I want to freelance as a product designer once I finish grad school and doing graphic design on the side as well. What does it take to be a freelancer and how can I prepare myself? Is this too ambitious?
Nope. You’re not too ambitious. Good for you. There are things to keep in mind. Don’t under charge your client with a silly cheap rate and to keep track of expenses. When talking to a potential client don’t be afraid to talk about money early in the process. I would avoid complex projects or design builds until you get experienced (not in design, but in designer/client relationships) Revisions and rebuilds are a sure fire way to loose your shirt.
Thanks. What do you think is an effective ways to attract potential clients (ads, word of mouth, making calls? Do freelance designers often charge by hourly rate or by project basis?
I would actually recommend working at a consultancy for a couple of years - I was freelancing and am now at a consultancy and you learn the business a lot quicker and without the lean times, also you learn what the industry standard is for renderings, sketches, models, etc.
Experience is always a good thing before starting out on your own. It builds a portfolio, reputation and contacts which can be invaluable when starting out. Remember you are selling a biz on trusting you with their project.
I find word of mouth is the primary source of business (for the smaller studio anyway) The web and other marketing venues are primarily support to build confidence in choosing you for their project.
What would it be like to work in a consultancy?
Prepare to eat cereal for dinner sometimes. Sometimes you get no work for months so get used to it and learn to be frugal.
Question: What would it be like to work in a consultancy?
Answer: starting out with no experience you would be like an intern - as you get more proven skills you’re given more responsibility, and also begin putting together schedules for quotes, talking to the client (who are not always happy and sometimes want more than what they’ve been quoted for without paying for it). I do the CAD, sketches, photoshop renderings, and some prototyping - and believe the more skills you prove you can do well the harder you are to let go - as well a good attitude that you don’t mind the work no one else wants helps scores points. Control over the direction of the projects - you get that with experience and in the end the client calls the shots on what the product will look like and work like. I would also recommend showing up earlier than your boss, and staying at least as late as him/her. I worked at one consultancy where we started at 7:30 and left at 5:30 to 6, but that varies, the one I’m at now is less - what’s important as you become billable is that you have at least over 30 billable hours a week, preferably more - and always, always hit the deadline.
I am very greatful that everyone is giving me valuable advice. One more thing I would like to ask is what are the important aspects to be a successful product designer (keen eyes for new trend, etc.)?
I got some good advice when I first went freelance and I’ve learned more since then…
I do think you need to get some industry experience under your belt before you go freelance. Freelancers can be perceived as more expensive or as a luxury compared to full timers therefore companies often tend to go for the pros as opposed to the newbies- if you are unsure of what you are doing, you won’t be hired again.
In my trade a freelancer would not be hired unless they have proven sucess already within the industry and have the evidence of that in their portfolio - I’m sure it differs in other trades but that’s how it is in mine.
You will also make contacts when you work for someone else - you will need these too.
Go to all the trade shows you can and network at them, with people you know in the trade. Do not actively go looking for work, it looks desperate. When anyone asks - you are always ‘busy’ even if you are not really
Before you start you will need savings behind you. Both for the lean months and the set up costs (it is very expensive to run your own business).
One of the worst things about freelance is being paid - it is like getting blood out of a stone. Payment etiquette can vary from country to country, so if you work globally, be careful to find out what the norm is.
Also do your research before you set your fee - it should be relative to your eexperience and past successes. If you get lots of best sellers, you can charge more.
Don’t limit yourself to one category - in my trade people fail as freelancers quite often because they only design in one narrow product cetegory. Try to get experience designing as much variety as possible and you will be able to accept every job that comes along.
Respect your client. Be conservative with expenses - i.e. don’t take the mickey. Never ever overcharge.
Never ever show client work to other clients until it is at retail. I have seen so many designers lose contracts (or not get them in the first place), because they showed client work.
Leading on from this be careful that your clients do not conflict - i.e. do not work for competitors - if you get found out you could lose all your work.
Subscribe to all the trade press and forums you can. Sign up with every agency. Let everyone know when you go freelance, but don’t hassle them… If they want you to work for them, they will ask you in their own time.
Never underestimate the value of a well written website. Remember that flash websites might look cool but the search engines can only see text from your site (and add it to their search engines) if it is written in html (as opposed to being part of a graphic). To get work from your website you must optimise it to get good rankings on all the major search engines otherwise potential clients will never find you.
If you don’t know how - learn or pay someone to do it for you.
Don’t use yahoo, gmail or hotmail as an email address - it can look a bit amateurish, it’s not so hard to get your own address.
Ditto enormous portfolios - to most it can scream ‘student!’ Buy a good quality smaller one. You are thinking ‘business’, not ‘study’
Save more than enough money from your payments for tax and then some - this is not a career for a spendthrift. It can be unpredictable - boom then bust.
Finally - get good insurance (life, travel, business and equipment) and an accountant.
The most important aspect is to have the skill to design goods that people want to buy. Without this you are nothing. that’s another reason I think it’s best to work for someone else first. Dunno about anyone else here but it took me about 3 years before I’d learned enough to start getting volume sales.
You soon learn that you can have the most amazing renderings in the world, but if the thing in the picture ain’t commercial you’ve had it!
I used to work with a woman who was a terrible artist, but she got all the best sellers!