Ask the Designer: Tips to Start Freelancing

Editor’s Note: These questions came from our community for designers who are interested in freelancing for web and graphic design. If you'd like to have your questions answered by Wes at The Deep End Design in the future, please submit them to us. You can reach out through the comments in this post, through DT social media or submit them at the bottom of this post.

Omer asks: 
Hi, I am a freelancer from Turkey. Turkish clients are very hard to manage in terms of prices and timing. I want to reach international clients. What is the best way to do that?

First off, I would caution you about working with clients internationally. The reason being that contracts are going to be much more difficult to enforce when you’re dealing with people in a different country. If one ended up stiffing you for payment, you would have almost no recourse.

If you find Turkish clients to be overly difficult, you might think about relocating to a country that you feel would be a better fit for your business.

Having said that, if you want to stay put and work for clients in other countries, you might consider marketing yourself to other designers or design studios that could use some outside help, so you aren’t dealing with clients directly. In either case, to market yourself to other countries, you will have to be very proactive – start emailing companies you think you would like to work for, and who would benefit from your services. It might take a while, but eventually you will start getting some traction if you keep at it. And if you find a design firm with enough work to throw your way, just make sure you do an amazing job for them so they keep coming back for more.

Peter asks:

Hey, Thanks for your time. 

I’m a 3D artist who has started to take on small freelance projects along my full time job and I am seriously considering going full time over a period of a few months due to a lot of interest from potential clients.

How long would you advise until going freelance full time .i.e. it took you 6 months until breakfast lunch and dinner was something other than beans on toast. :)

Great question, and a very important thing to consider. I always advise against jumping right into freelancing without first working for a company. You learn more in a year working somewhere in your chosen field than you could in ten years of school. So you have that experience under your belt. Good for you. 

It sounds like you’re already following my other advice to, which is to start freelancing while you’re still in your 9-5 job. This lets you get some momentum going before pulling that plug. I would caution you against mistaking “Interest from potential clients” with “working with clients.” I would advise you get to a point where you’re actually landing some good clients, and then keep both gigs going concurrently for a few months at the least.

To be safe, I would suggest you have about 6 months of expenses covered before jumping ship completely. When starting out freelancing, you can typically only expect 5-20 billable hours per week. You want to have enough in savings to make up for that, then work like crazy to get those billable hours up over that 6 months.

Wesley asks:

When you first started out, were you prepared to deal with tax season? If not, how did you deal with it at tax time? And if you were prepared, how much did you put aside per paycheck and how? Did you do your own taxes or hire a tax expert?

Aaaahhhhh, taxes! I never feel totally prepared for tax season, but I think most people could say the same. While it will differ greatly depending on your country, here in the U.S. I advise saving 30% of everything you make as a vendor. That way, you won’t be caught off guard while April 15th rolls around. Remember, they got Al Capone on tax evasion.

I recommend maintaining a separate savings or checking account for that money so it isn’t tempting you and co-mingling with the money that’s actually yours.

I have always done my own taxes, but it isn’t for the feint of heart, and I would suggest most people hire a seasoned pro who can get you the biggest return (or the smallest amount owed, whichever the case may be.)

Have a question of your own? Add it to the comments below or submit it here for a future Ask the Designer.