12 Things I Have Learned After 7 Years of Freelancing

At the age of 15 I started with this web design stuff. Here I am, almost 7 years later and I wish I knew a lot more about this field rather than learning just by my own mistakes. But you don’t have to pass through all of this, dear Padawan.

There are a few particularities in our field that unless you have a geek dad you would never think about… So if you are aware about what you need to do you can have a much simpler, more productive, and happier freelance life.

The crazy thing is that success is not (just) about coding skills alone. You have to build a whole environment to compensate the instability that you probably won’t face in a regular job.

Finally, here we’ll see a few tips for novice and experienced freelancers, ranging from controlling your finances to networking. And I really want to hear your advice and tips after reading this, because we always have something to share, right?

So, let’s rock!

1. You’ll earn much less than you imagine

Credits: svilen001

Last month I earned barely two-thirds than what I committed myself to earn. And it doesn’t mean that I have worked less than the plan, it’s just that I overestimated how much I could actually earn.

We tend to think that something magical will happen and we’ll go from zero to a million overnight. Just forget about it, don’t lose too much time thinking about how much you can earn in a month and put that time into getting things done!

2. Things takes much more time than you imagine

Credits: CDJensen

One thing that just comes with time is realistic time estimates. I’ve seen myself billing 1 hour for something that took me much more than 8 hours. There are plenty of reasons to get good at estimating time, but you’ll be good with these points:

  • How much it took to do before + 50%
  • How much you depend on other people and how long it takes to get a useful response from them
  • How many unexpected problems you can handle  (like accidentally deleting all your DB)
  • How many other things you have to do
  • How much continuous time you have to deal with this (if you have to take breaks it takes longer to get back to the point you were)

3. You’ll never know everything

Credits: somadjinn

I’m sure you have laughed at a crazy dumb user fail. If you haven’t, you should.

But you have to keep in mind that sometimes clients are right, and you are wrong. Sometimes they actually know more about something than you.

A client of mine, for instance, taught me a lot about cool WordPress functions (crazy, huh?).

So be open-minded enough to take good advice, and expert enough to block crazy requests.

4. Distractions are your worst enemy

Credits: _AcE_

In other words, you are your own worst enemy. You’ll always find a cool flash (or why not, JS) game, TV show or any other excuse to keep  you away from hard work. It’s human nature man, don’t be ashamed.

Once I took an Aikido class. I learned something amazing that day. The teacher said:

“Your body is lazy, kid. Your mind has to control your body. Your body will want to stay in bed for 15 more minutes, and will find all kinds of excuses to keep you away from those crazy physical exercises. But you have to control your body. You have to ignore those distractions and keep moving.” – Myiagy San from Curitiba, Brazil

The ironic fact is that I didn’t take a second class. But I took his advice.

5. Join the right tribe

Credits: marcos_bh

My very first web design job paid me around $175 per month for full-time work. Don’t know about you, but today it would be just impossible to live on that.

So you have to be around people who see value in what you do. Run away from small gigs, or people who think that your job is just to paste things from DOC to Dreamweaver. Be around of people who you can help, and that will help you in return.

6. Learn to take the garbage out

Credits: bluegum

With all this free stuff out there it’s pretty easy to have your own garbage collection without even noticing.

Links, templates, old stuff, social media overdoses, obscure folders that you’ll never even visit again.

Unless you just want to fill a 1TB drive with psds that you’ll show to your grandkids, get rid of them all and just keep what makes your life better and is useful to your job.

7. Survive with active income, but keep your eye on passive income

Credits: kikashi

Active income is good to balance daily bills, but nobody gets rich with billable hours alone. If you don’t want to stay working 16 hours a day, every day, for the rest of your life, you’d better start thinking about passive income.

Here are a few options:

  • Sell templates
  • Create apps
  • Create plugins
  • Take amazing shots and sell them (highly recommended to be a pro for this one)
  • Start small services, like resell hosting for your own clients
  • Write books

8. Be a backup freak

Credits: fDhooghe

What’s the price of losing all your current projects data? All your knowledge that is stored just in your files? All your family photos that make you remember that amazing trip last year?

I bet it’s less than any backup option out there.

9. Use the right tools

Credits: fabioslave

It’s not just about the image or code editing software you use. It’s all about the structure that you make use of.

Relying on the big boys is a safe bet, since I really doubt you can do a better job optimizing your system for one client than they have been doing for millions. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, start working with jQuery, WordPress, Drupal or anything else that make you feel comfortable.

10. Don’t stick with the tool, learn the roots

Credits: ryas

Besides those tools, you may be asked to use a new one. And by this time unless you know the basics of the language (or concepts of design) you’ll be in big trouble.

So try to read a good book on the roots of the language you are using every now and then , I bet it can even help you to be more productive while working with those tools!

