6 Ideas That Will Change Your Freelance Career


If you’ve been paying attention, I’ve been doing a little soul-searching lately. I’m firmly two years out of school and I’ve done what I could to continue to educate myself, stay active in the design community, participate and attend conferences and yet I’m restless. Over the past 12 months, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about myself as well as my industry and have sought that perfect life/work balance that would keep me both sane and creatively stimulated. I came to realize that some wonderful people have taken it upon themselves to share the secrets behind their happiness and success and these are some of the pieces of advice that have really stuck with me:

1) Know the difference between a job, a career, and a calling.

She said, “Ask yourself ‘what do you burn for? What calls to you? What must you do?’ That is your calling. Everything else is just a job”.

I first heard this (paraphrased) from the eloquent Elle Luna at the Moxie Conference back in April and when she said it, it was like a light turned on somewhere and a heaviness that I had been feeling suddenly disappeared. I had been so disgruntled lately, feeling trapped in my full-time contractor position for a corporate retail client. They were offering full-time and I was on the fence about it, unsure if I should trade my freedom for stability .When Elle said those words, I realized that there was a reason why I had been feeling so terrible lately: this wasn’t my career, and it was most definitely NOT my calling. It made me feel better, knowing that it was just temporary, another stepping stone toward the thing that keeps me up at night: my dream, my calling, my “have to do”.

Elle is an inspiration. She’s so poetic. I visit her blog often just to read her stories and poems. There’s no question that she has the artists soul. I hope one day, I’ll be able to see the world as she does. Please, do visit her blog.

2) Choose A Value-Based Pricing Model

I just read another great article from Ilise Benun, who is quickly becoming my informal mentor to follow for great tips on how be successful as a freelancer (I say informal because I have yet to take her up on that FREE half hour mentor session that she offers to everyone. I’m just not ready yet but I will be!). This article was about Value-Based Pricing, which was a term I had heard before from a skillshare class by Brennan Dunn. The basic idea is to get your client to see as the service you provide and the end product as an investment, rather than an expense. I strongly urge you to read Ilise’s article. She will explain it better than I could. What this did for me, was give me a dialog with my clients that I didn’t have before. All of my clients that find me are one-man operations. It’s a person with an idea or a product and THAT’S IT. They never thought about their business plan, don’t have a budget, and therefore want inexpensive solutions to get them going and quick. Sound familiar? Now instead of them shying away from my flat rates, opting for crowd sourcing sites, I can approach it in terms that will take ME out of the equation. It’s not about what I charge, It’s about what they hope to gain out of it and basing my price on that. You should definitely read Ilise’s article for yourself and take Brennan’s class. I highly suggest you drop trying to charge hourly, because I can tell you, it will only end in clients trying to micro manage your time, or accepting work they aren’t really happy with just to save themselves some money.

3) “Be a Curator” and “Do less”

I just finished reading a book called “Rework” by the very smart people at 37 Signals. The book is a no-nonsense approach to starting and maintaining a small business, best work practices, working with others, and other incredibly helpful tips that save you time and headache.

The chapter “Be A Curator” talks about how sometimes it’s what you don’t show that is more important than what you do. Learn to edit yourself and your work. Challenge your client’s need to have every bit of information on the homepage and KEEP. IT. CLEAN.  Following this chapter he says to do less:

“When things aren’t working, the natural inclination is to throw more at the problem. More people, time, and money. All that ends up doing is making the problem bigger. The right way to go is the opposite direction: cut back. 

This is so vital. I think I will print that out and put it up somewhere for all to see. It’s so easy to want more, when sometimes less IS more: More value. Go buy re-work right now! It’s a quick and easy read and a MUST for the bookshelf. (review to come).

4) Do it for passion, not for pay.

