Design gets a breath of fresh air.
This is one of my red flags. If you are any sort of freelancer, you’ve probably run into it. A potential client comes to you with a small project, you send back a quote, and they seem shocked at the price. They say what they want is ‘easy’ and ‘quick’ and ‘will only take 5 minutes’ and so shouldn’t cost that much.
Aside from the fact that 99% of the time the project will actually take a good deal longer than 5 minutes, here’s the big, glaring problem with this:
If the client knows enough about how to accomplish the task in order to accurately know how much time it takes, and it really will only take 5 minutes, why aren’t they just doing it themselves?
If they know how to do it, and it only takes 5 minutes, they could’ve gotten it done in the time it took to email you. There would be no need to bring a 2nd party into the mix.
And if they don’t know how to do it, then they don’t really have any idea of how long it takes and are just looking for cheap labor.
I’ll give you a hint: it’s usually the 2nd one.
There are exceptions to this. Sometimes a client just genuinely doesn’t understand what’s involved and once you explain, things are gravy. Or if you’re in a partnership with someone in the same field as you, they simply might not have the file needed to get the job done.
But usually? Usually it’s someone who doesn’t value a freelancer’s time or expertise, and is just looking for the lowest price tag. And that’s not the kind of client I want to get involved with.
Have you gotten this line before? What are some of your red flags?
I have been 100% self-employed for over 8 years now. Freelancing as a graphic designer has been (and still is) my full-time job and main source of income. As any self-employed person can tell you, it can be a bit of a bumpy road. Especially if, like me, you never planned on freelancing and kind of fell into it. Not my recommended course of action, by the way. If you’re considering doing freelance work, do some research and make a plan before wading in. In that light, here are 5 rules that won’t steer you wrong as you venture into freelancing:
There are many perks to freelancing, but taxes are not one of them. You have no one automatically holding back part of your paycheck, and you get slapped with a self employment tax on top of that. In order to avoid a serious April 15th panic, you have to be the one set aside part of your paycheck. For me, this magic number has been 10%. Every single paycheck, 10% gets put into savings. At minimum. Since I’ve implemented this, making my estimated quarterly tax payments has been a breeze. If you have some sort of debt (student loans, car loan, credit cards, whatever) or are saving up for a big purchase, you can (should) do another 10% to that as well. That’s only 20% of your total paycheck, but it makes a difference. Believe me when I say that having the financial side of your business in order will make the creative side easier, as you won’t have to stress over it.
On hours you’re available to clients, on number of revisions included in the project fee, on cut-off dates for taking on work before a vacation. Do not try to be all things to all people at all hours. That way lies burnout and stress and just general misery. If you answer an email at 11pm, that client is going to always expect you to be available at 11pm. If you don’t specify number of revisions, you may find yourself at revision #13 when you only charged for three. And no one wants to spend the last day before vacation rushing to get client work done (that time is reserved for rushing to get packed, amiright?). Set limits from the get go, and train your clients to respect your time. You’ll breathe easier, get to have a life outside of work, and as a result your work itself will benefit. Win win.
Even with the most easy-going, reasonable client, there will likely come a point where they ask for something that would be a disaster if you executed it exactly as they’re requesting. Or they suddenly remember something that needs to be included that wasn’t discussed in the scope and you have to start back at square one after 10 hours of work. Or they completely ignored the detailed instructions you wrote out on how to update their website and it’s now broken and you have to drop everything and fix it. In other words, something frustrating or angry-making. The shoot-from-the-hip nature of email can make it tempting to hit reply right then. But don’t do it. Even if you’re making an effort to be restrained and polite, your annoyance will probably seep through. If possible, wait 10 minutes, or an hour, or until the next day. Then calmly address the issue, including any options going forward, changes in your project fee, or reasoning as to why it might be better to go a different direction. It’ll be better for everyone in the long run.
I’m not talking about the here’s-my-pitch-here’s-my-card kind of meeting people. Or at least, not just that kind of networking. Those can be a nightmare, particularly if you’re an introvert like me. But this day and age has plenty of other options for finding likeminded people. Get on Twitter and follow/interact with people in your area that are also freelancing, or do the kind of work you want to do. Join smaller meet-up groups of fellow freelancers, or fellow designers, or whatever niche you’re in. Find a group of people who understand what you do because they do it, too, and hang out with them. Whether it’s casual coffee or a more structured panel with a topic. This is great not just for gig-seeking or possible partnerships, but also venting about problems, bouncing ideas around, and just having someone who gets it. Because, let’s be honest, your mom will probably never understand why you freelance when you could have a steady paycheck.
So you’ve gotten your freelance business off the ground and have some regular clients and things are going well. Yay for you! Now don’t get too comfortable. The times are always changing, and that means new developments in how people in your niche do business. Even if you don’t learn how to do every new thing yourself, you need to be aware of them and adjust your work accordingly. For example, responsive web design is now a thing, because people like things to look as pretty on their phones as on their desktops. Do I know how to code responsive websites? Not from scratch. I can, however, take a WordPress theme that is already responsive and layer my design on top – but that requires knowing that responsive design is a thing, and picking out a template accordingly. Alternately, you might have clients repeatedly coming to you for something you don’t exactly do. If it’s something you’re genuinely interested in and could teach yourself, why not do that? You’ll keep the client with you instead of having to send your business elsewhere. I personally love Skillshare for all sorts of self-paced classes. I’m taking a class on hand-lettering right now, which will be awesome for logo design. Adding to your skillset for services people have been requesting is never a bad move.
