Last updated on March 26th, 2021
Freelancers such as graphic designers and illustrators are creative people who love to design aesthetic pieces of works. But, they are generally not equally efficient and skillful in dealing with clients and mostly end up losing lucrative projects. They need to hone their skills to build client relationships for a consistent flow of getting high paying projects.
Many creative people prefer working as freelancers as they have a lot of free time to come up with unique ideas and works. However, they don’t want to miss the lucrative earning of an office job.
So, to keep up the balance between good earnings and working from home compels them to find effective ways to deal with clients for more work. After all, they also want to build a good reputation in the freelance market.
But finding out the right clients and maintaining a great relationship with them is not an easy job, especially for the beginners. Many freelance graphic designers are not good at dealing with their clients in a professional way. They do not approach clients well prepared. Consequently, clients even exploits the freelancers’ inexperience to their advantage.
Know that more and more professionals are switching to working from home as freelancers. In the U.S, 57 million people have been working as freelancers in 2019. This trend is only increasing, showing that there are more earning opportunities to explore when you decide to be your own boss.
Designhill Conducted A Webinar
Considering that, Designhill, the leading creative marketplace, understood the current need of freelancers and decided to organize a webinar on this issue. Therefore, Designhill conducted a webinar on the topic – “How To Work With Clients And Choose The Right Design Projects As A Freelancer’, dated 7th Jan 2020 where the guest speaker was Helen, Co-Founder & Head of Design @ SuperEffective. During the webinar, she covered most of the aspects of freelancing with the design community.
Helen started her career as a Product Designer and worked both full-time as well as Freelance Consultant for 10 years. She decided to take the next step by opening an agency called SuperEffective. Apart from being one of the co-founder, she is also leading the team as head of design.
Here Is The Video Of The Webinar
Here, We Give You The Excerpts From The Webinar Where Helen Had Answered Many Questions And Shared Her Valuable Experience Of Working As A Freelancer. Have A Look!
Designhill: Welcome to Designhill, Helen. And, Thanks for accepting our invitation and joining us to share your expertise. Our readers and viewers would like to know that as a beginner, how they should work on themselves or how to prepare themselves for freelancing? What kind of strategy they should follow? What type of platforms they should choose? Please share your experience on the same.
Helen: First, thanks Designhill for inviting me and allowing me to share my experience with all the wannabe or new freelancers out there. It feels like yesterday that I’ve started working as a freelancer and now sharing my expertise with everyone. It’s an honor to share my knowledge with everyone. Thanks a lot!
Let’s begin this. First, I would like to explain what types of obstacles you might face during your freelancing career and how you can prepare yourselves to deal with them. Also, I’ll be sharing how to write cover letters, proposals and what’s the difference between each of them. I will also share some difficult life situations I’ve faced during my tenure and how I overcome them.
So, the first preparation is that make sure your portfolio is awesome.
01. Build Your Portfolio
When building your portfolio, keep the mantra in your mind that “less is more”. Avoid including all the projects that you’ve done in your life. I have done so many design projects.
But, the thing is that being a graphic designer and UX designer, I always record all graphic designs and concentrate on my clients’ niche. Because people, clients in particular, sometimes want you to do some graphic design along with other work as well.
So, you need to tell the people who you are. What is your expertise? With the portfolio, they will be able to identify your skills after they see your performance. But, I strongly encourage you to show only the work that you’re actually interested in or want to do.
If you want to do logos overhead, show logos, and branding, stuff like that. Don’t mix everything. Try to master one skill rather than being a jack of all trades.
Use Problem-Solution Formula
Use the problem-solution formula to create a portfolio for a freelancer. What does it mean? As a user experience designer, I’m pretty sure that in any design field, we need to structure the case in the portfolio, not like the pretty images in life or Google.
So every case, every portfolio item has to have a problem, a challenge. What is your life? What have you delivered and why? What is the most important thing that you really appreciate?
Then, the last point is that you be yourself. If you’re showing your personality in the portfolio, that’s great. But do not show your liking or dislikings in life. It’s a harsh reality, no one is interested to know about your personal liking, your personal life. Try to keep personal and professional, separate.
02. Start With One Platform
Next, you need to pick a platform on which we’re going to start freelancing once you have the portfolio. So, either you can start on Designhill, or you can start Fiverr or Upwork. It depends on you which platform you would like to go ahead with.
You can start with all three but I strongly recommend you to start with one platform. This is because visitation is something that you will build on every single platform. And it’s pretty hard.
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03. Save The Cash For Three Months
Being a freelancer, don’t expect to start earning by day one. That’s not practical. Make sure you’ve saved at least three months of cash before starting as a freelancer. When I first started working as a freelancer, I spent one and a half months trying to get the first client.
