What it takes to be a Freelance Web Designer – My 8 Year Experience

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Written by Monlam Makhampa

Becoming a freelance web designer is easy but becoming a successful freelance web designer and surviving the test of time is completely a different story.

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Freelancing gives you the freedom of doing anything anywhere at any time. You are not bound by a 9 to 5 schedule and you are your own boss so this gives you ample freedom. But this freedom comes at a cost, the cost is – responsibility and effort.

It is easy to get oneself ingrained in the misconception that freelancing is the easiest shortcut to making money while not losing freedom. It is not completely true.

Today I am going to talk about what it takes to be a freelance web designer. I have been a freelance web designer for the past 8 years so I know what I have been through and today I am going to share with you what I have learnt through my eight years of experience as a freelance web designer.

What it takes to be a Freelance Web Designer

On the first look, freelancing may seem fun and an easy way to make money but it is not. Freelancing is a big responsibility on your shoulders.

If you are working somewhere, you just have to do the task given to you and by evening your mind is free, of course unless you have a very hectic job.

So as long as you are at your work regularly and don’t do anything silly like throwing kimchi on your boss’ face to get you fired, you receive a consistent pay at the end of each month. Where as if you are a freelancer, you constantly need to think of ways to attract new clients to generate income.

So your mind is seldom free, this is the big responsibility I am talking about. Most people don’t realize this but a freelancer is an entrepreneur and you are running a business where you are the only employee and the only boss. You must have or develop the qualities of an entrepreneur or you will not survive in this field.

A Freelance Web Designer is an Entrepreneur

When I started my freelance work and got my first project, I was happy and I thought life is easy. I used to charge a flat fee for creating a website. I would work on a great design, spend hours experimenting with color combinations, content fonts and layout structure before coming to the final design for the website.

Then the client would ask for small changes (like changing the color of top menu). Small it may seem but its big enough to destroy the entire color theme of the site that you spent hours working on. So they would then ask to change the color of the sidebar because it no longer matches the color of the menu and so on and so forth.

This becomes such a painful, repetitive and time consuming process that you might feel like telling the client to just shut up. So what went wrong here?

1. Product creation/customization:

When you create a product (a web design package) and offer to the client, it should have clear detail as to what it includes. If you are going to allow many iterations on your design then you should price them accordingly at the first place. Or else you can go for an hourly rate and charge the client accordingly for extra works.

Now remember, you should plan and do this at the beginning itself. You cannot all of a sudden tell the client you are going to charge something extra or an hourly rate.

2. Presentation

Giving a good presentation on the finished product and explaining your idea and concept behind the design and layout helps client understand why the things are the way it is. You cannot blame clients for asking too many changes, they are just confused and not able to convey what exactly they want.

You should be the person taking them out of their confusion by doing a good presentation of the finished Website. If you just give out the final product to the client, it gives them space for random ideas and questions. Don’t let them do that, remember you are the expert, be their guide and explain it to them.

3. Wireframe and prototype

This may seem like an extra work but it is important as it gives the client an idea of how the website will look like and how it would function before you have actually started creating it. But if the project’s budget is low and if they are new to the idea of websites then you may have to skip this.

4. Contract

A small document defining the expectations of your clients and yourself can save both you and your client from a lot of trouble in the future. You must sign a contract with the client, detailing the tasks involved, project deadline, fees, terms and conditions etc.

It need not be on a paper with signature. You can include the contract in your quotation itself with a note stating “terms of service: by accepting this quotation you agree to the following terms of service”.

I have a short one, here is a copy of a simple Website Design Quotation with terms of service. You can edit and use it as you like.

So what I’m trying to say is that being a freelance web designer is more than just being a web designer.

You have to be good with people to attract more clients. You have to be your own accountant to keep track of your expenses and income else you are no longer running a business and will be out of it soon.

You have to know about product customization (web design packages/plans) and know about pricing. You have to do the marketing yourself to find new clients. You should also have to think of other ways of making money because if you don’t get clients, you must have a source of income.

More or less you have to think and be like an entrepreneur because you are an entrepreneur now, all by yourself, sooner you realize this the better. Start reading more on entrepreneurship development, listen to podcasts, go to conferences meant for entrepreneurs. This will help you a lot in your journey to become a successful freelance web designer.

A Lone Ranger

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At times you will feel like a lone ranger because everyone around you will be working 9-5, having normal lives, helping each other solve their problems but although you may have friends but no one would actually be able to help you solve your problems and you don’t have a senior or a boss to talk to.

You should know this is not the time to give up but to realize that you are a different breed and you will get solutions to your problems not from your friends or family but from other “beasts” like you, you will find them on the internet. Follow them- like this blog of mine. Subscribe to their newsletter to receive updates.

If you can find a mentor, that will give you a huge boost to your career as a freelance web designer so find one if you can.

You should learn to cope up with stress and know where to get help and answers.

Remember, having supportive friends and family will be a huge strength but it will be stupid of you to expect answers to problems related to your freelance work from them. Find the right people to get help and answers.

Constant source of Income – Your Business Plan

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Did you know that hosting companies like Hosgator pay you as high as upto $125 for referring someone to signup a hosting with Hostgator?  That is more than the amount the person who sign up will actually pay to hostgator. So how they are able to do it?

The answer lies in ‘why they do it’. When someone first signs up through a referral, Hostgator doesn’t make profit. But they know that once a person signs up, they will need the hosting for the next year as well and in the future.

They also know that changing hosting is a big pain especially if your site is big-n-growing and with their great customer support they are confident that the customer will not leave Hostgator. This way Hostgator earns a customer and makes money from them year after year.

The same strategy you can apply on your freelance web design business.

Offer a free one year technical support for any website project that you do. This way you will be helping your client immensely as they might need help from time to time and you have earned yourself a “regular customer”.

Have a system to keep track of the support period and just a week before the of end of the period, call or email the client stating their free technical support is expiring soon and they should renew it to get continued support from you. If you have given good support, they will definitely opt to continue getting your technical support for which you can charge an annual fee.

But again be sure to mention what your technical support includes. (Refer to my sample copy of Web Design Quotation/contract) I will do another detailed post on this very soon, revealing all the tools that I use especially for automated billings so stay tuned.

Conclusion

Becoming a freelance web designer is easy as you don’t need no formal qualification or anyone to endorse you. But becoming a successful freelance web designer and surviving the test of time is completely a different story.

Don’t let the things I’ve said intimidate you or discourage you but rather use this to equip yourself with knowledge and prepare for a big success. Remember, with big freedom comes big responsibilities. And if you are able to take those responsibilities, the rewards are priceless!!  🙂

About the author

Monlam Makhampa

My name is Monlam Makhampa and I'm a Freelance Web Designer. I started Digital Shangrila in 2014 & I write on various topics related to technology and Web Designing. Read more here

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