10 Things to Know When Getting Started as a Freelance Designer
Hey y’all! Remember me? So… it’s been a minute since I’ve posted here, but I’m back! Over the last few months, I took a little hiatus from UX Queen in order to set up my UX strategy and design consultancy! And, friends, I’m happy to say that I’m officially in business for myself as a full-time creative entrepreneur. Starting off as a freelance designer has most definitely been a rollercoaster – and I love it. It’s been such a thrilling ride and I’ve learned so much along the way (still learning, too, of course!).
All of this begs the question, what does that mean for UX Queen? Well, I’ve got great news – it means more of everything UX Queen related! I’m going to be carving out more time in my day to write articles, record awesome e-courses, and set up more goodies/freebies for YOU! I couldn’t be happier with this new adventure and the opportunity to empower more fabulous creatives out there.
For now though, I wanted to chat with you a little bit about what I’ve learned while hustling and looking for awesome clients. I’ve taken the time to round up some of the best ideas I’ve come across, advice that I’ve received, and little gems of wisdom I’ve stumbled upon in the last 3-4 months as I’ve launched Avani Miriyala Strategy + Design.
Getting started in freelance work is not easy, nor is it a walk in the park. Jumping into this life takes lots of guts, a great support system, and in my case, many cups of hot green tea.
This journey is most definitely a big, hairy, audacious challenge – but that’s what I love about it!
1. Be prepared to be ready to be all in!
For a few months, I was running and managing my freelancing business in my spare time (evenings and weekends) while still working as a full-time UX designer at Favor.
At first, it was very manageable since my client load was super light; I only had one client who needed a few easy design tasks completed. However, as I started onboarding my second client and longer term contracts, I realized that I wasn’t able to handle the workload anymore. It was at that point in time that I had to make a decision…
I had to decide if I wanted to go full-time with this consulting gig I had started. I knew that I couldn’t provide quality work to my clients if I was using my brainpower full-time as an in-house designer anymore. So, I made the decision to take the plunge!
As soon as I stepped into the world of full-time entrepreneurship, I was able to focus much more effectively on the work I was doing and reserve creative energy for the things that are important.
Bottom line? If you’re starting a freelance creative business, be aware that at some point in time you could oversubscribe yourself and you’ll need to make the decision on whether to jump in or not.
2. Start curating your mastermind NOW
The thing that has helped me more than anything else is the group of people I’ve put around me in the last few months. This is my mastermind! I’ve made sure to talk to enterprising individuals and solopreneurs who have made it out on their own to learn from them and their experiences.
Additionally, hanging out with people around that encourage you and cheer you on in your goals as a freelancer / consultant really helps keep your belief and excitement high.
I made sure to have regular coffees and dinners with members of my mastermind. I asked them questions about how they launched their business and what they struggled with the most. This type of in-depth research helped me start off with the right foot forward.
The one thing I had to keep in mind was that my time is precious. If I am going to spend time away from my clients, I should make sure that I’m surrounding myself with positive, uplifting people that I can learn from.
In this case, being selective is not only good, but crucial. You are the average of the people you hang out with!
3. Get good at selling yourself
“Selling” is a word that scares many people. Often when we hear the term “sales,” we think of door-to-door saleswomen or salesmen who want to show us a quick demo and have us buy their amazing product that comes with a free gift if you purchase in the next 5 seconds.
That, my friends, is selling using the “push” strategy. (Which is why it often feels so yucky, slimy, and uncomfortable to many people). The push strategy is when you are essentially pushing a product or service onto someone who doesn’t need it. You haven’t explained benefits or taught someone about the value of what you have to offer.
On the flipside, is the “pull” strategy. This strategy when implemented effectively, is very powerful. The “pull” strategy showcases the true value of the products and services before asking to create a partnership.
As a creative, this is what you need showcase to your potential clients. It’s important to demonstrate the type of value you can add and the benefits they will see by having you on their team.
So, how do I do this as a freelancer? I’m constantly asking questions and telling stories. I want to understand my future clients’ products fully and deeply, so I need to know everything I can. I also need to show that I care about the success of their business.
When I take the time to get to know the company’s needs and demonstrate that I have thoughts on how to help them meet their needs, the client is more likely to buy my services.
Being comfortable with selling yourself in this way comes with time and practice. It’s not something that happens overnight. However, it is a skill I’ve needed to cultivate in this new freelancing adventure. I know that at the end of the day, I am the one that brings in new clients and if I stop selling, that means no more business.