I recently watched Neil Gaiman give a graduation speech on upworthy.com. He spoke about all the things he had wished he knew starting out and some of the best advice he had ever been given and never took. A lot of what he said resonated with me, having learned so much of this on my own. When you’re in school sitting in class listening to what it will be like in the industry, they never tell you about all the lessons you’ll have to learn and all the internal struggles you’ll over come. They tell you how to use the programs, how to do the work but not how to decide if the work is worth it, which Neil speaks about:

“Nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money was ever worth it, except for bitter experience… The things I did because I was excited and wanted to see exist in reality never let me down…”

Watch the whole speech (~20:00)

5) Make Use of your Bi-Products

This is also something that came out of “re-work” but most recently I read it through Red Lemon Club’s 50 Fresh Self Promotion Tips. The idea is that if you’re making something, or providing a service, there’s always something else you can do to leverage that (a bi-product). A great example of this is how A Beautiful Mess owners Elsie and Emma used their own photography that they had been creating for their blog posts and turned it into an inspiration book.

6) Weigh Your Client Pain Before Saying “Yes”

When I was at the Creative Freelancer Conference back in June, I heard a lot of great advice from many successful business owners. One that stood out from the rest for me was Erin Pheil’s concept of “client pain”. She said that client pain is:

…that frustration, worry, concern, fear, and stress that comes with having a design problem and “the desire to be free or reduce the pain is the reason [the client] comes to us”.


When Erin said this, I reflected back on all my freelance trial and errors and realized that most of those clients didn’t have any client pain. They had a side project that they wanted to “see where it goes”, but no external forces to really light a fire under their butt and make it a priority. Since then I have looked for the red flags and asked probing questions to try to get to the root of the problem and see if it’s painful enough for a client to really be motivated to really invest the time and money that it would take to solve it. For more information on client pain, visit Erin’s website and sign up for her newsletter.

  • 6 Ideas That Will Change Your Freelance Career http://t.co/KWCxQY84o2

    2 September, 2013 at 4:24 pm
  • Some amazing professional advice from @MMToolbox @elleluna @37signals @neilhimself @timeforcake @redlemonclub >> http://t.co/pfNe69zmBQ

    3 September, 2013 at 7:43 am
  • @lorettamay So happy to see you already applying this to your business! // @MMToolbox @elleluna @37signals @neilhimself @redlemonclub

    3 September, 2013 at 10:25 am
  • These are great points.

    Just to add my two cents. For #1, in order to do your “calling” you still need to be able to pay the bills and sometimes your calling and your job don’t line up. Sometimes you need your “job” to get experience to move on to your career or your calling or sometimes you need a job just to survive.

    For me personally, I’m at a job and this gives me freedom to pursue other interests and passions I have on my free time that I hope to use to make extra income. Having a full time job does have certain pro’s that Elle is neglecting. Doing freelance full time may or may not allow me this freedom.

    3 September, 2013 at 2:41 pm
      • That’s true. You don’t want to be stuck at a job that’s not helping you grow. I’m sorry you have to take work home with you. I’ve had to do that on very rare occasions and give up my weekends.

        I think for me, I’m in a situation where I feel I’m stuck. Long story short, my parents are divorced and I’m helping my mom out financially. It’s difficult for me to just quit my job and hope for the best. I also feel like my portfolio and website need to be redesigned before applying for work. I’m currently redoing some past work because I know I can do a better job.

        I’m not gonna say I haven’t grown since I started working because I have learned a lot but I feel I’ve grown a lot on my own as well in just educating myself in design since I didn’t major in that in college.

        It’s also a shitty economy so taking a leap of faith is lot riskier since there are less opportunities than before plus you have to know a million other things to get a job sometimes as a designer.

        i’m sure those people at the conference are now successful by taking that leap of faith but I’m sure there are those that didn’t. Of course, they won’t bring those people in to speak.

        I don’t mean to be so negative but I guess a part of me is a bit insecure and scared to take that leap of faith. I guess I’m not confident enough or have the guts to do that at the moment.

        3 September, 2013 at 8:44 pm
  • @LorettaMay Wonderfully written. Keep going and good luck!

    @MMToolbox @37signals @neilhimself @timeforcake @redlemonclub

    5 September, 2013 at 11:13 am