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?
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:
- Job boards
- Advertised listings like CraigsList
- Cold calling
- 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:
- Social Media
- Cold Calling
- 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?
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:
- From Jennifer Kyrnin on About.Com Web Design/HTML, How to Decide on a Fair Hourly Rate for Web Design Work
- From Miranda Marquit, How to Set Freelance Web Design Rates
- From Jay Baron on Speckyboy Design Magazine, Turn Your Web Design Agency Around By Raising Rates by 500%.
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:
- Decide whether or not you think the criticism is valid.
- If it’s not valid, you know it’s the client’s problem and not yours.
- However, if it is valid make a choice to learn from the criticism. See the step below.
- Take measures to do better next time.
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.