Random Lessons From A Freelancer

There are little things that I learn in this job almost every single day. Sometimes they're just handy bits of information or useful resources, other times they're real eye openers to things I've been doing wrong. I thought it might be useful to write some down in case anyone else can find some value in them.

On Rates

Every day I learn something new about what to charge clients and how to do it. In the last 12 months I think I've quadrupled my rates, which suggests that I was doing things really wrong to start with. Here's a handy benchmark: Take what you need to earn in a month to cover your expenses, double it, then divide by 10. Make sure your daily rate isn't any less than that number.

On Timing

I constantly, constantly underestimate how long things are going to take. It's so easy to estimate time for something but then fail to take into account that bugs will come up, clients will want revisions, and sometimes everything will go wrong. Nowadays I try to take every time estimate and double it, this tends to be much more reliable.

On Motivation

You can't control it, it comes and goes. If you aren't feeling motivated at all but you really need to get work done, I've found that the most helpful thing possible is to fully take your mind off everything for 15 minutes. How you do this will be different for everyone, personally I try to get outside of the house and, if possible, chat to someone else on the phone. In fact it was having a good chat to @Japh on the phone just now that gave me the inspiration burst to quickly type up this post.

On Productivity

Much like motivation, it's a hard one to control. I've tried cutting out all distractions and keeping everything (twitter/gtalk/msn/etc) "off" but it didn't make me any more productive, it just put me in a bad mood. I've found that my productivity goes in cycles, so these days I've just learned to run with them.

On Clients

Some clients are better than others, but all clients come with challenges. Learn to accept them, and for god's sake don't slag off your clients on Twitter. I see so many people doing it and it really boggles my mind. Some people are preaching to their clients about how great and transparent Twitter is, and then talking about them like they'll never read it. Madness.

On Marketing

Don't be shy, talk to everyone. I would've been out of business within a month if it wasn't for the fantastic network of peers that I've established. Make friends with people, because as has been said time and time again: It's not what you know, but who you know. If you've ever wondered why some mediocre web designers get tons of big clients and magazine features - here's your answer.

On Red Flags

If a potential client offers you revenue instead of money, talks a lot about "an ongoing relationship", tells you how bad their previous web designer was, or quibbles over payments or contracts... run a mile. Don't be blinded by the fact that it might be a lot of money - with this sort of client you'll probably never see a penny, as I discovered only too painfully myself.

On Developing Your Skills

Never stop learning, always make sure you're picking up something new, but try not to diversify too much. No one in the world is looking for a "graphic designer who can build adobe air applications and also has experience with Ruby on Rails" - it doesn't happen. I focus purely on design, front end development, and WordPress. Those three things complement each other and they serve me well.

On Goals

Set them, keep track of them, have a time limit, and review them. Try and make sure you're always working towards something - my idea of hell is working for the sake of working, and living for the sake of living. I don't want that, I want to do something with my life. That means never sitting still and just being content with something that's easy.

On Side Projects

Do them and have fun with them. My article about Moo'd Cards was just a random idea that I had one day and it ended up getting me a lot of traffic just because I blogged about it. If you have an idea that you think could work - go for it. Don't put it on the back-burner for later. Once you've done the first version, you're far more likely to come back to it in the future.

On Effort

Put 100% into everything. Half hearted attempts at anything will get you nowhere.

What About You?

These are just some of the things that I've picked up in the last year or so, but what about you? Got any tips to share? Let me know below in the comments!

Photo by hellosputnik

John O'Nolan

Founder at Ghost.org. Writes about open source, startup life, non-profits, and publishing platforms. Travels the world with a bag of kites.