During this time, you will probably need to pay some bills. Freelancers are probably going to be earning less at the start. But you should never give up. You will be your own accountant and salesman, graphic designer and copywriter, and you will be doing a lot of stuff yourself, which is pretty frustrating, sometimes. (She Chuckles)
Sometimes you work with clients from different countries, and you will have a huge time difference. But, they will be expecting you to be available for them because they pay and this is frustrating as well. And those hours are not going to be paid. So that’s why I told you to have about three months’ worth of cash in hands as you will be working seven days a week for sure.
04. Write Cover Letter Professionally
Let’s talk about – A Cover Letter and Proposal. The cover letter is something that you will be expected to write every single time you apply for a job. Make sure you do a little research and somehow show in the cover letter that you have been to the website.
Since you’ve done a little research, you know what they’re doing. Then, you should get their attention by expressing how excited you are about the project. And you can obviously do that by going through their website and reading that this is very important.
If people put some thought into writing a great long job post. They probably are really looking for freelancers, so they will expect you to read it in full.
Sometimes when you have a job post, and especially when it’s pretty long, clients put little passwords in between the text. When applying for the post, you are expected to use those passwords, showing that you have read the entire post. Clients apply this trick to stay away from spammy applications. So, read the full job post for freelance work.
Cover Letter = Your Personality
Show your personality as a freelancer in the cover letter. It should display your passion for the job. And the most important thing, finish your cover letter by asking the question. This is a trick marketers do all the time.
But the only question that you can ask clients is when can we jump on a call to discuss our collaboration. I always do that. So, always try to drag the client on a call because, on the call, you will see him face to face and you will be able to charm him.
05. Write A Detailed Proposal
The proposal is something way bigger and more professional than writing the cover letter. Know that the proposal is the presentation of yourself. There are a few points that I strongly recommend when writing the proposal to the client:
i. Describe The Services
So just describe the services that you do. And by the way, you need to pick the niche. Tell exactly what you are doing. So if I’m not doing banners, I’m not going to include that. Describe your process, step by step to show what do you do to achieve the final approval. The more details you go, the better.
Let me share with you my profile as an example. I have two types of services. This is UI design and branding. So the services that I do are divided into two big parts, UI and brand design.
And so what I do is I describe the process for each one of them because they are different. I think I have 10 steps for UI work, and I have the same amount of steps for the brand new work.
ii. Mention Your Pricing Packages
Then after you describe your method of work, you can put the price on the packages, if you do the packages. I do what is called value-based pricing.
iii. Save The Deliverables
Make sure you save the deliverables of every single source. This is very important. I’ve been through a lot of situations when clients or wanting to help web design, they want to have a PSD source file. And Photoshop is not the tool that I used to design websites.
So I had to do that. Anyway, I was younger and I was not so experienced and I made all those mistakes. I’m just sharing so that you guys won’t do it.
So make sure you know what software to use and how you handle designs to develop if you’re in the web design. You should describe everything. I develop my proposal every other week. There is another interesting plot situation after which I develop my proposal and change it again.
iv. State Your Payment Policy
I’m saying every time on my Instagram blog that freelancers should never work without prepayment. Working without prepayment is even a crime to yourself because if people don’t want to make the prepayment, they don’t want to pay at all. Avoid going that way.
So if I do 50-50 payment, let’s say you can do 50-30-20 or 30-20-50 or whatever. But you should explain that to the client and make sure you say that prepayment is non-refundable.
Designhill: Wow! It sounds so important. As you’ve shared a lot about portfolios, what is the ideal difference between good and a bad portfolio?
Helen: The portfolio focuses on you, your skills, not on your work. So, a portfolio is not user-centric. You’re making a portfolio for two people, clients, and recruiter. They don’t have much time to pick you from all the hundreds of other people.
Therefore, nobody cares about your years of personal experience and how much you like dogs, cats, beer and Fridays. What they need to know is what you’re capable of doing, and most for where they want to see us right away.
For instance, I am a UI-UX designer who likes to create logos on a robot and I solve complicated problems of blah, blah, blah, blah with this method. That’s the statement. You should immediately show them who you are and what you can do, then you can push services in a nutshell, but they need to see the work right away.
Designhill: Should the portfolio contain only live projects or even the creative demos?
Helen: Here, you can put your particulars for sure. I have a review of one person’s portfolio. He had three concepts and one was a project. But when you say it’s a concept, do not shout about it at the very top. Your task is to say, what was the challenge and how you came to the solution.
Designhill: According to you, what makes every designer strong – its portfolio or life experiences?
Helen: Well, there are a lot of things that make a designer strong. These include skills, interpersonal skills, which are very important. Similarly, reviews are good on freelancing platforms, when you will be working with people who are not part of freelancer platforms.
They will be asking for the reviews. But, the case studies are the strong point of a portfolio as you can show the solution, the challenge, the process, how you make the solution, and then the solution.
