What "freelance skills" do you wish you knew when first starting out?

over 6 years ago from , UX Designer. Writer & Publisher @ UXBeginner.com

The variety of non-design skills like contracts, proposals, and not to mention self-marketing to get clients all feel quite overwhelming for many of my friends and I when we first started freelancing.

Experienced design freelancers on DN - what do you wish you knew (earlier) when you first started freelancing?


  • Rob CornishRob Cornish, over 6 years ago

    Definitely business skills, how to negotiate, cash flow forecasting, how to cost things properly. I'm still learning today, its mainly growing and being confident in your ability.

    4 points
    • Oz Chen, over 6 years ago

      Thanks Rob. Did you just pick up that knowledge while on the job, or were there some go-to resources that you found useful? I find the costing bit pretty difficult.

      0 points
    • Todd SielingTodd Sieling, over 6 years ago

      I started to type pretty much this very response myself. These were the hardest things to learn, as well as the most rewarding (no pun, well maybe a small one). I don't thing it comes down to just experience or just learning from resources, but a feedback cycle of both. Experience shows you where you need work, you find resources to help with that, try to apply what you learn, and so it goes.

      Beyond thinking of resources as books, courses, etc, I think one of the best to draw from is other people who are a) in your situation and b) have moved past it. That combination is really ideal.

      0 points
  • Matt FeltenMatt Felten, over 6 years ago

    The most important thing I learned was how to sell my work, justify quotes, and receive proper feedback. All the communication parts. Prior to being self-employed I always had someone else doing that, either the CD or PM or some salesy person doing all the client liaisons. I could just put music on and "work" all day. Learning how to do that, on the fly, when my rent counts on it, took me a while to feel like I was doing an ok job at it. Being able to sell yourself confidently, collaborate, and steer conversations to get valuable feedback is insanely important.

    Also, working out of your living room every day makes your living room suck during non-work time...

    3 points
  • Seymour ButzSeymour Butz, over 6 years ago

    Like Rob, I wish I had known more about the business side of things. The the actual design part was easy, since that's what I already knew how to do. Even working alongside clients was fine since I had experience with it having worked at an agency before.

    But for the first bit that I was freelancing I was flying by the seat of my pants a little bit with everything else. Not having a great way to consistently track time (I was using a spreadsheet, which made it difficult to keep track of what time I had invoiced for and what I hadn't), not keeping track of invoices, not having a clear picture of my cash flow and business health, not automatically setting aside money for taxes, scheduling my time better so I wasn't constantly getting pulled in the direction of whatever the last email I received, etc.

    I figured it out along the way; as I'd see new issues pop up I'd figure out ways to automate them until eventually everything was running smoothly. It's great now, but for a while I was having to spend a lot of time and energy worrying about things that I didn't need to be.

    The catch-22 is that even if I had known the importance of those things ahead of time (some of them I probably already did, if you had asked me), I probably wouldn't have done some of them. Why worry about making sure my invoices automatically send every two weeks based on un-billed time when I'm still trying to figure out how to get clients? Still, if I had understood the importance of those things and the headaches they'd help avoid, I'd have been better about setting them up earlier in my freelance career.

    3 points
    • Oz Chen, over 6 years ago

      Wow thanks for the in-depth answer. Absolutely right on that last point... "just in time" learning makes a lot of sense. The #1 freelancing need is often getting clients - everything else follows. What made the most difference for you in terms of getting new clients, e.g. referrals, picking a niche, etc?

      0 points
      • Seymour ButzSeymour Butz, over 6 years ago

        I had a couple small clients from freelancing on the side before I went full-time, and lined up one big, long term client that I was connected to via a former job. Like many freelancers, a lot of my work comes from previous clients and referrals.

        Of new leads, I've been surprised to find that dribbble is my biggest source. I post relatively infrequently, but it seems to be enough. I try to only post shots of real projects, and to explain some of the thinking and decisions behind them, so it's more than just daily UI shots. I don't have a ton of followers, but I'm trying to attract clients, not visual designers, so it seems like it works out okay. I believe that a lot of clients find me by searching for designers in my city, my dribbble portfolio passes the sniff test, and they visit my website, which is ultimately what generates the lead.

        So, nothing super sexy in terms of getting new clients. I had a little bit of runway to start with my existing clients, and my network + dribbble / my portfolio have continued to bring in enough passive leads that I don't have to go searching for them.

        2 points