Chapter 1

Why you should consider freelancing

Reason #1: Your life will never be the same again.

Neal O’Grady
Neal O’Grady
? Reading time
As I write this chapter, I’m sitting in front of a window overlooking Berlin. It’s gorgeous. I'm here for only four weeks, and my apartment is rented.

I've written for Webflow from Paris, New York, and a beer festival in southern Germany. While working full-time. But I haven’t been making work/life compromises.

Neat, right?

If earning money while traveling the world appeals to you, then I'm writing this to convince you to take the plunge.

If you’re a designer working as a full-time employee, maybe you need convincing — I’m here to do that too. If you’re already a full-on freelancer, maybe you'll pick up a few new ideas.

The really good news is that, if you’re a web designer, you have it far easier than most other professions. Why? Because your skills are in demand. Every business needs and wants a site. Your web design skills can be used on short-term projects or for ongoing, long-term work. This means you can coordinate the types of freelancing contracts you take to fit your travel schedule.

And since everything relating to web design is web-based anyway, you don’t need to be in any particular location for a set amount of time.

The benefits of freelancing are all about freedom:

Freedom from commuting – save yourself the cost, stress, and time of commuting.

Freedom to choose who you work with – avoid office drama.

Freedom of schedule – work when you want, as much as you want.

Freedom of location – work wherever you want, in whatever space you want.

Let’s see if I can convince you to take the plunge. 

Freedom from commuting

The average commute to work in the US is 50 minutes a day. Working from home saves you more than 5 full working weeks per year ... spent alone in your car or crammed on public transit like a sardine.

I propose using those 50 extra minutes a day to actually work. And then take the 5 weeks you saved to travel the world. The math just makes sense!

Commuting can also be harmful to your physical, mental, and emotional health. It increases your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, depression, back pain, anxiety, and reduces the quality of your sleep. I sound like a drug commercial, but I’m not exaggerating.

And commuting is expensive. The average cost of car ownership in the US is around $8,776 per year. If your city has great public transit or a good “walkability” score, you could ditch this expense and put it towards a more centrally located apartment. Or a vacation. (I keep mentioning vacations because you should be taking them!) I recently spent 7 months backpacking throughout 17 countries on 3 continents. That was certainly more memorable than owning a Ford Focus.

Freedom of location

I work full-time while traveling. For me, and for many others, this is by far the most attractive aspect of the freelancer lifestyle: being remote.

I could work from my home in Canada, a Parisian cafe, or a beach bungalow in Thailand. As a freelancer, you get the best of both worlds. You get to explore different cuisines and cultures, make diverse friends from around the world, and immerse yourself in alternative ways of life. All while earning money to pay for it. And if you’re from a more developed region, you can easily find relatively inexpensive countries to live in. This means you get to pocket a lot of extra income.

For example, if you currently live in New York, spending time in a city like Budapest would result in a 72% cost reduction. Earning $1,400 per month there would support the same standard of living you had in New York costing you $5,000 per month.

Not bad for living in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. I bet there are also quite a few things you’d love to do with that $3,600 per month in savings.

For those wanting to work away from home, cafes are a common option for workspaces, but co-work locations are my preference. They're great for meeting other interesting and motivated people, and generally only cost a couple hundred dollars per month. This fee often covers desk space, monitor usage, high-speed internet, meeting rooms, and full-time access. You don’t need to bring anything else with you.

Freedom to choose who you work with

No matter how great a job is, there’s usually someone at the office you'd just rather not have in your life. This person might be your boss or the coworker two desks over. Colleagues are generally the people we interact with the most in life, so why do we leave it to someone else to decide who they are?

Luckily, as a freelancer, you get to choose everyone you work and interact with. If they annoy you, just break ties and move on. Life is too short to waste your energy dealing with people you don’t like.

And you shouldn’t have to listen to endless stories about people’s pets, or be repeatedly interrupted by unsatisfied coworkers looking for an excuse to procrastinate. It’s killing your productivity and enjoyment of your work (and not to mention your life)!

Freedom of schedule

When you're freelancing, no one is there to tell you how many hours you have to work — it’s up to you. If you want to save for a house or an extended holiday, you're free to work more than the standard 40-hour week. If you want time to write a book or explore cities, you can work less. It’s up to you.

You can also choose what time of day, and even which days, you work. I enjoy the flexibility of making myself a nice lunch, having coffee with a friend, or going for a run whenever I feel like it. I also enjoy being able to take a long weekend here or there to camp with friends without having to clear it with a boss.

Remember, freelancing doesn’t mean you have to be traveling. There’s nothing wrong with staying home. If you have a family, freelancing still means you can easily make time to attend your kid's events and go for ice cream, without giving your coworkers an excuse.

If you’re single — like me — you can be home to feed and love your cat. Mittens Jr. will love you for it.

Financial freedom

Not only can you save money by getting rid of your car or by living in less expensive countries, you can also earn more as a freelancer.

The average salary of a full-time, desk-sitting web designer in the US is $66,000. This ranges from interns earning little more than minimum wage to senior designers in San Francisco earning over $120,000. Regardless, $66k USD is much lower than what a skilled, confident, smart designer can make per year as even a moderately successful freelancer. (Read "How to find freelance design work" for more on that.)

A fairly junior web designer can charge $50 an hour for their services. That’s already over $100,000 per year. An experienced designer can get up to $100 per hour or more — which brings us to at least $200,000 per year. If you use a site builder like Webflow to speed up your workflow, and continue to charge at market rates, you could earn even more.

Yeah, that’s a brash plug for Webflow, but it’s the truth. Most Webflow users are professional designers and businesspeople. We rely on Webflow as our exclusive means of designing professional sites because it makes prototyping, designing, pushing to production, and team collaboration way quicker.

Considering your happiness peaks at around $75,000 a year, you might want to consider working part-time and using the extra 20 hours a week pursuing other passions. Or sleeping — I hear that’s pretty good for your health too.

In short, it’s all up to you

As a freelancer, you’re in charge — of almost everything. You make all your work decisions, including who your clients and coworkers are, where and when you work, which software you use, and how much vacation time you get and when you take it.

The only other person you need to consider and listen to is your client, and you get to choose them too. But remember, once you have chosen them, you need to listen to and respect them. Your clients are your business — without them, you’re unemployed. Just choose wisely and you should be fine.

More than fine, you’ll be a freelancer.

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Chapter 1

Why you should consider freelancing

Reason #1: Your life will never be the same again.

Neal O’Grady
Neal O’Grady
? Reading time
Read chapter

I've written for Webflow from Paris, New York, and a beer festival in southern Germany. While working full-time. But I haven’t been making work/life compromises.

Neat, right?

If earning money while traveling the world appeals to you, then I'm writing this to convince you to take the plunge.

If you’re a designer working as a full-time employee, maybe you need convincing — I’m here to do that too. If you’re already a full-on freelancer, maybe you'll pick up a few new ideas.

The really good news is that, if you’re a web designer, you have it far easier than most other professions. Why? Because your skills are in demand. Every business needs and wants a site. Your web design skills can be used on short-term projects or for ongoing, long-term work. This means you can coordinate the types of freelancing contracts you take to fit your travel schedule.

And since everything relating to web design is web-based anyway, you don’t need to be in any particular location for a set amount of time.

The benefits of freelancing are all about freedom:

Freedom from commuting – save yourself the cost, stress, and time of commuting.

Freedom to choose who you work with – avoid office drama.

Freedom of schedule – work when you want, as much as you want.

Freedom of location – work wherever you want, in whatever space you want.

Let’s see if I can convince you to take the plunge. 

Freedom from commuting

The average commute to work in the US is 50 minutes a day. Working from home saves you more than 5 full working weeks per year ... spent alone in your car or crammed on public transit like a sardine.

