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What questions do people have about freelancing / small design business operation? I’ll spill the secrets :)
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Amer Mall's profile photoBrian Hoff's profile photoDaniel Maul's profile photoBretton MacLean's profile photo
63 comments
 
 How did you get your first paying customers going it alone?
 
I'm curious on how folks are able to get a consistent amount of work coming in, while scheduling it far enough in advance so you know what to expect in the near future and have some security.
 
How much client turnover do you have in an average year?
 
How many concurrent projects do you typically have on the go? Have you ever tried a one-at-a-time approach?
 
How do I extend the hours in the day? or days in a week?? I find it so difficult to juggle website work for clients and my coursework (and spend time with my boy).
 
Where to start?

And how to get the first customers?

And also how to keep it running?

:-)
 
The big question (that I often get asked) with freelancing is how much to charge for a particular project. Is there a difference in charging between skill vs time? 
 
Having trouble finding clients at the moment, what are your favourite methods?
 
Where to start?

And how to get the first customers?

And also how to keep it running?
 
What's the most effective way of promoting yourself?
 
How much discovery/scoping of the project do you do before providing a client with an estimate?
 
How to get clients who understand design and aren’t art directing for you?
 
How do i define my target market? Considering the skills i have in this regard?
 
Advice on natural progression once you hit the 4/5 man studio mark with a line of decent clients and revenue. all the advice exists to get you to that point or a successful freelancer. but not much info after that on the options, I have a good idea but seeing other cases would help. (besides the keep doing what you'e doing comments) 
 
is it better to bill per project or per hour? how in the world do you decide what to charge?
 
What have you learned about working with clients who also want to be the art director on a project?
 
What is the right way to approach arguing with a client regarding design choices/decisions? We all know that we should be arguing about what is right for the project, not just what we want, but what type of language, reasoning, and rhetoric do you use to try and convince the client. What do you do if/when you are overruled and "have" to do something that you don't think is right for the project?

Also, can you share what you know about taxes and freelance work. There has been a lot of great stuff from various people like Mike Montiero from Mule, but we don't have much info on freelance best-practices when it comes to taxes. Additionally, how do you account for taxes when creating an estimate? Do you add it on top, as a line item, etc.?

Thanks so much! Love your work and your blog!
 
Be very intersted to know how you construct your project terms/agreements—no. revisions, warranty, payment terms etc. Thanks!
 
How to look for clients and advertise your business?
 
How do you land your first few clients without selling yourself short? 
 
Brian-
My question was kind of touched on, but is a bit more specific. How often do you send out self-promos (mail, email, etc.)? And who do you send them to?
Thank you!
 
Many of you asked a similiar question of "how / where do you get work" so here it goes:

Honestly, without sounding like a complete dick, since I started freelancing 100% of my work came to me. A couple of reasons can account to this:

First and foremost, do good work. I'm by no means saying you have to be, or that I am, a "rockstar designer" but having solid fundamentals is so very important. While the community gets wow'd by the textures and glows, good clients like timeless work. This is where having strong fundamentals comes into play. Fuck the shine and focus more of your efforts on the architecture or typography of the site. Focus more efforts on the full picture and less on the minuet details. Good work gets noticed.

Knowledge is power. Sharing it is even more powerful. Blogging and Twitter are great for these two things. Start a blog. Educate your peers and clients. Your peers will appreciate it and spread the kind word and your clients will appreciate the transparency. 

Attend events. Network. Make friends. Just start talking to people. And preferable people better, more talented, more knowledgeable than yourselves. My developer Adam was a client of mine before becoming a true asset to my company. We talked, became friends and started doing great work together. The best thing about our industry is how helpful everyone is. Designers aren't typically ones to keep secrets and informations. Leave that to the B2B industries :) Usually a great source of work can be found through friends and your network.

In all honesty, this is a really tough question to answer, because I'm sure everyone will have a varied response to this. The above is what worked for me and what I can take away from the last 4 years of business. 

 
 
What +Daniel Rowe and +Jeff Talley asked about receiving feedback on designs. In other words, how do you help a client give constructive feedback rather than slipping into critique.
 
+Nate Tharp Business has grown the past three years for me, but this year around six. Last year, it was around 20. The higher the budgets, the more time I'm able to invest in their project.
 
+Bretton MacLean It really depends on the clients budget. From a business standpoint, I need 'x' amount to pay off business dues, the gov't, personal salary and have some savings. If one project can do that each month(s), then yes, one project it is.
 
+Mike Munro Structure is important. Large companies have project managers for a reason. Setting a business / personal life structure and sticking to it is important.
 
+Christopherr Mendoza First off, forget about time. Time is some made up number. Clients want to know upfront, how much something is going to cost. And let's face it, there' no way to determine exactly how much time a website takes to create. It's impossible. Assessing and pricing by "skill" is also a difficult task. Honestly, there are so many factors that go into pricing that's why its not so cut and dry. For example, let's say your skill level is the same as last year, but the only difference is that you are denying more work because you are extremely busy and continuously keep getting new work and booking far in advance. Do you keep the same rates even though your "skills" are the same? If you run a smart business, the answer is no. You up your rates to meet supply and demand. See, it's tricky. The one thing I promise you is that the more you do it and the longer you're in the field the easier it gets. But still, I'm still uncertain if I'm undercharging or over charing my work :) I do know however, that I live a happy life and able to provide my family with all the things they need to be happy.
 
+Janine Toro If they understood design, they wouldn't be hiring you. I've found that being vary blunt and at times a polite asshole will prevent them from taking over a project. Knowledge and confidence is the key to keeping a project in check.
 
