Cautionary Advice for Freelancers

Freelancing is not easy. It can be risky, frustrating and daunting at times. However, it can be a highly rewarding lifestyle choice when goals start being achieved. Once the anxiousness subsides and confidence in the next pay check settles in, only then, do we make the right decisions.

The best teacher is experience, but by sharing a few things I've learnt, perhaps some of these tips can  make it a little easier for those starting out. After about 8 years of freelancing, I'm still making mistakes and figuring out how to make better decisions.

Social Media

I think some designers and developers view self promotion with slight distaste. I know I did. Unfortunately, it's an integral part of the job. You need to get the word out there if you want to be able to choose which projects you take on.

Embrace social media and it will start to feel like a natural and enjoyable part of the job. Linked-in really works for me as I believe it's replaced the CV. I haven't updated my actual CV in years and before every prospective client meeting it really helps to look at their profile to get an understanding of what they do.

A lot of designers use Dribbble and Behance with great outcomes. I like Twitter as I have met many designers and developers on the platform and it's introduced me to the local community. I have worked with a lot of people I have met on Twitter.

Last year I signed a NDA for all the mobile apps I worked on.  It was essential for me to start writing a blog, otherwise my website wouldn't have much activity.

Word of mouth is still the best referral for me to get new work, so above all else, do the very best you can on each project, work professionally and the work will come.

Keep track of finances monthly

I use an excel template to keep track of earnings and expenses.  I update this monthly - once you're in the habit of doing this, it becomes quite interesting to see how your rate matches up to your expenses. Stay organised and tax time wont be so daunting. Keep track of petrol, parking, stationery, admin, meeting and research expenses as these are things which you can claim for. 

Save when you can

You'll have good months -  put some of your earnings away, you'll need them later. Being prudent is  a prerequisite for a freelancer.

Try and invest what you save

Buying a property as a freelancer does require a lot more paperwork and effort but a sage investment is worth the effort. Without full-time job benefits you need to take matters into your own hands and secure your future. There are other ways of investing. Research what works for you. I'm working on a website that calculates which investments will be most suitable based on your criteria. I'll be posting the link in the next month or two.

Be selective

It's difficult when you're starting out, but when many people start approaching you for work,  try not say yes to every project. Ideally, you want to take on the work you'll enjoy as you'll most likely be spending long hours working on it. Taking on too much work at once results in a mediocre service for each those projects. Better to outsource if you don't want to turn a job down. I find a  quicker job turn-around is more beneficial financially than several drawn out projects.

Work weekends and evenings

You need to put in a lot more time, so it's important to have a real love for the work before going freelance. There are some days I spend answering emails and going to meetings, so I have to do actual project work in the evening.

Public holidays are my favourite time to work - the inbox is quiet and the phone doesn't ring. It's a very productive time. You want to provide a service that most agencies can't, so making yourself available at weekends helps. Sometimes clients are situated in different time zones, so you'll have to work at night.

I tend to keep myself available over popular public holidays as that's when companies outsource. It makes financial sense to me to take my holiday during less popular times, and any excuse to avoid a crowd or a busy road.

Deposits are essential

Golden rule, never start a job with a new private client without receiving a deposit. If you're contracting at an agency, they will probably only pay at the end of month so in some cases it doesn't apply. You may have a good relationship with someone who gives you regular work, so  a deposit each time  is overkill.

 I  try meet potential clients first and ascertain what kind of traits they have. I prefer the trust based approach and like to build good relationships. Policing and chasing is not fun. 

However, I recently didn't ask for a deposit for the second phase of work on an app with a tech entrepreneur. Often people scrap ideas,  and things don't go as planned so you need to cover yourself and be aware that some people are more reliable than others. That mistake cost me a few days of pay and too much unnecessary worrying because I was too trusting.

It's important to find the right clients and keep them. Regular, reliable clients are valuable.

Invoice on time

Stipulate that final payment should be made no later than one week after job completion. Some people have contracts in place that allow them to charge interest per day for late payments. Some freelancers hate the admin and I've had to chase people I have outsourced for their invoice. Embrace the admin as you need to get very good at it.

Most of the time, try only handover files once final payment is made. It's hard because you want to feel like you can trust clients and everyone will pay on time. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.


I hope these tips can help others not make the mistakes I did, and still do occasionally. Try not make any decisions  based on fear (taking on too much work, working without deposit). Fake the confidence until you have it.