Designhill: Most of the time, beginners get confused about what to add or not in their portfolios. What should beginners put in the portfolio if they do not have any projects?
Helen: If you’re a beginner and you have zero portfolio projects, what you do in your practice. What I did when I was starting was that I found some really cool case study or some things that thought that I might do as well. Let’s say it is the website for clothes.
I took a design from the website and then I took went to another seven or 10 websites similar to that, like clothes and websites. I was thinking about how I can make the best design among them. So I analyze them and I picked what I called, was a better design and recreated it.
Designhill: Everyone has their own set of favorites tools or platforms. Is there a particular portfolio platform you prefer for a professional presentation?
Helen: I don’t like Behance. What I picked for myself is dribble. But, dribble does not allow it with case studies, and I struggled with it for months. So I decided that rather than diverting the traffic to somebody else’s website, I decided to buy a domain hosting and I set up the WordPress right now, and have my own website.
All this is part of doing it on Behance and dribble. I would recommend going for your own website if you’re able to devote the time and read about how to set up domain hosting.
There is nothing better than having your own website because once you do that you drive everyone to your website. On the website, you can leave the contact form and people will meet the very best there. This is your property.
Designhill: Before starting any projects with clients, which details could they ask for beforehand from the clients?
Helen: Okay, I would like to pick an example, for the same. There are different projects. Let’s pick an example of a mobile application. So, clients know what is their business all about or what is the business idea.
They will most probably know who they’re targeting with their product and you should also know it as well and ask the client about it. You should know about the client’s direct or indirect competitors.
But, many clients say that they don’t have any competitors. I strongly recommend to not to work with them because if they don’t have any competition, they don’t know what they’re doing. They have not analyzed the market. So competitors target audience and what the business is about.
And then it comes to asking some more typical questions such as if a person wants to build an application, which is the platform? Is that Android or iOS? Is that both? What’s the timeline for the project? What’s the budget? Although it’s a very tricky question, and most clients would never answer that. But you should ask anyway.
There are a lot of other questions like, what’s your philosophy? What kind of functionality you want to be in place in that application. But most probably after asking the first couple of questions, you will come up with a lot of other additional questions.
The clients will place these questions and answers in the document that’s called specification. Some clients might have the specification already. Once you read the specification, you will come up with 10 additional questions. So, it’s a long-term communication process
Designhill: How to deal with reshaping situations that most of the people are facing with their clients or potential clients?
Helen: Clients want professionals doing things for them for cheap. I will say that you should just don’t deal with such a client. I mean, don’t even go for it. This is because if this guy will not like your work, and I can guarantee you 90% that he is not going to like anything. But that client will cause you a bad review.
Secondly, avoid calling this discussion over email as the client may not have the time for you and your questions. Even if you start working with clients who are scared to show their face or their voice on Skype or any other tool for communication, that will be weird. They are weird clients. Such clients are never satisfied.
They don’t have time to answer you and your follow-ups. Then, there are clients who want heavy discounts from you simply because you have been working for them for a long time. I also completed a project on huge discounts for one such client. But, I got myself trapped with those discounts because the client never responded. So, give only a minor discount if you have to.
Consider another such an interesting situation. You should be careful if the client is not fluent or at least intermediate English speaker or your native language speaker. This is because you will not understand what they want. So if a person doesn’t know English or your native language for well, just do not try to work with such clients.
Learn To Say – NO
If a client asks you a tonne of questions on how your decision making may be, do not work with such people. This is because you are the professional and no one should be enquiring about your creative process. Just as you do not ask a dentist what tools will be used for dental treatment.
Someone came to me from Instagram asking me to explain my to prove my proficiency in picking the color. I deleted and never spoke again to that person. Similarly, If a client is unresponsive before the work starts, chances are that he will be even unresponsive later, so don’t work with those people. Do not say yes to tests as well.
Some clients want to first have a test of what you do. They take advantage of your skills and later sell those test works to others. So, do not give any such tests and avoid working with such clients. They will never employ you.
And by the way, try not to give anyone your private telephone number. This is important because you never know who’s the person and how you can use this information against your Security or freelancing?
Sorry for this one, one minute of security, security or Freelancer is extremely important to subject. I covered it in my Instagram blog. You can check it out. But yeah, don’t share your phone, like Skype and email is pretty much right?
Designhill: How to handle difficult clients who seem to be aggressive?
Helen: Well, at the start, don’t even go there. If the person is not shining bright like a diamond, not a heartwarming and not wishing to work with your keys, you don’t want this person in your life. But, if the client has become aggressive during the work with you, unfortunately, you have to be very diplomatic.
After all, you have your reputation on a freelancing platform, which is so important. So just don’t risk that reputation, right. But if you already have risked it, and you must stop and you have that kind of client, unfortunately, you will. Never say aggressive things to them. Never, honestly.
