20 Rules All Freelancers Should Follow

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Sometimes when being a freelancer things go wrong because we haven’t properly prepared. Today we have put together a list of sort of rules to follow as a web freelancer, let us know which of these you follow and which ones you wish you knew before something bad happened.

Always get a deposit

This is a tricky one but a must. It is important that they give you a percent of the price up front to insure you get paid for your work. The typical rate is from 25% to 50% depending on the size of the project. However this can back fire for clients as I’m sure its happened to most of you, I recently hired someone to redesign WebDesignDev and I paid 50%, when he showed me the design I told him I liked the concept but it lacked design, he turned on me and said its obvious you won’t like it so you can either pay me 25% more for PSD or I will just go with your deposit. Everyone has this doubt and it does happen often, reassure your clients about this and make sure you will be there for them, you will follow out the work you have been set to do or you will refund them.

money

Get 100% verification of what you must do for your client

When starting a new project with a client, be sure to find our 100% exactly what it is you need to do. There is no point in starting a project if your unsure. You will get half way through it and then client will say its all wrong. You will just be wasting time, so get verification.

Decide an hourly rate or rate on a project basis

It depends a lot on the freelancer which works best for them. If you like to take your time andΒ  get it perfect then hourly rates are the way to go for you. If you work fast and because of this value your time more highly then you could consider a price per project. However in experience I have found working a hourly rate allows more freedom to explore ideas and get things perfect. It also means that if the client wants revision after revision then you can keep going as you will be paid more.

Never ask for referrals

Don’t ask your clients for referrals. If they say you have done a good job for them, then I’m sure they will refer you to friends, and most likely come back themselves. Asking for referrals can make you sound desperate for work.

Offer incentives to your regular customers

If you regally go out to eat at a restaurant, and the restaurant know you are regular customers and know you, then I am sure every once in a while they put drinks on the house etc, as a reward for coming back to them. Freelancers should do this with their regular clients, to let them know they are special.

Keep your clients notified

This can help you gain / keep that professional status. If you notify your clients every time you reach a checkpoint, then they can stay updated, and it keeps them informed on how fast you’re working and generally what’s going on at your end.

letters

If you’re hosting for them, remind them of costs

Hosting clients websites can be a good upsell you can use on your clients but its very important if you are offering it that you let them know that there will be further payments to make, perhaps on a monthly or yearly basis. Make sure you make this clear when you quote the price for hosting or domain names.

Be Honest

Be honest with your clients. An example would be if you wanted more work, just say to them, hey if you have any more design projects that need completing, feel free to send them across as I’m a bit short of work at the moment. If the client likes your work and the way you do things, they will sure take you up on the offer – that is if they have any more work.

Keep business and friendship separate

So often great friends fool out before they do business together. Keep a strict rule that you don’t work with friends however tempting it may be.

Be flexible

You need to be flexible, for instance if you were meant to be having a conference call with one of your clients, and they did not show, be prepared to rearrange your schedule and tackle something else. If they show late then reschedule again.

Use Social Networking Sites

Freelance designers should use social networking sites to promote themselves, and connect with clients. Some of these sites specific to design areΒ linkedin and deviantart.

linkedin

Know your clients by name

If you know your clients by name, then they will feel comfortable employing you to complete their web design / graphic design project. On the other hand if you can’t remember their name, they may think you’re a really really busy person who has no time for them. Clients are number 1 priority – after all they pay your bills.

Make conversation with your clients

Freelancers don’t always have to talk about the project in hand. Make small talk with your clients on a personal level, maybe about sport, or hobbies etc. The client will like the fact that you are interested in them, and will most probably come back for more work.

Have set prices for follow up work

Quite often you will be hired to do a design job, be specific about what is included and make it clear that anything on top will cost more money. For example they may ask for revisions, new sub pages, other small features. Your time is money and make that clear.

Learn how to say no

With all freelancers, it may get to a point where you have a lot of work, and your mates may ring up and ask you to come out for a drink. You need to learn how to say no, no matter how tempting the offer maybe, if you have a website that needs to be emailed to a client within the next hour, or a design project that needs finishing off, then that takes priority to keep you staying professional.

