4 skills that make a huge difference for freelance designers
Since I started freelancing, I realized there’s a high learning curve that freelancers and designers go through in order to keep up with their work, its requirements, and everything needed to happen starting with pitching to a client and ending with product delivery and post-delivery services. Unsurprisingly, most of these skills and know-how is acquired via mistakes, a scattering of advice here and there, and some hardcore research and courses. Designers are well-prepared at university to handle situations where there’s a vague design brief from the client; however they are not prepared for the managerial tasks that are as valuable as the design process and output. So it comes down to a lot of hours spent researching or taking extra courses to try and accommodate the many aspects involved in the business of a freelancers.
In this blog I'm highlighting four different fields that I think are pivotal for the survival and prosperity for freelance designers’ projects. If you’re just starting out with your freelancing career, check out other helpful articles such as 7 steps to get you set up as a freelancer or Preparing for a new freelance gig.
1- Project Management
Project management, according to the Project Management Institute, “is the use of specific knowledge, tools, and techniques to deliver something of value to people”. As a freelancer, we go through the process of organizing different factors such as time, resources, and knowledge to produce a design that our client approves of and believes represents a value to their brand. Primarily, project management allows us to deal with three core issues for any project: quality, budget, and time, and balance between them according to what the project needs. Doing so means that measurable output will have to be set where the focus will be on what needs to be done rather than what we ‘feel’ like doing or changing in an output (which is a legitimate concern for many designers since they don’t know when to stop the design process).
Applying concepts and practices set by the science of project management, will open shortcuts for us that ensure our communication with our project stakeholders (clients, co-designers, contractors..etc.) is clear and concise in terms of project parameters, deliverables, tasks, and goals. While we don’t necessarily have to be certified project managers, taking a brief course on the subject can be helpful in pinpointing a few beneficial key issues that can go a long way when managing a design project.
Nowadays, promoting yourself as a freelancer is important. Not just for the sake of getting more work opportunities from people you know, but also from people you don’t know. While freelancer platforms like FLAN can secure a large portion of work assignments and projects, having a social presence is like an ID. Many employers and potential clients rely on social media accounts to scout for potential designers or see their work. Advertising your work and yourself is only a small portion of marketing, marketing is understanding who your target clients are and what your pricing strategy is since working for the right price is an extension of your business identity.
In a nutshell, marketing covers the 7Ps: pricing, product, place, promotion, people, process, and physical evidence. While freelancers might not need or use all the scopes of marketing, it is useful to try and place your freelancing business under a critical spotlight simply to have a better understanding and evaluation of your career.
While I would encourage many freelance designers to hire accountants, especially for tax purposes, it is beneficial to have a basic understanding of accounting principles and tools. Accounting is the “practice of recording and reporting on business transactions”. It’s a tool that allows management to look back at the business and measure how well it is performing against expectations. Keywords such as cash flow, revenue, expenses, and financial statements should be understood by freelancers, aka business owners in a way.
Similar to how businesses evaluate their success and development by reflecting on financial information, freelancers should be able to do the same thing even if on a simpler level. Moreover, having a basic understanding of accounting reflects on how we acquire new assets or liabilities for our work, such as a new screen or sketchpad. Our day-to-day decisions gain a new dimension of understanding due to our recognition of how they affect our cash flow or revenues. Furthermore, having a general understanding of how money comes and goes within your freelancing business will highlight any pricing faults, and whether a certain task is under or overvalued. There are a number of tools online to introduce you to accounting principles and make it easy to track your work finances. FLAN also helps you with this by keeping a record of your payments and finances on the platform, so that you can view all the necessary information clearly and with ease.
4- Business Management
While business management is a generic science when it comes to ‘business’, it is still representative of the management and administrative processes incorporated in the operation of a business. Since I consider freelancing to be a form of a ‘business’, I do find it important that freelancers learn about management skills and tools and utilize them during their projects. Managing your work as a freelancer involves: planning, staffing, organizing, directing, and controlling. These functions allow freelancers to inspect their career from a wider perspective and evaluate goals against output, it’s also more professional when dealing with clients. A common example of management skills needed by freelancers are those related to staffing when outsourcing a project element, and communicating with these co-designers.
Many freelancers will tell you that they acquired the above-mentioned skills and knowledge by experience, however experience takes time, and there are situations that you can avoid simply by learning about these four topics or just scratching the surface and reading about them. You can minimize the number of mistakes and the size of them by doing your homework and becoming knowledgeable. The internet is your portal and the world is at your disposal, so do yourself a favor and learn more about these four fundamental topics to help you improve your freelancing business.
If you agree with this blog or believe that there is an area that freelancers and designers are not being exposed to enough before embarking on their freelancing careers, share your thoughts with the FLAN community on discord, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! Stay updated with news about FLAN by following it on any of its social media pages: LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram.