How To Make A Living as a Creative Freelancer Within a Year

I am only 21.

A young age to give advice – I know – but still, I want to share with you my little experience.

Because I got to what I thought was impossible. Within a single year of being a freelance designer – I can make a living.

And I thought you might want to hear about what I learned.

So I finished my Web Design & Internet Development degree at college a year ago. As soon as I got out, I knew I wanted to be my own boss. And I want to make a living as a web designer, doing what I love and having time to dedicate to my personal projects.

“You are crazy, that´s not real” my friends said.

“Isn´t that just a hobby?” my uncle asked me.

I was mad, but they had a point and nobody said it was going to be easy. In Spain, like I guess it happens in many countries, people are not fully prepared to accept you and give you a chance to work as a creative freelancer.

I even had troubles saying what was I doing with my life when old friends used to ask me after not seeing each other for a while.

They called me a ni-ni

Some people assumeed I was a ni-ni (a Spanish term for “not working not studying”). It was a tough start, I almost gave up and started to work on a local branding business that creates cheap websites for their clients in a couple days.

But I really wanted to make a living as a web designer and I believed I could create my own path with hard work and dedication.

Like I said, it was not going to be easy.

It is true that we live in an internet world and almost every single person in developed countries surfs the net on a daily basis. However, most of them still don´t trust us as they would trust the electricity guy from the store in the next street.

Why don´t they trust us?

As a creative freelancer you will find plenty of people who, at the time of investing their money, still do not trust technology, or the internet, and many more that just wouldn´t trust a young guy or girl who does not have a company or a “real office”.

Or even worse, you will find people who have worked with non-professional freelancers that did a terrible job for them. And this right here, I think might be the biggest reason why they don´t trust us; the internet is both our blessing and our curse.

Yes, it is giving us a way of leaving, plus Facebook, and YouTube!, and blah blah blah… You know how awesome it is. Assume it, we couldn’t live without it anymore.

However, thanks to all the information there is on the world wide web, everybody can do something similar to what we are doing. It feels like all it takes to be a Graphic Designer is seeing a couple of Illustrator tutorials; Or that it’s enough to be editing pictures from your last trip for Instagram – to become a digital photography expert.

They have learned some basics, they might have a good eye, but they are not professionals, and let´s be honest here, we all love to work with professional people.

I can honestly say that at least half of my clients during 2016 either have had a bad previous experience with a designer or knew of somebody that did, and that made them think twice about hiring a freelancer instead of a professional studio or agency.

What do we do wrong?

When you start as a creative freelancer you realize that you are not only a designer anymore, you have to sell your products, you have to create contracts, you have to keep account of your money, etc. This is hard. They don´t prepare us for all of this at college.

But nothing is better than “real life” to do that. So here are some tips on what to avoid when you are starting out:

–  Be careful working with family members.

At the beginning, I started working with my family members as a way to build my portfolio and get some experience. Once I started to get real clients and work for money, I thought about asking half of the price to other family members that wanted me to create a website for them. I tried once, she said no, and afterwards I felt terrible, so I am back at doing them for free, just as side projects every once in a while.

So I would say, either do it professionally and treat them like normal clients, or if you can´t do that like me, just do it for fun and to practice when you have long periods of time without much work. Or maybe even as a Christmas or a Birthday present.


–  Underpromise and overdeliver and not the other way around.

There was a time when I was still in college when I took a couple projects at the same time thinking I could do it all without a sweet. Oh boy, was I wrong!

Working, exams, basketball practice… it was just too much. So I ended up finishing the projects almost a couple weeks later than expected. Clients understood but it made me feel pretty bad about the job I had done.

But lesson learned. Like they always say in business, under-promise and overdeliver and your clients will be amazed by your working ethic.

–  Don´t be available 24/7.

One of the biggest problems for freelancers. People think that since we don´t work on a 9 to 5 job in a company, we are working all the time every day of the year. Well, we don´t, at least not me. So be clear about that. Don´t pick up the phone at 11 PM to talk about website changes, don´t accept a meeting on a Sunday morning and don´t respond emails during the night, unless in emergency and justifiable circumstances. They will understand it if you make it clear since the beginning. But if you start without considering this, soon there will be no stopping and hell will be upon you.