Set completion dates

Its important that you set a date to complete, this is good for yourself and the customer. Customers are always excited to see what you have come up with so make sure you give them a date to keep them happy. It will also make you more organized so that you can plan future work and time off.

date

Be Persistent

Don’t forget about something if you don’t get a response. Chase people up, but not to the stage where it’s annoying. Showcase your work and sell yourself to new clients.

Always offer a top notch service

You should always offer a top notch service, whoever the client. If they are really bossy you have to deal with it and stay professional. If you offer a top notch service, customers are sure to refer you and come back for later work.

The customer is always right (with exceptions)

Ever heard the phrase the customer is always right? Generally speaking they are, but sometimes they can be wrong, very wrong. If the client has given you a spec and you have completed the design, and they said it’s not as they described, they wanted a red color scheme when they clearly said in the brief they wanted a green color scheme, they are wrong. You just have to deal with fussy clients like that on a professional and mature level.

Go that extra mile

To make yourself stand out from the freelancer crowd, go that extra mile for your clients. If you have just designed a beautiful website for them, go the extra mile and say you know what, how about I upload that for you? No extra expenses. It doesn’t cost you anything, and your client will be amazed at your level of service and will be sure to come back time and time again.

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61 thoughts on “20 Rules All Freelancers Should Follow”

  1. I find this very helpful. Thank you very much for sharing your advise. I recently started a freelancing project and have been searching a lot of ideas how to and what to do. Your site stood out for me. Again, thank you and I hope you’ll become more successful and noticed in your field

  2. Hey Ben,
    Great rules, the word NO can give you more and best customers, and hight quality work. Also prioritizing it’s very important, 20% from your clients give 80% from your results.
    Cheers!

  3. Great list, however I don’t think there is a problem with asking for referrals.
    I ask for referrals and generates 90% of my business from referrals. Most important is to understand our work and how you can help someone. Get the referral, do your research – know exactly why and what you can offer a potential new client.
    Spending 10 minutes looking for 3 reasons why they need to redesign their website and a few cents making a call is better than spending a heck load of money on advertising.
    Your conversion rate is also a lot better than leads from advertising. I simply sounds better saying “I was referred by your friend or business associate, John and he thought my services can add value to your business as it did for his business.”
    Cheers

  4. Great set of tips – but like many others, i don’t agree with the not asking for referrals, i don’t think this can ever do any harm, and might get you some more work!

  5. Good list. One thing that bothers me and that I’d include as a rule for anyone doing business: pay attention to spelling and grammar. You have the classic “your/you’re” misspelling in one of your rules. Thought you’d like to know. Whenever I see misspelling in any piece of business correspondence I receive I immediately get a bad impression of the sender. I may be “old school” on that count, but I’m sure there are plenty more like me out there. Why take a chance?

    1. Thanks for pointing that out Ben. This post was written by one of our prior staff members a long time ago. I have fixed some of those grammatical errors πŸ™‚

  6. Thank you!!! Great points!
    I’m a freelancer. I converted Joomla theme to WordPress, and now I have a copy of that WordPress theme created (based) on the clients Joomla theme, so here is the question:
    Can I sell this theme as separate product in some Theme Shop?

  7. Great post! I would have to agree with some of the points.. and yes, sometimes you have to have thick skin and get used to clients who are being unreasonable. Most of the time, its due to lack of communication. I have had one client whom I can’t get onto skype to talk about some issues. He’s been reasoning out every time I ask him for a quick chat. One time I called him up on his mobile phone and from the sound of his voice, seemed surprise. Sometimes it helps when there are third party people who serves as bridges between you and your client. That’s exactly what happened to me with staff.com; they ensured I am getting paid by the client (this was the most common issue I had to deal with most of the time)

  8. I’m definitely guilty of some of these, and others just seem like common sense. I freelance and hold a full time job, and I find it very hard to keep up with everything in the social media category.

  9. I made the decision from day one to ask for deposits and a contract. It can be tough when you start out as your confidence is low, but I think it makes you look like business. The deposit and contract works for both sides.

  10. Hi guys,

    I need advise of something in regards to web designing. Around 2months ago I needed to have a web site deigned, I was approached by a friend of mine offering to take this project on.

