July 21, 2020No Comments

The art of pricing freelance projects

You’re a freelance designer. Your core capabilities are solid, you navigate software well, you have a good eye. You produce results for people across multiple mediums. Your skills have been honed and your work is your art. But you feel that you don’t get paid what you’re worth.

I get it. As a freelancer in any field, knowing what to charge is tricky.

The good news is, by making pricing a topic of priority, you can use it to help better portray your true value to people.

Alongside the art of design, seek to understand the art of pricing to get paid what you’re worth.

The problem

The problem with pricing freelance work is that there are an often overwhelming number of ways to do it:

  • Hourly billing
  • Daily billing
  • Fixed pricing
  • Value-based pricing 
  • Retainers

You’ll likely have heard of them all. Perhaps you’ve had experience with applying one or two of them. But which one’s the best? Which pricing strategy should you use when billing your client for work? Herein lies another problem.

The methodology to use will depend on multiple factors:

  • What the work is
  • How long it might take
  • What your position is
  • Who your client is
  • How much you need the job

There’s too much variability to declare a singular route as the winner for every freelancer and every project. These issues highlight pricing as an art form as opposed to an exact science.

Pricing is personal.

"Attributing yourself to one pricing method across the board isn’t always the best approach to getting deals over the line."

The fallacy

One person will tell you “hourly billing should generally be avoided” and another that “retainers are a great way to secure recurring revenue,” without clarifying or expanding on it.

While I agree with these statements, you can’t blindly apply this knowledge to every engagement that comes your way. This brings to the forefront why freelancers find pricing so difficult: there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The idea that you can apply one pricing strategy to every freelance project in an attempt to maximize profit, for the length of your career, is, in my experience, impractical.

I don’t doubt that some people choose one pricing methodology, stick to it and are incredibly successful. There are always exceptions. But this isn’t always realistic, especially when starting out. I know I couldn’t afford to be so selective with my first client. It was only once I raised my value that I could start to exert more of my pricing preferences.

Even as a new freelancer, there are still certain pricing methodologies that suit certain projects. Attributing yourself to one pricing method across the board isn’t always the best approach to getting deals over the line.

There’s more to it than that.

Pricing is fluid.

"Price mirrors risk. Because you present as the least risky option, you can charge a premium for your work."

The reality

Value is the true constant that informs price. I’m not just talking about value-based pricing. Whatever pricing strategy you use, it should be based on value.

What do people perceive your value to be? In over a decade of freelancing, this question has informed many of the prices I’ve given.

I mentioned earlier that pricing is personal. This couldn’t be truer when giving and receiving prices for freelance work. When you present yourself as a jack-of-all-trades designer offering branding, web design, print design, UX, UI and illustration, is it really perceivable to a prospect that you can produce high-value work in all of these fields?

When you position yourself like this as a freelancer, you’re often seen as a commodity service provider as opposed to a specialist service producer. And the latter is commonly seen as someone who can provide greater value.

So because pricing is personal, you need differentiators that increase your value:

  • A specialism in service
  • A highly individual style
  • Credibility within your wider industry
  • Excellent soft-skills
  • An attractive personality

If you’re the stand-out freelancer, you become the safe bet in the eyes of clients searching for services. Price mirrors risk. Because you present as the least risky option, you can charge a premium for your work.

When a client can’t see the difference between your service and someone else’s, your chances of charging a premium for individuality are low.

When you’re the obvious choice, your value is high and so are your chances of getting paid in line with this. Your perceived value forms the basis of the art of pricing your freelance services.

From here, choose the most appropriate strategy for the task at hand and your current circumstances.

Are you looking to get your foot in the door? Be aware that your choice of terms may be limited.

You might want to avoid hourly billing, but are you in a position to blanketly reject that right now? Your play here would be to get an initial agreement, prove yourself to be indispensable and renegotiate to more preferential terms soon after.

Do you want to stick to fix-priced projects only? There’s always a client who comes along with an iterative project that they can’t fix the scope for.

Paid discovery can work to solve this, but when you can get started quickly and achieve a top-end day rate as an alternative, does it make sense to skip the engagement if they don’t go for that?

The reality of pricing is that there’s more than the price at play. It will benefit you as a freelancer to:

  • Understand a range of pricing strategies
  • Gauge the value of your service to people individually
  • Take an honest overview of your current circumstances

These all make up a part of the art. 

Pricing has layers.

"It’s more important to get started than to never start based on terms."

The Solution

How does a freelance designer solve the pricing matrix? Start with the methodologies:


Hourly Billing

When you bill by the hour, you’re punished for getting quicker. There is no incentive to do things efficiently as doing so directly reduces the amount of money you’ll earn.

Hourly billing also comes with additional paperwork in the form of estimates and hour logging. Which, quite frankly, isn’t always the best use of your time.

If you want to use efficiency as a tool to maximize your earning potential as a freelancer, hourly billing is generally not the way to go. Directly tying a unit of your time to a price caps your earning potential. There are only so many hours available in the day.

But it’d be naive of me to say that there aren’t outliers in this scenario. You might command an uncommonly huge hourly rate and only wish to work four hours per day, for instance.

Equally, it’s important to consider your current position in the market. Hourly billing might be a way to get a chance. It’s more important to get started than to never start based on terms.

If you do use hourly billing to gain a foothold, have the goal to stop using it as soon as you can. Make yourself indispensable to your current hourly client and build an audience of other people willing to hire you. This will give you the leverage to move toward more preferred methods of pricing projects.

"If results are being delivered, does it really matter exactly how many hours and minutes are logged each day?"

Daily Billing

Freelancers can approach daily billing in two different ways. I’ve found one to be more effective, in terms of getting paid what you’re worth, than the other.

It’s common to assume that when you give a price for a day’s work, that equates to 7/8 hours of your time. Clients will then assume that your day rate / hours worked = your hourly rate, and you’re no better off than when you started billing hourly. In fact, you’re worse off because a day rate is typically given at a lower price than if you were to bill the same amount of hours individually. As with hourly billing, daily billing in this guise shares all the downsides.

The alternative is to price a day as a day, and not a number of guaranteed hours. Providing you’re clear with your collaborator, this is how you unlock more autonomy. If you want to work an hour less one day and an extra hour the following day, for example, then you can.

The point here is that if results are being delivered, does it really matter exactly how many hours and minutes are logged each day?

In either fashion, you’re still tying a unit of your time to a price, which comes with its negatives. But it can work well. Especially in instances where the day rate is high and the work you’re doing is particularly difficult to scope.


In my experience pricing freelance work, fixed-price terms are nearly always the best. When you give a fixed-price for a piece of work, you know exactly what you’ll get paid and your client knows exactly what they’ll pay for it. There’s a level of safety in a fixed-price for both parties.

However, you need a watertight scope.

Scope creep is frustrating and costly for a freelancer. Make sure that whenever you give a fixed-price for a body of work, it is clearly briefed and agreed upon by both parties. Be clear that any work outside of this comes at an additional cost. 

Another rule to follow when working to a fixed price is to get a deposit. You can’t be fully sure that you have someone’s commitment to a project unless money has exchanged hands.

The key benefit to fixed-pricing is the converse of hourly billing: you are directly rewarded for efficiency. The better you get at performing your skill, the quicker you’ll get. And the quicker you’ll get, the more you’ll get paid in less time. The paramount thing here is to always retain quality, thus preserving your perceived value.

Value-Based Pricing

Value-based pricing is similar to fixed-pricing in its delivery; it’s a set price for a set body of work.

However, there’s one big difference: The figure that you present is wholly based on the value of the business outcomes of the project. The price that you give is usually a percentage, which can be justified as fair based on quantifiable metrics.

Here’s a short and simplified example:

Your client's average lead value = $500

You estimate that your work will get them 100 leads in year 1. That's $50,000 of value.

You give a price for your work based on a % of that figure.

If you can show the value, you can justify the price.

Although this differs from country to country, the problem with value-based pricing is that it’s often a tough sell. Because it can be a tough sell, the effort involved to do the research can often be quite costly.

The key to using value-based pricing is to gauge, on a per-client basis, how presenting a proposal with this method will go down. It takes much research to uncover the information that you need, and if you’re doing a lot of leg work for a client who won’t receive a value-based proposal well, it’s wasted time and energy.

Value-based pricing is more well-received when presenting to prospects who have significantly more money than they have time. If you’re speaking with someone who does not see the value in hiring you as an individual, other than another service provider, a value-based price will often fall flat.


When you work well with a client and they’re happy with the results you’re providing, a typical route forward is to bump up your level of involvement. Retainer agreements, in this scenario, provide a level of safety for both the client and freelancer. It’s guaranteed work for the client and guaranteed income for the freelancer.

But naturally, there are pros and cons to retainers too.

With the uptick in guaranteed work, often comes with the expectation of a reduced rate. This has always felt wrong to me as it assumes that you have a problem selling your services. When you reduce your rate in this instance, you reduce your perceived value to the client.

A major benefit, on the other hand, is that you can sell a chunk of your availability and spread out your involvement throughout the month, which allows you more day to day flexibility.

Ultimately, for the long term growth of your freelancing business, place a priority on those retainers that give your availability to deliver knowledge, not direct labor. Direct labor is often linked back to time, and as with hourly billing, your earnings ceiling becomes limited.

When you deliver knowledge through a strategy engagement for instance, there is no limit on what the value you add to the project is worth.

Look to study all of these pricing methodologies, and create a list of preferences that suit the work that you do and your current position. Form a short-term approach that helps you arrive at your long-term, ideal pricing strategy. Charging by the day initially may lead you to a high-value ongoing strategic retainer, for instance.

Apply methods where appropriate. 

"Giving a price without researching your prospect is a sure-fire way to give the wrong one."

No matter which methodology you choose, use value to price

You don’t have to use value-based pricing to take value into consideration when giving a price for work.

Understand your value metrics:

  • Individuality
  • Credibility
  • Availability
  • Risk reduction
  • Results provision 
  • Price itself

Take time to understand what your overall value is compared to others in your field. Look into the worth of the results your services create on a client-by-client basis. Before giving any price, ask yourself this question:

“How much am I worth to this project?”

Knowing your worth better informs price.

Research your prospect

Giving a price without researching your prospect is a sure-fire way to give the wrong one.

You need to know who you’re potentially going to be working with: Can they afford your services? How large of a business do they have? Have they worked with freelancers before? Do they want to work with you specifically or do they just want the job done?

Know your client to guide your price.

Acknowledge your current position 

How’s your cash flow?

Are you just starting out?    

Are you a few years in?

Have you been a designer for a very long time?

Are you new to your industry or do people know of your work? What’s the current demand for people who offer your service? Be aware of where you are to help you make the right offers.

In conclusion

Pricing can form a barrier to entry for many budding freelancers. It’s a skill in itself that designers who are looking to go it alone must learn. No one can tell you it’s easy.

What I can tell you is that it becomes easier with research, practice and time. Each book you read, article you absorb, mentor you speak with and project you offer on, brings you closer to becoming better at pricing your work.

There’s no magic formula that will help you decipher pricing forever. Nonetheless, you can give yourself the best chance of getting paid what you’re worth through a focus on value. 

Pricing can’t always be solved by science alone.

Pricing is an art.

You can learn more on this topic from Tom in his book, "Pricing Freelance Projects."

April 8, 2020No Comments

3 reasons to work on your portfolio right now

No, you don't have to use the quarantine as an opportunity to be productive or improve yourself. However, from what I've picked up from my friends and the creative community online, there's a lot of fear around work and our income right now. Rather than letting that panic or paralyze you, you can do whatever you can to be proactive and set yourself up for success. That begins with your portfolio.

The competition for creatives is high right now. With more designers, artists and illustrators looking for work, it's more important than ever to position yourself well online. Here's why your portfolio might be the perfect project while you're stuck at home.

1. The future is uncertain

As you’re well aware, the creative industry hasn’t been spared in this crisis. Many have been laid off from their agency jobs, are freelancers struggling to line up new projects (while competing with an increase of new freelancers) or simply don’t know what the next week or even the next few days hold for their company.

Whether you feel secure in your job and financial situation right now or not, it’s worth being prepared. And this applies outside the context of the pandemic too. We simply can’t predict what will happen with our job or our company, financial crisis or not.

Update your portfolio and you’ll remove the added stress of doing so in the middle of a job search.

2. We all need the distraction

I don’t know about you, but I need a break from the news and social media to stay sane right now. Giving myself new projects, new skills to learn (yes, I’m caring for a hungry and healthy yeast starter like everyone) and new goals has proven helpful.

Working on your portfolio on those sleepless nights or wide-open afternoons, or hopefully more-open evenings (for those with kids) might be more fulfilling than turning the same anxious thoughts over and over in your head. Or, you know, a long bath might do the trick. You decide what's best for you.

3. It’s a unique creative challenge

You don’t have access to your studio’s photography equipment right now. You can’t print anything, secure special backdrops or props, or get any in-person videos of your work for your site. This makes it fun.

Can you stage your own photoshoot for your work using natural light and the props you have at home? Can you collaborate with a friend online to build their site while they design yours? Use the constraints to your advantage and create your site with the resources available to you right now.


The good news is that you have everything at your disposal to do this from home. Of course, I'll shamelessly recommend using Semplice.com or Carbonmade.com for your portfolios because I (naturally) believe they are the best portfolios tools on the market.

But whatever platform you decide to use, I wish you luck and hope our portfolio articles will be useful to you. As always, reach out on Twitter if you need help deciding or want specific portfolio tips. We can do this!

March 11, 2020No Comments

How to work from home

Until COVID-19 is contained, more companies are closing down their offices and sending employees to work from home. You might think of this as a chance to relax and slack off a bit. Or you can turn it into an opportunity.

We recently shared how to negotiate with your boss and turn a temporary remote work situation into a long-term one. If you want to make this an ongoing thing, you’ll have to first prove it works for you and your company. It's not about performing as well as you do at the office, but doing even better. Use these next few weeks to build trust with your employer and you can be working remotely even after the virus passes.

For those of us used to a structured office environment, here’s how to work from home for the first time, and be good at it.

Resist the beckoning whispers of your bed

You want to make this feel like your ideal work environment, not a makeshift one. Working from your bed or your couch may sound nice, but it’s not going to make you more productive. It’s going to make you want a nap. Working in a coffee shop on a laptop may seem like a novelty the first couple days. It’s going to be a pain in the ass by the end of the week.

Give yourself the tools you need to do your best work. Bring home your monitor, your Wacom tablet, whatever you normally use at work and set it all up in a corner of your house. If you can, choose a dedicated room where you won’t be distracted by your partner/roommates or the TV. Close the door and get to work.

You're working from home, not a remote island

More than anything, you have to be good at communicating if you want to be good at working from home. Your team dynamic now exists online and via phone. Without smart, intentional communication, relationships and productivity will disintegrate fast.

This doesn't mean you need to be chatting all day on Slack. Ideally, your boss would know you'll get the work done no matter when you're online, and hopefully soon, they will. It does mean you need to be available for your team when they need you – and even better, to communicate before they even know they need you.

Be proactive.  Send a progress report at noon via Slack or email, letting your team know where you are with your projects. Share a few WIPS throughout the day to show your progress. If you’re going out for lunch or running an errand, let your team know beforehand and tell them when you’ll be back. You wouldn’t present your work in person without some explanation or reasoning behind it. So don’t dump it in an email or Slack message without the right details.

It's easy to make assumptions when you're on your own, and a wrong assumption can snowball fast into wasted time and a frustrated team. Overcommunicating cuts off assumptions at the quick.

Nobody is annoyed by proactive communication. They’re annoyed by coworkers they can’t reach when they need them. They're annoyed with coworkers who go off on their own and waste time making assumptions. Be a strong, proactive communicator and you've already mastered half of the remote working battle.

Beware the dangers of laundry and snacks

When you’re working from home, you’re surrounded by distracting temptations. You realize the kitchen needs to be cleaned. You really should throw in a load of laundry. You could get a head start on making dinner for once. Before you know it, it’s 6 p.m. and you’ve only logged two hours of work.

The beauty of working from home is that you can feasibly do your work and also get some chores done, take a long run or meet someone for lunch in between. But you have to manage your time and create structure around it, and you can’t leave your team hanging while you do it.

Plan your breaks strategically. Tell yourself you’ll get two hours of work done before you break to do laundry or have a snack. Aim to start your day by 9 a.m. so you can take a luxurious one-hour lunch at noon. However you structure it, stick to your plan and always give your team a heads up so they can plan around it too. This way, they’re not freaking out when you don’t respond on a deadline, and you can actually enjoy that lunch break without angry messages from your coworkers.

You're creative. Draw some lines.

It’s a funny thing. When you work from home, your family and friends tend to forget you’re still working. They see you at home on your laptop and assume you’re free to chat. They need a ride and call you to pick them up. Sometimes, you can, and that's the beauty of this set-up. But if the people in your life get too comfortable interrupting your workday, your focus and productivity will decline fast.

The best way to address this is to set boundaries from the beginning. If your partner or roommate is also at home during the day, make your headphones a sign of focus-mode. Let them know if your headphones are on, you're workin and not free to chat. Try to only check your phone on your scheduled breaks. Put yourself in a quiet room and close the door, creating the same effect as if you left for work.

And make boundaries for yourself. It’s easy to find yourself working late into the night, long past your scheduled hours, when you don’t have a full office of coworkers that empties out at 5 p.m. If you’ve been distracted all day by yourself and others, that may be necessary. But if you’re treating your remote work as a regular day, you should be able to log off like a regular day. Creating boundaries from the beginning protects you from your well-intentioned loved ones and yourself.

A patented, innovated solution we call "getting your work done."

The best way to prove yourself while working from home: By simply getting shit done. You could send a million emails over this next week or two, or keep that little green Slack light on perpetually, but it will mean nothing if you're not showing results.

You want your boss and your team to notice how well this is working during this "trial" period. Aim to do your best work, so there's no question about it. Don't just get the work done. Do it well. Overdeliver when you can. Your goal should be to surprise your boss by how productive this week was, so they're open to the idea of continuing even after COVID-19 passes.


Not everyone is good at working from home, especially at first when you’re used to office life. You can get better at it though, and if you enjoy it and prove yourself to your employer, you can make it happen long-term.

If working remotely sounds appealing but it’s never been an option for you, these next few weeks can play to your benefit. While your boss has no option but to send you home for your safety, take advantage and show them how well it can work – for you and for your company.

March 8, 2020No Comments

How to ask your boss to work remotely

Let's be honest here. With the recent COVID-19 going around, your chances couldn't be better to finally make the step and start working remotely.

Perhaps your company already has offered you to work from home temporarily until things get better. So now all you have to do is shine so bright and be so good at working remotely that you just keep doing it, even when COVID-19 isn't even a thing anymore.

But virus aside, what can you do to convince your boss to work remotely?

Let’s look at the challenges of working remotely. There are always three parties involved. It's you, your boss and the team you work with. They all have to somewhat agree this is a good idea.

Usually, when the boss is against working remotely, it isn't so much that they are against it because of you, but because it would mean a significant change for the entire team. If your boss allows you to work remotely, they probably have to allow everyone to work remotely — which is why most companies either decide completely against it or open it up for everyone.

Making exceptions for just a few employees only creates bad blood, with those employees' coworkers to thinking they've been cheated.

So if your company isn't really open to working remotely, there are like many reasons why.

But let’s see what we can do about it.

Step 1: Start small and simple

You're trying to convince your boss of something that goes against their ground rules. You need to first prove yourself. Instead of asking to work fully remote, ask if you can work just Fridays from home. Just one day of the week, what can go wrong?

If you still don't get approval, negotiate even further. What else could make your boss change their mind? Could you accept a temporary pay-cut for the chance to work from wherever you want? Could you promise to work some extra time as an experiment?

Essentially, you want to give your boss such a great offer they can't decline. And remember, that offer is just temporary. Say something like "Hey, I'd love to work from home every Friday. Let’s make it an experiment for only 2 months and I will also do XYZ."

Chances are your boss will be into it.

Step 2: Overdeliver and prove yourself

Once you've been approved to work from home every Friday for two months, take it as seriously as you can. You're now trying to remove any doubt for your boss and the team you work with. Don't chill at home. Work hard, overdeliver on the work you do and be as present as you can. We've collected some remote working tips right here and here that may help.

For the next two months, your Fridays have to be completely flawless. Even one colleague who complains that you weren't answering in a timely fashion will ruin your entire deal. Your boss is waiting to say, "See, I told you, it just doesn't work." Prove them wrong. Don't treat it like "working from home" but as a chance to make an impression.

Step 3: Re-negotiate

Let's assume you've completed your 2-month trial with flying colors. There was not a single complaint and people didn't even notice that you weren't in the office (that's really what you want to aim for). Now it's time to renegotiate your deal.

Go back to your boss. Don't start by asking for something else, but rather ask for feedback. "Hey, how do you think everything is going? Anything I can improve with my remote work? We got so much done the last two months, but I want to make this even better and more efficient.” Your boss is going to love you for your proactive attitude and eagerness to get better. They may give you some feedback, but you already know they can't say much because you've been incredibly good at everything.

Now you hit them. "Hey, what do you think we do another trial for two months? I'll also work from home on Wednesdays, so it will be Wednesdays and Fridays. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday I'm still in the office, no one will even notice."

Chances are, your boss will approve. So you repeat the entire process.

Step 4: Keep re-negotiating

The beauty of this process is that the better you get at working remotely, the easier it will be to renegotiate your deal. You've already built up trust with your boss. At some point, your team will appreciate how happy and productive you are when working remotely, so they won't question your petition to work remotely more often. And at that point, once your boss sees how successful this remote working trial was (thanks to you), chances are this eventually becomes an option for the whole team.

There are usually two mistakes people make when trying to work remotely:

1. They ask for too much upfront. Keep it simple, keep it small. Make bite-sized requests and enjoy the process of convincing your boss and team.

2. They're not good at working remotely. As I explain in this article here, not everyone works well remotely. Being good at it needs to be a requirement. Otherwise you won’t be able to get approval, or you'll lose the opportunity fast if you do.

Now, good luck with working remotely! I personally believe it is the future, but I also know that not everyone even wants to work remotely. Decide for yourself if you're the person who's right for it, and if you are, I hope the advice above helps you to make it happen.

February 18, 2019No Comments

The key to successful remote working

No big secret here: It’s communication. But despite how simple the answer may be, it’s not easy for everyone to do well.

Assuming you’re already skilled in your line of work, it’s the only other thing you need to do well. Time management is important, sure. But even those who are excellent at managing their time will fail if they are not good communicators. Here are a few communication methods I've picked up over the years that help me and my remote team do our work better.

State your assumptions

If you’re unsure, state what you think you’re supposed to do. If you’re pretty certain, state what you plan to do. If you’re positive you understood, state what you are going to do.

The point here is, don't leave anything up to chance. Your assumption may be totally wrong and when you're working alone, it's easy to follow an assumption too far before someone stops you. Assess the situation and state your next steps. If you’re wrong, you will be set straight. If you’re right, you will assure the client or your boss that you’re all over it.

Asking questions like, "What are the requirements? What do I need to do?” are only meant to buy time and put the responsibility back on the other person. Stating your assumptions keeps the project moving forward.  You are making sure everyone is on the same page and giving the other person something to REACT to, rather than asking them to do something for you.

With this approach, you will spend less time chasing people down, dealing with miscommunication and redoing work. Just put it all on the table.

Cut out the big talk

The beauty of remote working: You save so much time when you’re always not sitting in conference rooms listening to people bullshit and throw buzzwords around. Embrace this gift and keep it out of your online conversations too. It takes a long time to type “360-degree holistic storytelling-based approach” on Slack. So don’t. Your work and team will be better for it.

Be awkwardly honest

When you’re working remotely you don’t have the luxury of reading body language, hearing tone or seeing expressions. That leaves a lot to your imagination, and sometimes your mind can get carried away. You might inject some deep meaning into a Slack message that was meant to be a joke. Or you might misread an email and assume it’s a harsh reprimand when it’s really a friendly reminder.

Rather than over-analyzing things and spiraling, talk it out. You don’t need to get whiny or beg for validation, but you might say, “Hey, we haven’t checked in lately and I’m feeling disconnected. Are you feeling positive about this project? Anything we should discuss?” or “I’ve been spinning my wheels on this all day and rather than drive myself crazy, I thought I’d ask your opinion.”

It may feel a little awkward at first, but you'll soon establish an expectation of honesty between you and your coworkers. And you will feel a lot better when you’re not distracted wondering what everyone is thinking 10,000 miles away.

Share your WIPs

Without a creative director or teammate walking behind your computer or stopping by your desk to check in, you can easily get sucked into a project without sharing your progress. You may end up slaving away on something that wouldn’t have worked from the start, or getting stuck on a roadblock someone could have easily cleared up for you. Meanwhile, your team or client is growing anxious wondering what you’re up to.

Share your works in progress. Important: Your goal is not necessarily to get feedback yet. It’s simply to state here’s where I am, here’s what I’m doing, here’s where it’s going. It’s as simple as sharing a screenshot or dropping a link in a Slack message. This removes anxiety for your team. They don’t need to micromanage you, they learn to trust that you are working even when you’re not “active” or talking, and they know the status of a project at a glance.

Most creative directors or managers know what to expect from a WIP – they’re not going to jump in and say “Why is the kerning not fixed here?” or “Why are you putting that box there?” It’s in progress, it’s not time for that yet. They will likely glance your WIP, nod and get back to whatever they were doing before. Or they may give you a tip and point you in a different direction if it’s necessary. Or they may not look at all. The point is staying connected and providing peace of mind.

Know when a phone call vs. email is needed

You may disagree with me here as I’m not a social person and could easily do away with phone calls altogether, but I’d say 99% of the time, any issue or conversation can be resolved via email. In fact, I think email is often the best place to resolve a problem because there’s no beating around the bush, awkward pauses or multiple voices talking over each other. You have time to craft your message and leave no room for question. Here are the rare times I believe a phone call is necessary:

1. When you or someone else is upset - This is NOT the time for an email, because anything you write in anger will be immortalized in writing. And past the glorious 3-second window Gmail’s “Undo” button provides, there’s no taking an email back. It can be saved or even forwarded to someone else. And I don’t know about you, but I often regret the things I write in anger – and very often, they come back to bite me. On top of that, it’s easy to let tension and resentment build via written communication. Getting on the phone and hearing the other person’s voice, with no email to hide behind, reminds you to be polite and respectful. It also reminds you we’re all people trying our best.


2. At the beginning of a relationship - Obviously, a personal connection can be made via phone that’s very different than email.


3. To keep social people sane - If your teammate is someone who needs social interaction and validation, a simple phone call can work wonders for their productivity and mental state. As I mentioned, I am not this person. However, I make an effort to have phone calls with the people on my team who are. It also makes a remote job feel more real/tangible when you occasionally hear a person’s voice who is invested in your work.


4. On a highly collaborative project - If you find you are saying the same thing to different people or passing messages along a chain of people all the time, you’ll likely save a lot of time and annoyance by setting up a quick phone call. Make it short and have a structure in place for this call. This doesn’t even have to be a recurring call, which can become routine and end up wasting time. Set up status calls only as you need them. Then instead of sending the same Slack message to different people all day, you can actually get to work.



Almost no one, especially clients, will be annoyed with over-communication. Especially if you’re not asking anything of them. When in doubt, send a one-sentence email update. It shouldn’t take time out of your day or feel like a hassle. Over-communicating should be naturally integrated into your workflow.

I preach the daily check-in email every chance I get. Each day, my team sends me an email with three bulleted lists: What I Did Today, What I’m Doing Tomorrow and What I’m Stuck On. This keeps me informed as their manager and helps them stay on task and accountable each day. It takes them less than 5 minutes. It makes a world of difference.


For more tips on remote working, read How to Manage Your Time as a Remote Worker. Or this article about How to Not Suck at Remote Working. Hope it helps!

February 7, 2019No Comments

What makes a good client

We’ve all worked with bad clients. Hopefully, we’ve all also worked with good ones. The difference is drastic.

The most important factor in a healthy work environment is your relationships, both with your team and with your clients. But what may seem like a great client relationship at the rosy beginning of a project can quickly and easily turn into a bad one. So it’s important to know how to spot a truly good client (or perhaps I should say "ideal client," as even good clients aren't perfect). And how, as a client, to recognize a good designer. Relationships go two ways and both the client and designer are responsible for a positive one. Here’s what I’ve found to be the key factors on both sides.