I propose using those 50 extra minutes a day to actually work. And then take the 5 weeks you saved to travel the world. The math just makes sense!

Commuting can also be harmful to your physical, mental, and emotional health. It increases your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, depression, back pain, anxiety, and reduces the quality of your sleep. I sound like a drug commercial, but I’m not exaggerating.

And commuting is expensive. The average cost of car ownership in the US is around $8,776 per year. If your city has great public transit or a good “walkability” score, you could ditch this expense and put it towards a more centrally located apartment. Or a vacation. (I keep mentioning vacations because you should be taking them!) I recently spent 7 months backpacking throughout 17 countries on 3 continents. That was certainly more memorable than owning a Ford Focus.

Freedom of location

I work full-time while traveling. For me, and for many others, this is by far the most attractive aspect of the freelancer lifestyle: being remote.

I could work from my home in Canada, a Parisian cafe, or a beach bungalow in Thailand. As a freelancer, you get the best of both worlds. You get to explore different cuisines and cultures, make diverse friends from around the world, and immerse yourself in alternative ways of life. All while earning money to pay for it. And if you’re from a more developed region, you can easily find relatively inexpensive countries to live in. This means you get to pocket a lot of extra income.

For example, if you currently live in New York, spending time in a city like Budapest would result in a 72% cost reduction. Earning $1,400 per month there would support the same standard of living you had in New York costing you $5,000 per month.

Not bad for living in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. I bet there are also quite a few things you’d love to do with that $3,600 per month in savings.

For those wanting to work away from home, cafes are a common option for workspaces, but co-work locations are my preference. They're great for meeting other interesting and motivated people, and generally only cost a couple hundred dollars per month. This fee often covers desk space, monitor usage, high-speed internet, meeting rooms, and full-time access. You don’t need to bring anything else with you.

Freedom to choose who you work with

No matter how great a job is, there’s usually someone at the office you'd just rather not have in your life. This person might be your boss or the coworker two desks over. Colleagues are generally the people we interact with the most in life, so why do we leave it to someone else to decide who they are?

Luckily, as a freelancer, you get to choose everyone you work and interact with. If they annoy you, just break ties and move on. Life is too short to waste your energy dealing with people you don’t like.

And you shouldn’t have to listen to endless stories about people’s pets, or be repeatedly interrupted by unsatisfied coworkers looking for an excuse to procrastinate. It’s killing your productivity and enjoyment of your work (and not to mention your life)!

Freedom of schedule

When you're freelancing, no one is there to tell you how many hours you have to work — it’s up to you. If you want to save for a house or an extended holiday, you're free to work more than the standard 40-hour week. If you want time to write a book or explore cities, you can work less. It’s up to you.

You can also choose what time of day, and even which days, you work. I enjoy the flexibility of making myself a nice lunch, having coffee with a friend, or going for a run whenever I feel like it. I also enjoy being able to take a long weekend here or there to camp with friends without having to clear it with a boss.

Remember, freelancing doesn’t mean you have to be traveling. There’s nothing wrong with staying home. If you have a family, freelancing still means you can easily make time to attend your kid's events and go for ice cream, without giving your coworkers an excuse.

If you’re single — like me — you can be home to feed and love your cat. Mittens Jr. will love you for it.

Financial freedom

Not only can you save money by getting rid of your car or by living in less expensive countries, you can also earn more as a freelancer.

The average salary of a full-time, desk-sitting web designer in the US is $66,000. This ranges from interns earning little more than minimum wage to senior designers in San Francisco earning over $120,000. Regardless, $66k USD is much lower than what a skilled, confident, smart designer can make per year as even a moderately successful freelancer. (Read "How to find freelance design work" for more on that.)

A fairly junior web designer can charge $50 an hour for their services. That’s already over $100,000 per year. An experienced designer can get up to $100 per hour or more — which brings us to at least $200,000 per year. If you use a site builder like Webflow to speed up your workflow, and continue to charge at market rates, you could earn even more.

Yeah, that’s a brash plug for Webflow, but it’s the truth. Most Webflow users are professional designers and businesspeople. We rely on Webflow as our exclusive means of designing professional sites because it makes prototyping, designing, pushing to production, and team collaboration way quicker.

Considering your happiness peaks at around $75,000 a year, you might want to consider working part-time and using the extra 20 hours a week pursuing other passions. Or sleeping — I hear that’s pretty good for your health too.

In short, it’s all up to you

As a freelancer, you’re in charge — of almost everything. You make all your work decisions, including who your clients and coworkers are, where and when you work, which software you use, and how much vacation time you get and when you take it.

The only other person you need to consider and listen to is your client, and you get to choose them too. But remember, once you have chosen them, you need to listen to and respect them. Your clients are your business — without them, you’re unemployed. Just choose wisely and you should be fine.

More than fine, you’ll be a freelancer.

Chapter 2

How to find freelance web design work

And keep getting more work over time

Neal O’Grady
Neal O’Grady
? Reading time
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That’s the most common question I hear — aside from, “What is wrong with you, Neal?” 

Unfortunately, there's no simple answer to either question. Since this is a web design blog and not a psychiatrist's office, let’s focus on the first one.

Now, I don’t want to mislead you, but there's no one path to Freelancer Mecca. In reality, there are many different paths, and only some will work for you. I’ll walk you through the 7 best. I strongly recommend testing each. To dismiss any of them would be doing a disservice to the hustler mindset that’s pivotal to successful freelancing. I’ve personally made each one work wonderfully for me.

Keep in mind that the beginning is always the hardest part, so don’t get discouraged. Once you’ve proven yourself to a couple clients, you'll be continuously turning down work, and you'll be able to increase your contracting rates higher than you originally thought possible. Think I’m exaggerating? Ask any successful freelancer you know.

Here are the channels I'll walk you through:

1. Your portfolio: personal website, Behance and Dribbble

2. Freelance job marketplacesUpwork and AngelList

3. Template marketplacesWebflowCreativeMarket, and ThemeForest

4. Networking: Go where your customers are and talk to them one-on-one.

5. Word of mouth: Make it easier on yourself … stay in and have people do the talking for you.

6. Hustling: Hack together solutions to get your name out into the wild.

I’ll go into detail on each one, giving you the information you need to start finding clients today. The goal is to give you a sufficient starting customer base that allows you to either quit your job (if desired) or grow your established freelancing business. Ready? Let’s do this.

Have an online portfolio

If you're a web designer and you don't have your own personal website plus a portfolio, then you have some self-examining to do. 

This is always step one. 

You can’t lazily point prospective clients to sites you’ve worked on. Your personal site should be the crown jewel in your portfolio. You have to prove yourself as a design professional if you want to be taken seriously and secure high pay. Your portfolio is your cred.

The advice in the following sections won't hold if you lack a portfolio. If you don’t take the time to do this, the next designer will. This is a crowded space, so don’t expect cutting corners to work out well.

Once you have a portfolio built, link to it everywhere — even where it doesn’t seem relevant: in your email signature, on your social media channels, and on business cards if you have them (yes, cards are old school, but we’ll explore how they're still useful for random encounters among friends … someone is always looking for a website).

Example of a Webflow portfolio (https://webflow.com/Arthur)

You should also create accounts on sites like Dribbble and Behance. These sites have well-established SEO (search engine optimization), so they'll often show up on the first page of Google. Leverage this to drive more search traffic to your work and site.

These platforms are for designers who want to share their web design projects and get feedback from other professionals. They're excellent ways to get your designs seen by potentially thousands of people who may eventually refer you. You might even get really helpful feedback to improve your skills. (Don't design in a vacuum!)

Our own Webflow Portfolio section also produces inbound job inquiries for freelance designers who take advantage of our platform. Other designers, companies, and would-be clients can follow you and message you about contracts.

