Providing your services as a freelancer is hard work. It will require a lot of your time, patience, and gratitude towards your customers. Set aside the fact you’ll be slaving away on many projects just to pay bills, all the while often ignoring your own creative project ideas. The most important skill any freelance web designer can master is time management.
You only have a certain amount of hours each day to complete work. This is an obvious fact, but it can still be difficult to plan out your schedule properly. Too much work and you’ll become bogged down, too little and you’ll feel no reason to get started. If you can keep a pristine balance in your work and personal projects, you’ll find life to become a lot more manageable.
Split your Work Times
It is crucial that you split your work time into sections. Namely your client work should always come first. These projects are often set to deadlines and early completion will make your customers a lot happier in the long run. As you clear through your freelancing to-do list you may find some time later in the day to start on personal projects.
Having a split of working hours will help you manage your focus on each project. As a whole all of your tasks may appear very daunting, almost impossible. But if you can focus on a single project and move forward slowly you’ll eventually complete one task after another. And to jump from one client to another to your own projects can become extremely chaotic, not to mention confusing.
If you are having a slow week there’s no reason you can’t take some time off freelance work. Spend one or two days solely focused on your own stuff. You’d be surprised how far you can move in one workday. Especially if there’s nothing to break your concentration when designing, programming, or marketing. But it can be very easy to neglect freelance work and allow it to pile up. This is a bad sign, since putting off workflow always leads to stress later on.
Break Down Priority Tasks
Often it is suggested that you create a small to-do list for each day. This is a great idea and I’m fully supportive of such a system, although it doesn’t work if you have no interest in making it work. Considering there are only so many working hours to a day, you have to be realistic when crafting your list.
The first thing I recommend is setting up 2-3 ‘big’ tasks for the day. These tasks could be anything which take up 1-3 hours time and will require a large portion of your attention. If possible you should choose 2 items max and complete them before your day is done. Try breaking up each item into smaller tasks so you can move through the list a bit quicker.
For example, designing and creating a website for your most recent client is well and good. But without any details you’re practically setting yourself up for more stress than you need. If you are working online to build a tasks list it’s simple to add sub-bullets to break down each task.
Otherwise you can add more details on a piece of paper or wherever you’re cataloging objectives. The point being you’ll want to achieve success by crossing off smaller works as you hack away into the larger task at hand.
As an example I’ve created a small list below. These tasks certainly aren’t all required for every website you design, but here I’ll be adding some just for example. You may follow a similar procedure with your own project work.
• Sketch home and inner page designs.
• Mockup wireframe and jQuery effects for 2-3 page views.
• Design interfaces, gradients, buttons, logo in Adobe Photoshop.
• Code home page in HTML/CSS3. If time add secondary pages.
• Check for bugs and browser compatibility. Develop jQuery effects and animations for all possible web browsers (realistically).
• Apply HTML template to CMS if needed (WordPress, Joomla!, Pligg, Drupal).
Never Underestimate Marketing
When getting caught up in the design aspect it’s easy to lose sight of marketing. It’s all well and good to study website design and building pages, but without getting your name out there nobody will want to hire you. Or even know you are available for hire! And from this angle you’ll just be launching your own personal projects… which is great, but doesn’t always pay the bills.
We have written before on freelance marketing through social media and offered some fantastic tips for beginners. For the tech-savvy readers you are probably very familiar with all the popular social networking applications today. Pick some of your favorite communities and build a professional account for each one. You can use these for networking with clients and attracting new business leads.
You’ll also want to take advantage of photo sharing applications. Websites such as Flickr or even mobile app Piictu work as small functioning portfolios for getting your latest works out there. These networks are heavily trafficked so it’s likely somebody will stumble onto your submissions.
If you have a personal website or profile on something like about.me or Google+ you can share all of your profile links from one location. These often work better than your own domain since clients know to trust these 3rd party websites and can access all of your works easily. Also the designs are uniform so you won’t need to spend a lot of time perfecting your own portfolio layout. Although if you are strictly a web designer/illustrator Dribbble or Carbonmade may suit your needs a little better.
Always Be Having Fun!
I’ve noticed from many new freelancers there is a lot of talent out there. So many amazing artists have popped up onto the scene recently stemming from the overwhelming majority of Photoshop and web design tutorials available. These can teach you all of the basics and even into advanced topics for web designers.
But when you begin working for clients and building your business, the trade can become bland and stagnate. Try to catch yourself before you fall too far and ultimately lose faith in working for others. It can be difficult to build specs for clients, and truly you can’t please the whole world. But don’t let any negative experiences color your opinion of the web design trade. We have built a magnificent Internet industry full of creative individuals and amazing startups.
Stay true to your goals and never lose sight of the end game. If you have a few projects you would like to put up online set a final launch date for yourself. Buy the domain name(s) ahead of time so you’ll have a reason to keep chugging along. As long as you can pay bills and have some free time for your own work, freelancing provides the most fulfilling experience to web designers and developers.
These ideas should get you thinking about ways to schedule your life for freelance and personal web projects. As a designer myself I find great passion in creating and launching my own projects. Tracking visitors, analytics, signups, and building a small community around my websites always makes me feel invigorated. If you have this same passion you will surely excel in the digital world.
There may be some of you who have just gotten into freelancing but aren’t sure about the next step. You may consider our tips for converting from freelance into a business so you can better manage your clientele and work sessions. However you approach the freelancing aspect of design will be different than everybody else. As long as you are having fun and producing high-quality work your freelance business is sure to take off!