Trust & respect

First and foremost, a client should trust the designer. If that’s not the case, the relationship will crumble no matter what other positive factors are in place. I’m not saying a client should blindly follow without the designer earning that trust. If the designer hasn’t earned it (through their reputation, their work and their communication you’ve seen so far) and that trust doesn’t exist, the client should find another designer and save everyone time and heartache.

Respect goes hand in hand with trust. When a client trusts and respects their team, everything else falls naturally into place. Communication is smooth and straightforward. Timelines are manageable. Payments are made on time. Feedback is sent on time. Anxiety levels are low.

Respect and trust are different than simply that thinking you, as a designer, are cool. If a client’s hiring you just because they want to be pals, be wary. The fascination on their end will fade. Trust and respect should still be there when it does.

Designers: If you can afford it, choose clients that believe in you and seem to respect the work you do. Then fulfill those expectations.



Designers, you can’t expect all your clients meet your taste standards. They haven’t been educated in design. That’s why they hired you. But occasionally, you will have a client who just gets it. Who may not be able to create their vision themselves, but has the instinct. Find those clients and hold them tight.

In every other case in between, it is up to you to educate your client and elevate their taste. Share your knowledge freely and with passion. Explain the decisions you made and why you made them. Share inspiration often. You hear this all the time because it makes a difference. Educated clients are good clients. When those clients have good taste, even better.

"I have learned that you can't have good advertising without a good client, that you can't keep a good client without good advertising, and no client will ever buy better advertising than he understands or has an appetite for." Leo Burnett


A sense of humor

A designer or client that takes things too seriously is a drag on every project. You know, that frenzied person running around like the building’s on fire, storming out of meetings in a huff, emailing the whole team every 10 minutes with the president cc’d, starting every email with “per our conversation,” overcomplicating even the smallest things.

A good client cracks jokes in their emails. They have grace for mistakes. They remember a website launch is not the same thing as a heart transplant.

The same goes for the designer. Be the fun one the clients miss in meetings when you’re not there. Be the one that lightens the mood on radio-silent conference calls. Don’t be annoying, just evoke positivity and chill. Your client picks up on your vibe when you enter the meeting room. Set a good one.


Integrity & transparency

A good client/designer relationship is built on transparency. It may be a buzzword agencies list in their core values, but when actually followed through on both sides, the whole game changes. Budgets aren’t overblown because the client is straight up with you from the beginning, and you’re honest with them about how you’re pacing. Nobody’s surprised because expectations are clearly set the whole way. Nobody’s pointing fingers because there is room for mistakes and everyone is on the same team. When something goes wrong and that moment of panic arises, instant relief follows because you remember the answer is as simple as being honest. It’s freeing.

Tell-tale signs your client, or potential client, isn’t an honest one: They withhold information and release it when the timing’s convenient. They refuse to share their budget and demand to see your proposal first. They inflate the urgency and set unrealistic timelines. If I sense a client is going to be shady, I won’t work with them. (Which may be a luxury in some cases, I realize.)

Signs your designer or agency is dishonest: They write crazy-long emails to explain why they missed a deadline. They seem to know the answer to every question you ask (no one knows everything, no matter how skilled or experienced they are – at least not before consulting another team member). They promise in their proposal that they can accomplish every goal you set in the timeframe you set (any designer who is honest with you and themselves doesn’t overpromise).

When the designer/client relationship is straightforward and honest on both sides, trust and respect follow. And with those qualities in a relationship, even disaster projects are pleasant.


Organized & streamlined

A good client is responsive.

They designate one main point of contact for their designer and allow that person to run the relationship from start to finish.

They write one email with condensed follow-up, rather than looping in every other member of their team and assuming their designer will field feedback.

A good client sends organized folders of assets and doesn’t expect to you spend their budget hunting down photos.

They know when an email will do rather than a meeting.

They send coherent feedback rather than expecting their designer to ask clarifying follow-up questions.


Of course, even the best clients or designers have bad days. But if a client or designer fails on more than one of these standards consistently, I’d start looking for a new one.

February 4, 2019No Comments

The downsides of freelancing

You can find plenty of positive things online about being your own boss, and we all know someone who says going freelance was the best decision they've ever made. With this article, we want to give you a more realistic view of this often glorified way of living.

Most of us know freelancing comes with the obvious not-so-fun stuff like an unstable income, invoice hunting and finding clients. Here we'll get into the challenges that may be less obvious, but are still important to keep in mind when deciding to work for yourself.


Waiting and patience

When you decide to venture out on your own, you are probably super excited to start working. You set up your website, you have your pitch deck ready, you've been emailing potential clients, maybe you already sent out some proposals. You are all set and ready to go. But freelancing involves a lot of waiting around. Waiting for emails, waiting for feedback, waiting for a green light on a project, waiting for the copy or images to be collected, waiting for that invoice to be paid.

Setting up and running your own practice takes a lot of patience.

When I first moved to Amsterdam, I gave myself a 3-month "trial period" to figure out if I could find work and if I wanted to stay. This sounded then like a good amount of time, but it goes by much quicker than you think. I only started to contact people when I arrived and looking back now, I probably should’ve started much earlier. Building a network is a slow process, so you have to start before you quit your job.

When you want to start working for yourself, it’s important to be proactive from the beginning. It will take some time before you can pick the fruits of your efforts. You will need to have patience and give yourself some time (6 months to a year) to get your business fully up and running.


Personal Growth

Working for yourself involves a steep learning curve in the beginning. You are going for it alone and you need to manage a lot yourself. You might need to do your own photography, your own website, your own presentations. You will need to learn new software and skill sets. While it might be frustrating, you will make big steps forward at the beginning. The most important thing is that you continue improving yourself and working on your skills. Because after a few years, you might start to get comfortable with the way you do things, and this can be very damaging to your business.

I once worked with a designer at an agency who had been freelancing for over 10 years which, at that point, made him more senior than me. But because of the way he worked with the different Adobe programs, he wasn’t asked to come back the next week. The way he worked was just not up to date or to the standards of that agency and the industry.

So even though you are working for yourself most of the time, make sure you keep interacting with other creatives, sharing your different ways of working and keeping that learning curve going upwards.


Lack of mentorship

Having a mentor can be hugely beneficial for your career, no matter what stage you are in. A mentor can give you advice, guidance or can help you push your skill set to that next level. When I started working full-time in an advertising agency in London, I experienced how amazing it is to have highly talented people as your senior. I learned so much from them in a short amount of time, just by observing how they approach creative briefs or find design solutions by asking the right questions.

Now as a freelancer, it can be a bit trickier to find a good mentor. You usually work alone or you are hired for only a short amount of time at a company. You might find it awkward to ask another professional for help or advice. Or if you are a bit stubborn, you might think you don’t need other people's guidance and that you can figure it all out yourself. And I’m sure you can, but I would still recommend finding a mentor if you can. You don’t even have to limit yourself to one person or someone within your own industry or country. I’ve been lucky enough to do freelance projects with people who are more senior than me and from different disciplines and backgrounds, from whom I’ve learned a great deal. When you come across such people, don’t be scared to ask them to mentor you.  Most people will feel flattered and will be happy to share their knowledge with you.

"Being a freelancer can give people the idea that you are 'free' most of the time or that you are 'not really' working all day."

The illusion of 24/7 availability

One of the downsides of today’s instant messaging culture is that your clients now also have access to you 24/7. It sometimes seems that people think you sit at home waiting for them to give you work. So there will be a lot of "quick jobs" that needed to be done yesterday. In the past when clients texted or Whatsapped me, I would feel pressure to reply to them straight away or work on their request that very minute, even if it was a weekend or I had a night off. This is obviously not a healthy way of working and can be disruptive to your personal time or worse, get in the way of other clients' work. So a while ago I set some boundaries with my clients and asked people to email me (or switch to Slack) for any work-related questions, just to keep a distance between work and personal communications.

Besides your clients, your family and friends can also (unintentionally) demand 24/7 access. Being a freelancer can give people the idea that you are "free" most of the time or that you are "not really" working all day. This means that you get asked more often to help with a move, family obligations or other things that people with a full-time job can’t easily do. This is usually not a problem because one of the main reasons people to go freelance is to live a more flexible life. But even with your family and friends, you may have to set some boundaries.


Living contract to contract

Depending on the kind of work you do, most freelancers don’t own their work after handing it over to the client. Most freelancers provide a service and it is difficult to build up long-term value from your work. Yes, you do gain knowledge, maybe you get some repeated jobs from your client, and over time you will hopefully be able to charge more money. But in the end you are still working contract to contract, job after job.

There are ways of changing this around by being more entrepreneurial. I haven’t look into this myself yet, but I know some designers work for start-ups and get paid in shares or equity. You can also license your work or sell the rights for only a short amount of time. Some designers make products or prints that they can sell on platforms like Society6 or Threadless. In this way, you can create a (small) passive income and keep ownership of your work as well.

"I always recommend doing projects on the side to keep your portfolio up-to-date with new, modern work."

Non-disclosure agreements

When you work most of the time as a contractor for other agencies, you will probably have to sign a lot of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). This basically means that you have no ownership of your work and are not allowed to share any visuals, knowledge or information about the projects you work on. This usually happens when you work for big global brands through international advertising agencies. Sometimes they allow you to put the work you did in your portfolio when a project is live, but more often than not this won't happen, or you are not there when the project is finalized.

This makes it difficult to have a fresh portfolio and if you are not careful, your portfolio will be quickly outdated. For example, one of the latest projects in my portfolio is a campaign for Dr. Martens I worked on in 2016! Obviously, I’ve worked with other clients and companies after that, but most things didn’t make it into my portfolio, didn’t get signed off or never went live. So if you are a contractor, I always recommend doing projects on the side to keep your portfolio up-to-date with new, modern work.


Protecting Yourself

One of the things most creative freelancers are pretty bad at is protecting themselves with contracts. Some may think it is not necessary to write up such a contract as we trust our clients, or we think we might scare them off when presenting them with one. Most of us probably think it is a lot of work to set up as well. I must admit that I’ve also never worked with a contract and that I don’t have any other form of terms and conditions for clients to sign. And just like any other freelancer, I have walked into projects that were badly managed, where I put way too much work in, and I’ve had clients that just didn’t want to pay after completion.


The Upsides of Freelancing

If we haven’t scared you off with the downsides of freelancing, then you might be ready to make the jump. We have plenty more to share about the benefits of freelancing and how to do it right, from finding clients, managing your finances and working with a recruiting agency. It's all here in our Freelance Life series.

October 23, 2018No Comments

Buy your time

I remember many times in my life when I felt certain it was time to make a change. As soon as the realization hit me, there was this sense of urgency to make it happen right away. I felt that if I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, I should get out quickly.

I’ve heard from many friends and readers who have been at a turning point like this as well. They dislike their job or they’re ready to make a full career change. Or they might have some plan to build something or start a business of their own. Or they have no idea what they want and they’re feeling directionless. Whatever the case, I encourage them to question that sense of urgency.

I took a lot of risks when I was younger, many of which seem foolish in retrospect. I dropped out of school and turned down the few jobs I was offered so I could pursue work I wasn’t qualified to do. Thankfully, these risks worked out. Now, while I still enjoy taking risks and think they’re important for growth, I’ll often have a backup plan in mind. But on top of that, I always try to buy myself time.

Say you have a full-time job as a designer, but you want to go freelance. With the current popularity of freelancing, it almost feels like you have to quit your job now or you’ll miss your window. My advice: Stay, at least for a little while.

Define a specific deadline and work hard until then. Learn as much as you can about design while you’re getting paid to do so. Observe your co-workers to learn how they close a sale or interact with clients. Take on side projects (if you can do so and still be a good employee) while you have the safety net of your current job, and slowly build your client base. Most importantly, save as much as you can.

How much money do you need to live? What’s the minimum amount you’d need to scrape by for say, six months? How about for a year? Calculate that, and be honest with yourself, then figure out how long it would take to make that money at your full-time job. That length of time is your deadline. It’s the hope that will get you through the next few months or years of work you may not want to be doing.

During that time, you might be working nights and weekends. You will probably live a different lifestyle while you save your six-month cushion. It may sound unpleasant, but your deadline will carry you through. It will motivate you to work even harder because you know it’s only temporary. You have your finish line in mind, and that little secret will drive you forward.

This is what I did when planning my move from Austria to New York. I even made a spreadsheet and compared cost of living between the two cities (which I share in detail in my Let’s Go to NYC book). Then I continued working, taking on design jobs with my current studio, until I had the cushion I needed. Cesar Kuriyama did this before creating the 1 Second Everyday app, which now has millions of downloads. (You can hear more about Cesar’s story here.) Illustrator Malika Favre, whose work you’ve probably seen in The New Yorker and elsewhere, uses this strategy every time she makes a big life or career transition. You can listen to our NTMY conversation about it here.

The concept seems obvious, and it is. A lot of people more strategic and serious than me would call it a given. Of course you’d calculate and save before taking a risk, right? That’s not always the case for people who feel desperate or fed up with their current situation. It’s easy to rush into something or let anxiety control your next move. Then you potentially find yourself in a more desperate situation than before, struggling to make your dream work.

The beautiful thing about this approach is that it removes that urgency and panic. You’ve bought yourself time. You have the security of what you’ve learned, a client base you can build on and savings you can live on while you’re getting your new plan off the ground. Now you don’t have to compromise or take on projects you don’t want to do. You can only focus on what you do want.

Put simply, it’s about being strategic and patient. You’re just working toward your goal within the safety of your current situation. But if you think of it as buying your time, it changes everything. You’re in control, you’ve removed the feeling of crisis and you’re making it happen for yourself. You can breathe a little easier because you’ve extended your window.

Buy yourself time and you’re technically paying for peace of mind. That’s worth a lot.

July 26, 2018No Comments

Full time vs. freelance vs. on your own

I've recently looked back at my (still fairly short) career, trying to find a pattern in my decision-making and understand exactly what makes me happy.

As I thought about it, I noticed there are generally three categories of active jobs we can have. Luckily, I've had the opportunity to experience all three. All of them have their own benefits and challenges. All of them have taught me a lot about myself, how I prefer to work and what I want for my career.

