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Freelancing Tips

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Freelancing is a great way to earn some dollars on the side of other work (or study), or create a business. Not everyone is made for this type of work. Pay is irregular, you have to discipline yourself to work nights and weekends and you have to be a designer, programmer, manager, accountant and debt chaser in one. This was written for my students, so you wll have to excuse me if it is a bit basic for some of you although I would appreciate some comments for those of you with experience.

A word of warning, this document is completely contradictory. I have broken nearly every rule in here.


  • Flexible hours

  • Choose working directions

  • Good money

  • "On the side" work


  • No paid holidays or sick leave

  • Finding own clients can be difficult to start with

  • Lack of accounting and law knowledge

Generally I think that if you are coming straight out of a course you are better off going to work for a company. You will pick up more in the first month than you did in a whole year of a course. Nothing beats learning on the job. However, there are likely to be people asking you (not the company) to do work, so these tips are still valuable.

Research, research, research. If you are lucky enough to work for a company who takes staff development seriously, you may have training paid for. If you are working for yourself, this is all on your shoulders. If you choose to ignore this, you may be left behind.

Dealing with clients

Never turn away work because you don't know how to do it. The key in situations where the clients is asking for things that are out of your depth is to say "Yes, we can do that" but never mention a dollar figure. In fact, it is probably a good idea to never mention money until you have left the meeting. You can then contact someone who can do it and cost that into your quote.

In the last couple of years everybody thinks that they can make a website. Hell, your parents probably have had a dabble. I know mine have. Software companies have built Export to HTML functions into every major piece of office software, flooding the Internet and Intranets with scrappy, non-standard HTML. Your client needs to know why you are better than their friend's son who has learned HTML in high school. You client probably wants to know why you are better than them. More advanced agencies are in a position to offer more because their service may include database driven sites and web applications, but they still have to convince clients it is the best option.

You need to show them your work (we often send them an email with links to our work and website) so they can get an idea of your style. We have a site with nothing but simple branding and links to our work. We don't have time to develop a jaw dropping site for ourselves, we are too busy trying to do it for our clients. The main thing is that they get to see your work.

The last two paragraphs may not apply to your client. You may have a client who is totally clueless about the whole process and will take whatever you give them. These clients are great. Take advantage of these easy jobs. Do that design style you have always wanted to use. Try out that new software. Or just do it in a night and make quick money. These choices are yours but remember, you should always offer the client the best solution. A happy client is your best advertising.

Constantly bring up work that you have done in the past. Even if you have only done a couple of sites, relate what they are after to work you have done in the past. If that work just happens to be a Flash file you were playing with last night, just call it "A job I have worked on in the past". Mystery is your friend.

Of course there is a chance that you will have a "straight to the point" type client. They will ask you the questions you don't want to be asked. "Who have you worked for in the past". "How much is this going to cost me". Which brings us onto costs?

Money Stuff

It is always tough to know what to charge when you are starting. You may have heard fairytales about people getting paid outrageous amounts of money for doing Internet based work. But in reality finding the work is not easy. Quoting can be harder.

  • Do things for free/cheap for the right clients. I have been told that I should not do this, but some of the times I have they have really paid off.
  • Invoice straight away, and never let work go unpaid.

  • The more they have the more they pay. Don't undercharge clients that have money. It is always hard to know (some of the companies with money are afraid to spend it), but clients assume if they quote is higher, the work is better. You may lose some jobs from charging too high, but you may lose some from charging too little.

  • Business cards will pay for themselves with the first job. Make some and hand them out to anyone with a pocket. I was surprised how much business has come out of "take a card and give me a call".

  • Spy on your competition. If you can work out what other companies or freelancers are being paid it can help you to work out your own rates.

  • Get an accountant. Taxes kill freelancers.

  • Find out about government help. Depending on how seriously you are taking your freelancing (is it a business or a hobby between other jobs?) you might consider finding out what government help there is for freelancers.

  • Register for an ABN if you are in Australia. Companies will generally not deal with you unless you have an ABN number. I am not sure if there is an equivalent in other countries.

Ok, let's talk figures. The figures I have included here are ery rough, in Australian dollars, and are up for debate. But I figure that actual sums are rarely discussed, so I would throw some around. You can find out roughly what Australians are getting paid through the Min Salary Survey, or an equivalent in your country. Rates really depend on what sort of work you are doing, and if it is the basis of your entire income. If you consider that an experienced web designer is paid upwards of AU$40k per year and does not have to pay for hardware, software or training, you would want to be earning around AU$1000 per week to end up with this sort of money. Remember that there are weeks where you may go without getting paid. AU$1000 per week is AU$25 per hour in a 40 hour working week. 48 solid weeks is AU$48k per year with a standard 4 week holiday break. AU$1000 per finished week is ideal, but as I have outlined above, be prepared for about a 50% swing either way. These figures do not include hosting, domain registration or any other such costs.


  • Charge per-page.
  • Do anything at a loss


  • Give clients quotes which cover everything from a basic to advanced site.

  • Break down your work into "features" if you can so that they can pick and choose. You may subcontract some of these features out.

  • Detail everything in the quote or a contract. Avoid possible lawsuits.


  1. Needs analysis
    If requirements are not established through a meeting
    prior to quoting, they will be brought out through a face-to-face meeting, phone call or emails.
  2. Quote / Proposal
    Based on the information in stage one, a quote is prepared. Use this article as a guide.
  3. Gathering assets
    Assets such as photographs, logos and text will be gathered in this stage.
  4. Establish design style for the Site
    This stage involves designing a series of interfaces reflecting the proposed look and feel of the site. These are reviewed and refined by the client.
  5. Production and Development
    Using the design specifications set in stage 2, code the site.
  6. Refinement
    The application/web site is made available for the client to review. The application is refined based on feedback from the client and testers and tested thoroughly. Testing may be a seperate stage in larger jobs.
  7. Deployment
    The application is rolled out and launched on the World Wide Web.

Where to find work

This is one of the reasons I recommend freelancing when you are working somewhere else. You can always keep working while you secretly build up a client base. A combination of the following might provide you with enough work:

  • Subcontract work through multimedia places

  • Find work online through sites like

  • Source your own work

  • Pay someone a commission for finding you jobs (around 10-20%)

What you need

  • Business cards

  • Experience

  • Portfolio website

  • ABN (if in Australia)

  • Tax advice and good record keeping

  • Computer

  • Software

  • Internet connection

  • People who can give advice (perhaps evolt lists or similar?)

  • Subcontractors

  • Source of work

For more info:

I am sure that there are a multitude of freelancing tip sites out there, but at the time of writing I have not had time to include them. Please sign in and add any relevant links or comments.


Nick is a founding partner at Triple Zero Digital with Isaac in Adelaide, South Australia.

In his spare time he messes around with Flash, designs stuff and runs Anarchitect

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