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Ask DN: For those that freelance - how well are you doing, financially?

over 4 years ago from , Founder, Lead Designer at Black Airplane

Just curious if you are struggling or doing well.

Additional questions -

What is your best quarter? Are you a designer, developer, or both? How long have you been freelancing?

28 comments

  • Paul JarvisPaul Jarvis, over 4 years ago

    I've freelanced for 18 years. Always done well enough to have more work than I can do and provide for all my family's needs (and wants).

    9 points
  • Ivo MynttinenIvo Mynttinen, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

    Freelancing 3+ years, profitable since day one – so I guess I'm doing kinda fine.

    Year 1: 70,000 €

    Year 2: 107,000 € - http://ivomynttinen.com/blog/my-year-2013-in-numbers/

    Year 3: 124,000 € - http://ivomynttinen.com/blog/freelance-business-report-2014/

    USD/EUR x-rates varied from 1.62 - 1.1 over these years, just so you can get an idea of the $ value

    Best quarter was about 50,000 €, worst was 15,000 € or something like that.

    Now I'm on an ongoing long term contract for a single client (not sure if you would still count that as freelancing, but I do have the freedom a freelancer does), which totals at around 140,000 €/year + stock options.

    9 points
    • Ivan BjelajacIvan Bjelajac, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

      I'm curious, how did you get all of those leads and clients? I've read your blogs already and am wondering how you managed that since you're from Europe and maybe not in direct contact with the North American market. Like myself.

      I really love your pricing guide btw. Really helpful and a great insight...

      3 points
      • Ivo MynttinenIvo Mynttinen, over 4 years ago

        That just happened somehow... guess I was really lucky.

        I've started with one client (speaking U.S. based) who just found me on Dribbble. It was a well founded startup (but unknown) and the founders where very connected in the SF startup scene. They've been happy with the results and told other founders about me so I've got some leads from that direction.

        After I've had a few solid pieces of work in my portfolio, the main source for new leads became my website (the blog is relatively popular so there are many people coming from google just searching for something and then accidentally turn into clients). Surprisingly, Dribbble is not bringing any quality leads anymore (at least for me). Referrals from existing clients are coming in steady and are usually from the U.S (just because the existing clients are from there) and almost always companies/individuals I want to work with.

        2 points
        • Ivan BjelajacIvan Bjelajac, over 4 years ago

          Thanks a lot for the answer. It might seem you got lucky, but I'm sure it's due to the great work you do.

          I just have another little question. :) Do you (or did you) ask your clients to referr you to other potential clients?

          0 points
          • Ivo MynttinenIvo Mynttinen, over 4 years ago

            Nope, never asked for it - they just did it when someone they knew was looking for a designer/dev.

            However, when you feel like you need more clients, it does never hurt to ask your existing clients if they know someone who knows someone...

            1 point
  • C___ F_____C___ F_____, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

    Lot's of people in the 10+ year camp here, I'm at the other end of the spectrum.

    I'm in my 4th month as a full-time freelancer. Income hasn't been great (ok, it's been awful) but is steadily increasing. I've learned that there's a delay of around 1 month before a job gets the go ahead, and then obviously you only get paid the final % when the you finish the job.

    Here's a summary:

    Month 1: $1550

    Month 2: $1900

    Month 3: $2100

    Month 4 (this month): $5050

    Month 5 (projected): $7100

    My target is to average $5000. If I want to earn more than that I'd have to either increase my rate or work longer hours.

    3 points
    • Julian LloydJulian Lloyd, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

      Looks like you’re doing something right!

      I have a friend who’s building up her business and I’m curious, how did you find your first few clients?

      0 points
      • C___ F_____C___ F_____, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

        Months 1 & 2: my old boss sold his company and started up afresh with a spin-off product, he asked for some of my time. Also got a referral from his old company to work on a big marketing campaign which kept me afloat for a while. That was basically it.

        Whilst I was doing that I picked up a few interesting leads via sites like Hacker News & AngelList, and the work has just started to come through from them. I recently got invited to join Crew too which has been awesome, so I'm speaking to around 2 very strong new leads every week – hence the projected pick up in income..

        That being said, at the beginning I was going for quick fixed-price jobs, just to get the cash in. Whereas now that I'm more comfortable I'm planning ahead a lot more – speaking to clients and looking to start work 2-3 months down the line.

        0 points
        • Julian LloydJulian Lloyd, over 4 years ago

          Thanks for the reply.

          I hadn’t heard of Crew before, so you were invited as one of their professionals? It looks like a modern take on a staffing agency, mixed with a web service.

          0 points
          • C___ F_____C___ F_____, over 4 years ago

            Yeah, I'd shown some interest last year when I was still a full-timer and they got in touch after I'd made the switch. I think you're right with the description, they shortlist a few designers for clients, hold payments in escrow and take a % cut.

            0 points
  • Luan Carneiro, over 4 years ago

    I did it for 2years, had some good months And some really bad ones. This days im working full time plus freelancing And now im making enough but have no time at all.

    Planning to go back to freelancing full time again.

    Btw: i live in Brazil

    3 points
  • Blaine KBlaine K, over 4 years ago

    Developer & designer here.

    Doing good. Can't complain. Work's always been there, I've never had to have any strategy to my sales, but am working towards that. Probably on track for my top year freelancing.