1. Full-time

The first category is classic full-time employment. I've only worked a few years in my life as a full-time employee, but I know it's the standard for a reason.

Depending on my role as a full-time employee, I enjoy a certain amount of security. Full-time means I have a boss, or multiple people within my company to lead me. I trade my 40 hours+ a week for a monthly salary and a range of benefits.  Especially in larger companies, I may even get away with not giving 100%. Often 70% is enough to not get fired, and sometimes even 50% or less. I could get away with calling a few meetings a month and still look like an overachiever, even though I haven't contributed much.

I'm of course not saying everyone does that, but it's certainly a possibility as the structure and politics of a large organization cloud productivity. I know that I'm personally a horrible full-time employee who suffers from the Ringelmann Effect.

Generally, I've found working full-time the "easiest" when it comes to sustaining my own livelihood. I can get away with doing the bare minimum.  If I feel a bit lazy one day, I could just follow my manager's orders and that would still make me a good employee. Self-initiative may be rewarded, but it isn't necessary for survival.

I categorize full-time as a low risk, low reward kind of setup. This makes it the most popular choice, and I mean this in the most positive way.

2. Freelance, consultant or service business owner

The second category is everyone who sells chunks of their time by providing a service to clients (B2B). Meaning you may own a company with employees, or you're a solo business owner. But what defines the second category is that instead of answering to a manager or boss, you answer to your client. When you work, you bill by the hour or day. If you want to make more money, you simply bill more hours until you have none left.

I experienced this set-up when I had my own design studio. It's slightly different to working full-time. You certainly have more responsibilities, since you're overseeing the business end of things and also producing the output. Doing work results in getting paid. There's no monthly paycheck so unless you deliver, you simply won't get paid.

In this role, I'm less likely to become lazy and I can't hide in meetings. However, I may be still able to survive by doing the bare minimum. Working for clients, I usually work for a brief. If I'm extremely motivated I may try to challenge the brief and go the extra mile, but I don't have to. I may just answer the brief, do whatever was "good enough" and hopefully get paid. If I'm out of ideas, I can always do whatever the client asks me to do. Of course the work may be not that good, it may not win awards or make me proud, but it may be enough to pay the bills.

I categorize working for clients as a medium risk, medium reward kind of set-up. The more I excel at my work, the more I get out of it. However, I may get away with mediocre work.

“While you are alone you are entirely your own master.” - Leonardo da Vinci

3. Your own business & product

What defines the third category is that you own your own business and work on your own product that you sell directly to customers. Most bootstrapped or self-financed businesses fall under this category. Even funded businesses to some extent, although you could argue there may be less skin in the game.

I personally found this path to be the most difficult so far. I have no boss or manager to guide me. I have no client with a briefing or a particular problem to solve. I'm completely on my own. No one is telling me what to do, which is a beautiful and liberating thing but also scary and lonely at times.

I wake up in the morning and have to plan my own agenda for the day. I need to find my own problems to solve, and then solve them. And if I'm lucky (or good at what I do) I may be rewarded by customers purchasing my product. If I fail, most likely no one tells me what went wrong and for sure no one will tell me how to fix it.

Working on your own product I'd categorize as high risk, high reward. The more risks I take, the higher the reward may be. I have no security nets, but also no one blocking me from receiving the highest reward if I do well.

Weighing the Pros & Cons

The grass is always greener on the other side, but all of these options have their trade-offs. Here is my personal summary:



  1. Financial stability (at least, in theory)
  2. Benefits (healthcare, paid vacation, etc.)
  3. Stable work hours (at least in theory)
  4. Stable social circle (same people you work with every day)
  5. I can give 70% and still be fine
  6. Clear leadership, I get told what to do (in theory)
  7. Mentorship


  1. Fear of not being in control (can get fired for little reason)
  2. Less creative freedom, always have to answer to boss
  3. Need to be social to some degree to fit into office culture
  4. Most likely bound to certain work hours and location

Freelance, consultant, studio owner


  1. Freedom to work with whomever I want (in theory)
  2. Work from anywhere I want
  3. Work anytime I want (may depend on clients)


  1. I get paid by the hour, and I only have 24 hours in a day.
  2. Unpredictable income. One month nothing, another month a lot.
  3. Responsible for my own benefits
  4. Lots of trial and error finding the right clients

Owning a product business (with customers)


  1. Absolute creative freedom
  2. Work from anywhere, whenever I want
  3. More control overall


  1. No regular salary (unless I've figured out a recurring revenue model)
  2. Responsible for my own benefits
  3. Very lonely, unless you hire some friends (co-workers)
  4. High risk, high reward (both a pro and a con)

I've learned that all three models may be the best for me depending on my phase in life. Of course it also depends on personality and skills. I know people who thrive by working in a specific role full-time or in the service business. I also know some who thrive only if they're completely on their own.

For the most part, I fall between #2 and #3. I love working for clients because I love to serve. I thrive by simply providing value to someone, even at the expense of my own creative expression.

January 29, 2018No Comments

Why your portfolio’s not getting you the job you want

Article originally published as a guest article on HOWDesign

Still don’t have the job you really want? The problem may be your portfolio. Tobias van Schneider, co-founder of Semplice, shares what could be wrong—and how to make it better.

You built an online portfolio for your design work. You wrote a nice cover letter and sent it off to what feels like countless companies. You followed up with friendly emails and even personalized gifts that would make you want to hire yourself on the spot.

So why don’t you have a job offer yet?

Often, the job hunt simply requires patience. But if it feels like you’ve been trying and waiting forever with zero luck, the problem may be your portfolio. Here’s what could be wrong.

You’re Not Curating Your Projects

It’s tempting to dump every project you’ve ever touched in your portfolio to make it feel full and impressive, but that only drags your better work down. Instead of filling your portfolio with fluff, choose only the projects that make you proud. Curate and let your best work shine.

When a recruiter or senior designer is reviewing dozens or even hundreds of portfolios a week, you can imagine they don’t spend much time on any one of them. The first 2-3 seconds on your page count the most. In those 2-3 seconds they will decide if they jump to the next portfolio or stay a bit longer and browse your work. Optimizing your overview and curating your projects can mean the difference between getting that closer look, or getting dismissed within seconds.


You’re Not Selling Yourself (in Addition to Your Work) Enough

With our portfolio, we tend to assume our work will speak for itself. But it’s not just about your work, it’s about you. Your potential employers or clients want to know who you are: How you think, what it would be like working with you, whether you work well with a team. Sometimes, that’s even more important than your experience and skill.

These are all qualities you can convey in your About page and project case studies.

Your About page is the most important page on your portfolio. Most people’s first instinct is to navigate to this page to get some idea of who you are before they browse your work. Of course you should include your name and email address on your About page, but don’t be afraid to show some personality here too. Add a photo of you at work. If you’re funny, crack a joke. Regardless of whether you’re funny, write in your voice and be yourself. Your About page should make readers feel like they’ve had a quick lunch with you. It should be brief, pleasant and memorable.

Case studies not only provide context for your projects (which is crucial), but also give the reader a glimpse into both your thought process and personality. Write brief but insightful case studies that let the reader know how you approached a project, your thought process along the way and your feelings about the final result. Sell both your work and yourself.


