1. Confidence goes a long way.
No matter what you're doing in your business, do it with confidence. Set a price and stick to it with confidence (more on this below). Talk to clients with confidence in your abilities and experience. Talk to people when you network with confidence and state who you are and what you do. Even if you have 1 client and it's your uncle's friend's son, you are a professional doing what you do. So tell people what you do with confidence. Also, confidence = professionalism. I feel much more comfortable when I work with someone and they are confident in what they do. I don't feel uneasy giving them money to do a job if they exude confidence in it.
I've had trouble with this much like the next person, but I have learned time and time again that how I present myself has a huge effect on people and when I am confident, people notice it. As a lone freelancer it can be really hard to maintain this especially if you're desperate for a next job. But don't waver. Trust that the next job will come and keep hustling with confidence!
2. Determine your pricing and stick with it.
People say this over and over again and there's a reason for that. We need to be reminded of this, especially when starting out. Trust that the client you lose because they don't like your price is a client not worth having (I hope the reason for this is clear) and that a client that will like your price will come along.
It's also worth noting that people should not hire you for your price but for your ability to do the work! If they've never worked with you before, they may not know your work, but you can help to gain their trust by knowing what you're talking about (I shouldn't have to say this), having confidence in what you're talking about, and even client references. Sometimes you can do a small portion of the work (for money!) so you can show them that you are capable. But even at this point, they have some trust in you because of something, like a referral.
Pricing is a really hard thing to stick with especially when you're starting out or if you're desperate for a job.The best thing to do is to be really acutely aware of why you desperately want a job. If it's because you need the money, then you can reduce your rate slightly, but ensure it is still worth it to you. Imagine you reduce your rate to the point where you are making much less than you should to keep the bills paid, what's the point in that? Or imagine you reduce your rate for a job and another one comes along that will pay you the amount you are worth but you can't take it because you're busy with the lower paying job?
Being paid less than you are worth leads to resentment, low motivation and does not help you gain the confidence and conviction you need to lead a successful business.
3. Be nice!
This should apply to life in general, but especially in business, be nice. To everyone. You never know where your next job is coming from but if you have a reputation of being a pleasant person to work with that will do more for you in the long run than being known for something like a good price or quick work. Think about it, do you want to work with someone who isn't nice? Do you want to refer someone who isn't nice? Would you think about that rude or snobby designer that you met at a networking event for a job?
Being nice does not mean being a pushover. Being nice goes hand in hand with being confident, standing up for yourself and being honest. Do not bend to people to please them. It does not do you or anyone else any good. As someone who has been a people pleaser I am still learning to stop pleasing people in life in general. It doesn't do me any good. I like to think that I'm improving in this regard and being a freelancer has helped me because I am doing a job to achieve a goal, not to make any one person like me more. Side effect: If you do a job that achieves the goal set out by your client, they will like you because you really helped them with their business!
7. Have a Contract
This is another thing that is said again and again and there's a reason for that! Have a contract, even a short one. It starts a project off on the right foot and it ensures everyone involved is on the same page. It also covers your ass and your client's! A contract also tells your clients that you are a professional and that you are someone they want to work with because there is a reference document that gives them some sort of guarantee that you will do the job they've hired you to do.
A contract is an agreement between you AND your client. It is not something that you present in a take it or leave it manner. It is a working document that should be agreeable to you and to your client. This goes the same way for your proposal. Negotiate the scope of work. This will likely involve some back and forth and early discussions and it should.
5. The proposal is a working document until it is agreed upon.
This is much like your contract in that it should be agreeable to both you and your client.
The proposal should meet the needs of your client and what your professional opinion suggests for the project. It is up to you to ensure that your suggestions set out in the proposal meets the needs of your client. If it doesn't then perhaps you haven't understood their needs.
I am still learning how to draft a proper proposal. Proper in this case is relative. There is no right way to do a proposal but one that works for you. I've modified my proposal and contract templates time and time again and I'm sure I will again as I learn more about business and my process. What I have learned is to listen to the client and craft your proposal in a way that makes both you and your client happy.
