How to make more money as a freelance designer

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I love to do design work. I always have. But let’s be honest–I also have bills to pay. Chances are, so do you. But many times as freelance designers we fail to take advantage of the small opportunities to make a little more money. We undervalue our potential and cheat ourselves out of what we possibly deserve as high-quality service providers.

Granted, you may not feel like your design is up-to-par enough to take advantage of each suggestion mentioned here, but hopefully you can benefit from at least one tip mentioned below. After reading through, be sure to let us know what you think as well.

Make yourself more valuable

The first key to making more money as a freelance designer is obvious: make yourself more valuable as a designer. How? There are many ways to achieve this key tactic. Here are a few ideas:

  • Go back to school or take classes at a local college, university, or design workshop.
  • Practice, practice, practice. More experience means you can charge more and get the project done in less time.
  • Specialize in something (covered later in this post)
  • Broaden your skill set (covered later in this post)
  • What else would you add?

Be meticulous in your time-tracking

I’m no math wizard but hear me out: If you work 6 days a week as a freelance designer and fail to document just one half hour of work each day, by the end of the week, you have shorted yourself 3 hours worth of payment. Let’s just assume for a minute that you get paid $20 USD an hour for your freelance design work on average.

This translates into nearly $250 USD a month! Small tasks  that you document well can add up to big rewards each month. Don’t charge your client for work you don’t do, but make sure you get paid for the work you do accomplish.

Treat freelancing like a business

Treat your freelancing opportunities like a business because they are! This means you need to not only be a good designer but you need to be a good project manager, accountant, sales person, secretary, and more. You need to treat your clients like quality customers and be professional in every aspect of your freelancing career. Your should set goals, track progress, and do your best to progress.

Charge per project -or- Charge more per hour

Learning how much you should charge per hour can be a very difficult thing to do when you first start freelancing. The standard rule of thumb is to decide how much you think you are worth per hour, estimate on approximate man-hours that will be needed for any particular project, and then offer per-project rates. This means you potentially could get paid more per project if you finish them in a timely manner. You also run the risk, however, of going over the estimated time and losing money. If the risk seems to much for you right now, maybe you should consider raising your hourly rates. But remember, you need to produce work that matches the rate you demand (see tip #1).

Verify your rates

Keep in mind when you are changing your rates (as per the tip above) that you compare your rates with others in your market. If you do mainly local work, verify that your costs are comparable to others who offer the same level quality of work. If you are working world-wide via the internet, make sure you check with a few other designers and see what their methodology to pricing is. If you would like to connect with some great freelance designers, checkout my twitter profile (@prestondlee). I have connected with some great people there.

Offer products not just services

How many times can you sell a custom-built web site? Once. How many times can you sell an e-book? Infinite number of times. I am not suggesting that your freelance design career should be made entirely of the selling of individual items, but it might not be a bad idea to create something that can be sold over and over again. You could, for example, create and sell any of the following:

  • Online e-books
  • Stock Photography
  • Stock vector graphics
  • Premium WordPress themes
  • Premium Design Tutorials
  • iPhone apps or other applications
  • Online How-To guides
  • What other items come to mind? Please share.

Always remember when selling items to the public that they are high-quality, valuable items. Invest the time in creating something that people will be willing to pay a little money for.

Specialize in something

Last but not least, you should specialize in something. This means you should either focus on a particular kind of client, project, style, target audience, etc. Work hard to be the best in your niche and you can then charge more for the work that you produce. (By the way, a prediction was made in 1998 that designers would have to specialize in order to stay afloat and be successful. Check out all the 1998 design predictions here.)

What else is there?

These are just a few ideas that I have had that have worked well for me. What other options can you share to help us all?

About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

Comments

  1. One of the things start up free lancers forget to do is consider all the phone/conference time spent with a client. I always add 10% to any bid to cover my time there, though some clients eat up a lot more than their share, lol.

    And never forget those soft costs, like higher electric bills etc. that will be the result of working at home.

    Don’t forget that as a full time free lancer you have to cover your own health insurance and you pay half again as much in SDIC!

  2. Good advice. Freelancing is a tough business if you aren’t prepared for it.

  3. Personally I agree with Mark. Freelancing is just another term of starting new garage business. You’ll have to move to larger environment someday. Put LLC on your name and such. More stress factors than imagined before.

  4. There are advantages and disadvantages, as there are with most things. I think the main disadvantage that PopArtDiva pointed out, is not having benefits/health insurance! Working for an agency and having those benefits is a major plus….but without benefits, it means more money out of your pocket!

    Also, as a freelancer designer/web developer (unless your’re providing hosting as well) you are getting paid one time only, per hour “per project.” Once the project is done, you have to bust your butt to get more work. In this economy, that is a tough job to get more clients.

    I wouldn’t suggest freelancing full time. Have a full-time steady job (where you get paid every week, or other week) and then do freelance on the weekends, or whenever. That would be my suggestion!

  5. I have been a freelancer off and on for 10 years now…I have concluded that the freedom of being able to work in your own environment has it’s pros. However, having a solid paycheck is a definite destresser.
    when there are slow months, there’s nothing you can do other than go into a “survival mode” and work your ass off to be noticed. like spending on a network affiliation group and leave the house to meet people. Go to events that interest you and don’t be affraid to introduce yourself around the room. Don’t ever let yourself be out of work! create self made projects that you are interested in and post them for sale. Diversify…meaning create a product and sell it! Like clothing, stuff that can hold your graphics. Create a website that has a shopping cart full of goodies that you love and try to market it as an experiment…there’s a whole lot of fun to be had out there creating new possibilities as a graphic designer working from home. :)

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