5 Essential Freelance Web Design Business Tips I've Learned in My First Year

October 20, 2012

It’s now been a little over a year since I graduated from university and started working as a freelance web designer - and what a bumpy ride it’s been! Aside from the roller coaster of not having work, having too much (and then not having enough again), worrying about living without health insurance, and a generally unhealthy dose of stress, I'm just now starting to get the hang of things. I’ve compiled a list of 5 essential business tips that have allowed me to finally get a grasp on my business.

1. Business before design

While a new project is always exciting, get in the habit of first making sure that all parties are clear on the business agreements. There is plenty written on the subject, but write up a contract, add some stipulations to your estimates, and make sure you go over these with your clients. Trying to sneak by late fees and other fine print foolery is best left to credit card companies. With that said, be sure you have a late fee – you don’t want to be spending half your days chasing down checks. Aside from a late fee, I insist on 50 percent up front - a limit to revisions before the hourly rate kicks in and that all work can be used for self promotion.

2. Don’t work for friends and family

I love my friends and family - and that is the exact reason that I refuse to complete any work for them. Business sours easily, deadlines quickly add tension to an arrangement, and the last thing you need is a ruined personal relationship because of a work disagreement. At the same time they are your friends and family! You want to help them out, right? Make an arrangement with another designer you know – they will give your friends and family a generous discount on design work and you will do the same for theirs. This is my win/win situation.

3. If you have a design/art name you work under, get it registered

Sending back a check because an employer writes it to your moniker is going to drive you crazy. I had to send one of my first checks back to Australia and didn’t see the money for almost 5 months after the job's completion - a lesson I learned the hard way. Registering a business name is quick, painless and cheap. It cost me $38 to register Chapolito, get it printed in the paper for four weeks (required to make it official) and open a business account with my bank – and it’s good for 5 years. In addition to all of this, you’ll never be more proud than when you’re holding the official paper declaring you a business owner!

4. Don’t worry so much about the money

I often find myself worrying about finances and how to pay the bills, but I’ve never had a problem. I’ve come to realize that if you’re busy and passionate about what you’re doing, the money will come. Like always, make educated decisions with your money and live within your means; but as long as you’re busy working, studying and building your company, there will be new opportunities. I still spend between five to 25 percent of my day finding new clients and jobs, but I’ve learned to not worry about slow periods — they give me the chance to work on my portfolio and personal work, which in turn pays off by improving the worth of my design skills.

5. Keep all your receipts

When it comes time for taxes, you’ll be glad that you’re self employed! Although no one likes filing their taxes, the amount of deductibles you’ll have at the end of the year will make the experience a much more positive one. There are many things that can help you pay less income tax: working at home, owning a car that you use for business — or perhaps any hardware, software or design books you’ve purchased!

While I certainly have learned a lot over the last year, there's always an innumerable amount more to soak in! I’m looking forward to my second year working in freelance web design and I invite you to share any tips and principles you’ve learned as a freelancer.