Thinking of going freelance/contracted, any advice?

over 8 years ago from , UI Designer at blinkbox

I’m a user interface designer in London and I’ve been thinking about going contracted for a while now but I’m a little nervous, the usual fears … what if I don’t get a contract straight away, how much money should I have stashed away etc. I have a mortgage and other financial commitments that aren’t going anywhere.

Some areas I’d really appreciate some advice on are: - How to work out your rates - Best ways to get a contract (recruiters or direct, mystery option no.3) - Any sectors to stay away from (Financial? Gambling?)

And any other advice that the DN community has to offer would be greatly appreciated.


  • Wes OudshoornWes Oudshoorn, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    I do some stuff that might be a a bit unusual:

    • I have day-rate instead of an hourly rate
    • I don't do fixed-price projects.
    • I charge more for longer contracts because they limit my freedom. Most people charge less because it gives them certainty.
    • I charge less if I can work from home.
    • I charge the time I can work while commuting.

    When it comes to sales I believe that:

    • You should believe that you have something that other designers don't have. Makes it so much easier to sell yourself and your rates.
    • Become friendly with other freelancers that are already established. Work often comes in waves and if you say no to a client that is looking, you'll probably give them some of the names of people you like. Other people will do the same for you.
    • Drink coffee and visit companies, even if they're not looking. You often don't find the company that is looking for designers at that exact moment, but they'll find you when they are looking.

    Other than that:

    • Ad-agency work is often rushed and not well-payed.
    • Corporate gigs are usually longer and well-payed.
    • If you like working in development teams, you'll often be an easy hire.
    • Doing front-end development / any type of coding helps if you're an interactive designer.
    12 points
    • Ash AdamsonAsh Adamson, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

      I second Wes's post, this the best breakdown of how to make things ideal.

      Finding work is also about telling everyone what you're doing, in this case going freelance. Make yourself open and avail to talk and educate prospects on yourself and process however don't make it seem like you accept everyone. Often makes it clear that you're more than just looking for work, you're looking for a "good fit." This signals that you're more than just taking work for pay, you want to make sure everyone vibes well.

      I've found most my work comes through referrals, find the right group of entrepreneurs or businesses and do great work in those circles, word will spread. Business schools, tech events, have a ton of new entrepreneurs looking for designers.

      Learn to observe potential clients. If they are in a hurry, have unrealistic expectations, or show any sign of disregard or disrespect to other people you should mark that as a red flag. Don't work with these types of people. The best paid gigs come from people who are results oriented, focus on these people. You'll be higher paid, and less micro-managed.

      2 points
      • wasil arwasil ar, over 8 years ago

        Noted the emphasis of good fit, focus on result oriented client, no rush.

        0 points
      • Gilli Sigurdsson, over 8 years ago

        Learn to observe potential clients. If they are in a hurry, have unrealistic expectations, or show any sign of disregard or disrespect to other people you should mark that as a red flag. Don't work with these types of people. The best paid gigs come from people who are results oriented, focus on these people. You'll be higher paid, and less micro-managed.

        I think this is one of the most valuable things you can learn in freelancing. I have met a lot of people who complained about having all kind of problems with their clients, like not getting paid. This is something I have almost never experienced because I learned how to read the clues before signing a contract.

        Protip: One of the biggest clues that a client will be trouble is if he finds it uncomfortable to pay anything upfront.

        0 points
    • Will AlmendrasWill Almendras, over 8 years ago

      Very fruitful and Straight to the point..

      I learn a lot from your views. Thanks. Cheers!

      0 points
  • adrian ioadrian io, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    Hi James, I see you're working for blinkbox, a shame it got sold on.

    Here are some of my thoughts:

    • It's a good market to be in as a contractor in London - lots of activity.

    • Make sure you're on LinkedIn, good place to find contracts either direct or via agencies.

    • Have a buffer of minimum 3 months - ideally 6. Sometimes you can start a contract within week, but it can also take longer - 1 month plus.

    • For long term contracts (6 months plus) try to be client side - things are less rushed, i.e. quality doesn't suffer as much.

    • Depending on your experience, you can find gigs ranging from £350 - £500 / day for UI designer roles. The higher rates when you know how to prototype (becomes easier and easier now with tools like pixate etc).

    • This is a good book to get - www.contractorshandbook.co.uk - but most of the info can also be found here www.contractorcalculator.co.uk

    Good luck and let us know how you get on.

    3 points
    • Marcus H, over 8 years ago

      £350-£500/day, jeez I'd be over the moon to get that in a week :)

      1 point
    • James Storer, over 8 years ago

      Thanks so much, this is great advice! Really appreciated. I'll let you know when I take the plunge/put my kidneys up for sale :)

      0 points
  • Taylor Van OrdenTaylor Van Orden, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    I don't have the time I should to reply in full to this but here's my story from when I quit my job a few months back:


    Since then made 4x my previous salary each month, except for january where I only brought in ~$1000 in leftovers because I spent a full month traveling through 6 countries.

    The main difference is I now spend 50% of my time managing my projects, dealing with clients, prepping for meetings, writing proposals, etc. I barely work between the hours of 9-5 as I am dealing with clients and emails. Instead I get the bulk of my work done on the weekends and evenings and take calls and respond to emails while wandering around the city, watching movies, and generally doing whatever I want. I don't even try to get big chunks of work done during that time anymore. I play during the day, take a call from whereever, and then get it all done in the evening.