Designhill: What type of mode of communication one should prefer to interact directly with the client? Do you use WhatsApp as well for contacts?
Helen: No, as I said before, I’m not sure that there is a way to use WhatsApp without giving your phone number. I have my phone number which is attached to my banking accounts. So, the last thing I want to do is to give somebody my phone number.
So, the phone number is very secure, and the tax system bank system, my private entrepreneur’s scheme account are all on my phone. Therefore, why would I want to give that to anyone? I don’t think that you want that. Don’t use WhatsApp.
There are multiple ways offered by various platforms where you can directly interact with the clients. Also, you can use emails, Hangouts, messenger applications, etc. to stay in touch with them as well.
Designhill: How to deal with the presentations?
Helen: If a client asked him for 20 deteriorations, what you should have done before is remember the proposal. Did you describe the process? One client agrees to your proposal, she will not want too many integrations.
You have three iterations to make a logo and for additional iterations, you ask for the extra price to stay in that proposal. If you have issues with down payments, once the work is completed never send source files until you get the final installment.
Never put price tags on every single deliverable. And if the proposal mentioned that source files are the property of the client, still both of you should agree that the work was completed and paid in full and this is important.
And I’ve been there in that situation when people want to use my skill set to develop a and they understand that all the other words that follow dependent on this thing. And anybody can take this layout and resize it to tablet, mobile, whatever.
So they can do it twice cheaper, and then demand the source file and things go, I didn’t have a contract with them. So I didn’t send the source files.
Designhill: The most important and big-time asked question by freelancers – The Pain Area? How to get more clients?
Helen: Referrals are very important stuff. When you have a great client and you’re friends with him, you can ask him to talk with his friends about your work. You can say that you have some capacity and you can take something else on maybe some of your friends’ or colleagues’ work. They will gladly do that.
We all are shy sometimes. I was pretty lazy to find somebody new. But one day I just shout out to all my clients. And three out of five said now when we have more work to one can you start because we were thinking that you’re so busy and you will not have the capacity? So yeah, follow-ups matter a lot.
Social Media Shout Out
So you can write some posts about how you helped this client achieve this goal or this amount of users to achieve their goals, and use the hashtags. And it works like magic. LinkedIn has no top algorithms like Instagram or Facebook, or they just put your course under the hashtag and people are reading it, and they’re asking you.
So once you have some audience on LinkedIn, mostly, by the way, you’re going to be noticed by recruiters because they are everywhere. You can shout out there and say, I have the best rate now.
Find local companies that you want to work for and apply. Don’t wait for them to help the position but if you want to freelance apply to those companies and say you can do the job done. You can say that you are doing this project I found the UX issue in that or I found some disadvantage in that I found some problem.
So you convert them into the work leads into the interest of people, and they probably work with you. I have done it a couple of times. I’ve received thank you messages.
Designhill: Is Shutterstock a good platform to share work?
Helen: I have an illustrator friend who has an account with Shutterstock and she posts there and earns some income from the platform. It’s not for me, I can’t generate creative images just for the sake of being creative, producing images because I’m like more of a problem solver. But if you are a creative person and you’re doing cats design illustrations or stuff like that, then go for it. It’s worth trying.
Designhill: If you’re struggling to generate an income, do you believe it’s okay to join a crowdfunding website?
Helen: I think that’s pretty decent. I earned it using freelancing platforms. In terms of crowdfunding websites, I don’t know how to use such websites for designers today, but we should.
But make sure that you set your hourly rate. If you are a beginner, you will be spending a lot of time completing a project, which should prompt you into setting your hourly rates. My hourly rate is 50. But I can say, my hourly rate is this and the project costs this amount of money, and the clients say what they say. I say, I need this money for this work. If I do it in three hours or five hours, that’s my business.
But the fact is that if I asked you to pay me 500 for the website, and you said no. And I said, okay, my hourly rate is $50 per hour. And I’m going to do this website for 35 hours. So you’re saying that you want to know how much the overall price will be right? It’s 500 bucks. So the hourly rate is not something that is working in one perspective.
The End Note….
Thanks Helen for sharing such valuable tips with our community. Your experience is amazing and the way you’ve shared with us, we’re very thankful for that. And, we hope that these crucial tips from Helen will help designers’ career as a freelancer to grow. If clients do not respond to your work proposal or do not pay adequately, then revisit your strategy and recreate the plan keeping these tips in mind.
Looking for more tips? Click the link below and download the presentation on how to choose the right project as a freelancer.
Get the Keynotes as a PDF:
Freelancers must explore all the earning opportunities fully that come their way. But due to their inexperience, the beginners make errors. Helen, the expert on freelancers’ issues, advises them to first prepare for working on your own by creating a professional portfolio, writing a cover letter and a detailed proposal, state your pricing and payment policy clearly, deal with reshaping situations and difficult clients efficiently, etc.