    2weeks after I was approached by them I gave them the specifications of he site, happy to take he project on board they gave me a quote for the job. 2weeks later I met up with them and gave them a 50% deposit, to obviously get the projected started. When giving hem the deposit I stated:
    (a) I need a landing/holding page that obviously states site under construction and it was literally the first and very important factor I needed to be up within the first week or two.
    (b) I gave a month deadline to have designs of a layout or concept for my website
    (c) I also then gave 2months for the overall projected o be completed
    (d) I gave a detailed publication stating what m company does etc etc.

    Last week was the due date for the 1 month deadline, and in last week I’m chasing up the designer(friend) for just a landing page that hasn’t been designed till. So I decided to terminate his involvement on the project on the basis that:
    (a) his work rate was unsatisfactory, utterly poor and unproductive.
    (b) I hadn’t seen any work from him
    (c) he hasn’t attempted to do what he has been paid for
    I believe I gave him more then nough information and direction to what I wanted and he’s clearly failed to produced that. Upon requesting and as soon I did request for my deposit, he then claimed he wants to be paid for his efforts.

    I expressed the following he hasn’t showed or mentioned any designs within the past month, cancelled progress meetings where we are meant to meet up for updates on the project, within emails we have communicated across to each other it’s clear he hadn’t started this project once again proving there has been no work designed and lastly until I terminated his involvement he then mentioned and the 1st ever mention of deigning a landing page.

    I wanted to know If I’m entitled to a full refund and how do I go bout getting it?

  11. These are a good set of points, wish i’d read them a few months ago. I learnt the hard way when I started freelancing recently, but it’s all experience. I think the most important point is the deposit or milestone payment. As long as it’s sensible for the scale of work then both sides can feel happy and trusted with the works that being done.

    So much of business and repeat business boils down to your approach and attitude with your clients. But it is a two way street.

    1. Great tips here, I’m going through this discovery process as I am growing my company. Thank you for posting.

  12. I would have to agree with all. In our world today, word of mouth is still highly important. In truth, its all how you would word your referral statement.

  13. Freelancers should do this with their regular clients, to let them know their special.

    let them know their special.

    their special.

    >.<

  14. I have asked for referrals/references in the past, and my clients have been very happy to supply them. I think it makes them feel important too.

    I agree with pretty much everything else in here though. It’s a good list.

    For new contracts, (I ALWAYS have a contract in place) I take 30% deposit, 30% progress payment and then balance due on completion. As Richard says above, I don’t always take a deposit if it is a repeat client.

    Also, please use a spell checker before hitting that “Post” button!!

    πŸ™‚

  15. Generally good advice but as others have said always ask for referrals, it’s daft not to.

    There are circumstances where a deposit isn’t always necessary, for example when doing further work for an existing client, particularly if they were happy with your previous work and paid on time.

    Hourly rates are good but generally the expectation is for a fixed price, or at least a very small range of costs. Hourly rates come into their own for additional work outside the scope of the project.

    For anything more than a small project it is essential to have a contract in place. This protects both parties from various eventualities. For example, if your client provides you with an image which you incorporate into the web design, and then it turns out the client doesn’t have permission to use the image who is liable? Without a contract that could be a tricky one to resolve. It would also protect the client from situations like the one highlighted in the comments where a developer walks away from a project with the deposit.

  16. Well, I take 50% deposit before commencement and I feel it’s fair. Only few clients I work with have problem depositing.

  17. Generally a great post but I feel decidedly uncomfortable about the airing of dirty laundry on a professional website, particularly when the subject is a freelancer as opposed to some giant corporation. This guy could well lose a lot of business when potential clients Google his name; this may well be the effect you want but the reality is that it reflects badly on your site (as does some of the riper language that you allow through in previous comments).

    I completely understand your motivation – I’d have been spitting feathers if I felt that I’d been ripped off in a similar way – but then I’d gather my dignity, maintain a professional stance and move on.

  18. Thank you for writing this informative post. I’d like to add things: Check in with former clients once in a while. I’ve scratched up work this way when I send an email saying “I was just wondering how everything is working out for you.”

  19. Very informative post. It’s amazing how some freelancers miss the most littlest things that could have such great results.

