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January 23, 2013

5 Tips for Getting a Lot of Design Work (for Freelancers)

Going freelance can be a scary prospect. Once you’ve traded in the security of a steady paycheck for the perks of working for yourself, your entire future hinges on your ability to land work consistently. (Yeah, we know. No pressure, right?) The truth is, finding regular freelance work isn’t as difficult as you might expect, as long as you follow a few basic tips.

Deliver the Goods

The first step in securing your freelance future is to be good at what you do. That isn’t to say that you need to win every contest you enter or have a portfolio chock-full of Fortune 500 clients. Instead, focus on delivering a solid, reliable product, that’s both on-time and on-budget. Of course, earlier and under budget is always appreciated, too.

The first step in getting better at design work is to continually push yourself. Read books on aesthetics, typography and design elements. Attend conferences, workshops and industry events. Register for refresher courses and network like crazy with other designers. And, finally, take all the work you can find, because that’s just more practice. If work is on the slim side, redesign your own site just to stay fresh.

Sell Yourself

Let’s be honest. When you’re freelancing, you’re not selling your work; you’re selling yourself. Make sure you’re the type of person that you yourself would like t work with. Be personable, friendly, and fun. Show enthusiasm for your projects and your clients. Remember birthdays. Bring coffee.

Remember back when you had a real job, and there was that great coworker that everyone loved? Yeah. Channel that guy. You’d be surprised how often cheerful energy is the one thing that sets you apart from the competition.

Maintain Client Focus

There’s a reason why clichés like “give the client what they want” and “the customer’s always right” have refused to die. If you’re focusing on playing with a new style instead of meeting your client’s actual wishes, you’ll be looking for a new gig, fast. They made a terrible request that destroys the balance of your fabulous design? Get over it, get used to it and deliver your services with a smile anyway. Flexibility will land far more contracts than arguing with your clients ever will.

Yeah, yeah, we know you’re an Artist and everything, but for the sake of being able to pay your mortgage, get down to business. Keep that capital “A” stuff for your personal time.

Play to Your Audience

A super-fancy-pants design portfolio might impress other designers and artsy folk, but if your artwork is too edgy, you could alienate potential clients. Choose pieces that are up the same alley as the clientele you’re working to land. Your audience wants to look at stuff that looks like the same kind of stuff they want to buy. It’s a rare duck who will look at a portfolio and say, “This looks nothing like what we want, but you’re so talented we’re hiring you anyway.” In fact, we know zero ducks who have said this.

Get Referral Chops

As your workload gains momentum, you’ll find that many of your new clients are finding you via referral. Good help is even harder to find in the freelance world than in corporate existence. As a freelancer, your fledgling business could live or die by your referrals alone, so focus on landing repeat customers, or customers willing to drop your name to their design-needy friends.

Now, go take a minute to reread all the previous points and remind yourself of the qualities that make you worthy of great referrals.

(NOT) Easy Money

Maintaining steady freelance work is not rocket science, we promise, but it takes work. The tips listed above really boil down to just this: Be likable, have good customer service and deliver consistent, reliable results. If you build it, they will come. And if you build it right, they’ll tell their friends to come, too.

author

by Kevin Smith
Managing partner at SmashBrand. We're a group of experienced brand owners, thinkers and world-class designers united by an obsession for creating category disrupting brand experiences.

Purposefully selective, we work with brands that want to stand out and also stand for something.

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