Killer Tips for Freelance Artists and Designers

by NoD Staff | March 29, 2007

How will you make clients and employers happy? By following these five tried and tested rules for freelance careers.

1. Be Available

Whenever I’ve hired a freelancer, my biggest concern has been getting in touch with them at critical times. With an employee you know exactly where they are – in your office, and when they are there – during business hours. This affords some level of comfort for when a rush job or critical change comes in. A freelancer on the other hand is often not onsite and may be working odd hours.

What this means is that freelancers who were always available for contact and who could respond if my needs were urgent were *vastly* preferable to say someone who only replied emails a day later or who never seemed to answer their phone.

As a freelancer it’s great to temper your free work hours with a policy of always being available for contact, a little like a doctor on call.

On the flipside if you do however find yourself answering client calls after hours unless there is a dire emergency make it clear that while you are contactable you are not necessarily on the job. Clients can very quickly get used to having you do things overnight and you must be careful to discourage that sort of habit forming.

2. Stay On Top of Billing

Particularly when your workload is high and you find yourself dancing from one job to another, things like billing and chasing payments can seem less important than meeting deadlines. But remember that you are in business and the only way you get paid is through your invoicing. Here are two things you can do to help you stay on top of your billing.

Make sure you have a clear list of who owes you what and how long they have left to pay.

This can be a simple spreadsheet of invoice numbers, job titles, amounts and due dates. Alternately you can have a couple of folders on your desktop and label them as “Outstanding”, “Overdue” and “Paid” then just move your invoices from folder to folder so you can quickly see which ones need action.

Set aside a day for chasing invoices.

It’s a good idea to have a ‘billing day’ where you set aside a few hours to call clients who are overdue, email clients to remind them about outstanding invoices and to send out new ones. Having this happen on the same day every week also ensures that it you don’t need to express any emotions or feel embarrassed to be raising the issue of money, it is simply your ‘billing day’.

3. Be On Time

When you are going for a meeting, attending a briefing or just visiting a client, make sure you are on time, *every* time. Running late for a meeting says that you might run late for a deadline with just the same ease.

Even if your client is always late, don’t let the habit spread to you. Ideally you should be exactly 2 minutes early every single time. As a client this speaks volumes about your professional attitude and instills a high level of trust.

4. Take Criticism Constructively but Stand Your Ground

It is a hard balance to find when a client gives your work criticism and there are two golden rules to live by:

(i) Detach yourself from your work and take criticism constructively.

This is easy to say but hard to do. Nonetheless you should always be working at it and remember oftentimes you will be surprised when a client actually does know their audience better than you or has an insight that you haven’t seen. Being open means you can take advantage of the best of what they tell you.

(ii) Stand your ground when it will benefit the client.

If you believe that making a change or doing something differently will result in a lesser result for the client which in turn will do them a disservice then let them know in clear but non-confrontational language. Give clear and detailed reasoning and tailor it back to how it helps *them* not the work. Remember a client is always interested in their business doing better.

5. Practice Explaining Your Work

Oftentimes a client isn’t particularly savvy in the technicalities of what you do and may not really understand what they are looking at. Therefore it is important that when you present your work that you explain what is what and why you have done things a certain way.

Don’t get too technical; try to relate things back to them, their business and their customers. Explain your work in terms of benefits for their market and the client will respond positively.

If this is a skill you have not developed yet, practice on a friend or family member who doesn’t know much about your field of work and walk them through some projects. Ask for feedback at every stage on how you could improve your presentation.

This post was authored by NoD staff. Notes on Design is a design industry blog sponsored by Sessions College for Professional Design.

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