+mike masinga Defining your target is finding what you're truly passionate in. Personally, 98% of my clients are in the digital realm, possibly because I'm a web nut myself :)
 
Thanks for advice Mr. Hoff. I doubt I will work in a large company to be honest, I have health issues, big employers don't like. I am hoping to start up myself in Spring next year, should I finish my course.
 
Ok, taking a breather for now. Will be back to answer the remaining questions. :)
 
+Jeff Talley Regarding your tax questions, without a doubt you need an accountant. I work with +Jason Blumer and these days works mostly with folks in our creative realm. Personally, I do not work taxes directly into my quotes, however I do think about them in terms of bottle line. 
 
As of last year, my Agreements were based on AIGA's Terms & Conditions ( http://www.aiga.org/standard-agreement/ ) which is an excellent starting point to which you can cater to your own business. Recently, I've had a law firm craft a more specific Agreement based on where my business currently stands and where it's going. Mo money mo problems, so you need to protect yourself more throughly as business grows :)

In terms of number of revisions, I don't operate my business in that way. Not that it's wrong. Just the way I operate. Once the project goals are set, I'll put together a milestone checklist for each phase of the project, which I work hard to meet each milestone. I work in feedback changes and revisions into the timeframe of each milestone, but don't set an exact number. If the milestone is not reached, it's typically because of the clients doing. Therefore they know where they stand on launch dates being missed and additional costs being accounted for.
 
+Joe Nicklo I've answered the question above regarding landing clients, however, I'm glad you mentioned "without selling yourself short." For quite sometime, I paid my dues per say. Sometimes selling yourself short, is not actually selling yourself short. In earlier days, I'd spend a few extra days / weeks perfecting work beyond the budget just to build up a better portfolio. This in turn brought in better and more work in the future.
 
+Phalen Elonich Personally, I do zero advertising – well in the traditional sense anyways. By engaging the community (just like I'm doing now) is my terms of advertising. This is by no means the only way, but it's the way I'm familiar and successful with, otherwise I'd share all the secrets :) Maybe others have more input?
 
+Brendan Falkowski You need to be a good arguer and having knowledge that backs up your decisions is key. But before all that having the confidence in your voice is even more important. Leave feelings at the door and be blatantly direct – but you sure as hell better have a good argument. :) Everyone likes choice, so many times a client just wants to hear or see multiple options. They want to know if you thought through them. 
 
+Lenny Terenzi No matter how big or small a design company is, everyone will tell you they take projects on that pay the bills and project that pay in smiles. Balance is key. If the projects that don't fully excite you are rare, pet projects are a great way to put something honest in the web.
 
+Brendan Falkowski Also, repositioning questions help. Instead of "what do you think" ask "how do you think you're users would react?"
 
I actually left you a question in the messeges section about research; when and how much it's used during the design process..
 
+Robert Angle It's really a matter of budget and the main reason I ask clients for budgets. Technically I can design a website for $10 or the same site for $100k. The main difference is the amount of time I can allocate to various stages of a site's process. Larger budgets = more time for research. Smaller = less.
 
+Sandeep Prabhakaran Dribbble has been an excellent source of income and would say around 40% of my work these days come through Dribbble. On an average month, I'd say we pass up on around 15–20 inquires for a number of reasons. Not the right fit. Budges are too small. Timeframe doesn't match our workload. etc.
 
Thank you Brain for taking time to do this. I have question about taxes. I live in an area, where I am doing a lot of driving. Currently, I just keep track of miles and put them on a Schedule C. If I put a business logo on my car, can I expense the Car in a different manner?

thanks
 
Can you just freelance when you are a new graduate? Or is it better to start working in a company first?
 
How do you balance what the client wants and the great work you try and strive for when those two things seem at odds?
 
Was just about to ask Ross Novers question, really interested in the best way to deal with it
 
What's the best advice you can give to someone starting out in regards to finding work and/or networking to find work?
 
Do you have any goals for increasing your business, or a business plan?
 
any tips of finding new customers/advertising?
 
+Amer Mall In my opinion, anything tax related should be handled by a professional. That's where my CPA +Jason Blumer comes in. :)
 
+Ghada Sleiman Honestly, it really depends on the type of person you are. Sort of like formal education vs. being self-taught. Some people need and like the structure of a formal education, where others have enough passion, curiosity and drive to learn it themselves. Working in-house you'll get to learn the ropes, but their are many ropes to be learned and more than one way to skin a cat :)
 
+Ross Nover +Steve McKinney My blog has always served as a nice go to explanation of many things for my clients. I often refer them to specific articles when we are at odds with decisions. Many of my blog posts stemmed from client engagements which helps as well. Validation of your decisions is key. Telling them to keep personal preferences out of the picture and focus on the users / visitors need is what's most important. 
 
+Deb Dulin I'm in constant tug-of-war with those thoughts. My business has grown into two others in the past two years, however I'm not sure if I'd like to grow into a vary large studio. I like the attention I can give to my clients and the project and paves the way for more successful outcomes. At the same time, the work is there to grow and is hard passing up on more opportunity. Ugh! :)
 
Curious if you know of any way I can send a digital logo concept to a client without them being able to download the graphic.
 
+Stacey Lane I typically just send small, low res images as comps to clients. Not much they can do with a 200 x 200 png of a logo :)
 
Yeah that's kind of what I was thinking but the logo was for a website so I was skeptical to send them any sort of image they could pinch and throw up on their site. Thanks :)
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