The Business of Design: What Freelancers Must Know

Most budding freelance designers understand that building a design business requires creativity and an eye for aesthetics, but what many forget is that it also requires being business savvy. Don’t let your company sink because of an inability to properly support the business side of your freelance career. Instead, incorporate a strong business foundation with your creative work to ensure a long career in design.

The Business of Design: What Freelancers Must Know

Image via Flickr by Magdalena Nowak

Get it in Writing

If you aren’t invoicing and documenting business transactions, you’re setting your business up for failure. From your first contact with a potential client until project completion, make sure you are getting every piece of information in writing. Have a clear contract for all clients outlining revisions, pay rate and additional costs that could be added to the project. It doesn’t have to be fancy or particularly time consuming, but an invoice or contract can save you the hassle, aggravation and time spent in small claims court when a client decides not to pay.

Marketing is a Must

While stories of design geniuses creating a booming business after conducting no marketing campaign may be told, it is not the norm. In fact, marketing is the single greatest use of your time after designing. While you may have work to spare at the moment, scaling back marketing efforts will lead to no projects in the future.

Learn how to effectively market your business and carve out an hour or two every day for this endeavor. Take a variety of approaches to determine what results in the best return on investment for your business. Whether it’s cold calling or targeted ads, reach out and follow up consistently to get business coming through the door continually.

Be Financially Prepared

If you want a guaranteed paycheck, accept a job at an established company. Freelance designers take great risks, but can reap big rewards with the right business plan. Even successful freelancers have slow months or late payments. Don’t become a full-time freelancer until you are financially prepared for this. While the standard is to accumulate six months in living expenses before diving into full time freelancing, pick a figure you are comfortable living on. Low living expenses might cause some freelancers to take the plunge with only three months of expenses saved up, while those with families and houses may need a year’s worth. Having a financial buffer makes it possible for you to grow your business without needing to jump back into a full-time position. Don’t short change your savings account before starting your career.

Network and Collaborate

While freelancing can seem like a lonely profession, freelancers that cultivate and maintain a strong social network are exposed to more opportunities for growth. Don’t just rely on phone calls and emails, though; get out into the community to introduce yourself and your services to others. Join small business clubs to interact with other owners who can provide business opportunities and impart knowledge on how to make your business succeed. Networking is part of a healthy business, so don’t shut yourself in. Get into the community.

A great solution for some may be renting out an office space. Shared office spaces rent desks or cubicles to self-employed business owners, giving them a professional work space and introducing small business to each other. They are also a fantastic way to collaborate and brainstorm. Clients are often looking for turnkey solutions for their projects, and shared office mates may be the perfect way to meet people who can provide other business services that complement your own. Regardless of if shared offices are an option, seek out other freelancers that can enhance your product and foster business relationships.

Designers tend to glamorize the freelance life as one of pure creativity, but that assessment couldn’t be farther from the truth. A successful freelance designer needs to be part designer, part marketer, and full time company owner. Don’t get so wrapped up in design that advertisement falls by the wayside. Ensure years of success by cultivating a strong customer base and a solid business foundation.

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