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Avoid these common mistakes freelancers make.

To the uninitiated, running a design business sounds easy. You find clients, create designs for them, they pay you, repeat. Freelancers, however, know there is so much more to it than merely designing. And yet, even armed with that knowledge there are still several mistakes freelancers make when it comes to running their business.

1) Not using downtime productively 

One mistake freelancers make is not taking advantage of downtime. When things are slow, you should be using any spare time you have on something productive to advance your design business. 

Use downtime to:

  • Update your website
  • Attend networking events
  • Take a course/tutorial to learn a new skill
  • Experiment with your software

Use the time to grow your business and to make yourself a better designer. Just because you are not at a 9-5 job doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be putting in a full day worth of hours into your business.

2) Not building a team (copywriter, illustrator, VA)

In episode 77 of the Resourceful Designer podcast, I talked about the importance of assembling a team around your business. To serve your clients, you should align yourself with people who have skills you don't or are more suited to performing specific skills than you are.

Your team can consist of:

  • Copywriters
  • Illustrators
  • Programmers
  • Developers
  • Translators
  • Social Media Experts
  • Photographers
  • Virtual Assistants
  • more

I made a mistake when I first started my business in thinking I needed to do everything myself. If I couldn’t do it, then I didn’t take on the project. I missed out on some great jobs and clients because the projects they presented me with were beyond my ability.

Then I learned that it’s ok to ask for help. Since then I’ve expanded my circle to include many talented people that allow me to offer services I couldn't provide if I were doing everything myself.

3) Not taking advantage of extra income opportunities

The bulk of a designers income should come from client design work. But many peripherals can earn you money as well. Things like:

  • Print brokering
  • Web hosting/maintenance
  • Selling design resources (Photoshop/Illustrator brushes, patterns, fonts, other design resources)
  • Merchandising (T-shirts, posters, etc.)
  • more

You’re a creative person. Put that creativity to work by looking around and finding innovative ways to supplement your income.

4) Not spending time working on your outreach when you're busy.

There are hills and valleys when it comes to running a design business. Some weeks you have barely anything to do, while other weeks you can’t believe how much work you have. To minimise this up, down, up, down effect you need to figure out how to fill in those valleys. 

The problem is, most people wait until things start to get slow before trying to drum up new work. But the time to promote yourself is when you’re busy. When you're at the top of a “hill”. If you do it right, you’ll drum up work while you’re busy that will fill in those valleys and even out the terrain for you, creating a much more balanced working life.

5) Not saving money

As a home-based designer, you probably don’t have a steady paycheque. Nor do you have any guarantees of how or when money will come in. If you do a good job on point number 4 and work on your outreach when you're busy you’ll minimise those slow times when money isn’t coming in, but that’s not a guarantee of income.

That’s why you should be putting aside a fixed percentage of all your income for those “just in case” or “What if” situation. You should be saving for those unexpected times when a “valley” stretches out longer than expected.

Start putting money aside for:

  • Slow Periods
  • Emergencies
  • Unexpected expenses
  • Known expenses (taxes, licences, etc.)
  • Time off (vacation, medical, etc.)
  • Retirement

There will come a time some day when you decide to stop, or you’re forced to stop working and then how will you provide for yourself?

6) Calling themselves Freelancer  

Long time listeners of the Resourceful Designer podcast know that I don't like the term Freelancer. Back in episode 17, I shared a story of a designer I know who missed out on a  job opportunity because she called herself a freelancer. The potential employer told me he was looking for someone who took the job more seriously than that.

He’s not alone. People often associate the term freelancer with temporary or in transition designers. Designers who are willing to work with you until something better comes along. You and I know that’s not the case. But that’s how many people in the business world, people who are your potential clients think about freelancers.

Consider this before deciding what to call yourself. A freelancer is a designer looking for a boss. If you imagine yourself working FOR your clients, then feel free to call yourself a freelancer. However, if you imagine yourself working WITH your clients, partnering with them to solve their design problems, then you are not a freelancer, you are a designer who runs your own design business. Don't sell yourself short.

Avoid these mistakes freelancers make

You already have enough on your plate. There's no need to cause yourself more stress. If you avoid these common mistakes freelancers make, and you'll be on your way to having a successful and fulfilling design business.

Are you guilty of making any of these mistakes?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Chris

Do you have any advice for those who are starting a business focused on 3D? Have you done much work with 3D artists? Do you know of any niches that a 3D graphic designer might pursue?

To find out what I told Chris you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Link to the article I mentioned in my answer.

Resource of the week iThemes

iThemes makes some of my favourite WordPress plugins and add-ons. Including BackupBuddy for managing site migration and backups. iThemes Security for keeping nefarious individuals out of your website. And iThemes Sync for managing multiple WordPress websites from one easy dashboard.

Until the end of 2018 iThemes is offering 40% off all of their products. Here's my affiliate link if you plan on purchasing.

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I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

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