How can we make clients love us?

In 2016, my first full year as a freelance web designer, I was lucky to manage more than 15 awesome projects, all with different clients who remind me every time I talk with them how much I helped them and how glad they are that they hired me for the job.

How did I achieve this? Simple. I just try to be professional and do the best work I can do.

Here are some of the tips that helped me the most:

–    Value yourself, because it is the only way your clients will.

Don´t beg for work. Don´t work on projects you don´t want to. Don´t work for less than what you think you deserve.

Show confidence in yourself and they will feel more comfortable working with you. You will be able to do a much better job if you work in the conditions you like.

–    Be honest.

Don´t lie to them about the things you can do if you won´t be able to do them. Don´t say bad things about your competitors and don´t make up numbers to support your theories. Just explain the things you can do, explain how can you do them, and explain why do you think that is the best way to proceed.

–    Take care of your brand, because you will be as successful as your brand is.

Have a nice portfolio, make sure your clients are happy with you and that they talk only good things about working with you, keep your social profiles checked and updated, and most of all, be a good person, because nobody likes to work with as$&%$?¡s.

–    In meetings, dress nice and be punctual.

We might be creative freelancers and we might work from home most of the time, but when you go to a meeting, normally with business owners or founders, you should show that it is important for you. People will appreciate it, and they will respect you more. There are not many things that business people dislike more than unpunctuality. Once you run a business you realize how important time is. If you make them waste it, you might be done even before you started.

–    Work with contracts.

This is a traditional win-win. You will get the assurance that you will get paid, and they will feel like that you are a serious person to work with.

–    Invest in relationships.

Everybody likes to work with nice people. In a conference I attended a month ago, the speaker said people will not buy what you are offering but the person that is selling it to them, so they get a chance to work with you. Listen to them, show interest in their lives, make them feel important. And don´t forget them once you are done with the project. Keep asking them how they’re doing, how happy they are with your work, remember that if you are doing good is because of those people that trusted you before.

How did I learn all of this in just one year?

The truth is that most of these things came with experience. You will realize what your clients like and what they are not once you talk and work with many of them.

However, there are a couple things I did this year that changed my way to work completely and helped me to move forward in my career much faster:

–    I started my own sports agency, which has nothing to do with my web designer job, although I am in charge of all the marketing and visual part of the company. This has given me a chance to meet, speak and negotiate with dozens of companies, athletes, and directives at sports clubs, and I have learned a lot from most of them, who are very successful people in their field.

So my advice is, try to surround yourself with people who have figured it out how to succeed in their field, and talk, listen and learn as much as you can from them, because even if you think their story does not have anything to do with yours, all successful people seems to be alike in many aspects.

–    I took the Pricing Class from the NuSchool. I thought about this for many months while I was reading every single post of the NuBlog, and finally, this summer after my vacation, I decided that I would take the class to get to the next level. In the six months after this, I have done the same number of projects than in the previous ones, but I have earned exactly twice as much. I learned how to make my brand look professional, how to negotiate with clients, and how to create awesome proposals that have made me win every single project I have tried to get.

The Only Way

If you really want to be a creative freelancer for many years, you need your clients to love you. Only then will they refer you to their friends. The only way to achieve this is: to be professional.

Value yourself, be honest, take care of your brand, build relationships, and most of all, keep learning new things that will increase what you have to offer to your clients.

How long have you been working as a freelancer? What are the things that worked for you? What things didn´t?

I would love to read about it in the comments.

It´s been a pleasure to be a part of this blog that has inspired me many times to do what I do for living. With my small contribution, I fulfill one of my goals for 2017.

So once again, big thanks to Lior, Ran, Ayal, and all the NuSchool team! You rock!

Héctor de Prada

Héctor de Prada is a young and promising Web Designer, living in Spain

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