6. Do your homework and be prepared.
This goes without saying when you approach a project. Doing research is key to discovering the needs of a project. But what I'm referring to here is homework for your business. Be prepared for every meeting. Spend time ensuring you know what you're going to say and what you need from your client for every meeting. Be a constant student when you are running your business. Be aware of what you are doing at any point and ensure it matches with how you want to conduct your business. This is just as important as your understanding of a project.
7. Networking sucks
A quick Google search on the definition of networking defines it as to "interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one's career." This form of networking sucks in my opinion. I am an introvert and this type of networking makes me uncomfortable. The reason for this is that networking in this manner is so calculated. As an introvert I have a reserve of social time that I need to refill every time so I want to make sure that my "networking" is meaningful. For me that means that I want to connect with people who are nice, knowledgable, smart and friendly. It feels really empty and disingenuous for me when I meet someone who is giving me a sales pitch and I don't want to be that person either. I want to hear about what other people are doing in the community and connect with people who are doing really cool things because that's the people I want to converse with and do business with. I am not about doing business for the sake of business. Some people are and that's fine for them. I want to do business with people I like, whose businesses I believe in and can be inspired by.
8. Understand how you work best and adjust your working style to that.
As a freelancer working in my home studio it takes a lot of discipline to sit down to do work but I've learned to be kinder on myself and understand how I work best. I've learned that I work best in 2 hour stints. I usually take a 15 - 30 break after 2 hours to stretch, eat, focus on something else which allows me to sit down again for another 2 hour stint.
People work differently and it's up to you to find how you work best rather than trying to fit yourself to someone else's idea of what working time should look like.
9. Say "No"
It's taken me longer than I care to admit to say no to people. But I've realized more and more that this is absolutely critical for your mental health, your business and your career. If you don't care for a project, believe in it, feel like you fit with the client or isn't something you want to have in your portfolio and therefore future work from it, then say "No". Be clear about it too. I've been guilty about saying no in a nice way and resulting in it being completely unclear and more of a maybe. That is just bad communication. It's a result of my people pleasing tendencies and something I am improving on.
I have learned to be constantly aware of my what I want my career to look like rather than the next paying job and that helps me determine what I need to say yes to and what I can definitely say no to. I'm not totally good at this yet but it's coming along. Of course, sometimes you need to take a job to pay the bills and I think that's okay. So long as you don't lose sight of the kind of work you want to keep making and be known for.
Things to improve
1. Sticking with and trusting my process
I've made concessions before with my process and I have tried different ways of doing things because my clients are more comfortable with it. Like doing more than 1 mockup because they are used to seeing more rather than working from one. I was okay with this because they are more comfortable, but I've learned that this usually results in me being uncomfortable. In all cases, this is because I have not convinced my client why my process is the way it is and why I think it is best this way. This is definitely something that I will continue to work on.
2. Document every process and the time it takes
I have started to do this but I have not kept a record of all the time I spend researching a project and all of the administrative time. I know that this is part of doing business for me so I need to do a better job of recording this as this should be a part of my rate.
3. Negotiating and presenting
I think I am a pretty good negotiator and presenter when I work with clients. But I still have much to improve. I can still take critiques personally but I've had several Aha moments where I know I can't. This goes back to my people pleasing nature but I am learning and continue to improve on my ability to have open discussions with my clients and though I always voice my opinions I need to do a better job of enforcing it or help make my clients understand why a direction is best suited for their business.
4. Time management
I've learned a lot about how I work best in this past year and allow myself to work in that way rather than in someone's idea of how I should work. It suits me and helps me be productive and that's all that matters. But one thing that I have learned that I need to improve upon is how much time I spend on each phase of a project. When I work on a project I get super excited and completely immersed and that results in me spending much more time on something than I need to or that I should. I have a rough idea of how much time it takes for me to perform each stage of a project but I am very bad at enforcing that. Given all the time in the world, I can keep researching and trying different typefaces. I need to be better at focusing on the goals and executing each part of my process with discipline and time constraints. I think the more that I do this the faster I will be at making my decisions and moving on.