A gift from my client NIXon.com & rob machado

Freelancers: Four tips to make your clients love you

It’s really all about being more flexible

Stop charging hourly and be more flexible with costs

Your pricing should actually vary per project. Every project is different. It’s impossible to have a pre-determined fee, and to be honest it’s unfair to yourself. Personally, I tell clients that I have a typical rough weekly fee range. Not hourly, but weekly. I don’t count my hours, I don’t say you get only 8 hours a day. I strictly just get the job done however long it takes for this weekly price.

I even do everything from free work to investing by design. It simply varies per client and project, and I seek each new opportunity as just that, a new opportunity. So many designers have set hourly pricing and are too hesitant to be flexible with it. The more flexible you can be here, the more the client will love you!

Example: How can you charge the same price for a homepage concept for a e-commerce site like Nixon vs an e-mail collecting landing page for a seed funded start-up? These are two totally different types of thinking and interface design. You can’t really compare the two, so how can you charge them equally?

Extra Tip: Do not put your pricing on your site. It’s just bad for business and shows you are not flexible.

Be less official and more flexible

If you are a lone freelancer, don’t send the client an agreement or anything to sign. I mean, unless we’re talking a long term thing. You’ve got to stop those questionnaires! Instead, use your ears. Actually talk to the client. As a contractor, your job is to listen to the client. If you make the client work, they won’t be happy with you and see you as a burden for future work. The less you make them do, the happier they will be!

Too many designers, especially young designers, are afraid to begin projects without agreements or signed contracts. With fair reason, lots of people are getting screwed over. To be honest, not that many, though. Ask any well known designer and they’ll probably have a story or two, but not three. Being professional does not mean being official. It only slows down things and starts the project off with distrust. I’ve never used a contract in my entire career that I sent out myself. I work on trust and relationship alone and in all of my 10 years of designing, I’ve only been screwed over once.

Side note: A client sending YOU the agreement to sign is a different story. Definitely do theirs. Just don’t create your own.

Example: I recently did a project for a start-up in the city (SF) that hasn’t raised yet. I believed in the founder and his passion for the idea, so I worked 8 weeks on the project with him and our verbal agreement was he could pay me when he raises, however long it takes. Not only did I gain his respect, but I got massive amounts of referrals. He raised, and I got paid in a very reasonable manner.

Update: I’m specifically saying don’t write a formal contract yourself and request signatures. You can use your email conversations as written agreements as long as there’s a clear understanding that both parties have agreed to the working circumstances. It works and it’s super efficient — it’s what I always do unless the client specifically sent me an agreement to sign.

Design your invoices and be more flexible sending them out

Make the invoices fun or at least nicely designed. You are a designer, right? Don’t use out of the box templates for these, because they look cheap. Simply spend a day to make your own template. Don’t forget, everything you send out is a part of you and your brand. Spend some time on the invoice and personalize them per client.

Another important thing about invoicing is being flexible about when you send them out. Not all clients have full on financial teams. Sometimes it’s a founder or a CEO taking the time to pay you. They’re busy people, and you nagging them won’t help. Be flexible, and allow them to pay you in a reasonable time. Money does crazy things to people’s minds. Be flexible with this piece, and they won’t forget how easy it was to work with you!

Extra Tip: Do NOT put “If you fail to pay by XX date there will be a XX% increase to the total invoice.” That says two things about you; you don’t trust the client and you are a gold digger. They know it’s a trick to get them to pay faster, and they know you won’t do anything if it’s past that date. It’s a slime ball move. You’re never going to actually use that, so why add it.

Be available and more flexible with your time

It’s funny to me that freelancers work 9-5 just like everyone else. If you ask any successful freelancer, they’ll tell you that’s not the case at all. You’re actually missing the best part about being a freelancer. You pick your own schedule, well kind of. I rarely work the same hours as the previous day. Eight hours doesn’t make up my work day. My progress and deliverables do. I’m super flexible when I work. The more you can say “yes I can” to the client, the easier the project will be for the both of you. Being more flexible with your time allows for this and your client will love you!

Caveat: You’ve got to get your work done on time, every time, and be available to jam at any moment if a client needs you. This quickly becomes one of the most frustrating, but rewarding parts of being a freelancer.

Update: This doesn’t mean work every weekend, haha. Though I do work a lot of weekends, but mainly because I love my job and I take on a lot of work. I don’t always work Monday — Friday. Sometimes it’s Wednesday — Saturday or any such arrangement. Especially in the winter when Tahoe is dumping or if the California coast gets the perfect swell you’ll definitely find me in the water surfing. I’ll take off a couple days in the mid week but work the weekend if I need to do some catching up. It simply boils down to having no set schedule.

I’ve been a freelance designer for over the past 10 years working with clients like: Obvious Corp, Medium, Google, Airbnb, National Geographic, Activision, Nixon, R/GA, TBWA\Chiat\Day, Hurley, Nike, Adobe, Virgin America, The North Face, Transformers, Reebok, Lucas Arts, MTV, Red Bull, Mini Cooper, NFL, Oakley, Digitaria, BSSP, Fluid,Quiksilver, Patagonia, Lightt, and many others.

Check out my work on Behance or Dribbble and follow me on Twitter.