Remember, don’t just wait for people to come to you — make it so easy for them to stumble across your work in so many different places that they'll have no choice but to reach out. This can have significant impact on your contracting volume. Why? Because once you have even a couple contracts in place, it’s much easier to get more. This career path is built on referrals. Good people who reliably produce quality work always get referred. 

(In fact, being easy to work with always matters more than how good your portfolio is. Life is short, and people want to work with good people.)

Before we move on, consider this: If there’s one secret to freelance website design and development, it’s that you only have to put serious energy into securing your first few contracts. The rest will come more naturally.

Freelance job marketplaces

Freelance websites and marketplaces are great for finding work and getting your foot in the door. Upwork (formerly oDesk) is an online marketplace designed to connect freelancers and prospective clients. Create a profile, upload your portfolio, and start bidding on contracts. You can even apply for the ones you might not feel totally qualified for yet — that’s how you grow and become an even better designer.

You might notice a high number of bids from international freelancers. They generally charge less for their services than you do, as their living expenses could be a fraction of designers in other countries.

If you’re from a “developed” country, don’t let this discourage you. I consistently won over 50% of my contracts, even when I was bidding against 30 other people asking for significantly less. Why? Because employers don't want their time wasted. They generally give preference to professional communicators, fluent English speakers, and those who don’t come with the baggage of a 16-hour time difference. In other words, clients on these platforms don't just care about how much they're paying. They want quality. Massive companies like GoDaddy and Fortune 500s rely on these platforms. Don’t dismiss them.

If you’re not comfortable with writing English, working on your English will be more important than improving your portfolio. That's priority number one. Otherwise, international work (or work in the biggest markets) will often be hard to find — or disproportionately low-paying. Businesspeople are too overwhelmed as it is to want to also have to wade through a language barrier.

Two quick tips for Upwork: 

  1. Always ensure your portfolio is fully complete (their algorithms will rank you higher in search results!)
  2. Work toward getting Top Rated status for prioritized access to the best-paying jobs.

Separate from Upwork is the combined startup/employment directory AngelList. Companies listed range from “dude in a basement” to booming enterprises like Uber and Stripe. It can be an excellent place to secure contract work with a well-funded startup. Simply create a profile, actively search for jobs, and — if your portfolio is up to par — expect quite a few to come to you as well. (While visiting a junior developer friend of mine, he had a Skype call with a new company from AngelList every day — so believe me, it works.)

If the position excites you, and there’s a great fit with the startup, you could even consider joining the team full-time, and gain serious equity in the process! Welcome to the startup hustle.

Blog

Write your thoughts down. Share them.

Writing about a topic in an intelligent manner positions you as an expert in your field. It’s the quickest way to garner credibility and awareness, and — if you spend time sharing your posts — some much needed traffic to your portfolio.

Start your blog on your personal site. Start writing useful and relevant industry content for others to benefit from. Make sure to inject your personality into your posts. Let it shine. Remember, clients want to work with good, interesting people. Demonstrate to prospects that you have impressive insights and opinions. This is all about building a personal brand. It’ll turn some people away, but those people would be terrible clients for you anyway. Be yourself and you’ll attract people who will love working with you.

Don’t expect a monsoon of visits to start with. Like all things that matter, building an audience takes time, patience, consistency, and some marketing. Don't get discouraged. A blog is a long-term investment in yourself. You'll always get some value out of it, even if it’s not paying clients. A few views from the right people can mean infinitely more than a million views that lead nowhere. Numbers aren't everything. Create as many opportunities as possible for inbound serendipity.

You can promote your blog by posting it on social media platforms, Hacker NewsReddit, and contacting newsletters, article curators, and other bloggers/tweeters in the industry who might find your post useful and share-worthy. Just don’t be spammy about it. The outward purpose is to educate, not self-promote.

Templates

The Webflow Template Marketplace.

Designing website templates and releasing them is not only an excellent way to earn passive income (i.e., you'll actually get paid while you sleep), but also an excellent way to get publicity and experience. If people are seeing and buying your templates on WebflowCreativeMarket, or ThemeForest, then they're seeing living, breathing examples of your work.

These individuals will be likely to contact you with a request to fully customize the design of their pre-existing site, and that could pay very well.

Even cooler? Building your own portfolio of templates will speed up future client work by giving you a base of pre-made designs to work from! Plus, templates are a great way to add even more content to your portfolio. See why it’s so important to have a portfolio?

Networking and word of mouth

The number-one way to find quality clients is to get out (figuratively and literally) and meet people. In my own younger and unemployed days, I'd spend all day applying for mechanical engineering jobs in isolation. I was unsuccessful for months.

I did, however, make serious progress through my Netflix backlog. Serious progress, people.

Eventually, I gave up and focused on pursuing a career in web design and development (a career I was much more passionate about), and started getting out and meeting people at various unrelated social events. Within weeks, I had job offers coming in from my loose-knit network of new acquaintances. It wasn’t rocket science: People prefer to hire people they already know and like — not the faceless, personality-less individuals clogging their inbox with links.

Notice how I didn't specifically describe who the people I met were? That’s because you need to meet all kinds of people — all backgrounds and age groups. You have no idea where your next client is hiding. Probably not at a web design meetup — those are filled with designers who don’t have jobs. 

This bears repeating: Go to any and every meetup that matches your interests, and simply tell people you’re a freelance web designer. Watch what happens. (Everyone needs a website, or knows someone who does. That's what’s so great about freelancing in this industry.)

Get outside.

Some places to start meeting people:

  • Meetups and Couchsurfing events
  • Sports games and classes
  • Cafes (though it only works if you actually talk to people)
  • Abroad! I went backpacking for 7 months and never met so many people in such a short amount of time
  • Parties
  • Twitter – find interesting people in your area and invite them out for coffee
  • Conferences and conventions, industry-related and otherwise

Tip: Don’t be the typical “business networker.” Don’t bounce from person to person shaking hands, fake-smiling, repeating first names every sentence, and handing out business cards. Be legitimate. Make real connections. People aren’t oblivious to hucksters.

The other side of the networking coin — word of mouth — comes from building a client base, having lots of contacts, and building a personal brand for yourself (with your blog, portfolio, and templates you've built). 

Remember: This takes time. But if you do great work, treat your clients with respect, keep in touch with past clients, and follow the rest of the advice in this article, you'll be fine.

With networking and word of mouth, you can easily attract more work than you can sustain — without ever actually working for it. When this happens, you can increase your rates. Ka-ching.

Personally, I turn down spontaneous contract offers on a weekly basis, which are all the result of word of mouth and networking I did many months ago.

It honestly doesn't take long to get to this point if you produce quality work and put yourself out there.

Hustling

Hustling is the art of working extremely hard and extremely smart, doing things most people wouldn’t bother with because they’re not relentlessly opportunistic. In our context, hustling involves going out and finding the work directly. For example, finding websites or small businesses that desperately need your services. Does your favorite pub have a terrible site? Why not talk to the owners and convince them they need you to fix it?

If you have the right personality and the drive, this can be an extremely effective method to whip up some initial work. It isn’t particularly glamorous and it requires your repeated, hands-on time and energy. (In contrast, writing blog posts or setting up a portfolio can attract customers for years to come.) But the success rate of in-person contact is much higher. The trade-off is lower volume.

Just don’t be the door-to-door salesman who pours dirt on people’s carpets. Approach people who truly need and can benefit from your services.

Next steps

If you’re sitting at home, desperately hoping clients will come to you, I have news for you: They won’t come if you haven’t given them a reason to. You have to start by putting yourself out there and showing prospective clients the tangible and valuable skills you have to offer. 

Luckily, this is an industry where skill and contacts trump all — education is irrelevant. So take advantage of that. (I personally never studied design or programming in school.)

