How to Be a Happy Freelance Designer
If you have been designing websites for very long you know the ups and downs of the business. This is especially true if you are working as a freelance designer and making all the top-level decisions in your business. If you are considering going into the web design field, this article will be of special interest to you. It may help you decide whether this field is "right" for you. At the very least it will give you a real-life perspective from a well-established designer.
Since 1994 I have been freelance designing website templates and web sites for clients. I love my job. I do. Really. In this day and age not many people can truly say that or so it seems. It beats my old job working sometimes 12 hour a days for over 20 years, pushing a pencil in the black and white, boring world of corporate management. I work when my customers want me to but do so in my T-shirt and flip-flops from my home office, if I feel like it. I can also take a break when I wish, take a weekday off (doesn’t happen all too often, mind you) and I can mow the grass in between design projects.
There are down sides to what I do, however. Did you pick up on the comment I made in the paragraph above? I said that I work when my customers want me to. I say that not out of sarcasm but out of truth. One of the most important aspects of freelance designing is being available when your customers need you and providing quality customer tech support when something comes up. If you cannot provide quality service after the sale, freelance web design is likely not the field for you. I say this to save yourself (and your customers) time, money, and frustration. If you can provide quality support service, you need a plan on how you can provide it without making your job your life. After all, one of the benefits of owning your own business is being your own boss. Or so they say, right? That’s not completely true because your customers are now your bosses. You still have to maintain some form of consistency, regular hours and be available to them, within reason of course. A plan on how to offer support during your "off time" is essential so that it doesn’t develop into consuming your personal time. A balance is essential to anyone’s happiness regardless of his or her chosen career.
Is This Career Choice Right for You?
The most important way to be sure that you are a happy web design freelancer is to be certain it is the right field for you. This is the case with any career you might choose. Look around for a moment. Watch the people you encounter every day. Do they seem genuinely happy to you? If so, what do they do for a living, and do they like their job? Most happy people have a well-balance life and literally love and enjoy their jobs.
How Creative Are You?
Another very important characteristic to ensure happiness in the web design arena is a vivid imagination and unlimited creative ideas "of your own". I say "of your own" because leaching off of other people’s ideas will put you into a continual whirlpool, designer block. By this I mean three things. First, you will constantly feel like you are being left behind and have to keep up with what other designers are doing just to try to stay ahead. This will create panic, fear, disorganization and even paranoia that you may not be able to keep up or your competitors are catching up with you. Second, it does not allow you to be creative and develop your own style. You are too busy watching and snatching other people’s design ideas and what little bit of designing you do accomplish will become a hodge-podge of other people’s creative thoughts. Your designs won’t seem to "fit" together, and they will look somewhat odd to others who see them as well. Third, you will spend so much time researching what others are doing that you won’t even have the time to develop the ideas you found. Again, creating an overwhelming feeling of "I just can’t keep up."
Do You Hate Reading Boring Computer Textbooks?
A third must-have personal characteristic is the sincere desire to learn. Web design technology, software, etc. changes constantly. If you hate reading and following tutorials, refuse to open a computer textbook, dislike upgrading your software, or think you know it all, you might want to consider another career. I can assure you that in order to stay with the web design field, you need a sincere desire to learn as much as you can – constantly. If you think you know it all and don’t need to learn anymore quit your job now! 😉 You will never know it all and that mindset will surely cause your business to fail. Real web designers crave education and are truly excited about learning something new to its most thorough depths.
Be Fair and Courteous – Always
Fourth but certainly not any less important, be fair in your pricing and the way you conduct your business. Sticking it to someone no matter how nasty they may have been to you WILL come back and bite your ars. Trust me. The old silly cliche’ "what goes around comes around" is true, and you will feel silly when you find out this truth first hand. What you put out will come back to you sometime, somewhere and somehow regardless of how justified you think your actions may have been.
