9 Ways Freelancers Disrespect Their Own Time

As a freelancer or independent designer, the most valuable asset you have is your own time. Your ability to earn a living relies upon your own time management, which will allow you to perform income-generating services for clients. With effective time management you may be able to earn more and work less, and with poor time management you may find yourself working very long hours just to get by.

In this article we will look at 9 different things that freelancers often do that is disrespectful to their own time. If you find that your own time management skills are sometimes lacking, evaluate yourself in these areas to see if you have some room for improvement. Respecting your own time will lead to more profitable and efficient work, and more time away from work with your family or friends.

RoninThis post is supported by Ronin, the online invoicing and time tracking app designed for freelance designers. Ronin offers unique features like invoice customization with HTML/CSS and is perfect for designers. Visit them at www.roninapp.com or friend them on Facebook.

1. Under Charging

Pricing design services is a challenge for most of us. Because there are all kinds of variables (skill level, experience, specific type of work, location, etc.) there is no set price that you should be charging, but it should be similar to what others at your level and in your area are charging. It’s not uncommon for freelancers to under price their services because it is what they feel is necessary in order to compete. Doing so can actually be a disservice to yourself as it will require you to work more hours in order to earn a living.

One problem with under pricing your services is that not only can it be disrespectful to your own time, but it can also lead clients to do the same. When clients are paying a higher rate for a service they will be more careful about the work that they ask you to do when it is affecting how much they will be charged. Additionally, there is a perception issue that goes along with pricing. If a client sees a very low price for services they may assume that the price is low because the quality is also low, so be sure that your rates are reflective of your work and vice versa.

Another issue to consider is that lower rates will often lead you to rush through jobs because you’ll need to move on to the next one in order to keep money coming in. This will typically result in a quality of work that is less than your best.

Freelance Switch has a helpful hourly rate calculator. It will ask you a number of questions about your expenses and the hours that you can work, and it will assist you by showing an ideal hourly rate as well as a break even hourly rate.

2. Not Charging for Excessive Revisions

Most design contracts will address the issue of revisions or changes that are requested by the client. Very rarely will clients not want anything to be changed, but sometimes you may come across clients that are requesting excessive changes, or maybe they keep changing their mind about what they want. The price that you agreed to with the client for the service should not require that you make any and every change that is being requested without being compensated additionally for your time.

In situations where clients are requesting more than the agreed upon changes or revisions, it’s a good practice to tell them that you can make the changes but you will need to charge an addition fee. This will help you to get compensated for your time and it will force clients to respect your time as well.

3. Lack of Contracts or Policies

If you’ve been freelancing for a while I am sure you have realized the importance of getting signed contracts and having established policies for payment. Unfortunately, it’s almost certain that at some point you will have a project that doesn’t go according to plan or a client that doesn’t want to pay on time. With a contract you have a legal agreement and some protection.

Establishing some basic policies for how you operate is also important. An example would be to charge clients 50% (or some other set amount) up front before you begin working on the project. You may also have a policy of requiring the final payment before delivering the files to the client or uploading the site to their server. Policies are important because they establish your way of doing business, and it can save you time and headaches down the road as you won’t have to make all of these decisions on a case-by-case basis.

4. Poor Client Intake Process

Each client is different and they will all have specific needs for their own projects. Getting to know and understand your client is critical to the success of the project. Many designers want to jump in to the design process without dedicating enough time to get familiar with the client. While this may seem like it would save time, it will actually usually wind up costing more time because more changes and revisions will be required down the road.

By investing time up front to get to know to the client, their business, as well as their customers and website visitors, you will be more prepared to create an effective site for them, and you’ll have a better idea of what they are looking for. An efficient client intake process can lead to a higher quality of work, better results for your clients, and less wasted time.

5. Poor Organization

Organization is a big part of being able to work efficiently. Without proper organization you could be wasting a lot of time that you are not being compensated for. Organization is important in a number of different areas, including management of your clients and contacts, management of your finances, and project management. If you find yourself wasting time searching for emails from clients or trying to find out what invoices have not been paid, you could probably be working less hours if you’re able to improve your organization.

For more on organization see Critical Resources to Help Designers Get Organized.

6. Accepting Any Project That Comes Your Way

One common mistake that many freelancers make is that they accept just about any client who wants to use their services. Regardless of who you are and what skills you have, you’re bound to come across some projects that would be a better fit than others. By taking any project that comes your way you could be missing out on better opportunities that are right around the corner, and you could be working on projects that you don’t really enjoy anyway.

Being selective about the projects that you accept will generally be a better use of your time as you’ll be able to avoid those projects that require more time than they are worth. Rather than simply feeling like you have to convince the potential client to hire you, look at it as a situation where both of you need to feel that there is a good fit in order to work together.

7. Not Setting Work/Life Boundaries

Respecting your own time is not just an issue that affects your work, it also has an impact on your personal life and your time away from work. Everyone needs to get adequate time away from work, and poor time management with your work can easily carry over to your personal life. If an employer required employees to work long hours with evenings and weekends at the office, we would say that the employer does not respect the personal life of the employees. The same thing applies to those of us who are self employed. Working excessive hours shows a lack of respect for our time away from work.

Part of the allure to freelancing for many people is the potential to have a flexible schedule and to avoid working 9 to 5. While you don’t need to have rigid hours that cannot be flexible, it is important to have a clear distinction of what time is designated for work and what time is personal. Each person handles it differently. You may want to set a schedule that you’ll work each day or each week, or you may want to set hours that will be different each week according to your schedule. Whatever the case may be, for most of us it’s necessary to set hours ahead of time, otherwise the tendency is to work too much.