Here’s my TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) next steps to getting clients and building your freelancing business:

  1. Make a portfolio. Make it gorgeous. Share it everywhere. You can use Webflow to do it yourself without coding.
  2. Create profiles on industry platforms. Use Behance and Dribbble to connect with other designers and potential clients. When posting, always link back to your site so you can use their SEO advantage to drive more traffic to your website.
  3. Create a profile on Upwork and bid on contracts. Be confident, and don’t be scared by inexpensive competing labour. Also use AngelList to find contracts with promising or established startups.
  4. Start meeting people. Remember, you’ll have no idea who will become a client, or who knows one, until you have a conversation. Get out, meet, and befriend as many people as possible. Be legitimate.
  5. Start a blog to complement your portfolio. Write thoughtful and useful industry-related content to establish yourself as an expert. Let your personality shine. (Just aim to educate, not self-promote.)
  6. Convert your designs to templates, and release them on sites like WebflowCreativeMarket, and ThemeForest to earn passive income and awareness.
  7. Start hustling. Find people who legitimately need your services and tell them why.
Do something! Even if it's wrong.

— My friend's dad

Remember, when you're starting out, it’s better to do the wrong thing than nothing at all. In the process, you’ll learn, and you might just stumble onto something that works beautifully.

Now, get out there and do something about this!

Chapter 3

How to price your freelance web design services

Find out how to put a price tag on your work — and why you’re probably selling yourself short.

Mat Vogels
Mat Vogels
? Reading time
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I really struggled with this early in my freelance career, and I still find myself wondering what a fair price is for new projects.

But over the years, I’ve gotten much better at pricing, and charging rates that feel comfortable to me and my clients. Here’s how.

You charge too little

And I can say without a doubt in my mind.

Which is funny, because as freelancers, we hear all the time that we're too expensive. But this is all the more reason to stand your ground. You need to get better at passing on clients who want your talent at a discount.

In the end, you’ll not only be making less than you’re worth, but you’ll probably dislike working on the project itself. Which leads to subpar work, which leads to subpar referrals, which starts the whole process over again.

The reason I’m so confident that you, dear reader, are undercharging for your services is simple: You undervalue your work. After all, it’s hard to charge a lot for something that comes fairly easy to you.

The big mental shift hit me when a mentor of mine caught me asking, “Why would I charge somebody so much for something that’s so easy for me to do?”

The answer is simple: Because it’s not easy for them.

Clients want your services because they can’t do it themselves. They can’t just buy what you offer at a store. But it goes even deeper than that — clients aren’t looking for just any designer, or writer, or developer: They’re looking specifically for you. They like your previous work because it's a good fit, and there’s tremendous value in that.

What I’ve realized, and still have to remind myself, is that when what we do comes easy, our rate should be much higher than our gut tells us.

Which brings me to my next point.

For the love of all things design, please double your rate

Just see what happens! Worst-case scenario: you pass on a project that you would’ve been doing at a discount. Best case: you’ve now entered a whole new realm of clients, experience, and confidence.

The best part is, you only have to do it onceBecause once you do it, you’ll feel more comfortable charging what you’re worth on every project.

That’s not even the best part

The best part isn’t even that you’re now making twice as much on this project. The best part is that you’re now much more likely to make the same amount on your next project.

Why? Because $10,000 projects attract other $10,000 projects. Just as $500 projects attract other $500 projects.

Once you make the leap to charging more, you’ll attract other projects of the same or greater value.

So take the leap already.

Kill the hourly rate

Stop. Just stop.

If you’re charging by the hour, you’re leaving money on the table, and making it harder to take on multiple projects at the same time.

I get the idea: Hourly rates mean you literally get paid an agreed amount for the work you do. It’s a direct correlation.

But this billing method predates tools like Webflow and Sketch. Tools that make the web design process much faster and easier. And hourly rates simply haven’t been able to keep up.

For example: It took me a single morning to design, build, and launch the Webflow Blog. 5 hours, tops.

Even if my hourly rate was $300/hr (which it’s not), I would’ve designed and built a powerful, well-designed, fully responsive website for just $1,500. Way too little for a blog that gets tens of thousands of views every week.

How many of you charge $300/hr? I’m guessing not many. And not many clients would feel comfortable with that hourly rate.

Charging on a project basis — what I like to call value basis — makes it much easier to find a rate that accurately reflects the value you provide.

But I think I’ve found an even better way.

How I price projects

I changed the way I price about a year ago, and I’ll never go back. Now, instead of thinking about hours or value, I think about project pricing in terms of headspace.

Because, let’s face it, even when we’re not working directly on a project, it’s still taking up headspace. Whether we’re in the shower or making dinner, we’re still thinking about work. But it’s hard to charge our clients for this time.

So I decided to think of each project in terms of how much headspace I’d devote to the project, and then how long I’d be devoting this headspace for.

In my experience, it’s best to think of this in terms of weeks. So for each new project, I ask myself two questions:

  1. How long, in weeks, will this take for me to complete?
  2. How much dedicated headspace will I need for it?

It’s important to remember that your headspace is limited (and it will vary by person). You can only give so much thought to any given thing in any given week. If you spread your headspace too thin, your projects will suffer.

So, assuming you begin with a max headspace capacity of 100%, figure out how much attention the project will need for the duration. Some projects will demand 100% of your headspace, and that’s fine (and maybe even preferred). Others may only take about 20%, letting you take on additional projects (provided they take 80% or less).

What’s your headspace worth?

Defining project headspace is only the first step. Next, you have to figure out how much your total headspace is worth.

How do you do that? Ask yourself one simple question: How much do I want to make each week?

If you were to devote 100% of your total headspace (total amount of professional time, effort and thoughts), what value would that be?

You can also approach this from an annual perspective, and instead ask yourself how much you want to make each year, then divide by 52.

Example

Let’s say that your weekly value is $2,000.

If a client came to you with a project, and you estimate that it’ll take you a full month, at 100% headspace, then the price starts at $8,000 ($2,000 x 4).

The benefits of headspace pricing

Pricing this way will help you:

  1. Decide if you can take on multiple projects
  2. Make the money you want to be making, instead of what you can get

I’d love to hear all about how you approach pricing, and any tips and tricks you’ve learned along the way! Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter — I’m happy to continue the conversation.

Chapter 4

How a design contract can help you manage clients

Discover the key to happier, healthier client relationships.

Neal O’Grady
Neal O’Grady
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Thankfully, a good contract can make even the most difficult client much easier to deal with. For the most part, it’s all about setting the right expectations, and sticking to them. Let’s see how.

Put it in writing

First and foremost, you have to put it in writing. Yes, it’s nowhere near as fun as working on your ideas, but it is a lot more fun than wasting your time and losing a client.

A well-written contract protects both you and your client in case of a disagreement, a speed bump, or a major problem. It also lays everything out on paper so both sides can weigh in and make sure what’s most important to them is understood and addressed. 

We’re not going to give you legal advice here, but we are going to cover the high-level bullet points and why they’re so important.

Pro tip: Don't reinvent the wheel. Find and customize a contract template to keep things simple.

Here’s what you need to consider before starting a project:

  • Timeline and milestones: Define how long the project should take and when specific elements are due. If there’s wiggle room, make sure to spell that out too.
  • Scope of work: Clearly detail what you’re making so it’ll be obvious if/when the client tries to expand scope.
  • Compensation: Be clear about what you’re charging and when you expect to get paid.
  • Late payment penalties: Prevent late payments before they happen by defining the consequences.
  • Conditions for additional work: Lay out what happens if you agree to expand scope, including how much notice you’ll need, and how to handle revisions to your timeline and compensation.
  • Possible conditions for unforeseen circumstances: Speed bumps and roadblocks happen, so plan ahead for possible changes.
  • Maintenance: Define how you’ll handle small changes and updates once the project is delivered, including how much you’ll charge, if anything.
  • Your business hours: Let the client know when they should expect you to be working and when it’s okay for them to reach out.