Realistic pricing is a must with any product or service. Pricing your service too high because that is what everyone else is doing, will bite you in the long run. The customers whom you overcharged will eventually find out they could get it elsewhere at half the price, or if they do a little research and figure out how to do it on their own, they will find out it only took you five minutes and you charged them $50. That’s simply not nice and not a creditable business tactic. Your customers are your assets and you should treat them as part of an essential part of your company – because they are. This is not to say that you should give away the farm to your customers because they asked for it. Within reason there is always a fair, happy medium to any problem provided all parties involved have the emotional intelligence to negotiate a fair outcome.
Believe it or not, it is less costly and less time consuming to service return customers than it is to find new customers. There is a horrible myth among new business owners that once you make the sale, it doesn’t matter anymore, because there are tons of new customers out there that you can find. If you service your customers well, it costs you little to nothing in money and time to get their return business. If you depend solely on finding new customers, you will spend far too much money and time trying to find them. Trust me.
Don’t Expect to Get Rich – You Won’t!
There is a common misconception that doing web design will make you tons of money fast and make you a rich (wo)man. LOL. Nothing could be farther than the truth. Oh there are many people who are in the field who think so, and that is why so many web designers don’t stay in the field long. If by chance this myth exists on your list of reason(s) for going into the web design business, you will be one very unhappy freelance designer. You won’t get rich. I personally know and have met many thousands of web designers over the years and NOT ONE is rich by any means. And yes, some are happy and some are unhappy. Those that are unhappy … well … read on.
How Can You Spot an Unhappy Freelance Web Designer?
If you read the article above and have some margin of creativity tucked away in the right-side of the brain, I think you know the answers already without me telling you. But here you go:
Unhappy web designers do not provide quality service after the sale because they feel they can get new customers easier elsewhere. They copy what other designers do, because they likely possess very little creativity of their own. This creates disorganization of their thoughts and design, thus causing them to feel stressed, too busy to enjoy their personal life, and paranoid that their competition is beating at their backdoor. When they get stressed and overwhelmed, they don’t have time or the desire to learn the latest technologies and their emotional intelligence drops dramatically making interaction with them like negotiating with a walking time bomb. Some even resort to unfair, nasty attack measures on their competitors, because their decreased level of rational thought and insecurity tells them that if they can’t be like them, try to eliminate them. Most likely they started their business not because of a shear desire to create the ideas popping into their own right-brain hemisphere and provide a quality service, but because they "thought" they were going to make lots of money. Their fantasy backfired, so they are mad at the world and struggle to resort to underhanded business tactics just to try to get an edge. It shows not only in their designs, but their service after the sale and the way that they conduct their business. They may be able to initially fool a few, but in the long run who loses? They do and they know it. That’s what makes them so unhappy.
Have You Got What it Takes to Be a Happy Web Designer?
1) Decide what you "love" to do. If you love to mow your lawn or do something else that is more physical, web design is not for you. You will be the best at what you love to do and trust me, there is a career out there for creating gourmet cooking spices or scented soaps if that is your fancy.
2) How creative are you? If you have a low level of design creativity and depend on the ideas of others to spark your idea pops, you will needlessly frustrate yourself and your customers. In other words, if you cannot think of three design ideas in three minutes that you did not see elsewhere, that is a good indication that your creative juices are just not flowing.
3) If you don’t like following manuals or reading boring computer textbooks, you are in trouble. You need a high degree of self-motivation and the sincere desire to learn more – constantly.
4) Do you get mad easily if someone gives you unwanted constructive criticism or asks you to change something you proudly presented them and which may have taken you two hours to design? If so, you better think again about this career field. As a designer, your customers will 99.9999% of the time ask you to change something. Even if you don’t agree, it is wise to educate them with your opinion, but be 100% prepared to change the design if they don’t agree with you. You will need a high level of emotional intelligence and patience or at least enough to back off and think about things later when your mind is balanced and able to make rational decisions.
5) If you have dreams of unlimited piles of money lying at your feet, your vision is a daydream. If you go into this field with this mindset, your fantasy will be yours’ and your customers’ worst nightmare. It just won’t happen.
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