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When it comes to the skills and characteristics that are essential to having success as a freelancer designer, the most obvious ones involve creative skills and the ability to design. While this is of course important, there is far more to achieving success as a freelancer than simply being able to design. In fact, the non-creative skills and characteristics are sometimes the most important since they often have a profound impact on the experience for clients.
In this article we’ll take a quick look at 5 skills and characteristics that you should be aware of if you are currently freelancing or planning to make the jump. You won’t necessarily need to be an expert in these areas prior to getting started as a freelancer. In most cases, with some effort and attention these are things that pretty much anyone can do. With time you can even improve your abilities in some areas that you may consider to be weaknesses.
Communication is a critical skill for freelancers. You’ll need to be able to communicate effectively and efficiently with clients throughout the design process. Your ability to communicate will impact 1) your understanding of the client and the needs/wants of the project, 2) your ability to share your vision for the project and to secure the work, and 3) your ability to explain things clearly to clients.
Each designer has a different process for communicating with clients. Some use the phone or Skype to get familiar with the project. Others prefer email throughout the process. Some designers have an intake process that they use with each client, and others use a different approach for each project. What’s important is that you find an approach that works well for you and your clients.
One area that many new freelance designers struggle with is organization. If you’ve worked as part of a team before, you probably were only responsible for certain aspects of working with clients, and you probably had little to no responsibility for running the business. As a freelancer you’ll wear many hats, and this requires outstanding organization. Many new freelancers underestimate the importance of organization. and the scope of responsibility can be a big shock.
As a freelancer you’ll have to handle marketing, sales, finances and bookkeeping, customer service, management of any outsourced work, plus the actual design/development work. All of these other responsibilities will reduce the amount of time and effort that you’re able to dedicate to doing the design/development work that brings in revenue. So the more organized you can be, the less time you will need to dedicate to each area, and the more time you can spend doing the actual design/development work.
Your organization skills can also have a big impact on your clients and the experience they have working with you. They’re not really concerned with all of the different responsibilities that you have by running your own freelance business. They just want you to manage their project in an organized manner.
One of the reasons that some clients prefer to work with a design agency rather than a freelancer is the issue (or in some cases, the perceived issue) of reliability. Freelancers often have a stigma of being unreliable. No client wants to start working with a designer only to have them prove to be undependable. You can help to demonstrate your reliability by communicating effectively and promptly with potential clients from the start. Clients often start to question the reliability of freelancers when they don’t get a response or a proposal promptly. If you present yourself professionally and respond promptly to potential clients it can go along way towards easing any fears about your reliability.
Many people have the idea that freelancers sit around the house most of the day and work whenever they feel like it. Of course, this isn’t the case with successful freelancers who have have put in a lot of effort to build up their client work. But as a freelancer you’ll have no boss looking over your shoulder telling you what to work on, and you’ll have no one to tell you what time to start work and what time to stop. Being a successful freelancer requires a lot of discipline. Since most freelancers work from home, there are plenty of potential distractions that you will need to avoid.
As an independent worker, your success rests on your own shoulders. For this reason, freelancers often need to be pro active, aggressive, or assertive. If you’ve been working as an in-house designer or as an employee for a design agency, you probably are used to having projects assigned to you. As a freelancer you will need to find the work. Some freelancers are fortunate to have most or all of the clients coming directly to them, but it usually takes some time to get to that point. Many freelancers will need to be more assertive when it comes to finding clients. This could involve marketing efforts, networking, pursuing referrals, social media, or even cold calling.
Freelancers also need to be assertive when it comes to problem solving. When you’re working as part of a team, the responsibility to solve every problem and overcome every challenge will not be only on you. However, as a freelance you’ll need to be pro active at finding solutions and working through challenges
What’s Your Opinion?
What skills and characteristics do you think are most critical for freelancers? Feel free to share from your own experience in the comments.