A few of those warrant expansion, so let’s dig deeper.

Scope of work

This section of the contract should detail exactly what you’re doing for the client. This can vary widely, but here’s an example based on a client who needs a restaurant website:

  1. All pages (or features) of the site: landing page, about page, contact page, menu page
  2. Additional versions for devices: tablets, phones, etc.
  3. Number of design revision rounds: note that additional rounds will require a contract extension, and consider defining what the terms of that extension will be
  4. Graphic/visual design work: logos, icons, or graphics
  5. How designs will be converted into a functioning site—if you’re working from mockups (but we always suggest prototypes)
  6. Hosting: how’s this site getting online. Do they expect you to keep it up for them?
  7. Maintenance, if any

Be explicit when defining the scope—for both you and the client’s sake. It’s all about managing expectations.

Proposed timeline and milestones

Detail how long you expect the project to take, and define milestones along the way. This adds transparency, gives the client something to look forward to, and helps keep you organized and motivated.

Be honest with yourself when setting a deadline. It’s all too easy to let your desire to please your client override all other concerns and deadlines. Just remember that you have a life outside work, and don’t forget Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

You’re the expert here. You know how long it takes to build an entire website — your client probably doesn’t. So add buffer time to your estimates. It could save you some embarrassment, and it will definitely help your client set realistic expectations.

Note: This isn’t an opportunity to quote low and promise high to outbid other designers. Dishonesty will only lead to arguments and animosity later on.

Compensation and payment schedule

Before I wised up (a little), started using contracts, and implementing late fees, my clients often took months to pay me — despite reminder invoices every two weeks. To prevent this, always detail your payment terms: how much, when it’s due, and how to pay you.

First, you’ll need to choose how to bill them. You have a few options (and we cover more in "How to price your freelance design services"):

Hourly: Ideal for short-term or infrequent work. Even if you opt to charge a flat rate, it’s easiest to base that rate on your desired hourly income.

Flat weekly rate: You charge a fixed rate based on the number of hours you’re able to work per week and your hourly rate. This can help keep you honest (i.e., working), but beware of overtime.

Flat rate per milestone or project: You charge for completed chunks of work, based either on your hourly rate or an industry standard. Clients often prefer this since it’s easier to budget.

Don’t forget to specify how you want to get paid, whether it’s by check, PayPal, Venmo, or Starbucks gift cards. Keep in mind that some payment methods charge the receiver (you) a fee, so ask your clients to use low-fee options with lower fees (wire transfer, check, PayPal without a credit card), or build the fee into your rate.

You need a retainer

Don’t worry — I’m not taking a jab at your pearly whites. A retainer is just a non-refundable down payment. It reserves your time, and helps you cover any non-refundable expenses that might crop up, such as design assets. It also covers you in case your client changes their mind, vanishes, or refuses to pay you. They’re most common with flat-rate projects.

Late-payment penalties

Defined due dates and late-payment penalties are the best way to ensure you get your money on time, or at all. I usually add these two payment conditions to my contracts:

Payment is due within 14 days from the billing date. For every week past the due date, there will be a late-payment fee of 10% (or more, though 50% is the usual maximum).

These stipulations will often get clients to pay within a couple days of getting an invoice — sometimes even instantly.

If these methods don’t work, you may be forced to sue. But that’s an expensive, stressful, unreliable option. Thankfully, late-payment penalties help you avoid litigation altogether by offering to drop the penalties if they pay now.

Note: Just because someone is slow to pay, doesn’t mean they’re vindictive. They might just be forgetful, or under financial pressure. Start with polite and respectful reminders, and only pull out the big guns if you really need to.

Conditions for additional work

As the project chugs along, you and your client might discover needs that weren’t written into the contract. No big deal.

Just estimate the time it’ll take to complete, and give them a quote. If they approve, add an addendum to the contract and get to work! If your client pushes back at the additional charges, politely remind them of the original scope you both agreed to. If that doesn’t help, you might offer a small discount to soften the blow. Just try to keep your client happy — extending a current job is easier than finding new work.

Negotiating the price for additional work at the beginning of the project can help a lot. Just be very clear about what counts as a full design revision. Swapping out a photo shouldn’t count.

Set your hours

If your clients are anything like mine, they’re dedicated and excited (stressed) entrepreneurs — which is awesome! You want to work with people who are truly invested in their work. But this can also mean change requests coming in at midnight ... on Christmas Eve.

Remember: You don’t need to accommodate every request immediately. Every business has operating hours, and yours should be no different — even if you’re a freelancer.

Be explicit about your availability from day one. Include your hours in the contract. It’s your time. Don’t let work consume your life. Also, be sure to keep clients in the loop if you’re going away for a few days. Give them a significant heads up!

Treat your clients respectfully

All of this advice goes both ways — you need to treat your clients very respectfully. A happy client will be more cooperative, forgiving, understanding, and keep coming back. They’ll also spread the word to friends and colleagues.

Find clients who make you smile

Remember that you choose your clients.

Instead of battling with a client who stresses you out, spend your time and effort on clients who put a smile on your face. A great client can be a friend and a source of work for years to come. Even if they pay a bit less than the next person, your peace of mind is worth it.

Chapter 5

Kicking off a new freelance web design project

Discover 3 steps you need to take before you start designing a thing.

Mat Vogels
Mat Vogels
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This chapter walks through the process of starting a new project from scratch, covering both what you need to know and what you should prepare for.

We'll cover 3 core topics:

  1. Accepting the client
  2. Finalizing the contract
  3. Starting the project

Accepting the client

Guess what? You and only you can choose to accept the client’s work.

You hold the power, so think long and hard before you start a new project. Be sure it’s something you want to do.

Some red flags I look for include: Am I taking this for the money? Do I feel guilted into taking this project (i.e., is this charity work for a family member or friend)? You may have other red flags, but the point is: Don’t take projects for the wrong reasons.

In another post, I shared 5 important questions that can help you decide whether to take on a project. If you haven’t answered those questions yet, do it now. You’ll thank yourself.

I can’t stress enough how horrible working with bad clients can be. Bad clients lead to bad work. Bad work leads to fewer clients, which leads to less business, which leads to no more freelancing. It’s a vicious cycle.

So, assuming you’ve found the right client, let’s move on to step two!

Finalizing the contract

Yes. You will need a contract, and it must be signed before you start any project.

It’s one of the most frequently missed steps in the freelancing process, which is a real shame, because it’s one of the most important. It’s not the first time we’ve stressed the value of freelance design contracts, and it won’t be the last. It's that important.

So — what needs to be established in a contract? A lot. But you’ll always want to define (in writing) 3 things:

  1. Timeline
  2. Deliverables
  3. Budget

For more on this, check out three things you need to know before starting a new freelance project.

1. Timeline

How long is the project going to take? Without an answer to that question, you can’t accurately budget time or cost.

You can decide on the time you'll commit to a project, but I’d urge you to think of your freelance projects in terms of days or weeks instead. This part of the contract should define a detailed calendar complete with deadlines (and consequences for not meeting them). A shared Google Calendar can help a lot here.

You should also define your client’s availability — a website project demands their time too. So schedule exact due dates for specific deliverables and feedback on those deliverables. Include a note that late feedback can delay a project.

2. Deliverables

Deliverables vary wildly across projects, but they should always be clearly defined in terms that both you and your client understand.

Be as specific as possible. Never list “Website” as a deliverable.

Your breakdown of deliverables for a website could look something like this:

  • 1 mobile-friendly/responsive page with 4 to 6 sections of content
  • 1 signup form that adds submitted email addresses to MailChimp
  • 1 content editor

Without that level of specificity, you’ll end up going back and forth about what “a landing page” means. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

3. Budget

Your budget is the most important piece of this puzzle (you're running a business, after all).