    I spent the first few months trying to work between 9-5 and being frustrated that I got nothing real done during those hours and then actually worked between 5-10. It was exhausting. It's much better this way.

    I also charge 2x my normal rate if I have to physically go anywhere or meetings over two hours. These little rules are written into contracts on a per-client basis. I don't worry about it for 99% of clients but the 1% who are oldschool and/or general fucks, I have clauses EVERYWHERE. You'll get the hang of that as you go. Don't worry too much about the horror stories - just trust your judgement and your gut.

    Most of my clients were previous clients (I've always kept at least one side project going at a time), previous client's friends and family members and whoever, and that's it. I have yet to update my resume or portfolio. It's from maybe november 2013.

    I also got in as the go-do dev for a marketing company that I had worked with once over two years ago. That was a ~10k gig. They passed me along to another big project after that was done and the backend dev team was also working on another big project and asked if I wanted to do frontend for that.

    I haven't had any problems getting work, although I am waiting for the day where I have a moment to update my fucking portfolio site.

    Oh! Also. I use Harvest for time tracking and invoicing. It is well worth the $12/month or whatever as it will save you a ton of hours trying to remember hours or going back thru your calendar and it will make sure you bill for every hour you work.

    2 points
    • Marcus H, over 8 years ago

      Thanks for the blog post and update, they were both great reads and I really enjoyed your writing style. I've been freelancing for just over a month and only learning design for 7 months so I'm glad I'm able to earn money from this so quickly. The fact that you can work when you want and create your own schedule is brilliant and probably favourite part of working remotely.

      1 point
  • Kevin Brennan, over 8 years ago

    Motiv has a pretty great little calculator for seeing what your Freelance rate should be: https://motivapp.com/freelance-hourly-rate-calculator

    My suggestion would be to place your billable time to around 60-70% of your hours in the day. You'll be spending time on the day-to-day of your business. Invoicing. Answering emails. Phone calls. etc.

    When you start out on your own, let every friend and relation know what you're doing. Send them a link to your website and let them know you're accepting clients. You'll get most of your initial work from referrals and past co-workers/employers. From there hopefully it's all word of mouth on the quality of your work.

    2 points
  • Ali StoneAli Stone, over 8 years ago

    I have made the same jump recently in London and it's been the best decision I have ever made. For these reasons:

    • I feel more connected to the money I make. If I don't work I won't get paid, and if I don't do good work I don't get work.

    • If they are paying you it means they like your work. This not only gives you the confidence to work hard but also to know your work is valued and for you to keep working you must continue to offer value.

    • I feel respected as a professional. No longer am I the guy who the other employees go down the pub with to moan about the boss. I come into to do a professional job and it's not my place to moan about internal politics. If something is not quite right I fix it or I leave.

    • I get to do varied work all the time and each job offers very different challenges, I feel this vastly improves my skillset and keeps me fresh

    • As a senior people value my agency experience. I can offer small startups a way of working and experience that has come from the investment of a larger employer. They love this and so do I, they draw on my experience and I feel great that I can offer something that I thought was second nature (Just make sure you stand up when they come asking or when you feel you can offer more than just sitting at your mac with your headphones on).

    • I meet great people all the time and it's given me a great list of talented, digital professionals. If I ever build my own product or need a team then I will already have a list of people I know I can work with.

    I would ask what level UI Designer you are? I'm a senior and averaging about £300-£340/Day.

    If you are good at what you do, you are enthusiastic and happy to go out searching for work then you'll be fine. I had about a week off in the beginning and spent the whole time re-doing my folio to what I thought potentially employers would want to see (it needs another refresh now!). This was invaluable (along with a fair few phone calls and emails every day) and I have now been in work for almost a full year.

    1 point
  • Philip WeberPhilip Weber, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    I did a lot of freelance for big agencies. There are certainly downsides, but you can get 1-4 months of 40 hour weeks at just about the highest rate you can expect before you've built out a client-base. It's a "safe" way to start freelancing.

    If you know anyone who works at a big agency, start asking around. The agencies are always landing projects they don't have the staff for.

    1 point
  • Vincent Le MoignVincent Le Moign, over 8 years ago

    I was freelancer for more than 10 years. My advice: start progressively. Don't take risk, don't give up your job yet.While you keep your job, start to get some freelance contracts and work on it during week-ends, holidays or evening.

    So you start to build your customer base, your portfolio, you see how much you can charge, and you start to have an idea of a potential income.

    Once you will have freelanced for a few months, you will have saved money, got customers and you feel more confident. Then you can decide more surely when to switch to 100% freelance.

    Good luck,

    1 point
  • Dylan Feltus, over 8 years ago

    Check out hashtagfreelance.co (shameless plug)

    We're a community chat on Slack with hundreds of freelancers... Tons of advice going around, both business and design topics.

    It's great to have other freelancers to get feedback from.

    1 point
  • Saulius Stebulis, over 8 years ago

    Some valuable advise are being shared.

    I am at the same boat of starting up as a contractor and hoping to become a full time freelancer in a couple of years time (work from home, not limited by location).

    I live in Edinburgh, so the market is not that big here. I would love to hear from the contractors from smaller cities about their experience and how do you go about getting the work.

    0 points
  • Tom DurkinTom Durkin, over 8 years ago

    Great reading as I am thinking of moving down from Chester to contract/live in London. Thanks to everyone that has left useful information. I will be bookmarking this thread!

    0 points