The 5 Rules to Mastering Full Time Freelancing No One Seems to Tell You

It’s one thing to start doing some freelancing in the summers or while you’re in school. It’s a phenomenal way to make extra cash and add to your resume and portfolio knowing every project will be relatively short-term and part-time.
But it’s another endeavor entirely to freelance full-time. To make a living juggling several creative briefs, varying projects, and clients that all think they’re the most important (aren’t they?).

Whether you’re on Upwork, Fiverr, 99 Designs, any other freelancing platform, or just cold emailing people that desperately need to know the latest web design trends, we know it’s tough to freelance full-time, especially when starting out.

So here are all the tips we could get from creatives, full-time freelancers, and our in-house experts that have been there before.

  1. Find out your productive hours and stick to them.
    • Everyone has phases of the day when they feel most awake, most creative, most ready to kick it into high-gear. Even if you think you’re not a morning person, try working 7 am – 11 am instead of in the afternoon a couple of times. You might find that you’re way more energized and stress-free because of how much you managed to do before noon, and this will open up your afternoon. Experiment, find the hours in which you’re most productive, and stick to those when working (at all, or at least for the more difficult projects).
    • This also extends to segmenting your projects. If you want to knock out the creative for a client in one sitting, you’ll know if you’re going to be burned out after, needing to let your brain rest by sticking to emails and creative briefs the rest of the day. This might work better for you compared to doing ⅕ of a client creative for 5 different clients in a day. If you haven’t noticed these habits and patterns of yours, it’s time to experiment and find them so you can optimize your hours. Work smarter, not harder.
  2. Control client communication.
    • Every client is your most important client. That’s what they think, and it’s what you want them to think. Even if you’re just designing cool logos for them and another of your clients is a 3-month full branding project and your chance to win a web design award. Because they want to be front and center, be transparent about your working methodologies right from the beginning.
    • For example, if they want to be getting the best from you (like they deserve, they think), they must accept that you don’t go back and forth via email after 7pm. Or if they give confusing feedback, you’ll require a call instead. Or, maybe you want to catch up on emails in the morning and then dig a hole and work for hours on end before coming back out to check more emails. Let them know this is how you do your best for them, and they won’t be disappointed (and you won’t be constantly stressed) later when they haven’t heard from you in a day.
  3. SET. A. STRICT. CONTRACT.
    • No matter what the project is, no matter whether it’s flat rate or hourly, 3 projects in 1, or just a one sheet sketch of your best logo ideas, set a contract with limits.
    • For example, for a website redesign, you may put together a contract that says “20 hours at $50/hour” and call it quits. OR, and trust me on this one, you could create a contract that says “Estimated 20 hours of work at $50/hour; this includes 5 hours of rework/iteration based on feedback; any massive changes in direction provided by the client will result in an updated contract; will not exceed 3 iteration rounds, will include responsive desktop and mobile designs + instructions on making small edits independently.”
    • If they have an issue with this, it’s an opportunity to help them make sure they hone their needs before having you start. If they want more — like constant design input and recommendations from you, consider having a $1000 flat rate contract with the option to add on hours at the hourly rate at the end, then provide which milestones will be met guaranteed before it rolls over into the hourly section.
    • Your client will try to bleed you dry. They will try to give you vague answers, want 6 iterations, and then be mad when the cost exceeds the estimate. Avoid this by setting a strict contract up front that includes how overtime or excessive iterations will be handled.
  4. If you’re not scraping the barrel for work (which we all do at some points, because money), know and stick to who you like to work with in terms of personality and topics.
    • Burnout is less about hours worked and more about how you feel and how tired your brain gets when working. If you hate the project or the person, you’re all the more likely to burn out, do subpar work, and put stress on other clients and other parts of your life. It’s a huge issue– but one you can proactively prevent by knowing what you’re passionate about.
    • Keep a list of who you’ve worked with that you like and STAY IN TOUCH. Over time, these people will change jobs, get promoted, and end up needing to hire a creative freelancer again. Where better to start than with the person who did a small project for them way back when that’s kept in touch with them over the years?
    • You can learn more here about how important passion is in a job, and more about burnout here.
  5. Don’t treat mass-applying to jobs as a tedious, time-consuming project in and of itself. Treat it as a game — what’s the smallest way in which you can change your copy & paste application/pitch in order for it to seem personalized.
    • You already know applying to 100 freelancing gigs means you’ll only hear back from 15, only be okay with test assignment terms or the initial communication (like learning more about the project) from 5, and then only land 1-2 of them. This doesn’t mean you’re not a capable freelancer, it’s just how the industry is. It’s competitive; that’s why you need to get good at copy/pasting a killer application, knowing which 1-3 sentences to shift, customizing them to the specific job.
    • Don’t ever lose a version of your pitch. After a day of applying, you’ll find you have a version for branding, a version for logos, a version for web design, maybe even a version for different industries, or versions based on if they wanted a casual application or a hyper-professional application. The more you save, the faster you can apply, the more jobs you’ll get, the more money you’ll make. Period.

The Digital Shortlist knows that the most creative, most talented people out there could very well be up to their necks in freelancing clients, trying to make a living doing what they love, managing school and side jobs and a life not made easy by going the traditional 9-5 corporate route. That’s why we as an Austin ad agency (Rock Candy Media) want to reward people not based on how many years of experience they have or how much money they can throw down in order to enter a contest. We give recognition based on creativity and talent alone. We want to see your logo inspiration, your best website design, your craziest creative no matter where you come from or how much you’ve got under your belt.

Show us what you’ve got… because you know what? Here’s Tip #6:

Let an earned award sell you, so you don’t have to sell yourself.

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