

This one is always hard for me, especially starting out it can be difficult to determine what to charge clients. Things to consider are your degree, your experience, your market, your city and especially the type of project the client is asking for.

For a logo you may want to charge a flat rate but for a larger project it may be easier to charge hourly. Especially if they will come back with several rounds of edits.

Here's a breakdown of some average rates:

 Student / Self-taught beginners: 20 - 35 (euros per hour)
 Designer - Senior designer: 35 - 65
 Senior designer - Creative directors: 75 - 200
 Design agencies: 200+

This is a good hourly rate calculator from a freelance site. 

 Giving away too much

It's easy to feel intimidated at first when the client is asking for a lot of options to choose from. A good standard is giving them three options to choose from initially. You need to respect the client but you also need to value your time and profession.

If they don't like any of those options don't feel discouraged, sometimes they don't know how to communicate what it is they are looking for and as designers we sometimes miss the mark.

Whenever I design a website I ask for at least five websites they know and love and try and gather what they like from all of them. Communication is key when working with clients!

My friend Joe LaCom who teaches design says:
"Don't let the client steer the design too much of the project. Ultimately, it's their project, but we're hired to be the professionals (I don't tell the mechanic which tool will work better, I leave that to him).

Remember to edit down the presentation. Don't show the client a design you don't want them to pick. Without fail if you show them 10 and you know 2 of the designs are junk. They'll pick one of them. Don't like it? Do not show it."

 Getting outside help

Always ask for help and always be learning. Ask your teachers, friends, and classmates for any advice when you are starting out. Chances are they have had similar experiences, maybe not as a designer but in the business side of it.

Remember you're running your own business, and if spreadsheets are not your thing and you aren't good with numbers it may be worth it to hire someone to help manage the billing and finances.

 Promote yourself

This is something I'm always telling myself I need to do more of!

Here are a few suggestions:

- You need to know people to get people to hire you. The more clients you have, the more referrals you are bound to get.

- Design some professional looking promotional pieces and advertise yourself.

- Leave your cards at places you know people will see it.

- Respond to ads online, join freelance sites like Freelance Switch or Freelancer, and always be entering contests to get your name out there.

- Remember to have a website you can easily update and that looks clean and up to date.

Lastly, always be professional and enthusiastic about what you do. It's not always easy and you may lose sleep over it but ultimately you are doing this for yourself and hopefully it's what you love doing.

Rochelle Zamani


Rochelle Zamani



Leave a comment

Elena Volkova 14:55 | 7 March 2018

Dear Rochelle, thank you for your article :) I am now beginning to freelance here in the Netherlands, and it is hard as it is to relocate and start over, as it is not so easy to find new clients regardless how much work you've done somewhere else and I like to work locally, as you can easier interact with people and do not let them forget you and of course personal contact face to face is much much better and many times crucial for landing new projects. Ok, actually, what I wanted to ask is whether you use English written contract or one in Dutch? I know that many documents in English are working just fine here, but do you think it is better to ask somebody to help me to make contracts in Dutch language? (I probably must be ashamed but even after couple of years living here I am still not capable of professional communication in Dutch). I don't know if it makes much of a difference... what do you think? Thank you in advance! Best, Elena