Now that you have both a timeline and a shared understanding of the deliverables, you should be able to create a budget that makes sense for both you and your client.

Need help figuring out what to charge? See how to price your freelance design services.

The contract should also include when you expect to be paid. I strongly recommend charging 50% of the estimated total as a down payment and invoicing for the rest on project completion. This helps cut your losses if the project goes down the tubes.

Sign the contract

Please don’t forget to sign the contract. It holds no value if it isn’t signed by everyone involved.

Starting the project

You did it! You found a client, signed a foolproof contract, and can now begin the project. But before you dive into Webflow, get some of the simple things planned and out of the way.

As a web designer, I can only speak to what I do for web and brand-related projects, but freelancers of all kinds should take this step.

Here’s what I cover before I start design work:

Pick a host

You can include this in the contract or handle it later, but either way, I like to have a host nailed down before I start designing.

These days, I only host with Webflow, so this part’s pretty easy.

Get that domain

Hopefully, your client already has a domain, but that’s not always the case. Either way, if the client has a name for their site, the domain should come next.

There’s nothing worse than finishing a branding or web project, only to learn that the domain isn’t available. (True story.)

Set up accounts

Get your client off on the right track by signing up for the 3rd-party accounts they’ll need before launching the website. The first one I nail down is email, since most (if not all) of the other accounts will require an email to register.

I strongly recommend not using the email provided by your registrar, but instead encouraging your client to spend the extra money for the premium Google Apps account (which includes Gmail, Drive, and Google Apps for Business).

Other accounts to set up may include:

  • Google Analytics
  • A/B testing software (like Optimizely)
  • Email marketing tools (like MailChimp)
  • CRM

Setting up these accounts early makes it that much easier to hook everything up in the design phase.

Get design assets ready

This step is less important, but I find it much easier to have assets ready to go before I start design.

This includes thing like:

  • Stock photos. I like to put together a dozen or so stock photos that are on-brand, and that I can easily include throughout the site (sometimes as placeholders, but they often end up sticking around).
  • Iconography. Another asset I like to have ready are icons that may be used during the design process. Common icons may include social media and contact icons, but I also like to find and use other icons that might play a role in the site. Having them ready keeps you in the flow.
  • Fonts. I like to know which fonts I’ll be using going into the design process, so I can be sure to buy/download/add to Typekit.

Now, on to the design process!

This phase is meant to prepare you for your freelance project, and I hope following these steps will lead to a successful project. Our next chapter will cover the optimal design process when working with clients.

Chapter 6

5 questions to ask yourself before you start your next freelance project

And why you should never say yes to a project without knowing the answers.

Mat Vogels
Mat Vogels
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Some of my freelance projects were simple landing pages. Others were sprawling, multi-page behemoths. Some focused on branding, from simple logo designs to brand-defining marketing assets and strategies.

And while every project differs, the factors that help me decide to take on a project tend to stay the same.

The struggle to say “no”

Early in my career, it was very hard to say no. To any project that came my way. Turning down work meant turning down revenue — which most new freelancers just can’t afford. But as time goes on, and you take on more projects, you’ll find yourself saying no to many projects, allowing you to only take on clients that you enjoy working with.

But how do you find clients you want to work with?

How do you know what a client is like before you work with them?

Of course, you may never know until after you work with them (and the damage is already done). This is what led me to create the following list of questions.

This list is just for me, and helps me remember what I value most in a client. The more positive I feel about the answers to these question, the more likely I’ll enjoy the project as a whole.

I usually ask myself these questions after I’ve gotten the project details, so it acts as the final step before I say “yes.”

Questions to ask yourself

These questions work like a set of guidelines for accepting new work. I need to feel good about most of them before I take on a project.

1. Have you worked with this client before?

If I enjoyed working with this client, I add one point. If I haven’t, I leave it blank.

If I have worked with the client and didn’t enjoy working with them, I stop this process and respond with a polite, “No.”

Working with repeat clients you like is pretty much as good as it gets. That’s why building long-term relationships as a freelancer is so crucial.

2. Did a previous client refer this client?

In my experience, if a client you enjoyed working with refers you to a new client, the new client is more likely to be pleasant than someone who randomly filled out a form on your site.

I always prioritize new work passed along from previous (successful) clients.

3. Have you confirmed the timeline for the project? Are there protections in place if the client causes delays?

Projects you can’t complete by their deadline can lead to a domino effect of bad freelance outcomes.

If the project goes over, there’s a chance you won’t get paid! So be sure to add securities in the contract that account for delays (unless you caused them).

When projects miss their deadlines, they can bleed into upcoming projects, which is a no-win scenario. Splitting your attention between two projects can negatively affect both and hurt your chances for future referrals.

As I discussed in our post regarding the three things you need to know before you start a freelance project, being firm with your clients about project deadlines is a crucial factor in project success.

4. Do you fully understand the scope of this project?

What this really means is, “Do you know exactly what the deliverables are for this project?” If this is even slightly unclear, immediately set up a call with the client to confirm.

The scope of the project should be crystal clear before you agree to any work.

5. Does the client’s budget work for you?

This is the most important question to ask yourself.

Many freelancers are too quick to compromise their rates to get work. If you’ve thought long and hard about your rates, and they feel comfortable for you, then your clients should feel the same. If your client asks for a lower rate, seriously consider dropping the project immediately.

I know this is easier said than done, but I promise you that undervaluing yourself will destroy your freelance work. It gives clients who shouldn’t be working with you access to your talents and skill set. Which causes a ripple effect to the clients you attract in the future.

Stick to your rates.

Chapter 7

The freelancer's guide to the web design process

Discover the best ways to work with your clients throughout the design process.

Mat Vogels
Mat Vogels
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Now that you’re neck-deep in freelance design projects, you’ve probably realized it isn’t all roses. Problems arise and things rarely go as planned. But there are ways to prepare for these hiccups.

Let’s find out how.

Get the ball rolling

Once you have a good understanding of project deliverables, it's time to jump in to the design iteration phase!

I’ve worked on enough projects to know that the slower you are to start, the slower the entire project will go. So start fast.

Typically, I get started with a mood board (though you might try a style tile or element collage). How you create your mood board may vary, but for me it typically involves putting together a wide variety of images, colors, fonts, and designs to see which resonate most with the client.

Get the ball rolling with our free mood board and style tile template!

At this stage, I often assign clients homework: to review and comment on the mood boards I put together.

Why? Because in many cases, clients already know what they want — even if they don’t realize it, or are unwilling to tell you. It’s your job to draw out and help them communicate their vision.

Even when clients know what they want, there’s usually a language barrier and most clients don’t know how to express their ideas in ways that easily translate into a design system. Creating a mood board for them to review helps in this translation process and will get you to the next phase much faster.

Skip the mockups. Proceed directly to prototypes.

Years of freelancing has taught me that the best way to present design ideas to clients is to show them in context. This is where Webflow comes in very handy for me. It allows me to put together amazing sites exceptionally quickly.

Now, these rapid prototypes don’t need to represent the final iteration (in fact, they usually don’t). But taking what you learned from your client’s mood board review and applying it to something very much like the final deliverable — a website — allows you to skip a lot of pointless back-and-forth.

Why?

Because if you’re slow to translate idea to prototype, you risk clients changing their minds or becoming impatient.

Most clients don’t understand kerning or care much about color theory. So if you waste their time presenting these things as “options” early on, you’ll end up drastically slowing down the entire process.

As the designer, you'll find fiddling with the small stuff useful, but clients find more value in iterating on the final product instead of small tweaks that don’t make much sense out of context. So jump ahead to the good stuff.

For website projects, this is where I’ll build/design all of the pages (i.e., 90% of the site) and put my best foot forward in hopes that it’s a home run.

Iterate until it’s great

Now, you’re most likely not going to nail the design in your first prototype, and that’s alright. In fact, you should probably expect it.

