Lessons Learned From an Experienced Freelancer


As freelancers navigate their way into the world of contracted work, there are a variety of good times and bad times. The good times in particular involve a steady list of clients as well as consistent income throughout the year. Whether you’re freelancing full-time or part-time there are a lot of things to keep in mind when approaching any new project.

Below I have outlined common lessons most freelancers have experienced which in turn could help you with new opportunities in your future.

How to Quote Your Clients

The age old question for a freelancer is “So, How much do you charge?” There are a number of ways to determine costs but in all honesty there’s no set rate you can pitch to each and every client. Some designers will quote high and some will quote too low. Unfortunately, those who quote too low and who are in dire need of work, ruin it for other freelancers across the globe by setting the going rate far too low to live on.

How to Effectively Quote Your Clients

Charging a set fee or hourly can both present an issue. Factors to consider when developing a quote include the client’s budget, your availability, what bills or costs you need to pay in order to keep your business operating, and even assets such as photography or stock art. My suggestion is to assess the project and really gather an overall understanding.

If the project is relatively small, then a flat rate would probably work best, as it’s easier to dictate the outcome and what is required from you. For larger projects however, where more work could be added, an hourly rate is the way to go. This will ensure that you are compensated appropriately your hard work, skills and creativity. With that said, how much to charge for hourly vs. flat fees goes back to your client’s budget and what the client and you agree to.

Having Contracts in Order

Having Contracts in Order before a Project Begins

Always have a contract. No exceptions. There are plenty of good sources for basic contract templates online, but I would recommend researching those and use that information to create your own.

Get rid of all the legal jargon and summarize it down to terms anyone could understand. Contracts usually scare clients but they don’t have to. I’ve written my own contract to be humorous so it’s actually a bit of a fun read. You can cover all your requirements in 1-3 pages.

Quoting a Job

When a client asks if I can help them with a design/development project I first develop a project proposal. This is a document which outlines the project scope, budget, and timeline of the entire project. Depending on if the project is a flat fee or an hourly rate, I draft the proposal in such a way that makes the services I’m providing very clear to each client.

First, I’ll have the client agree to the proposal and then send them my basic design contract. Once this is completed and the initial deposit is received the work can begin. Taking these steps locks an agreement between you and your client and will save you from headaches later on down the road.

Limit Number of Revisions

Save your Sanity by Allowing a Set Number of Revisions to Design Work

Inside your design contract, it is absolutely necessary to have a set number of revisions per project. Many freelancers forget this detail and it ends up hurting them. I myself have been in this position which drove me to always set a maximum number of revisions.

If you don’t, you can waste more time creating something the client will never like and it ends up hurting both parties. Setting a revision limit saves time, money and sanity.

When to Turn Down a Project

Any designer or developer new to freelancing is always on the lookout for more work. Countless times I’ve gotten emails from possible clients interested in work but with a very low budget. This is an easy warning sign to possibly skip the project.

Accepting low ball offers not only effects your own sanity but it affects other designers. Accepting lower budget projects makes the client think from then on a typical design for say a website will be a set figure for any future work they need.

When to Turn Down a Project

Another warning sign is if the clients says they need a responsive website and a logo, for example. You send them a proposal and in return they ask how much for just the website. You quote them for the website and then they ask for a basic unresponsive simpler website. This trend continues until they look for someone cheaper.

In this situation it’s best to be blunt and tell the client that you absolutely can’t go any lower for your services You’re wasting time crafting proposals to fit their needs when they aren’t even interested in dishing out the money for it. If they are looking for quality design and development, in your mind they’ve come to the right place, but if they can’t afford your services they can try to find someone else do it for cheaper and have it not turn out to be as successful.

For experienced freelancers, warning signs like these are spotted immediately. Use your best judgement when dealing with these situations. More times than not you’ll have to enforce or sell yourself to get the client to agree to your terms. In my experience, if prospective clients keep trying to offer less or even ask you to do it “pro bono” then you should turn down the project.

Dealing with Clients That Can’t Make Up Their Mind

Dealing with Clients That Can't Make Up Their Mind

Clients rarely know what they want, even when they think they do. It’s up to you as a professional freelancer to provide them with consulting and insight on the best paths to take. Create outlines and bullet points for each project to go over with your client. I personally implement phases into my designing process so the client understands what is actually involved each step of the way.

Develop a Long Term Partnership with Clients

Landing multiple clients is what keeps a freelancer in business but maintaining those clients for future work is what makes a freelancer successful. Having a long term partnership with each client offers steady income and job security.

The key to doing this is offering your services and attention to each client you take on. Make your client feel you are ready to help them succeed and develop more business together.

Develop a Long Term Partnership with Clients

When I was starting out, steady clients were few and far between. With time, dedication and hard work an experienced freelancer can develop great professional relationships across the globe. Maintaining these relationships offers both success to you and your clients.

Dealing with Dry Spells

Dealing with Dry Spells of Inconsistent Work

Every freelancer has dry spells throughout a given year. It’s always wise to develop a plan for these times in particular. An emergency fund or savings fund is a great way to live comfortably during these times if possible.

Other ways to keep income steady could be to develop some sort of passive income. Writing an e-book, developing stock for online market place and discounting your services for a limited time would help any freelancer during a slow month or two.

I’m a Freelancer not an Accountant!

Freelancers, designers, developers and writers ARE NOT accountants nor do we want to be. We strive to create or produce something, but business is business and financial strategies and records have to be processed. In the past I’ve found automated ways to help with these mind boggling concepts:

  • Mint offers amazing functionality to anyone with multiple accounts, goals, budgets, and even loans. It’s a one-stop-shop for analyzing your income streams and expenses. This by far is one of my favorite tools and I’m very thankful for it. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t already.
  • Some of my clients insist on PayPal as a method of payment. PayPal is great to a certain degree. Some freelancers love it and others despise it because of fund holdings and certain PayPal terms. I personally love the merchant services. If you browse around, PayPal offers an online free invoicing tool which generates invoices to be sent directly to your clients corresponding e-mail address.
    Once your client receives the email they simply click “Pay Now” to disperse funds to you. Another benefit to this is being able to see all of our invoices and expenses easily while online.
  • For every transaction whether it’s PayPal, Check, or Bank Transfer, I process into Billings. I absolutely love this software. It offers everything any freelancer needs to send estimates, invoices, statements, and even offers it’s own accounting based on the work you have performed. There are many more services available on the web but it’s totally up to you and how you work to determine what best fits.
  • I was just introduced to the online based application called Wave Accounting. So far I really like what I see and how much of the site is automated to save you time and sanity. I recommend checking it out as it is free and very easy to use.


Every freelancer is different in how they work, process information and handle clients. The more you do this the more experienced you become. Once at that level, everything becomes a routine. There’s always a bit of psychology involved in winning over clients and providing them with the work they want. It’s up to you to make that happen consistently and effectively.

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