I'm all right jack keep your hands off my stack

Too Busy Making Money to Make Money

I’ve found that a lot of freelancers out there (myself included) have fallen into a trap of working too hard to make too little. Some of that goes back panic (read a little on that in an older post) and some of that goes to picking the wrong clients.

But the fact remains that if you chase too many $100 projects, you will miss out on too many $1000 projects. If you sell your services cheaply, you will be in a hole – you’ll wind up too busy making money to make money.

stackFreelancing can be a feast-or-famine proposition, and weathering the famine will make you realize that you want the feast. One way to keep the feast going is to charge enough for what you do and pick up clients that will pay you what you’re worth. If your power bill is due, you need money – but will you take a $100 logo design job in order just to pay it, when you know you should be charging $500? I know the need for money NOW – but I also know that planning ahead will help you avoid having to take a million bad projects just to keep your head above water.

What I’ve done – and I challenge you to do, too, is sit down and write out a real monthly budget. Figure out your bills – and estimate high. Figure out how much you need for groceries and entertainment. Figure out your needs for salary (yeah – pay yourself) and how much you’d like to set aside for the future. Now – add it all up and and divide that by 22, which is the number of work days in a 4 week month, minus weekends.

That will give you a figure of what you need to bank each and every day. Now, the hard part is going out and finding the projects that will pay that every day. The more realistic approach is to find the total number and then build enough projects to fit into that amount. Then, every month – try to find projects to fill that amount or more.

A little forethought will keep you from scrambling to make ends meet, and it’ll keep you from having to kill yourself and your opportunities with too many little, unsatisfying jobs.

If you can make it all with one project that will take you 2 hours – go for it! Imagine how great it would be to meet your monthly nut and have all those extra hours left!

(yeah, I’m still trying to find out how that feels, too…)

Blogging for Freelancers…

swingI’m in the process of setting up a free blogging community built specifically for freelance designers. It’ll be a simple WordPress-style setup, and it’ll be fully searchable and tied into a HUGE community of artists. Free blogs and websites (set up as subdomains) and a lot of great features that will help us all have a little bit of connectivity and another way of generating some passive income.

Which brings me to my point today. If you’re a freelance designer and you’re not blogging – WHY? It’s a great way to boost your visibility, and it’s a helluva lot more fun than message boards.

Plus, while the blog community might be a little saturated with weird and worthless sites, the opportunity to network with the few, the proud, the freelancers is real and really cool. I’ve gathered a lot of inspiration and some great tools that I use every day from blogs. There’s a tremendous amout of great content out there waiting to be discovered – and I know that there is even more out there just waiting to be published.

So – get out and do it!

As soon as the front end is ready, I’ll release the new site, and we can all start building an even better future for all things freelance!

Free Office Software

I love to loathe Microsoft, so any way that I can stick it to ’em, I take…

But, at the same time, you’ve got to admit that they make rather ubiquitous software, and as a freelance designer, I have to keep copies of everything that clients and potential clients might use. Don’t ask me about Publisher – I won’t answer.

Microsoft Office is NOT free – quite far from it – but there are a couple of really nice, really slick and totally compatible office suites out there.

ship2First up is a Mac-only product – NeoOffice. It’s got pretty much anything you could possibly be looking for with the actual Office suite – word processor, spreadsheets, database and presentation software, plus it’s totally compatible with all of Microsoft’s products. You can open and save directly to Word files, PowerPoint files, Excel, etc. It doesn’t contain an email client, but there’s a million of those out there that are better than Entourage. Best of all, it’s free – and it keeps my beautiful brushed aluminum machine free of the scourge of Microsoft.

Secondly is a great free product – an open-source project called OpenOffice. It’s got versions for all the operating systems under the sun, including Sun. The only problem is that some versions require X11 if you’re on a Mac, but it’s free, it’s compatible and it’s slick. Plus, if you have a Mac, you can install X11 free anyway, and OpenOffice even shows you how.

Both of these pieces of software are funded solely by donation, so if you can afford 5 bucks for a latte and a Red Bull, you can afford to support the folks out there who support us with killer software for zilch.

Sometimes, the best things in (the freelance designer’s) life ARE free…

Click here to download NeoOffice (Mac OSX only)
Click here to download OpenOffice (All platforms)

Free Contract for Freelance Designers

signWell, I’m finally getting around to putting up some free downloads for designers. Joy!

First up is a general contract. If you’re not using an online service that offers built-in contract protection(Guru, Elance, etc,) you MUST have a contract before you start any work. It not only protects you, but it gives your clients peace of mind that they will get precisely what they pay for.

The more detailed you can be (and you can get as minute with the project details as you want – just add more paper) the better off you’ll be, and it’ll be less likely that you run into the dreaded doing-more-than-I-agreed-to syndrome that seems to haunt us all.

The contract that’s here is, by no means, iron clad and leakproof – but it’s been good enough to get me out of more than one pinch, and usually, the signing of a contract is enough to guarantee that your client isn’t going to bail on you.