But if you were careful with your mood boards and listened closely to your client, hopefully you weren’t too far off.

If you’re way off, repeat the mood board process and see where things went wrong.

If you’re close, let the iterate-until-it’s-great process commence!

Iteration is where I spend the bulk of my time on freelancing projects — and I love it. With Webflow, this process is a breeze. You can use a screen recorder (like Loom or CloudApp) to send a site demo and get feedback. I share my screen (over Slack, Zoom, or GoToMeeting) or walk them through the site in person and make changes right on the canvas, in real time.

“How do you feel about this font? Too big? Let’s see what it looks like a bit smaller.”

“This image looks a little too busy? Let’s swap in a few more to see if we can get it closer.”

With Webflow, you can make these changes incredibly quickly. I’ve even found myself finishing a website with clients over a few one-hour screen-sharing sessions.

Don’t be afraid to publish

Launching a client website usually takes longer than it needs to, often because you and/or your client fear something important has been missed — without having the slightest clue what that “important” thing is.

I typically encourage clients to launch the website before they think it’s ready. When the site’s live, things that seemed really important suddenly seem … less so.

Designer's fears about publishing

The real fear isn’t that your site’s imperfect. It’s that you’re afraid to share it with the world.

On the designer’s side, fears about publishing a site is usually fear that the work isn’t good enough. That it will be judged.

To be honest, I don’t think this fear of sharing your work ever completely disappears. It’s just part of being a creative: you expect great things of yourself, and it’s hard to feel like your work ever meets your high standards.

But even if your work doesn't meet the highest standards, there's no way you'll grow as a designer without sharing and gathering feedback on your work. So share and talk about your work until it does meet your standards. Then ... adjust your standards again.

Client's fears about publishing

For clients, there’s a similar fear at play: now that their website is ready, the work of pushing it out into the world becomes a reality.

I’ve seen many website and branding projects bog down into a prolonged procrastination, where the client (usually subconsciously) slows the project down in fear that once it’s over, the real work begins. They’re now entering the world in a new way — and that can be scary.

This is where a good design-side manner comes in handy. Reassure clients that the site is ready, that they're ready, and that ongoing changes are still possible — provided you’ve agreed to this in your contract.

The beauty of the web is that it’s never finished. Websites can be changed and iterated on even after the website goes live. This simple fact is often the only reassurance you and your client need to take the next step.

What’s next?

With the website live, you’re done, right? Right?!

Usually, no. You’re not out of the woods yet.

In some cases the real work has just begun. That’s why, in 4 ways freelance designers can create ongoing revenue, we dive into some of the most common ongoing maintenance and support tasks that come up after a project is launched.

Chapter 8

4 ways freelance web designers can create ongoing revenue

Find out how you can turn completed freelance design projects into sources of recurring revenue.

Mat Vogels
Mat Vogels
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Yup. After

And all too often, that post-launch work gets done ... for free.

Why? I think it’s a mix of things, but mostly because freelancers don’t create a contract that defines how to handle additional post-launch work.

That's one of the reasons we stress the value of a rock-solid design contract. Because if your design contract doesn’t cover this scenario, what do you do when, a month after launch, a client sends you an email like this:

Subject: URGENT WEBSITE ISSUE

Hi. It looks like the website isn’t working properly on some phones. We made some changes to the text on the homepage and now it looks weird. Seems like an easy fix, can you take a look?

Maybe this is a familiar scene? Your client needs changes made to a site you finished days, weeks, or maybe months earlier that may (and often, may not) be your responsibility. Without a strong contract to fall back on, it’s hard to say with confidence:

“Sorry, our contractual agreement doesn’t cover any additional changes to the website not included in our original project scope. I’m happy to send a new proposal for these changes to happen, and can send our previous contract for reference, if needed.”

More often than not, the client’s more than happy to pay for the additional work, even if on the surface it feels like "an easy fix." And don't hesitate to correct assumptions — if it’s not an easy fix, the client needs to know that. This is much easier when you don’t have to be the bad guy and can point a client to your legally binding contract.

If you have clients ask for free work, it’s vital that you stand your ground. It’s a slippery slope to start taking on “easy fixes” for free. Pretty soon you’ll be spending a chunk of your work week doing “easy fixes” for free. It’s also not fair to your other clients who are willing to pay. So unless you did create the issue (with buggy code, for example), stick to your guns.

Don’t. Work. For. Free.

But there’s another important point to take note of: There’s money to be made here.

Opportunities come after the project ends

Like icebergs, projects often hide below the surface. That’s true for both the amount of work to be done during the project and the opportunities to generate more revenue afterwards.

This often comes as a surprise to freelancers I talk to. “You’re saying I can make more money after the project is complete?” Yes! And sometimes a lot more. Agencies large and small discovered this a long time ago.

Most of my first clients came my way because of my pricing. At first I thought this was my project-based pricing (which was way too low), but it was my ongoing pricing that was such a bargain. Many of my clients received bids from agencies for not only much more money, but also more ongoing maintenance and hosting fees.

Ongoing maintenance and fees? Yes and for an agency, these make perfect sense. Employee salaries, health benefits, office costs, and more mean that an ongoing source of cash flow is crucial for any agency. Hence, maintenance fees.

What drove me crazy was that this was normal. Companies were agreeing to pay these ongoing costs. (Granted, most clients going to an agency are much larger, and this cash isn’t necessarily burning a hole in their pocket.)

So I borrowed this method for myself, and brainstormed ways I too could provide a continuing service to warrant ongoing, monthly payments. I wasn’t going to charge as much as an agency, but even a little would add up as I built my client base. These “small fixes” added up and became a great source of ongoing revenue.

The key here is to arrange these services in advance, or offer them as a post-project package. Some examples might include a retainer, hosting services, or ongoing project work.

4 ways to make more money after the project’s done

Opportunity 1: Retainer

A retainer is a great way to build a consistent revenue source while also building a long-term relationship with the client. A retainer is an agreement in which a client will pay you for a set amount of hours per week, month, or year — regardless of whether you end up working at all.

The client is paying for your guaranteed time. They may not need you all the time, but when they do, you already have a contract in place to immediately step in.

Typically, I set this up with a monthly, recurring payment in exchange for time I promise to set aside each week for the client. For example, maybe a contract for 5 hours a week, paid monthly. These hours don’t roll over, so if the client doesn’t need you one week, next week still has a 5-hour cap, not 10. This helps you plan your time, and even take on multiple retainers each week. I know plenty of freelancers who have 10+ retainers at any given time — though that’s hardly standard.

strongly recommend setting boundaries around what this time will be used for in your contract. I've been asked to pick up supplies and cleaning the office. No joke.

Opportunity 2: Hosting revenue

In some cases, hosting services can be more valuable to your client than what you pay for them.

For example, hosting a website with Webflow CMS on your Pro plan and adding 3 collaborators would cost you $22 a month. But some clients are more than willing to pay more (sometimes much more) than that for the ability to maintain, manage, update, and take control of their website.

This difference between hosting cost and hosting revenue can add up to a recurring revenue source that grows with each new client. That’s why we built Client Billing, which allows you to set your clients’ monthly charges (including whatever profit margin you want), and charge them directly, instead of wasting time with manual invoices — all right inside Webflow.

Opportunity 3: Set up a payment plan

I’ve only recently seen (and used) this model as a way to generate recurring revenue.

The idea’s simple: Instead of taking your full project fee up-front, work with your client to set up a plan to pay it off over time.

Why this works

Clients don’t always have the funds to pay for the project up-front. So rather than losing business, I’ve opted for a small down payment, and a schedule for the rest.

The best thing about this model is that it can actually let you raise your rate, while also making it easier for your client to get started.

