Learned from FreelancingApril 9th, 2008 |
During my first job it was encouraged that I started freelancing. After all, working on just one website all day, every day, could start to burn you out a bit – and make you start losing that creative spark that keeps you loving this sort of work. My freelancing technically ended at the same time as my fourth job. It’s at that time, just over six years ago, that I went full-time working for my own company. The work started out the same, it just wasn’t referred to as ‘freelance’ anymore.
As before, these are listed in no particular order, but since I get asked more about freelance advice than than any other in the field of design, there are ten this time:
1. Know the Company Policy
Freelance work can be great for extra creativity, monetary reasons, and to start a client base, so if you ever go out on your own you have some work from day one. Be sure to know what’s allowed though. In-house companies are generally much more lenient here because they don’t see it as a conflict of interest. I know of some agencies that don’t care if it’s work they would never do, or it’s for a charity or family members. Some places allow you to use their equipment after hours. I also know of some places where it’s prohibited completely. Never been in that situation, but proceed with caution (and ignore tips 2 and 6).
2. Let Your Boss Know
I was asked to do a bunch of overflow work for a previous employer, but I was working for a subsidiary of theirs at the time. I told my boss that I was going to do this work after hours and she said, “I don’t care, it’s not a problem at all.” and I said, “I know. It’s only a problem if you would have found out about it later from someone else.”
3. Let Your Clients Know
Obviously they know you do freelance or they wouldn’t be clients. But let them know you have a ‘job’. You need to set expectations of what hours they can call (or that you’ll answer at), when you will reply to emails, and what time of the day they can expect to see revisions.
4. Know Your Taxes
Ends up that if you do your own invoicing and collecting, nobody withholds those taxes for you automatically. You don’t want to end up with a giant bill you can’t pay when taxes are due. It’s been years (six if you’ve been paying attention) since I handled this, but the first week out of school I had someone tell me to hold around one-third of what I billed in a separate account for federal and state. You not only have to pay the usual fees, but since there is no employer matching your social security withholdings, your burden on that goes up too. The worst that will happen is you have a small amount leftover at the end of the year.
5. Arrange the Meeting Times
If you are following step 3, the client knows you have a schedule to work around, everyone has a schedule to work around. If you have flexible work hours, setting up an early morning or late afternoon meeting works well. If not, looks like you may be buying the client lunch or missing that Seinfeld re-run after work. If your cable affiliate shows Friends re-runs instead, it’s best you miss those anyway.
6. Let Others Know
Have business cards? Hand them out. If nobody knows you are doing freelance work, nobody will know to ask you to do freelance work.
7. Limit Your Services
If you have a full-time job, your time is limited as it is. Promise only what you can handle, and keep focused on what you can do well or what you want to do. If you can’t handle something, find someone to work with on the project, or decline the job – it never ends well even though we always tell ourselves it will.
8. Ask for Advice and Help
Use the network you have. The majority of the people I’ve met in this profession remember what it was like to feel completely lost. They may be more likely to help then you’d think.
9. Keep Up the Paperwork
Wow, this is what a job is like? Doing invoices, proposals, replying to random emails? This is not creative or design work, this is work. Probably the reason I heard so many designers tell me when I was in school to take a business class as my elective. I still took advanced painting instead and don’t regret it one bit. But do keep your paperwork in order, keep your receipts, and try to not get too behind on this because it’s a pain to do later.
10. Have Fun
Remember, it’s why you’re doing this in the first place.