8. Spec Work

Spec work is very common, especially among younger or inexperienced designers, and it’s a very heated topic within the industry. Personally, I don’t dedicate any time to design contests or spec work because I have no interest in spending time on projects with a very low likelihood of being compensated. I, and many other designers, feel that doing spec work is disrespectful to your own time because you are working simply with the hope of being paid. The vast majority of participants will not receive any compensation for their time.

If you’re trying to get started as a freelancer and you’re not able to find other work aside from spec work, I would suggest contacting your friends and family. See if any of them have a need for your services or if they know of anyone who is in need of work. You can also reach out to non-profit organizations and offer a discounted service to them. Another option is to work on your own projects, which can be a great experience because it can be anything you want it to be. All of these options will allow you to gain experience and make some money without the need to do spec work.

For more on spec work, see Spec Work Can Damage Your Business.

9. Not Investing in the Essentials for Running Your Business

Running a profitable business obviously requires you to bring in more revenue than you spend on expenses. However, this does not mean that you shouldn’t spend anything on your business. There are plenty of legitimate expenses that are necessary for running a business or that will allow you to do your job more effectively or efficiently. For example, if you’re spending a significant amount of time on finances and tracking which invoices have been paid, you would be well served to invest in financial software or an online invoicing app. This would be a relatively small expense, but it will help you to make better use of your time.

Always looking for freebies is a habit that many freelancers have, and in some cases it can do more harm than good. Getting something of quality for free is always good, but there will be times when paying for a better option will actually help you to be more profitable in the end.

What’s Your Advice?

What have you learned in your work about respecting your own time that you would like to share with readers?

This post is supported by Ronin:

RoninRonin is a leading online invoicing and time tracking app designed for freelance designers. Their application works well for both solo designers as well as teams. If you want to impress your clients with gorgeous invoices and client-facing logins with account history, give them a try. Visit them at www.roninapp.com or friend them on Facebook.

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Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design, a popular design blog.
  1. Great article! Very insightful and it definitely addresses some issues that I myself must “clean up” and “brush up” on!

  2. March 4, 2010

    Finally, someone preaching what if have been saying for years. Two thumbs up!!!

  3. March 4, 2010

    #2 was a real problem when I started freelancing, and I see it happen a lot when I work with other freelancers. Great post, thanks!

  4. March 4, 2010

    Great article! It tells everything that a freelancer and a designer should know, amazing!

  5. March 4, 2010

    In respect to #8, another option to get started as a freelancer without having to do spec work is to offer free or heavily discounted services to non-profits and other organizations. You will build your portfolio, put your work out there. True, you will not earn much but you still probably wouldn’t doing spec work. The advantage is that you get some actual design work done and practice your client-relations and business skills along the way.

  6. March 5, 2010

    thanks for the article Steven! re: #8 spec work – great tips. when i got started out, i was quick to realize:

    1) time is money
    2) spec work was not worth time/effort.

    i was lucky enough to have great contacts with not for profits, and would even do pro-bono work. far better than working and not having anything to show for it in the portfolio!

  7. March 5, 2010

    Hey Steven, glad to see you mention spec work as disrespectful. Like you say, working pro-bono is a much more effective use of a designers time.

  8. March 5, 2010

    For me undercharging was a real problem. When you start as a freelancer you do not want to lose customers(someone will always be cheaper), but ultimately is best. You give respect as a designer and customers recognize that. Of course you have to deliver quality in your work and services that go hand in hand with your fee.

    I hope every designer could apply this nine points.

    Great articule

  9. March 5, 2010

    I’m guilty of 1,2,3 & 6 although I have been much better of late, its a really fine line between getting a good name for yourself in a very competitive marketplace and having not letting clients take advantage

  10. March 5, 2010

    Very interesting article, thanks!
    Some great points to make into a check-list for future reference.

  11. March 5, 2010

    Great read – Its always good to read posts like this to hammer these principles into the back of our minds 🙂

    We all struggle with these at one point in our career, better to learn the right way to handle them sooner than later 🙂

    Keep up the good work!

  12. March 6, 2010

    I’ve read this article with a great interest and pointed out that #7 was a big problem at my very first.

    Thanks for sharing¨!

  13. March 6, 2010

    Brilliant post that hits all the sore spots. Every point terrific, but decrying spec work and lambasting excessive revisions are Pure Truth. Getting to know the client is number one path to customer satisfaction. Great stuff!

  14. March 9, 2010

    Good stuff. Like the work/life boundaries part especially, but it’s all good. Can tell you’ve been there, done that.

  15. March 15, 2010

    These are great tips!

    While I am not a designer, I am a freelance writer and I still find these tips to be helpful. I am sure many of us wish we would have known these things when we first started out (like having a payment policy/contracts/work-life boundary), but I think we learn as we gain experience.

    Also, it is so important to know which projects to say yes to and which to avoid at all costs. Very good insight, there!

  16. August 3, 2010

    A friend of mine told me about this strategy described http://www.roulettestrategythatworks.com in October. I played for free on their free roulette flash game to test it, then deposited $200 to test it out further… and I’ve won tons of money since then.

  17. August 5, 2010

    Fantastic post (and free spam roulette strategies to boot!). Regarding #s 1-3 and 6, I really think new freelancers tend to feel too inexperienced to demand the compensation they deserve. I find it important to continually reassess the worth of our services. Most valuable advice I ever got: If you get every job you bid on, then your prices are too low.

  18. August 8, 2010

    nice you~

  19. May 25, 2011

    Very useful article.

    “Another option is to work on your own projects, which can be a great experience because it can be anything you want it to be.”

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