One word of advice for all freelancers – and I’ve learned this the hard way: If your client won’t sign a contract, DO NOT DO WORK FOR THEM. It’s not worth it. You might not get burned, but the possibility is increased exponentially if your client is not willing to sign on the dotted line.

Click here to download a zip file with the general contract. It’s saved as a PDF, EPS and AI file. Done on a Mac, but portable and reconfigurable. If you dig it and use it, all I ask is for a “thanks.” Links would be nice, a donation would be even better, but – that’s up to you and your conscious. Don’t sell it for profit. Cool?

Free Painting Software

Software is expensive, and as a freelance graphic designer, the latest version of the big name software might be a little out of reach at times. So, I present you with a real – and FREE – alternative to some of the really expensive stuff.

ArtRage 2.5 is a really cool program. Very natural, nice tools, pressure sensitive if you have a tablet, and it works on all platforms. And it runs smoothly without a ton of ram or the latest processor. Works on laptops and little machines. Sweet! Free!

Well – the started edition is free. The full version is $25. But the starter edition is really pretty stinking cool. It’s not Photoshop – but then again, what is? It’s got lots of tools and feels pretty natural. If you’re into painting and illustration (like I am) you’ll appreciate the ability to be fluid. I think I’m going to pony up and get the full version – just to have a little bit of fun. It’s cheaper than canvas.

Here’s a screen grab of a self-portrait in progress – click for full resolution:

me

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s a little detail. There’s almost as many brush strokes as wrinkles:

detail

Again – you can download it by clicking here.

As a freelance graphic designer, you can never have too many tools (especially free ones) and it can really be cathartic to push a little bit of paint around. It’s much more fun than pixels. Although I guess this is pixels. Praising painting while complaining about pixels while painting with pixels…

Man, now I’m confused.

Finding Work Online…

wwThere are a lot of great services for freelance graphic designers out there – and a lot of junk. I’ve worked with some of the best, and I’ve even dipped my toe into the pool of piranhas. Be careful of the services you align with, as you can spend a lot of dough on something that just won’t work – or worse yet – take up a lot of your time and actuall cost you more money than you make.

I’ll outline a couple here, and when I get the rest of this little site actually done, I’ll have a page with many. I’ve done a lot of footwork on a lot of sites, and I’ve fallen flat on my face on some of them. Now, you can learn from my bumps and bruises.

By the way – I don’t make a penny from endorsing or slamming any of these.

First up – my favorite – Guru.com. Really nice system that’s not over-saturated like some of the big boys. They’ve got it broken down into nice categories like graphic design, illustration, web design, copy writing, etc, and they break those categories down even further, so you can really narrow your search and find the jobs that interest you or utilize your strong suits. It costs $75 per quarter to get 100 bids monthly (you can buy more – called BidPax if you run out) and the jobs are varied and from all over the world. I’ve worked for Swedes and for people 1 town over. There’s plenty of competition, but if you bid appropriately, you get lots of work – and repeat business, which is ALWAYS good. Billing protection, 1099 service, etc make this well worth the investment.

Secondly – one of the lesser-known and less traveled – iFreelance.com. At only $10 a month, it’s really affordable, and there are a fair few jobs. Not huge, but growing. You have to handle your billing outside the system (PayPal, anyone) so there’s not a lot of protection for either party – but a good contract system (I’ll eventually put some sample contracts on this site) will keep you in the swim.

More later – but really, get out and check out some of the lesser-traveled freelance job sites. The less traffic they have, the better your chances. Plus, it’s kind of nice to design bottled water packages for a manufacturer in Belize…

The Other 90%

I am, by admission, a little hard-hearted. Generally, I don’t see much outside my world and my client list. But, I was doing some research on Wolfgang Weingart, and I ran across this site – and it got me to thinking…

61.jpg

Check out “Design for the Other 90%.” Food for thought.

“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”
—Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises

The vast majority of what I do is done for the high-brows of the world – and that’s kind of sad. Why should the rich be the only ones who live with objects and products with thought and soul? Why must the poor be saddled with the purely utilitarian?

I don’t know. I’m not sure where I was going with this – but I know that we all deserve a little design in our lives. Something nice to look at. It doesn’t help all that much, but every little bit helps, right?

Sometimes, You Have to Laugh

I’ve found that the freelance life requires me to laugh. A LOT.

I think I’ll create a list (lists are a good way to keep track of things – there, that’ll serve as my info for today) to keep track of the things I should do when stresses set in.

Cable Modem Dead: Read an Al Jaffee comic.
Bad Customer Interaction: Big Lebowski
Hard Drive Malfunction: The Young Ones Box set in it’s entirety.
Losing Out on a Bid: Seinfeld or Simpsons
Client Requesting Comic Sans:

bunnypunch

Seriously, people – we’ve got to do away with Comic Sans. I wish we had one of those Men In Black memory eraser things so we could roam the globe and eliminate every copy of Comic Sans, then wipe free the memory of such an offending font.

Sadly, I have more than 5 copies installed. Just in case…

Hmm – maybe tomorrow we talk font management.