DesignM.ag » Business/Freelance http://designm.ag Articles and Resources for Web Designers Wed, 23 Apr 2014 04:09:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.6 6 Extremely Crucial Choices That Determine Your Freelancing Future http://designm.ag/freelance/freelancing-choices/ http://designm.ag/freelance/freelancing-choices/#comments Fri, 07 Mar 2014 04:48:16 +0000 Laura Spencer http://designm.ag/?p=82738

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choices3 Ultimately, freelance web design is all about choices. The choices you make as a freelancer will determine your business success or failure. The best course for a freelance web designer is to proactively plan how you will approach each choice. You can always change your approach later if you feel that something is not working for your business. The alternative of not planning means that your business will sort of drift along. You'll deal with each new situation as you face it, but you don't really have a plan. You'll probably base your decision about each situation on how you feel or the latest article you read. Your business direction will seem faltering and inconsistent. If you're extremely lucky (and very talented) your web design business may be okay drifting. You just might make it. You'll probably be pretty frustrated, though. Most freelance web designers, however, need to be intentional in order to succeed. In this post, I list six crucial interrelated choices that every designer needs to make in order to run and maintain a successful freelance web design business. (The advice can apply to other types of freelancers as well.)

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choices3

Ultimately, freelance web design is all about choices. The choices you make as a freelancer will determine your business success or failure.

The best course for a freelance web designer is to proactively plan how you will approach each choice. You can always change your approach later if you feel that something is not working for your business.

The alternative of not planning means that your business will sort of drift along. You’ll deal with each new situation as you face it, but you don’t really have a plan. You’ll probably base your decision about each situation on how you feel or the latest article you read. Your business direction will seem faltering and inconsistent.

If you’re extremely lucky (and very talented) your web design business may be okay drifting. You just might make it. You’ll probably be pretty frustrated, though.

Most freelance web designers, however, need to be intentional in order to succeed. In this post, I list six crucial interrelated choices that every designer needs to make in order to run and maintain a successful freelance web design business. (The advice can apply to other types of freelancers as well.)

Choice 1. Am I Serious?

Sadly, many freelancers are not serious about running a freelance business. Instead, they are looking for a quick way to earn a lot of money with very little work.

However, that’s not how you succeed as a freelance web designer (or any other kind of freelancer). Freelancing is a lot of hard work.

If you’re not willing to work at it, these other decisions make very little difference. You won’t follow through on them anyway. Freelancing is probably going to be a disappointment for you.

However, if you are serious about freelancing, ask yourself each of the following questions.

Choice 2. What’s My Specialty?

Question mark and colorful paper with different direction.

This is the first defining decision you will make about your business. The main issue is this–will you specialize in a certain type of web design work or perform web design work for a specific market? Or, will you accept all projects that come your way?

There are advantages and disadvantages to whatever decision you make, of course.

If you decide to specialize in a particular type of work or target a very specific type of client, it may be easier for you to be recognized as an expert in your narrower niche. That means that you will be able to charge more for your services. You will also have less of a learning curve with each new project.

A potential disadvantage of deciding to specialize is that there may be fewer opportunities and you may find yourself turning some opportunities down if they do not fit your business model. You will also need to target your marketing to reflect your decision to specialize.

Choice 3. How Will I Find Work?

There are many different ways to find freelancing work. You could ask half a dozen freelancers where they find work and get half dozen different answers.

Some common ways of finding work include:

  1. Job boards
  2. Advertised listings like CraigsList
  3. Cold calling
  4. Referrals
  5. Working for an agency

Of course, not all methods for finding freelance web design work are created equal. Targeted cold calling and referrals tend to result in higher paying gigs than looking for work through job boards and ads. But that’s just a generalization. Many freelancers have found good assignments using all five methods of finding work.

However, each method of finding work requires a different approach to marketing and branding.

For example, if you decide to focus on looking for work primarily through job boards you may find yourself facing pressures to lower your fees. You also need to focus on strengthening your profile on each job board where you participate.

Choice 4. How Do I Market Myself?

Marketing is a key part of a successful web design business. Most freelancers don’t do enough marketing and not marketing is the number one cause of not having enough clients.

There are many ways to market your freelance web design business. Here are just a few:

  1. Advertising
  2. Blogging
  3. Social Media
  4. Cold Calling
  5. Guest Posting

Most freelancers find that a combination of marketing methods works best to keep a steady flow of new work coming in.

