Freelancers, Use this 22-Point Checklist to Find Out How Professional You Are

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.


  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.

Laura Spencer is a freelance writer from North Central Texas with over 20 years of professional business writing experience. If you liked this post, then you may also enjoy Laura’s blog about her freelance writing experiences, WritingThoughts. Laura is also on Google+.

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