11. Sh*t happens. All the time

Credits: KnowYourMeme

Don’t take it so hard. At some point you’ll screw things up, lose a client, or mess up someone’s else job.

Just stop for a moment and think about how this will affect your life in 1, 5 or even 10 years. I bet you don’t even remember what your “big trouble” was 10 years ago.

Don’t worry, all things must pass, all things must pass away..

12. Visit 1WD every single day

This is the best advice you could take in your entire life. We have great content coming every single day to help you. And of course we all are happy when we see you back :)

Rochester Oliveira

I'm a web designer and entrepreneur from Itajubá (MG), Brasil. I love writing about obscure topics and doing some cool stuff. And also I do some FREE stuff, check it out: http://www.roch.com.br/

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Comments

  1. winskey says

    So true..Now i’m going freelance, i am experiencing most of it…Nice Article! ^^

  2. says

    I like your article a lot but the thing that impressed me about you is that you answer back on verey comment! Great job.

    Markiz

    • says

      Hi Markiz,

      If you spend your time to drop a line, I should at least spend a few minutes replying too, right? :) I guess it’s a win-win, I don’t miss a single comment, and you guys know that it’ll be always someone to at least read what you said!

      Thanks!

      []’s

  3. Hamed says

    Rochester Oliveira you seems very mature , even you are young
    i have just start freelancering
    thanks for tips that make my way short

  4. Saket Jajodia says

    Congo on 7 years..!! And Thanks for sharing your experiences and all with us.. And about the last point that I do each and everyday via my desktop RSS reader (FeedDemon)..!! ;) Thanks one again, Rochester..!! :)

    • says

      Hi Saket,

      I’ve never used a desktop RSS reader, just GReader. How does it works for you?

      And keep coming once a while to comment, we really enjoy this interaction :)

      []’s

  5. Pratik says

    hey Congrats for completing 7 years and also thank you sharing your experiences. I’ve a Q… How to be around of people who I can help?, I work in a MNC having Infosec Domain and my niche is Blogging and Inspiration. :o

    • says

      Hi Pratik,

      There’s always good people out there that you can share experiences with. For instance, I live in a really small town, with around 90k habitants. So my network is all spread around the world (Latvia, USA, JP…). I think you could do the same :)

      Don’t draw your boundaries thinking about “physical” world, don’t forget that with the Internet you can be anywhere, with anyone.

      []’s

  6. Sishim says

    alway found something fresh and original taste every time i visited 1stwebdesigner, another great article(s) Rochester . But your last point is make me laugh – it’s about your sense of humor – i thought that was a humor Roo. That is so funny but the truth is you’re right. Visiting 1stwebdesigner every single day can make my brain more sharp :)

  7. Elvin Xhimitiku says

    Thank you a lot for this amaizing post. I made the big switch to Freelancing last November, and LIFE has NEVER been THE SAME :)
    Its totally worth it, with it’s ups and downs. The thing i love the most is: i sleep whenever i want and wake up the same, just as long as i get the work done :)
    Last month my server was doing routine maintenance, and i was scared to death. All my sites were down. Thank God that after couple hours everything was fine again, but still that didnt make me go for the back ups right then. I am doing a full backup now :)

    • says

      Hi Elvin,

      I know exactly how you feel. And it’s pretty amazing indeed.

      And about your routine, I get same thing here. But it’s tricky sometimes, you need to control your distractions better so you don’t screw up things with your clients.

      Nice point about backups :)

      []’s

  8. Eugene says

    Great article! Thanks.
    I have one question: can you say more about “Sell templates”? (from p.7)
    Thank you again. Always glad to read you blog.

    • says

      Hi Eugene!

      There is basically 3 ways of doing so:
      1 – You can act as affiliate and sell other people’s templates in your own site (e.g. wordpress themes from theme trust, which gives you 30% of the earnings)
      2 – Write and sell your own templates in your own site (so you keep al incomes for yourself :D )
      3 – Write your template and use someone else to sell it, like code canyon

      Hope it helps!

      []’s

  9. says

    Thank you Rochester for writing this! It feels like I know you a bit better already! Glad to have you in our team and as my personal friend! Such a great story full with such a good tips!

  10. Pete says

    Over the 29 years I’ve been programming (ok ok, ‘only’ 22 years commercially) I have learned one important lesson in actually dealing with a client: learn to think as a manager to deal with management – they are the decision makers and most of them do not understand the tech-guys technical explanations or reasons to pick this over that. If you can present a vision compatible to budgets and reporting as well as make it obvious that they will save time and money, and that they will be safe (support-wise, very important (!) long term aspect of dealing with your clients – are you there 24/7, in case something is burning or need ‘rescue’? never happens, but they want it anyways) with you and your solution, you are almost there to close the deal.