    3 points
  • John Howard, over 4 years ago

    Also, no worries on how much you make. And don't feel bad if you aren't making it. I hope the goal of freelancing for all is to be able to take care of your needs so that you don't have to take on a full-time job somewhere else. The bonus is when projects start rolling in that it becomes a full-time job and/or business. Love hearing everyone's stories! So fascinating to me.

    3 points
    • C___ F_____C___ F_____, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

      The bonus is when projects start rolling in that it becomes a full-time job and/or business

      This is so true. I started out with the goal of striking a perfect work/life balance, but I'm really enjoying work right now. Running/being a small business is pretty fun, believe it or not.

      2 points
  • Chris WinchChris Winch, over 4 years ago

    I have been freelancing full time since October 2014 and was doing fairly well. Started working for an agency where I was asked to give a fixed quote up front for a project that was meant to only run for 2-3 months. 7 months later and I'm still working on it, it's still taking up most of my time and I have now made a massive loss on the project ( around £5000 ).

    This project has properly crippled my business and I'm just about staying afloat. I've learned a lot the hard way though, so pretty confident moving forward that this will never happen again.

    Anyone been in a similar situation? How did you deal with it?

    2 points
    • Ivo MynttinenIvo Mynttinen, over 4 years ago

      Don't do fixed quotes if you have the feeling it wouldn't benefit you. If you have to do it, add some kind of step-back paragraph to your contract that allows you to cancel the work relationship under given circumstances.

      Since it seems like you are still have to deal with them... what stops you from just "firing" that client? Did you agree to some strict features set that needs to be designed/implemented before you are done and are they holding back your payment?

      2 points
      • Chris WinchChris Winch, over 4 years ago

        Nothing was agreed except from my fee. I don't have a contract. The only thing I signed was an NDA.

        They are holding back half the payment for the my original quote until the site goes live.

        1 point
        • Ivo MynttinenIvo Mynttinen, over 4 years ago

          I don't have a contract.

          Well, sorry to hear that - but why on earth do I keep hearing of freelancers who work without a contract.

          This is business and business is done on paper

          2 points
  • Saurabh M, over 4 years ago

    Additional question, if you don't mind, John :)

    I wanted to ask the long-term freelancers that have been doing well - How would you guys calculate a monthly salary figure ask, if you had to switch over to a job tomorrow?

    2 points
    • Jon MyersJon Myers, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

      That's the funny thing. I've never really had a "job".

      I was a rebellious skaterpunk kid, and recognized early on that I never wanted a traditional job. I worked in an arcade as a kid in high school and was just always pushing on side hustles.

      I can't ever see myself taking a job.

      As a result of consulting with larger companies, I've been offered positions over the years from design director to more recently, the CEO position of a bank I'm working with... lol - the latter one cracked me up. Could never see myself as a bank CEO. Some of the offers have been lucrative, while others were sizing up my level of interest.

      In terms of actually calibrating a monthly salary.

      Depends on a lot of things. Your domain expertise. Experience in the market. Connections. Overall experience.

      I would say, if you are desired and can command it, ask for 2 to 3xs of what you’re making as a freelancer - because at that point, you’re building equity in someone else’s company, brand or product - and not you’re own. Therefore, there is an opportunity cost attached to that time.

      One more point on the job side. Push for equity and ownership in the upside of your contributions.

      On the actual calibration of income as a freelancer.

      I would think in terms of runway.

      How much runway do you have?

      Expenses then - What do you have in savings? What do you have in receivables? What do you have in terms of deal flow in the pipeline?

      Finally, my advice on managing money and volatility as a freelancer.

      Be cautious about celebrating your successes. Reward yourself, acknowledge it, but don’t dwell on it. Especially if you land larger projects. They make you lazy and vulnerable.

      Never get too comfortable.

      Always stay hungry and hustling.

      3 points
  • Wes OudshoornWes Oudshoorn, over 4 years ago

    I am a designer. My best year was about €120K before taxes.

    I have no problems getting full-time jobs for longer periods of time. If I'd work 5 days a week and take vacation days as if I'm an employee, I could probably do €180K before taxes but I choose to spend some time on other things.

    Now I'm splitting time between clients and my own startup, so one quarter I'm doing 0 and the next I'm doing €30K.

    1 point
  • Jon MyersJon Myers, over 4 years ago

    Doing really well.

    I'm in the 18 - 20 year camp as well. Though, I've done a few startups during that time. Built some products that sustained me, Had a small agency, etc.

    Majority of my leads come from relationships I've established over the years. Some from speaking gigs.

    I'm feeling the urge to get back into product lately (my own) and get out of client work.

    1 point
  • Roy BarberRoy Barber, over 4 years ago

    Was a freelancer for 4x years, always had more work than i could handle. Now have 5x staff and built a mini agency. All work still comes through me and my portfolio.

    1 point
  • Andy LeverenzAndy Leverenz, over 4 years ago

    I'm doing decent despite the fact that I have a full-time job as well. I try to juggle both which means I can't take on a ton of work on the side, but it's a substantial amount to make a big difference financially.

    I do both design and development. I have been freelancing for about 5 years now.

    1 point
  • Jacob CooperJacob Cooper, over 4 years ago

    Doing good. +80k last year. Struggled the first year though.

    1 point
  • Marie PoulinMarie Poulin, over 4 years ago

    I've freelanced for over 6 years as a designer, developer and strategist. My best quarter is probably about ~$40k. I've had highs and lows from month to month, but definitely steady growth every year.

    1 point