For example, instead of charging $5,000 for a project, set up a payment plan for $600/mo for 12 months. Now you not only have recurring revenue (which will come in handy during slow months), but you’ve also raised your rate by $2,200—all while making it easier for your client to get the project started.

Opportunity 4: Ongoing projects

Sometimes, creating opportunities isn’t about establishing a contract. It’s about you taking the initiative to remind clients that you’re always available for ongoing work.

Websites are living things. They’re constantly evolving into something new — or they should be, at least. Whether it’s building a new landing page or strategizing a new marketing campaign, opportunities for new work with old clients abound.

And no one’s better suited to update, revamp, or redesign a website than the designer/developer who created it. In other words: you.

How do you make recurring revenue?

Just because a project ends, doesn’t mean that it’s done for good. Find ways to keep it going in a way that doesn’t become a chore, but an ongoing source of opportunity and revenue.

Have you tried any of these methods, or do you have some of your own? We'd love to hear them!

Chapter 9

21 must-have tools and apps for freelance web designers

From time management to billing to collaboration, these are the tools you need to succeed as a freelancer.

Mat Vogels
Mat Vogels
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Best time-management and time-tracking tools

As a freelancer, time is your most valuable asset. So a toolset that makes managing and tracking your time easy is crucial.

In 4 time management tools for teams and designers, we discussed how different time management tools can solve different problems, and how these tools can make you a better freelancer and designer. The tools below will help you accomplish both.

Timely

Timely app homepage

Timely is a scheduling and time-tracking tool. It lets you plan your weeks in advance, plus track time (and hourly rates) for your current projects. I always turn to Timely for ongoing projects that require time-tracking, in part because it gives me a better retrospective look at where I spent my time in previous weeks.

Harvest

Harvest app homepage

One of the most reliable time-tracking tools I’ve found is Harvest. The easy-to-use UI lets you send invoices to clients right from the app. But one of its biggest advantages is its integrations with popular apps like Asana, Trello, Basecamp, QuickBooks, and more.

Toggl

Toggl app homepage

Though a little too simple for my taste, Toggl is one of the simplest time-trackers around. If you don’t want to bother with too much setup, or just need an easy-to-access timer, this might be your tool.

Freelancy

Freelancy app homepage

Where other time-tracking tools can feel too focused, Freelancy strives to be the all-in-one tool for freelancers, with time-tracking, project management, and invoicing all in one app.

Best finance and tax tools

Like any businesses, freelancers have to track their income, cash flow, and prepare their taxes (quarterly) — all without the help of a friendly HR department.

Luckily, you’ll find plenty of tools to help you manage your finances, bill clients, and easily keep up with your taxes. While some of these tools work beautifully together, and others are just for billing and/or taxes, each of them can make managing your money much easier!

QuickBooks Self Employed

QuickBooks Self-Employed homepage

A personal favorite — and the one I rely on most come tax time — is QuickBooks Self-Employed. It lets you not only easily track income and expenses by connecting directly to your bank accounts, but also makes it incredibly easy to stay on top of quarterly taxes.

Square

Square app homepage

Another personal favorite, and how I typically collect payment from clients, Square makes it easy to create, send, and collect payments both in person and online with a credit or debit card. There are more robust tools to manage your income, but few that make it so simple for clients to pay you (always the hardest part).

PayPal

PayPal for business landing page

Another long-time favorite, PayPal lets you collect payments in just about any way (in person, by credit card, via ACH, or with PayPal Credit). PayPal’s less-than-stellar user experience design has proven the only reason I choose other platforms.

Invoice.to (with Stripe)

Invoice.to's homepage ... is the invoice

Invoice.to may be fairly new to the invoice game, but it’s an incredibly easy invoice generator that you can link to your Stripe account to collect payments. I’d argue that there’s no simpler or better-designed invoice tool on the web, so if you already rely on Stripe, it may be a clear winner.

FreshBooks

FreshBooks' homepage

While the above tools make collecting payments easy, FreshBooks does a whole lot more. This full suite of accounting tools lets you manage every aspect of freelancer finance. Collect payments, manage expenses (including payments to other employees), and track time all in one place. With all that in one place, it’s sole drawback may be that it’s more than what most  freelancers need.

Expensify

Expensify homepage

If your work involves lots of travel, business purchases, or a lot of expense tracking, then Expensify could be your go-to. Expensify makes it easy to track all sorts of expenses, and bring that data into 3rd-party services like QuickBooks for easy reporting come tax time.

Cushion

Cushion app homepage

If you’ve ever freelanced, you know that the most stressful part is keeping on top of cashflow and planning future projects. Cushion is a great tool for projecting future income, seeing where you have cash gaps (so you can schedule new projects), and managing projects to minimize overlap.

Mint

Mint app homepage

Though most people use Mint for personal money management, it works just as well for managing businesses expenses. See where you’re spending, what you’re saving, and set savings goals all in the app.

Best communication and project management tools

Communication is key when working with others, especially when you’re working on multiple projects in parallel.

Project management tools help you better organize and keep clients in the know. And while nothing beats proactive communication (something a tool can’t do for you), the right tool can make all the difference between project bliss or utter disaster.

So ditch the emails, and get yourself (and clients) on one of these great tools. You’ll be best friends in no time.

Slack

Slack app homepage

Do we even need to explain Slack? Ok, in case you somehow haven’t heard of it yet:

Slack’s incredible chat application will let you and your clients ditch the back-and-forth emails and upgrade to a more reliable communication platform. I set up a new private Slack group for each new client, making it much easier for us to collaborate and get to final product much quicker.

Flow

Flow app homepage

Flow combines project management and chat in one multi-device app. I’d argue that Flow is much simpler than other project management tools on this list, while also packing in a good amount of features.

Asana

Asana app homepage

If you’re looking for a robust and beautifully designed project management solution, you may not need go further than Asana. While it sometimes feels like too much, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a project management tool with more bells and whistles.

Trello

Trello homepage

Trello has long been a favorite for designers and project managers alike. If you’re looking for a flexible and more visual solution, then Trello might be your go-to. I use it for everything from my daily chore list to client project management to vacation planning.

Basecamp

Basecamp homepage

Another venerable favorite for project management (and rightfully so) is Basecamp. Basecamp brings clean, considered design to a powerful tool you can use with coworkers and clients alike. It also has tons of integrations that make connecting it to tools you already use a breeze.

Best contract and proposal tools and resources

We could’ve covered these under finance tools, but contracts and proposals play such a huge part in the freelancing process, they deserve their own section.

The right proposal and contract will literally make or break a project. It’s the single most important part of any project, yet so many freelancers pass it off as no big deal.

This isn’t the first time we’ve spoken about the importance of freelance design contracts, and it won’t be the last, but some of these tools and resources below will get you off on the right track.

Creative Class Contract Course

Creative Class contract course page

Although it’s the priciest item on the list, it’s worth its file size in gold. The Creative Class contract course will guide you through building a bulletproof contract that will not only make you a better freelancer, but also make you even more money.

Bonsai

Bonsai app homepage

Bonsai makes it super easy to create a contract, review it with a client (and make changes), and then sign it. It’s the all-in-one contract tool that I use every time.

Proposify

Proposify app homepage

Although I have yet to use this tool, I know many other freelancers who have (and really liked it). If you don’t want to create a proposal from the ground up, or don’t know where to begin, Proposify is a great place to start. Their proposal generator is really easy to use, and will help you and your clients better prepare for projects.

Funnel

Funnel app homepage

Another hybrid tool that could fit into multiple categories, Funnel lets you easily add forms to your website to collect information from prospective clients. Once you get an inquiry, Funnel makes it easy to create a proposal and get the project moving.

But the most important tools are …

Tools and resources can help alleviate the stress of freelancing, but they’ll only take you so far. Your work ethic, dedication to finding new clients, and superb design work will always be your most important tools. All these apps do is help you deliver all three.