Being a freelance web designer is a path many of us have chosen. The independence you gain from starting your own business is quite a big selling point for making the leap. But along with that independence is a whole lot of responsibility.
Frankly, being a freelancer is hard. While anyone can wake up one day and make the decision to go it alone, not everyone is going to flourish. According to recent statistics in the US, about 33% of small businesses fail within two years.
The Freelance Designer's Toolbox
Unlimited Downloads: 500,000+ Web Templates, WordPress Themes, Bootstrap Templates, UI Kits & Design Assets
Now, not everyone included in that statistic would be considered a freelancer – but you get the point. It’s easy enough to start out in this business and quite another to actually succeed over the long haul.
As of this writing, I’m entering my 18th year in business. In some ways it’s hard to believe that many years have gone by. And I also realize that it has taken some great luck to get this far into it. Still, there are factors beyond luck that will help you get there.
Here are some things to consider if you want to be a freelance web designer for the long-term:
Commit to the Freelance Lifestyle
Well, nobody’s going to mistake the freelance lifestyle with a Jay Z video. But it certainly can be rewarding financially and otherwise if you’re willing to make the commitment.
Just what are you committing to? For starters, you’re signing on for a bit of uncertainty. Freelancing can, at times, be a feast or famine type of business. Either you’re buried up to your ears in projects or tidying up your office to pass the time until a paying gig comes along. You may also have to shift your focus at a moment’s notice.
And, if you’re working from home, freelancing can get a bit lonely. It’s a whole different experience for those who are used to working in an office with other people.
In order to make it all work, you’ll need discipline and an emotional resolve to handle the various ups and downs of running your own business.
Keep it Steady
Being a freelancer means that you’re booking projects from various clients. Whether your business has a niche focus in a specific industry (medical practices, for example) or is open to whatever comes along, it’s a challenge to continually find new clients.
One way to help ease that burden is to sign on with a client who will provide you with a steady stream of work. That could be a larger company who requires lots of maintenance work or a design agency who always needs help with multiple projects.
My first big break as a freelancer was the latter. I found work with an agency client back in 1999 – and I’m still working with them every day. This relationship helped me to form a solid foundation for my business from which I could build upon.
While finding that steady source of projects is great, diversifying your business is also crucial. For your long-term interests, you don’t want to have just one client dominating your time and your paycheck. That leaves you susceptible to an existential crisis if that one big client suddenly leaves.
The idea here is to build relationships that will provide you with steady income while still allowing you to branch out and gain strength in numbers. This will help to keep your business strong (or at least alive) during tough times.
Seize the Right Opportunities
Part of having a business that stands the test of time is taking advantage of the right opportunities at the right time. While that certainly could include signing on for a big project, it’s also about the decisions you make in every other aspect of your business.
For example, in the early 2010s I started developing sites using WordPress. Up until then I had worked almost exclusively in the world of static HTML. I’d known about the popular CMS for awhile and had even played around with it a bit. But, as it evolved, I saw WordPress as a way to offer clients more power and functionality. Today, it has become a big part of my business and has helped me to expand my skills.
Whether it’s deciding to jump on the bandwagon of a specific tool, work in partnership with another company, offer an innovative product or just getting your name in front of the right people – opportunities are out there.
Of course, these decisions aren’t easy. Sometimes, you’re lucky and the right path just becomes obvious. But most require a lot of thought. It’s only natural to have doubts – especially if the opportunity requires a leap of faith. The best advice I can give here is to think about the potential impacts (both positive and negative) and how a decision fits into your individual situation.
You won’t always get it exactly right. But, as athletes say all the time, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Provide Awesome Service
In some ways it seems so obvious. If you provide a high level of service to your clients, they’ll happily stay with you for years – not to mention sing your praises to others.
So why mention it? Because sometimes, with all of the other hard work and stress associated with running a business, the simple things can get lost.
Large companies in certain industries may have the luxury of losing customers due to poor service. For freelancers, that’s simply not an option. Doing your best work and treating your clients well will make you an indispensable resource. That’s key for having a successful business year after year.
The best part is that it doesn’t take any grand gestures or budget-busting expenses to make most clients happy. Simple things like promptly returning emails, asking questions when necessary and generally being polite won’t cost you a thing.
You Can Do It
Putting yourself out there as a freelance web designer is quite a challenge. There will be days, weeks or even months when things just don’t go your way. Despite your best efforts, you may still lose a client here and there. There will always be bumps in the road. But in the overall scheme of things, the good most often outweighs the bad.
Whether you’re currently a freelance designer or are thinking of becoming one, remember to think in both the short and long terms. Set goals and expectations for yourself but also remain flexible. With hard work and some luck, you might be amazed at the relationships you’ll develop, the new skills you’ll learn and fun you’ll have as the years pass by.