How To Be A Successful Freelance Designer

Following on from my post about breaking into web design, I’d like to talk about how to be a successful freelance designer. What qualifies me to talk about this? Well that would depend on what you define as being successful. Success in the freelance world is all about keeping busy, avoiding barren patches and retaining clients – which is something I have thankfully managed to achieve.

Over the past 4 years I have established a method to my work, a set of rules that have formed my working code which have now become habit…

  • Communicate Well And Often – in my opinion this is the single most important attribute a freelancer has, I value it higher than quality of work. If you effectively communicate on all levels this can alleviate the fears of clients. You need to communicate, what you do, how you do it and the way you work. Communication is often the key to retaining clients and being re-booked.
  • Work Quality & Consistency – you don’t have to be the world’s best designer to make a freelance career, what you need to do is be consistent. As with any industry there are requirements for all levels of capability. If you continue to produce work at a consistent level, this will define your standard and it takes the risk away from hiring you.
  • Maximise Your Possibilities – if people don’t know of your existence then it doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do, you won’t get booked, you won’t get any work. Get your folio online, start using services like Twitter, LinkedIn, comment on blogs, keep in touch with everyone you meet – hand them a business card – you never know when they might need your services or know someone that does!
  • Be Adaptable – all agencies and clients differ in the way they like you to work. You need to adapt to their methods and quickly. You may be asked to do things that may not be your niche from time to time, if you effectively communicate this but also adapt to the requirements then this will reflect favourably on you.
  • Use Your Initiative – hugely important in the design world. There will be times where if you’re working in-house there will be no-one around to answer any questions you may have. You need to take the initiative in these situations and use your experience to make the right decisions.
  • Be Pro-Active – when you’re closely involved in a project you will see opportunities to aid your project, you need to recognise these as early as possible and capitalise on them.
  • Listen To Your Instinct – there are good clients and bad clients, you need to work out which category any potential new clients fall in to before you agree to work with them, this is usually a lot easier than it sounds. Look for signs in early communication you have with a client, whether it’s on the telephone, by email or even face to face – the signs are almost always there to see and they’re not usually hard to spot. As soon as the alarm bells start ringing you need to take action fast, your instincts are usually spot on.

Hopefully these methods may help you out with your freelance career. They’ve kept me busy over the years!


Web designer:

26 Apr 2009 08:39:59

Hi Dave,
I knew about your website from .net magazine.
I am still a student at tower hamlet collage, doing webdesign course
I liked what you wrote here , and I am going to apply it on myself.
Best regards Dave,


27 Apr 2009 14:05:10

Hi Dave.

Good advice, especially the communication & existence tips. I am new face in a big city in the North and letting people know I’m here and available is a priority I’m not sure how to approach, but these are certainly a step in the right direction…

Thanks again



19 Jul 2009 14:20:17

this is my first time being here. anyway, thanks for the list :) i’ll take note.

Chris Mewhort:

02 Feb 2010 22:09:24

Good article, some great points made.

One point I’d reiterate is the importance of effective communicating. Like you said, clearly communicating makes a huge difference for clients. The difference between, “would you like me to do x?” and, “would you like me to do x? If so, I request that y and z be delivered to be by April x. Otherwise, I’ll need xx and yy from ZZ before I’ll be able to get started.” is monumental. This free’s up your own time while eliminating back-and-forth dialog.

In the end, you actually communicate more effectively, less often, with less time spent. Win-win, a freelancer’s ideal :)

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