    • says

      Hey Pete,

      I’m sure you have more years programming than many our readers (including me) have in their entire life :)

      About you point, yeah, we have to come up with amazing technical solutions but keep an eye on benefits, always. If you have a cool optimization technique that will improve loading by 50% it’s still meaning nothing to the client unless you say that it’ll give them 80% more conversions.

      And about support.. Oh, this is a really important thing! There’s nothing worse than the felling that someone is ignoring you, and nothing better than felling important. When you give a client all your attention (even if it’s just for 5 minutes) they feel safe with you, so you’ll be their choice :)

      Thanks for your great points!
      []’s

  11. Christopher says

    Truly excellent points and by far the best freelancer reality check! I would only differ with #1 – After establishing a smart business model, the money can be more than one might imagine.

    • says

      Hi Christopher!

      Wow, thanks a lot :)

      And about #1, I guess I haven’t explained it well enough.. I’m not saying that you’ll never get money (actually you’ll do, for real) I mean, at first we all imagine that we’ll just close all deals in no time and receive all the money by next month, but it’s just not gonna happen..

      Thanks!
      []’s

  12. Mike says

    I have to agree with you about backups. I have lost my HDD once and now I am extremely cautious about backups

    • says

      Hi Mike,

      It’s really bad, isn’t it?

      You may call me dumb, but once I erased all my office’s files (actually it was a intern under my guidance :D).. And you can imagine how bad it was to recover important data like spreadsheets and client’s documents.. Just a nightmare…

      Since then I keep safe copies of important things, and never trust to let them all in the same place :)

      []’s

    • Pete says

      Backup’ing data is one thing (and I agree fully – I have my raid-5 setup running daily, phew.. lost too much data in the past). Many of the bigger clients are also concerned about YOU. Especially if you are a one-man company – what happens with their product and the support of it if you get a brick on your head.. something to think about.

      • says

        Nice point Pete,
        Even if you are a small company (like one I’ve had before) usually if someone gets sick things can get ugly.. You can imagine how it’s like to take vacations or even simple things like sleeping or enjoying weekends :)

        []’s

  13. Dorothy says

    This is a really awesome article—short, sweet and straight to the point! I agree with everything but even more so with points 5 and 7 :)

    • says

      Hi Dorothy!

      Thanks a lot!

      I’m still working on #7 but I guess I’m really good with #5.. I just keep in touch with people who help me to get better and better :)

      How are you doing with this ones?

      []’s

  14. Bret Juliano says

    Number 11 is such a good point to reinforce.
    Number 12 is a little biased, but still a good resource, none the less. ;)

    • says

      Hi Bret!

      #11 is my personal mantra.. I wake up everyday singing “Don’t worry.. about a thing.. tchu tchurururuu rururu” haha! But really, how worrying about every bad thing would help us, right?

      #12 is biased, indeed :) But is just because I believe on this, and I read this blog more than any other out there! But the general idea is, get just the best resources you find, and let the trash go :)

      []’s

  15. Sara says

    Hi Rochester, I’m a freelance writer and a designer friend sent me a link to this site. I fell into freelancing too, and I enjoyed your post. Freelance work is gratifying but humbling! Thanks for your insight.

    • says

      Hi Sara!

      Thanks for your comment. Also I’m a programmer while I’m not writing, so it’ll really fit for you, huh?

      And I just can’t describe how happy I am with what I do. All these comments, a good project done.. well, what else would I want?

      :)

      []’s

  16. Christie says

    Sleep and coffee are a must.. that’s for sure! great article my favorite quote was “Run away from small gigs, or people who think that your job is just to paste things from DOC to Dreamweaver” SO TRUE!!

  17. says

    Thanks for the tips very useful. I’ve been thinking about starting freelancing more and have been working on increasing my passive income before I take the leap.

    • says

      Hi Paul,

      That’s good! If I had a little more time to think about it, I should have built more passive incomes, it could save me much headaches during shortages.. So should you! :)

      []’s

  18. Tessa says

    I love the point number 10. Only strong basement helps for strong building. Similar to that, its better to have strong knowledge about the basic of the language.

    • says

      Hi Tessa!

      That’s the point, you can always find better solutions if you dig a little deeper on what you’re doing.. And again, it can save you a lot of time don’t reinventing the wheel using costly solutions for problems solved easily with your language :)

      []’s

  19. Andy says

    Thanks a lot for your articles! good job done! I woulld add to your list – get enough sleep to keep your mind fresh and always plan your work.

  20. Bayu says

    great article, i agree with Altteam, if we sleep enough, we can fresh our mind :D
    well, can someone here tell me what ‘remote project’ is ?

  21. says

    There is a typo “A some point”
    Also, great tips! The best way to learn knowledge is from others who have already been through all that. Thanks for sharing you thoughts :)