Everyone has at least one designer friend who just gives off an air of unprofessionalism. Perhaps it’s even you, or maybe you can’t seem to maintain a consistent front to every client. Even if you get paid for the work you do, it can still seem as though you’re less of a "professional" designer, and more of a rank amateur. Why is that? What secrets do other designers have that makes them seem more "pro"?
Today, we’re going to examine what makes a designer look professional and desirable, rather than like one of the amateurish masses that clients dread. Spoiler alert: it’s probably not what you’re thinking.
Recommended Reading: 15 Project Types You Will Face In Freelancing
You have to spend money to make money. Once your freelance design business begins to turn a profit, investing in things like proper equipment and professional-looking marketing materials just makes more sense than struggling to make do with supplies that are inferior. The goal is to improve the efficiency with which you are able to find and complete work – working smarter, as they say, not harder.
If your software or hardware is outdated, and it’s slowing you down, say by 30%, you’re actually making 30% less money per hour than you could be. In fact, you’re probably cheating yourself out of even more than that, if you’re a fast worker and have a decent number of clients.
No successful business owner does everything themselves. It’s just not physically possible. You have to outsource tasks at some point if you want to grow, even if you plan to remain the sole designer. It’s easy to find people to do repetitive things, like paperwork or bookkeeping, that have to be done, but that simply eat up too much of your valuable time as a designer.
You can use online resources like oDesk and elance to begin delegating the daily work that goes into making your freelance business successful. However, it can be tricky finding just the right fit, and you’ll most likely have to go through the hiring process several times before you master it. Here’s a post on what to look out for when hiring freelance contractors.
It can be daunting to begin outsourcing tasks, but, again, it’s necessary to take you from tiny, struggling freelancer to fully professional outfit.
This is perhaps the most important component in making the transition from amateur to professional. In his book, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield outlines what distinguishes an amateur from a professional, in any creative field.
He argues that amateurs are dilettantes, people who don’t give their work 100% of their effort. Amateurs don’t show up every day to do the difficult work that will propel them forward.
Pros, on the other hand, work like they mean it. They work even when they don’t feel like it. They work when they’d rather be doing just about anything else. It’s difficult to adopt the mindset of someone who takes their work completely seriously, but it’s important to gain and keep the advantage over our own inertia and overwhelm.
Having been a design client myself, I’ve worked with designers who simply dropped the ball when it came to communicating with me regularly. Sometimes this resulted in blown deadlines, budgets, or opportunities when I didn’t hear from them for days or even weeks. It’s extremely frustrating when a designer blows you off, and I’d like to say it’s a rarity, but unfortunately it’s not.
The reality is, flakiness is one of the key marks of an amateur. It signals to a client that you don’t value them enough to make an effort to keep them in the loop. Don’t just give endless excuses for your radio silence (I’ve heard it all, but "I didn’t want to bother you" is especially common). Your client needs to receive regular updates on your progress so that they can plan accordingly should something go wrong.
Finally, you should make it a priority to always do the best job you can with your design work. It seems obvious, but so many designers get bogged down with tight deadlines and jobs they feel lackluster about.
However, if you’re trying to grow your freelance business and draw in higher paying clients, you’ll need to make every project a potential showpiece for which a client will be eager to hire you. So, don’t take shortcuts or do anything halfway. It will come back to haunt you, trust me.