Whatever you choose to do, don’t choose to ignore the importance of marketing your freelancing business.

Choice 5. What Do I Charge?

choices1

There’s probably no more hotly debated topic in the freelance web design community than that of pricing. Many blog posts and even books have been written about the topic of freelancer rates.

Deciding a price to charge for your services is probably one of the most difficult, yet most important, decisions you will make in your freelancing career.

A sad fact is that many freelancers charge less than they are worth. Charging too low of a rate can (obviously) be detrimental to your financial health. In the long run, it can contribute to the failure of your freelancing business.

To make sure that your business is not in trouble due to low rates, make sure that you understand how much you must earn to stay afloat. Do not go below that figure even if you are tempted.

If you are doing enough marketing (see Choice 4), you should start to get regular client inquiries. (I told you that these choices were interrelated.) In general, it’s better to spend more time on marketing than to lower your rate by too much.

If you’re still having trouble figuring out what to charge, you may want to read one or more of these helpful articles:

Choice 6. What About Criticism?

As a freelance web designer, you should expect criticism and even rejection. Yet, criticism and rejection take many freelancers by surprise.

I think it’s because we are led to believe that, as freelancers, we are “working for ourselves.” The real truth is that, as freelancers, we are working for our clients. There’s a huge difference.

Handling the negative aspects of freelancing like rejection and criticism is what separates those who are serious about freelancing from those who are just playing around with it. In fact, it’s not unusual for the less-than-serious freelancer to give up when first faced with negativity.

If you’re serious about freelancing, however, you need to view criticism as an opportunity to learn how to be better. Here’s how:

  1. Decide whether or not you think the criticism is valid.
  2. If it’s not valid, you know it’s the client’s problem and not yours.
  3. However, if it is valid make a choice to learn from the criticism. See the step below.
  4. Take measures to do better next time.

Your Turn

Did I miss any crucial decisions that freelancers must make?

Feel free to share how you’ve made one or more of these decisions for your own freelancing business in the comments below.


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Freelancers, Use this 22-Point Checklist to Find Out How Professional You Are http://designm.ag/freelance/professional-mindset/ http://designm.ag/freelance/professional-mindset/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 15:19:41 +0000 Laura Spencer http://designm.ag/?p=82900

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Graphic artist looking at his screen sitting at his desk As a freelance designer who works hard, you probably pride yourself on the quality of your work. And with good cause. You know that your work is good. But, doing good work and having a professional business mindset are different things. To truly succeed as a freelance design professional, you actually need both. In this post, I'll explain the importance of having a professional business mindset. I'll also provide a 22-point checklist you can use as a guideline to find out whether you could improve on your professionalism. If you liked this post, you may also like 10 Principles of Successful Freelancers.

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Graphic artist looking at his screen sitting at his desk

As a freelance designer who works hard, you probably pride yourself on the quality of your work. And with good cause. You know that your work is good.

But, doing good work and having a professional business mindset are different things. To truly succeed as a freelance design professional, you actually need both.

In this post, I’ll explain the importance of having a professional business mindset. I’ll also provide a 22-point checklist you can use as a guideline to find out whether you could improve on your professionalism.

If you liked this post, you may also like 10 Principles of Successful Freelancers.

Why Being Professional Is So Important

You probably already know this, but there’s a lot of competition out there. And the competition is growing. Every day new freelance web designers join the ranks.

This post from Jeff Wald on Forbes, How An Exploding Freelance Economy Will Drive Change In 2014, includes the estimate that by 2020 50% of the U.S. workforce may be freelance. That’s not even taking into consideration freelancers in other countries.

Because of the huge number of freelancers out there, how you interact with your clients is more important than ever before. You simply must set yourself apart from other freelance web designers. To do that, you need to be as professional as possible in all of your interactions.

The Professional Mindset Checklist

professional mindset

How’s your business mindset? Do you think like a professional?

Here’s a fun and helpful checklist of 23 factors that indicate your professionalism (in random order).

This isn’t a scientific study, but a rather a list of best practices that I’ve observed in successful freelancers over the years. I include a brief explanation with each point.