  20. I was in sales before I got into design and I have to say I disagree 100% with what you say about referrals – you can build your business entirely on referrals. The key is in the approach though – your client doesn’t know who to refer nits unlikely that your client has recently spoken to someone who has said “gee, I could really use a good web designer”, and so when you finish up and say “hey by the way, do you know anyone who needs a designer” they’ll be at a loss and probably uncomfortable. It is not your customer’s job to think of referrals for you, so you need to ask for specific referrals. Check out the links on their site – specifically a client list or list of associates (real estate agents for instance will often have lots of connections on their site to other agents) if they publish one. Guarenteed you will find someone with a bad website. Find out who is in charge of that website. Do this EARLY, like before you even start doing work. Let your client know EARLY that “my business depends on referrals. I noticed that you have a client who could really use my services. When I’ve finished with your site and you’re satisfied with my work, I would really appreciate it if you could introduce me”. Then, and this part is good, BE AMAZING AT WHAT YOU DO. That means not only in design, but customer service – return Pune calls, do what you say you’ll do on time and on budget, etc. As someone who is introducing you, this person is putting their name at stake, but if you do a great job, they will be happy to ‘be the hero with great connnections” and introduce their client to a great designer.

    Might sound pushy, but if you can get comfortable with it you’ll never be without work.

  21. When I’ve done commissioned artwork, I’ve always requested a 25% non-refundable deposit up front. It’s an act of trust. Curious with those commenting on a deposit if anyone uses an escrow service?

  22. Many of these things can be covered with well detailed paperwork. Deliverables can be well laid out, and no surprises for either client or designer.

    Always ask for referrals. Unless there was a problem. But in my case, I always ask for a referral.

  23. as a freelancer I have been ripped off so many times that i cannot even remember. So rule one for me is clarify project requirements, rule two is deposit, rule three is 100% customer satisfaction and to make changes if need be.

  24. Very interesting article. Couple thoughts, along the vein of what others have said –

    Referrals – About 50-60% of my business is based on referrals, word-of-mouth, or past work. I don’t ever personally ask for referrals directly, but I do make our ‘client rewards’ program. We make sure they have an incentive for referring business our way, without begging for it. It is a fantastically successful marketing tool, and it keeps us in constant communication with our clients.

    Deposits – Always get a deposit. Keep it the same flat rate or percentage (I recommend percentage), every time, all the time. We do 50%, as that’s what we’ve found to be the fair market perception of what a fair deposit it. It is always non-refundable, and doesn’t change based on the cost of the project. Why? Because consistency is key, in business, in life, in everything.

    Lastly, one thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet is contracts. Even if you’re doing a $500 project, draw up a contract. I’m not a fan of caps, believe me…but ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS DRAFT ON CONTRACT…ON EVERY PROJECT!

    You will save yourself untold thousands of dollars and build a professional reputation by having a fair, equatable, clear contract on every project. Remember, it doesn’t have to be legalese; all a contract means is making expectations ridiculously clear about everything for both parties.

  25. “Never ask for referrals” > this one is total hogwash. If you’re going to be in business for yourself, you’ve got to have some basic selling skills. There is no shame in asking for referrals and few clients think poorly of it. Asking for referrals is Sales 101. It’s not all you need to know how to do, but it will help.

    The rest of the tips are great. Speaking from 12 years of running my own design business.

  26. About the deposit, in my opinion, it’s better to charge, say, 10-15% as a deposit and just bill all your clients monthly.

    It’s better for you because it sets a regular schedule for income, instead of just sporadic payments. Also, it’s better for your clients, who can know exactly when they will need to write that check and can roll that expense into their other recurring payments.

    Imagine if you were an employee at a firm instead of working for yourself. You would expect to be paid regularly, and to do so, the firm would need to be paid regularly, making everyone happy.

    Using a scheduled, recurring invoice time allows you to keep better track of billing clients and when to expect payment. Having a regular stream of income allows you to better budget your business and your life, preventing you from having to eat ramen noodles for the next 8 weeks because you’re billing a client at the end of a project then waiting 4 more weeks for them to pay.

    I use this method with my clients and they like it as much as I do. Give it a try. The feeling of stability it can bring you is well worth the effort of putting it into place.