4. Make networking a habit (and enjoyable)
Knowing people is the best way you’re going to get new clients and interesting work. For me, networking came easy because I am naturally a social butterfly (or so my friends say!). I’m constantly making new connections through mutual friends and looking to have interesting conversations with smart people.
The power of networking is that when you maintain meaningful relationships, those people will have you at the top of mind when new opportunities come along. They will surely drop your name and make an email introduction. This is how I’ve gotten many of my clients at Avani Miriyala Strategy + Design (AMSD)!
The best way to make networking a habit is to set a weekly goal for yourself. I plan out my weeks so that I’m connecting or re-connecting with two people a week in my network and having meaningful conversations over phone or coffee. This way, I get into the rhythm of reaching out and setting up meetings with these individuals.
A bonus for me usually is when I can guarantee that at least one of those meetups is with a new contact of mine. This way, I’m also growing my network while I’m maintaining it.
5. Practice patience
Sorry to break it to you, but clients will not come clamoring at your doorstep to work with you. At least not right away. A big thing I’ve had to keep in mind as I’ve launched AMSD is to be patient when waiting for results (or new clients!).
I needed to remind myself that I’m putting in the hours to talk to people, make new connections, and put proposals together. Sooner or later, if I’m learning along the way, things will begin to fall into place.
6. Be purposeful about your work day
I’m still working on this one. The more I get into this new lifestyle, I’ve seen that having structure in my day is pertinent to productivity. I need to create rituals to start my day and to even get into a workflow.
One of the biggest things that helps me here is to start my days early (7am or 8am, and even sometimes 6am!) and get a headstart on my task list. For me, mornings are the most productive, so I want to make sure I capitalize on that time of day.
Of course, finding your day-to-day groove is different for different people, so you need to be self-aware when trying to find out what is best for your productivity.
The book Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind by 99u has been an amazing resource for me as I’ve kicked of this new way of working and living. I highly recommend it for anyone who is going out on their own as a solopreneur.
7. Take time to create things for fun
As creative humans, we thrive on making things. One thing that we do less and less in 2017 is make things for fun. I noticed this in myself over the years as an in-house UX designer. I noticed that I got so burnt out from designing for companies I was working for, that I forgot to create for the sake of creating.
Making things for fun brings a new sense of life and lightness to our creative minds. It’s important to make time for this weekly (or even a few times a week), so that we feel refreshed and invigorated.
Making for yourself can take many forms. It could be an article you write for your blog, a card you make for a friend’s birthday, or a quick sketch with the new sketchpad you bought. It doesn’t have to big or fancy – or it could be! It’s up to you. Let your creative brain flex its muscles!!
8. Become a boss at negotiating
One of the best classes I took in college was a negotiations course in the College of Business while I was getting my business minor. Though, I didn’t realize it at the time, I was preparing for my future as a one-woman design consultancy.
Why is negotiating practice important? You are now in the big leagues. You are negotiating with CEOs and VPs! That means you need to put your best foot forward.
I’ve had a lot of great practice in negotiating salaries and contractor pricing over the past few years. However, there are some great online resources that I go to from time to time. Ramit Sethi always has great tactics on negotiation in general and I highly recommend going to watch his videos to get a sense of his mindset.
Another great person to follow and read is Tim Ferriss. He has some great insight on how to position yourself after having hundreds of conversations with interesting and brilliant people. (And of course, this is a podcast Tim did with Ramit Sethi!)
9. Have fun!
Don’t forget to enjoy the ride in this new adventure. It’s so easy for us to get stressed and make ourselves work 60, 70, 80 hours a week to feel like we are making progress towards our goals.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you need to hustle and get things done. But here’s the thing – it doesn’t have to be every week!
Take the time to relax and rejuvenate, but also have a great time. It’s okay to give yourself vacations. Again, as creative people, we burn out at some point. You don’t want that to be hindering you from doing great work!
10. The grind doesn’t stop
This one may sound contradictory to #9, but it was somewhat intentional… Remember, you are now an entrepreneur. That means, you have to do what it takes to get things done.
I know that I’ve had moments where I’ve had to work well past midnight to get something done for a client. It’s not something I do regularly, but I know that I can when I need to.
You may also get phone calls or emails on evenings and weekends. As freelancer, you’ll have to make the decision on whether or not to respond and set boundaries for yourself. Remember, there will always be moments where you need to just jump into work mode and put out fires.
The Spiderman quote is extremely applicable here, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” That’s how I like to think of freelancing. (Yes, I imagine myself standing in a power pose in a superhero outfit surveying the city for UX danger…)
And there you have it, folks! Which of the 10 Things did you enjoy the best? Do you have any tips or advice for first time freelancers that you learned when going into business for yourself?