Give yourself a point for each checklist question you answer with a “yes.” Are you ready? Grab a pencil. Here’s the checklist:

  1. Do you use a contract? Contracts or written agreements are the best way to document the agreement between you and your client. They can diffuse disagreements and maybe even legal problems later on.
  2. Is there a website for your freelance business? The web has become the place where clients go to find new project team members. It has largely replaced phone directories and newspaper ads.
  3. Do you meet deadlines? A sure way to upset a client is to deliver a project late with no explanation. If you find you absolutely must miss a deadline, let the client know as soon as possible.
  4. Do you accept criticism well? If you’re in business, no matter what type of business it is, you’re bound to receive criticism sooner or later. How you handle criticism makes a difference.
  5. Is there a logo for your freelancing business? A logo for your freelancing business can help transmit your brand. It also says that you’re serious about being in business.
  6. Are you willing to get help when you need it? Do you do every business task yourself? There some aspects of your business that (such as legal and accounting matters) that are better handled by others.
  7. Do you actively market your business? Marketing is a key factor in getting new clients. Yet, it’s often the first area freelancers let slip when they are busy.
  8. Do you respond to client inquiries quickly? If you wait too long to respond to a client inquiry, you may lose an opportunity. I always recommend responding within a business day.
  9. Do you pay your taxes on time? Keeping up with taxes is a challenge for new freelancers in the U.S. because there are some tax differences for independent contractors.

professional-mindset2

  1. Are you keeping up with new developments? There are constant changes to web design and to many other freelancing specialties. If you don’t keep up with the changes, your business suffers.
  2. Do you listen carefully? Get a detailed scope from your clients. Ask questions if you don’t understand what they mean. It’s better to ask and be sure than to guess and be wrong.
  3. Do you charge professional rates? Sadly, many freelancers charge far too little for their work. While this may seem like a good way to get clients, it can backfire if you can’t make ends meet.
  4. How do you handle a difference of opinion? Not every client will agree with your suggestions. And that’s okay. Handle disagreements with courtesy and respect.
  5. Is your work top quality? Always turn in your best work. Sloppy work is the sign of a freelancing amateur. You don’t want your client to have to pay someone else to fix your mistakes.
  6. Is your portfolio up to date? Your portfolio should reflect your best and most current work. If your portfolio isn’t current, you look bad. You could lose potential clients.
  7. Are you focused? Do you stay on task during the work day, or do you get distracted easily? An unfocused freelancer is an unproductive freelancer, and that can hurt your bottom line.
  8. Do you have regular work hours? As a freelancer, you can set your own work hours. However, that doesn’t mean you should put work off until the last minute. Devoting a regular time to work can help.
  9. Do you have a dedicated workspace? While freelance web designers can work from anywhere, working from anywhere isn’t always the best idea. Many freelancers get more done when they work from their own office.
  10. Do you give up easily? Many freelancing newbies are looking for instant success. However, for most freelancers, success takes time. If you give up easily, freelancing may not be for you.
  11. Are you tuned in to new opportunities? A great thing about the current business environment is that it is constantly changing. Change means new opportunities if you’re tuned into the market.
  12. Do you protect your health? Smart freelancers know that they need to eat right, get enough rest, and balance their work life and social life. Otherwise, you risk burning out.
  13. Are you open to take risks? Like any new business venture, freelancing involves risk. However, if you do your homework and prepare yourself you can make sure that your risks are smart ones.

Your Turn

How many points did you get?

If you’ve got over 17 points, you’re probably operating your freelancing business in a professional manner. If you’ve got less than 10 points, you may need to work on your professional mindset.

Feel free to share your results or your feedback in the comments.


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6 Common Freelancing Problems That Using a Contract May Solve http://designm.ag/freelance/solve-problems/ http://designm.ag/freelance/solve-problems/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2014 22:08:59 +0000 Laura Spencer http://designm.ag/?p=81545

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Tired student or businessman working with laptop in the office Frequently when I hear or read of a freelance web designer having problems with a client, there is no contract in place. I don't think that's a coincidence. Contracts are very important for the freelancer. If you can't get a formal contract with a client, at least get your agreement in writing. An email recapping a telephone conversation you had can work. Why is getting your freelancing agreement in writing so important? Simply put, a written agreement or contract can solve a lot of common freelancing problems. Without a written agreement, the terms of your project can easily deteriorate into a debate about who said what. Trust me, you do not want that to happen. When it does, it isn't pretty. With a contract in place, you both have something to refer to during the course of the project. And, in a worst case scenario, you can use your written agreement to support your case in court. In this post, I'll identify six common problems that freelancers face and explain how having a written work agreement can help with each problem. If you liked this post, you'll probably also like 7 Keys to a Successful Design Project.