  27. I too find it OK to ask for referrals, there is nothing desperate in that and it is understood by the clients. If your clients find it rude than they possibly do not understand networking and how it really benefits all parties, not just the freelancer. Relationships FTW!

    Other than that all other points are fantastic tips that should be followed by all freelances.

    Great article!

  28. Great list. I’d like to add:

    – Don’t be too defensive when a problem arises such as a client saying you’re missing the requirements and starts reacting in all caps and with exclamation marks. Defensiveness creates a position of weakness and just exacerbates the problem. I tend to avoid reacting back to the client and choose to speak with actions, not words. Sometimes it just takes a cooling off period for 8 hours, where you just immerse yourself in the client work. If you still feel the need to defend yourself, try to do it in 3 bullet points or less, use no or few negative words, and send “I” messages instead of accusatory “You” messages. If that’s not possible, then pick up the phone and handle the situation directly. Some clients are just poor communicators, and so I have to just deal with it.

    – In Buddhism they have a way of dealing with things done unfairly to you — you create a symbol of it in your mind and then just flick it away. It’s that sort of thing I remember when very upset. This is how I’ve turned an unruly client into a nice client. I mean, think about — normally you are a nice guy, right? But then a bill collector calls and says something nasty, and you refrain from being Mr. Nice Guy. Some clients are just like that, and it’s because they lack trust in you. It takes time to build that trust, and then you will often see them turn into nice people when difficult at first.

    – On the referrals statement, I think among me and fellow freelancers I’ve spoken with this morning, you’re kind of half right. Sometimes what you say is correct in that statement about referrals. Sometimes what you say actually gets them thinking nicely about you and you get more work. I had a few like that. Perhaps there’s a middle ground here — perhaps we should be using an email newsletter that’s kind of like our blog, or has links to a blog with topics that would apply to our client type, and send it out every 4 months along with an unsubscribe link? That’s still under consideration with me.

    – Don’t be too wordy in emails. Serious! Your clients skim, and won’t read every word. Use paragraph titles if you have to. Try chat or other a phonecall if something is long. Sometimes if you have no choice but to explain something long — consider attaching as a Word doc or PDF. Don’t know why that works with the doc attachment, but it does.

    – Choose your words very carefully — interpersonal communication with clients is incredibly important. You might even consider taking a class on interpersonal communication or read a book on it. Luckily in my case my dad was a professor of Psychology.

    – In the court of your peers, they may agree that an occasional client is being unreasonable with you and may be crossing the line and actually hurting your feelings. It’s a bad fact of this business. You need a thick skin in this business and get used to this, or you’ll fold. Over time you will learn the proper response to “client bullies” and will reuse these techniques. But you’re going to lose the battle at first a few times before you can handle this. Just keep moving forward and battle it out, and get with peers for even more advice. Again — interpersonal communication and self-examination is key. However, don’t overdo it — sometimes the client is just plain wrong and you are right.

  29. Great post. I do agree with several comments here that asking for referrals is perfectly OK. I like Dan’s verbiage for the request.

    I’ve been struggling with the hourly versus project pricing structure. I used to work by the hour but switched to project fees when I went fulltime freelance.

    On a related note: I live in Austin, and I have to charge sales tax for Texas residents, so working by the hour complicates that a bit. Freelancers, do check out your local tax laws. A lot of freelancers I know around here do not realize they are subject to sales tax.

  30. Loved the article. There’s a lot of article regarding this kind of stuff. Works for freelancers, studios, and everybody else in this tough business. It’s not that easy to keep things clear (wheter it’s about money or revisions after revisions).

  31. I agree with some of the comment here, there’s nothing desperate about asking for referrals, it really a part of the business.
    If you want to expand your client base you always need to find new ones, if you get a referral from someone who already worked with you that is great.

    1. I would have to agree with Avi. In our world today, word of mouth is still highly important. In truth, its all how you would word your referral statement.

  32. I take 50% for projects R10 000 (+- $1000) and under, otherwise I work out a payment system of say over a period of 3 to 5 months depending on the project scope…

    I have to agree with Michael regarding asking for referrals though. Rather put a link on each of your clients web sites to connect potential clients to you. Although I don’t see anything wrong with letting your “buddies” market you by word of mouth. (Did I just contradict myself) πŸ™‚

    1. I would suggest asking before putting your name on a design they are paying you for. They may not want it implemented in their design. Just throwing that in there on your own could very well make the customer irate and them less likely to refer you or to use your services again.