So there you have it, my golden rules of freelancing. The first few were definitely learned the hard way, not gonna lie.
Fellow freelancers, do you have any rules you live by that you’d like to add?
Hey, yeah, look at that – I have a blog again. It’s been awhile since The AC Vent blog went dark on this site. I’ve been through 2 site redesigns and portfolio revamps since then. I’ve also learned a lot about blogging (how much time it takes, what kind of posts I want to write) from my personal blog. All in all, it seemed like time to bring this baby back. I’ve gone through old posts and decided what should stay and what should be consigned to the delete button. I also updated links & images so nothing’s broken in the archives.
My goal is to post once per week. I’ll be continuing the Decoding Design series, doing occasional client case studies, talking about freelance life/business, and sharing design inspiration. I may occasionally delve into color theory or type treatments. I hope to eventually share some self-initiated projects (read: not client work aka. design just for fun). That is the grand scheme. Hopefully I can deliver on it.
So. Welcome to the newly reborn AC Vent. Stay tuned tomorrow for the first real new post.
Have you ever brought an old blog back from the dead? What sparked your revamp?
Having covered color profiles and website lingo (catch the full series here), I will now move on to the wonderful world of print. If you’ve ever had to deal with getting something professionally printed, and are not yourself a printer or designer, you’ve probably been befuddled by terms like DPI, and possibly worried about mention of bleeds and stocks and crops. Not to worry; taking something to print is, usually, a painless and bloodless process if you’re properly prepared.
Dots Per Inch, or PPI: Pixels Per Inch. If you have ever heard the term ‘resolution’ in regards to image quality, this is what it meant. DPI refers to the dot density of an image when it is reproduced as a real physical entity, i.e. printed onto paper or displayed on a screen. In other words, dots per inch is literally a measurement of how many pixels or dots of ink fit in a line 1 inch long. This makes a difference, because generally the higher the DPI, the crisper and better-quality a printed image will be, and the larger you can print an image without losing quality or having it become pixelated. Standard resolution for online or web images is 72 DPI, wheras the minimum standard for printed images is 300 DPI. You can discover the resolution of an image by opening it in a program like Photoshop and bringing up the Image Size window (it will list DPI), or you can ask your designer if an image is of the required resolution for your project.
Have you ever printed something small out on a letter-sized piece of paper, but then when you went to cut it out the scissors couldn’t quite get close enough and you end up with that plain white paper smidgeon of a border around your piece? Well, bleeds and crops are the professional printing world’s way of eliminating that unsightly problem. Professional printers use large format printers, so unless your project is also pretty large, there will be some trimming to remove the excess plain paper and get your piece to it’s actual finished size. To eliminate the possibility of that excess white border, designers set up print pieces to include a bleed – generally 1/8″ to 1/2″ of extra color or picture information that extends beyond the edges of a piece. This bleed ensures that even if the trim line isn’t exactly perfect, you just have a continuation of your design instead of that annoying border of plain paper. A crop mark is a designation that tells a printer where the actual piece ends and the bleed begins – i.e. where they should crop/trim the paper at.
Traditional printing presses run pieces through the press one ink color at a time. This means something printed in CMYK (4-color process) runs through a press 4 different times, once for each color. Registration is the method printers use to make sure the paper (and hence the printed colors) line up correctly for each color run through the press. Printers place a special mark at the edge of the press sheet and use that for alignment.
In the printing world, stock refers to paper stock. Choosing a specific paper stock for your print project sounds like it would be as simple as saying ‘plain white paper’, but it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. Paper types vary greatly by material they’re made from, finish, weight, and color. Even with plain white paper, you have the options of a cool white, or warm white, or bright white; a matte finish or gloss finish or satin finish; vellum paper, recycled paper, fiber paper, textured paper; thin lightweight paper or thicker cardstock paper. The choices can be overwhelming, but choosing the right paper to print your piece on can really enhance the finished product. Your designer or your printer can look through paper sample books with you until you find one that you like.
What are some print terms that have baffled you? I’ll do my best to de-mystify them.
Possibly the best internet video ever, this little gem takes some of the lines that freelancers get all of the time, and puts them in other client/vendor situations to show just how ridiculous they are. Take a look:
What’s the craziest line you’ve ever gotten from a client?
She is an expert at interpreting the needs of the client, and produces imaginative and innovative designs. Amanda never misses a deadline and is very easy to work with no matter how large or small the project.
Leslie Archambault, Director of Development, ACGC
Amanda is very talented and knowledgable designer. Her work was always well done and in a timely manner
Katie Smith, online boutique owner
Amanda has been on top of our marketing, web, and design needs for over 7 years. She is a consummate professional who always completes our projects on time and within budget.
Joe Mount, Vice President of Operations, Tabernus
I love working with Amanda because she goes above and beyond to take care of all the little details involved with a large project. I don’t have to ask or worry about it – it’s just done, and done well.
Bob Miersma, publisher