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Tired student or businessman working with laptop in the office

Frequently when I hear or read of a freelance web designer having problems with a client, there is no contract in place. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Contracts are very important for the freelancer. If you can’t get a formal contract with a client, at least get your agreement in writing. An email recapping a telephone conversation you had can work.

Why is getting your freelancing agreement in writing so important? Simply put, a written agreement or contract can solve a lot of common freelancing problems.

Without a written agreement, the terms of your project can easily deteriorate into a debate about who said what. Trust me, you do not want that to happen. When it does, it isn’t pretty.

With a contract in place, you both have something to refer to during the course of the project. And, in a worst case scenario, you can use your written agreement to support your case in court.

In this post, I’ll identify six common problems that freelancers face and explain how having a written work agreement can help with each problem. If you liked this post, you’ll probably also like 7 Keys to a Successful Design Project.

Problem #1. The Never-Ending Project

If you’ve been freelancing for any length of time, you’ve probably already encountered the never-ending web design project.

The never-ending project occurs when the client refuses to close the project, instead keeping it open by making revision request after revision request. The project just seems to go on and on and on…

This common problem is even worse if you’re waiting to close the project so that you can get paid for your work.

Fortunately, a good contract or written agreement can help. Simply include a clause that states that your agreement includes x number of revisions and that the client will be billed for any revisions beyond that amount.

Problem #2. Getting Paid on Time

Payout Day on a background with a diagram, a pen and a calculator

At one time or another nearly every freelancer has had problems getting paid.

I can remember finishing a project as a subcontractor and billing the client who had hired me, only to wait and wait for payment. When I emailed my client to ask for my payment, they stated that they were waiting to be paid for the work by their client. Apparently, they wouldn’t be able to pay me until they got paid–something I hadn’t realized when I took the job. Two months later, I finally received payment.

The whole payment problem should be dealt with up front. I highly recommend requiring most clients to make a partial payment before you begin work. In addition, your work agreement should spell out exactly when and how you will be paid.

With a written agreement or contract, both you and the client know what to expect when it comes to payment. And you have something to fall back on if you don’t get paid when you expected to get paid. It pays to include payment details in your contract–literally.

Problem #3. Creeping Scope

Did you ever seriously underestimate the amount of work that a web design project would take?

If you have, the culprit may have been scope creep. The scope of a project defines what work is included in the project (and sometimes it also specifies what is not included). The more scope details you consider when you create a project estimate, the more accurate that estimate will be.

Every written agreement or contract should include a detailed description of the scope of the project. If the client has not provided you with enough details to create an accurate project estimate, then you need to continue asking questions until you fully understand the project.

Taking a project with a poorly defined scope may cause you to wind up spending far more time on the project that you intended to.

Problem #4. Ownership Debates

Who owns the finished web design when you have completed the project?

Can you base other web designs of off the web design you just finished? Can you market variations of the web design to other clients? What about your client? Can they market the finished web design to other businesses? Can they use it to develop other web designs?

Without specifying who owns the intellectual rights to your finished work, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise.

When negotiating your work agreement with your client, be sure to bring up the issue of intellectual property. Include any intellectual property agreements that you and the client arrive at in your contract. This way, if there are any questions about who owns what later on, you have it in writing.

Problem #5. Mismatched Expectations

You expected the client to be available to answer all of your questions about the project in a timely fashion. However, the client expected that they wouldn’t be bothered by you until you turned in the finished design.

If this has ever happened to you, you understand how mismatched expectations can really sabotage a freelancing project.

It’s best to get these differences in expectations ironed out before the project starts. Again, it’s a matter of communication. Tell the client what you expect from them and ask how they expect the project to go. Don’t automatically assume that you are in agreement unless you have talked about it.

Once you have discussed expectations, you are ready to include a clause including your assumptions in the work agreement.

Problem #6. Too Many Meetings & Phone Calls

solve-problems3

This is a tricky problem. You certainly don’t want to discourage your client from communicating with you. On the other hand, you don’t want to sit through boring weekly status meetings that are several hours long and have little to do with your part of the project.