  33. Couldn’t agree more with this post.
    I actually just wrote a blog regarding getting deposits before working, more specifically, about spec work. You guys should check it out! (just click my name)

    Cheers

  34. good advice.
    I personally have been burnt a few times for not asking clients for a deposit upfront even though that is ‘one of my policies’.
    I have had 3 clients who liked what I had done and I was literally one small step from completion & about or sent them the invoice with balance to be paid and then out of nowhere- they do not like it or they are not ready or they are getting someone else to do the job.

    I do blame myself for beeing too trusty but it makes me angry also that such clients first tell you they approve of your work and are happy and then do a 180 turn.

  35. I always, always ask for referrals and testimonials. Nothing speaks better for you than the customers you’ve done work for. I don’t think there’s anything desperate about it if you phrase it right. If you say “I need a job quick” that’s one thing, but what I like to say is “I like to help as much as possible – If you know of anyone with an interesting project, I’d love to help them in the same way I helped you. You know from personal experience that I won’t disappoint” I see that as smart, not desperate.

    Otherwise – great tips here! I’m enjoying this blog.

    1. Thanks! I mean most of our posts at least most people don’t like one or 2 things, but thats what makes us WebDesignDev.

    2. Hey Dan,

      There is a big difference between Testimonials and Referrals, testimonials are imporftant to the success of business as it makes potential customers feel safe about using your services or products.

      Michael

  36. You could use a Spell Check Anywhere (SpellCheckAnywhere.Com) to add spell check and grammar check to all Windows programs.

    -Tomer

  37. Incredibly helpful reminders here! I didn’t start taking deposits on projects (of any size) until 2 months ago, and that (in regards to stress levels and commitments to projects) has made all the difference.

  38. some gems of info there. I’m just starting out as a freelancer and I recently LOST a contract from a awkward client who messed me about but I didn’t get a deposit. DAMN IT. what a cunt.

  39. Andy, great post. I love how you knew that eventually someone would ask, so who was it? That got an LOL from me.

  40. Great advice πŸ™‚ The getting a deposit part is really important as we as Freelancers put in a lot of work and when a client pulls out, that is wasted time and no pay!

    I always get a 50% deposit before starting on a project…

    Chris van der Merwe
    South Africa
    Drupal Web Developer

    1. Nice, 50% is a good deposit for small projects, but i think 25% is the right amount for a deposit when the project price is over $1,000

      1. Hey Andy,

        I agree, 25% is for higher priced projects which will take more time. Perhaps the designer could ask for more money once they have completed some work.

        Michael

  41. Wow. I just wrote a similar article on my blog that covers a lot of the same points, albeit from a more personal and less general perspective. Great points and very helpful for anyone who is freelancing. Thanks for this!

  42. Always ask for referrals. There’s nothing desperate about asking someone to send you business if they’re pleased with your work. It’s when you don’t ask for them that you cast out the energy that you’re not interested in additional engagements and so the universe will give them to someone else.

    Also when doing postings, make sure to spell check as well as check your apostrophes πŸ™‚ and yes I probably left one out, but I am typing with one and hand sipping coffee with the other. Nice article.

    Michael

    1. Hello Michael,

      I’m not sure if its just me but when a designer asks me to tell my friends to use them I won’t do it because its a bit weird just going up to a friend saying “hey, go use this guy as a designer”. When friends tell me they are looking for a designer I do recommend past designers which I found to do a great job. Your work speaks for yourself and so you don’t have to ask for referrals.

      Michael

    2. It’s one of the biggest mistakes and missed opportunities to NOT ask for referrals. There is nothing wrong with asking for referrals as most clients won’t automatically think to do it. It’s not desperate, it’s good business sense. Word of mouth is the most trusted and coveted form of marketing, so why not say “Hey, spread the word if you could’?

      Not to mention, a few more points down in the “Be Honest” section, the author says to ask for work if you need it. How does that not come off as desperate? Besides, if you ask for referrals to begin with, you don’t need to beg for jobs.

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