Starting out as a designer you probably pictured yourself getting hired by your dream clients, working on projects that really mattered to you and the world. Fast forward to today and you’re a freelance designer stuck in the feast and famine cycle and you can’t seem to find your way out.
There are a few key differences between designers who bring in big clients with accompanying predictable income each month, and those who consistently struggle to find work and wonder if they’ll survive until the next job and we’d thought it will be useful to share some of the most common traits I’ve seen in designers who thrive.
1. Successful Freelance Designers are Focused on Their Time
What many successful freelancers understand that others don’t is that a freelancer’s most valuable asset is their time and they trade their time in return for payment. That means they make fast decisions on whether or not to work with a particular client. They limit their use of social media or time spent comparing themselves to others online.
When it’s time to work on a client project, they hunker down and get it done. And when it’s time to win new business, they get laser-focused on finding new clients.
2. Successful Freelance Designers are Proactive
A lot of freelancers think that word of mouth is the best way for them to build their freelance business, as this is the most common piece of advice they hear from seasoned freelancers. While this can work for some designers, it might not be the strongest advice for a struggling designer.
Instead, designers who need work should be proactive. They should go networking events, go door-to-door visiting local businesses. they check the best freelance jobs sites, run paid advertising, continually experiment and learn.
Once you do this, double down on it and stay proactive, dedicating time every month to finding the clients that will fuel your freelance business in the months to come.
Successful freelancers are proactive in getting months ahead on their calendar so they can sleep more easily at night.
3. Successful Freelance Designers Know how to Sell
Being proactive will only get you halfway to the finish line. In order to initiate quality conversations, explain why you provide a valuable service, and ultimately close a deal with a potential client, you have to be able to sell yourself.
As designers & artists, it can be easy to shudder at the word “sell”, and steer away from hard selling and cold calling, but you can make it in a way that works for you.
The best salespeople find their own unique way to sell themselves. Some people find a direct approach fits them the best. Others find nurturing a relationship until the topic comes up naturally is more fitting.
If you’re hesitant about selling, try reading popular sales books, taking a sales course, or joining a sales Facebook group.
4. Successful Freelance Designers Know the Power of Recurring Revenue
While a rare few of successful designers only work on one-off client projects (like my friend Ian Paget who has more logo design work coming in than he knows what to do with), many of the designers I’ve spoken with also incorporate two elements of recurring revenue into their businesses.
Getting client retainers as a designer
Securing retainers with your clients could fill volumes and definitely falls outside the scope of this article.
Suffice it to say, I recommend the advice of my friend Chelsea (a copywriter-turned-agency-builder) who basically told me she looks for opportunities to pitch a retainer at every moment along the client journey.
That means at every turn, she’s explaining to her clients the value of signing a long-term monthly contract. And she’s been very successful at it. Just recently, she decided to take the leap from being a single freelance writer to hiring other freelancers and building a small agency.
Building passive income into your design business
Another way to guarantee a little extra income each month (or a lot for some designers) is to build passive income into your business and making your first passive income product can be pretty quick too.
My friend Dustin makes over $250,000 all through passive income—primarily selling his design resources on sites like Design Cuts.
The “how” of building passive income into your business could fill an entire bookshelf but suffice it to say the goal is to find ways you can make something once and sell it over and over again.
You might offer these items for sale independent of your client work, or you could make something that you offer as an upsell to your client for a little extra passive revenue on each project.
5. Successful freelance designers aren’t afraid to raise their rates
In my experience, freelancers who are running successful, predictable, sustainable businesses also tend to charge higher rates than those that struggle month-to-month. They aren’t afraid to raise their rates again and again.
Charging more will help you gain confidence
First, charging more as a freelancer will increase the revenue you get from existing clients and this will help reduce that desperation you feel as you hunt for new clients.
Some freelancers who don’t charge enough tend to work project-to-project which means if they don’t book new work, they literally can’t put food on the table.
When a low-quality, low-paying client comes along, these freelancers jump at the opportunity out of necessity—thus beginning a hard-to-escape cycle of taking on less-than-ideal clients every month.
Higher rates cause quality clients to self-select
Freelancers who charge higher rates, on the other hand, force clients to self-select. In a perfect world, low paying clients will stop taking up your precious time as soon as they hear your rates—leaving room for the clients who are willing to pay the rates you’re demanding.
Raised rates boost confidence and overall satisfaction
A freelancer who feels they make the amount of money they deserve is, not surprisingly, a happier freelancer.
Often, mood can influence your ability to create good work which means a more satisfied freelancer is also more likely to deliver work their clients love — leading to referrals and future work as well.
Charging more improves profit margins, increasing savings, and boosting sustainability
Finally, raising your rates improves profit margins can boost your savings (or your ability to re-invest in your business) and improve the likelihood of long-term viability.
Freelancers who charge more are more likely to continue freelancing full-time instead of going back to a day job.
After working with thousands of freelancers on an almost-daily basis, the final key takeaway I’d like to leave with you is this:
None of this is going to happen on its own, so you need to be proactive.
So the big question now is: what are you going to do about it? Are you going to close this browser window, move on to your next to-do item, and stick with the status quo?
Or are you going to finally take the action required to level-up your freelancing and build the kind of freelance business you’ve always wanted.
It’s up to you.
I, for one, hope you choose to thrive.
This article was contributed by Preston Lee, the founder of Millo, where he and his team help designers find better clients, level up their Graphic Design Portfolio, raise their rates, and grow their business. Chat with Preston and thousands of fellow freelancers in their free Millo Mastermind Group on Facebook.