Different clients have different expectations when it comes to phone calls and meetings. Some clients are happy to meet with you only once to define the terms of the project. Other clients expect regular meetings and updates from you–even when you have nothing new to report.

Unfortunately, meetings and phone calls can take a lot of your time if you let them. It’s important to ask the client what their expectations are about meetings before you come to an agreement. If the client indicates that you will be participating in regular status meetings, include the cost of that time in your estimate.

In your contract or working agreement, you can specify how many hours of meeting time are included in the project. State that meeting time that exceeds the specified number of hours will be billed for at your hourly rate. This type of clause makes a client think twice about requiring you to attend unnecessary meetings or calling you up just to talk.

Your Turn

While some problem clients are destined to be problems no matter what, a surprising number of problems can be solved by having a strong and detailed written agreement in place before you start work.

Do you include any other problem-solving clauses in your contracts or agreements? What are those clauses? Share your answers in the comments below.


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eCommerce Basics for New Online Store Owners http://designm.ag/freelance/ecommerce-basics-for-new-online-store-owners/ http://designm.ag/freelance/ecommerce-basics-for-new-online-store-owners/#comments Wed, 15 Jan 2014 17:24:25 +0000 Brant Wilson http://designm.ag/?p=82730

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When you first set up an online store, you may be happy just to have all of the work to get the store up and running done. Maybe you think the work on your site is finished, and now it's time to shift to fulfilling orders and taking care of customer issues. It's not that simple. When your store is brand new, it's not time to stop working on your site. In a way, you're just getting started.

Analytics are Important

Once your store is up and running, you can start figuring out how your site really needs to be set up. Until people actually start interacting with your site, there's no way to tell how all of the pieces are working or what can be improved. You can use good eCommerce principles to get started, and that will certainly give you better results than having no idea what a good eCommerce site needs to look like or how it needs to work. But what you really need in order to make your site as profitable as it can be are eCommerce analytics.

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When you first set up an online store, you may be happy just to have all of the work to get the store up and running done. Maybe you think the work on your site is finished, and now it’s time to shift to fulfilling orders and taking care of customer issues. It’s not that simple. When your store is brand new, it’s not time to stop working on your site. In a way, you’re just getting started.

Analytics are Important

Once your store is up and running, you can start figuring out how your site really needs to be set up. Until people actually start interacting with your site, there’s no way to tell how all of the pieces are working or what can be improved. You can use good eCommerce principles to get started, and that will certainly give you better results than having no idea what a good eCommerce site needs to look like or how it needs to work. But what you really need in order to make your site as profitable as it can be are eCommerce analytics.
Online analytics are simply data about what people do on your site. You can track where visitors come in to your site from, what pages they visit, what links they click on, and more. Studying this data will show you what people are actually doing when they visit your brand-new store site, and it can reveal where you are losing potential sales.

Key Analytics to Track

When you first set up eCommerce analytics, you may not be sure what you are looking for. There are many different kinds of data and analyses you can learn about to help tune your site for best performance. To start with, look at how many new visitors you are bringing in to your site every day. Gaining new customers is vital to your growth. Advertise your site on social media networks and by using online ads, and then track where visitors come from. This will help you see which ads are the most effective so you can focus your advertising efforts there.
Another important set of metrics are those which have to do with site engagement. You need to know how long people are staying on your site and what they do when they visit. The more people browse your site, the bigger the chance they will buy something and make larger orders. HYPERLINK “http://searchengineland.com/key-metrics-for-success-with-a-local-business-website-171734″ The important metrics to look at here are average visit duration, pages viewed per visit, and bounce rate.
Also use your eCommerce analytics to discover the primary landing and exit pages in your site. You want to know the pages that people are looking at first, because you can tweak these pages to encourage visitors to explore more deeply. You can also figure out what people are searching for online when they find your site, which is beneficial for advertising efforts. On the other side, you need to know what pages people leave your site from, especially if they are pages in your checkout process. You want to keep people on your site the whole way through the checkout process in order to make sales. If customers are leaving early or if they are never even making it to your shopping cart, you need to figure out how to entice them to make sales and direct them to the checkout process.
When you start getting real data on how visitors interact with your site, the really interesting part of site-building begins. Until you have real visitor data, you can’t be sure what changes will be the most helpful in your site. When you start changing in response to real data, you will see the results in improved sales and better profits.


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