You’re Not Showing Enough Experience

Maybe you’re a young designer, or perhaps you’re just trying to break into a new area of design. In any case, it’s a given that whoever is reviewing your portfolio wants to feel confident your style and skill is the right fit for the job.

If you don’t have the right projects to show, try doing more personal side projects that will boost your portfolio. Volunteer to do design work for a nonprofit organization. Choose a company you admire and do an unsolicited redesign (but beware of too many unsolicited designs or cliches like Nike redesigns ). Ask a friend with more experience to bring you in on a relevant project. If you don’t have the right work to show yet, be willing to put in the work until you do.


You’re Confusing Your Visitor

Especially when you’re early in your career, chances are that your portfolio is full of experimental work or work from different disciplines. Generally there is nothing wrong with showing diverse skills, but it could be why people are passed on for the jobs they want.

Remember, our portfolio is not only about the work we’ve done, but what we want to do in the future. So if you’re hoping to land a specific job, curate for that job. Likewise if you’re trying to avoid a certain style or type of work.

If I see you have two website projects, one branding project, one film project and another analog painting project in your portfolio, I simply do not know in which category to put you. Chances are high that the company reviewing your portfolio assumes you’re too all over the place and doesn’t understand what you’re good at, or what you want to do. It’s not that your work is bad, but that your portfolio leaves too many open questions.

If you think that might be the case for you, clean up your portfolio and focus on the work you want to do in the future. If you want to do web design, get rid of everything else (unless that something else is really impressive). If that makes your portfolio feel empty, work on adding one or two more web design projects by doing side projects as mentioned above. Give those who review your portfolio the impression that you know what you want, and that you know where your skill lies.


Your Portfolio Needs a Refresh

It’s possible your portfolio simply needs improvement. Your website is as much a display of your skill as your actual projects, so design it with love. This is not to say your portfolio should be a work of art, but it should showcase your projects brilliantly. That means no outdated design templates, confusing navigation, broken links, sloppy writing, distracting animations or other elements that make your visitor think about anything but you and your work.

In the creative industry, a portfolio is one of the key factors in getting new work. As I’ve learned from my “ How to get a job at X” series, most companies are not even considering candidates without a portfolio. Until you have the job you want, make it your job to improve your portfolio. Look at your website from the perspective of the person you want to hire you. Make it easy for them to choose you.

December 13, 2017No Comments

How to manage your time as a remote worker

Recently I wrote an article titled How to Not Suck at Remote Working. One of the main rules was to know who you are, as I believe remote working is just not for everyone. However, if time management is your main issue, there’s hope.

All of us could be better at managing our day, whether we work remotely or not. Here’s what I’ve learned helps the most.

1. Track your time

This feels like second nature to many of us already, especially if you’ve worked at an agency that bills by the hour. Tracking your time not only makes it easy to invoice clients, but also gives you measurable data you can look back on later. You’ll see trends about how you work and how long you’re spending on your daily tasks, so you more accurately plan each day moving forward.

Time tracking apps like Toggl not only record your time, but give you a running timer to track your task as you go. And while it can be annoying, Toggl sends you reminders to track your time every few minutes or so, so you stay on top of it. It even tracks your idle time so you can be as accurate as possible.

An undervalued Toggl feature is the Pomodoro timer, which will let you know when you’ve been working for 25 minutes and give you a 3 minute break (you can adjust the timing in your preferences). As someone who can easily get in the zone and spend hours on a task without lifting my head, I appreciate the quick Pomodoro check-in to keep me on track.

Whether you’re billing by the hour or not, track your time to make you more aware of how you’re spending your day.

2. Build in breaks

When you’re working from home, distractions are endless. There’s the TV. Laundry. The dog. Laundry for the dog. It might seem simple to multitask and get a few things done around the house while you work, but those few minutes here and there add up, and then suddenly it’s 8 p.m. and you’ve only clocked three hours of real work for the day. Use Toggl’s Pomodoro app (I swear Toggl is not sponsoring this article), or your phone’s timer, to build those breaks into your day instead of taking them arbitrarily. Give yourself 25 or 40 or even 60 minutes of pure work, then allow yourself a few minutes of rest before focusing again.

Same goes for Twitter, checking your email, shopping for new dog clothes, and your phone – especially your phone! Giving your brain occasional breaks keeps you sane and creative, so don’t feel guilty about it. Just build structure around it so you stay productive too.

"Slack is meant to streamline our communication and workflow, but just like emails, we often let instant messages control our day."

3. Snooze Slack notifications

Sounds counterintuitive since apps like Slack are meant to streamline your communication and workflow, but just like emails, we often let instant messages control our day.

Every time a notification pops up on your screen, your focus is broken. You’ll be pulled into an unrelated conversation or another task and find yourself half-finishing everything you start. Instead of letting notifications interrupt you every few minutes, set a timer and check Slack periodically. Slack gives people the option to send urgent notifications in Snooze mode, so if it’s really important, people can still reach you.

You may be tempted to go "offline" entirely to focus on a particular task or project. This can be useful, providing you planned for it and your team knows when you won't be reachable. If disconnecting helps you be more productive, build this into your schedule and share that schedule with your team ahead of time. This not only helps them respect your focused-work time, but ensures you don't impact their tasks and deadlines.

4. Use the daily status update (if you’re working with a remote team)

I wrote more about it more here, but in short: The Daily Status update keeps your team informed about what you’re doing each day, and keeps you accountable to your checklist. At the end of the day, take five minutes to send your team an email with what you did today, what you’ll do tomorrow and where you’re stuck, in bulleted lists.

This way, you’ll set up your to do list for each day the night before. Your team will know what you’re working on and you’ll feel motivated to accomplish what you said you’ll do.

5. Reward yourself

Motivate yourself by setting time goals for each task, then giving yourself a little reward if you meet them.

Maybe you promise yourself a snack if you put in 60 minutes of hard focus. Or maybe you get to check Instagram for 5 full minutes if you get your proposal turned in my 2:00 p.m.

Use positive reinforcement to stay focused and feel positive about your workday.

6. Environment is everything

While working from your bed seems fun, it’s not great for productivity (or for your spirit).

Think about what kind of environment makes you feel focused, productive and creative. I enjoy doing admin tasks like answering emails from coffee shops, but I get my “real” creative work done in my home office. Maybe you work best in a structured coworking space, or in a messy home office, or in a bare, quiet room.

Create or seek out that environment, whether that means keeping your house clean, reorganizing your home office or budgeting to rent a coworking space.

7. Stick to a routine

What many people miss after jumping from their 9-5 job to remote work (although they may not admit this to themselves) is the predictable structure a corporate job provides.

While the flexibility of remote work is one of its most appealing benefits, most humans thrive with a routine, and routine can still exist within that flexibility.

Waking up at a consistent time, getting dressed, fixing a pot of coffee, reading the headlines and running through your to do list, breaking for lunch at noon, scheduling meetings for afternoons only — these are the little practices that keep you moving like a well oiled machine.

Define your routine more clearly and then stick to it. If something comes up or you want to switch things up, no problem. Build allowances for that in your routine. For example, maybe you leave Tuesday mornings open for last minute meetings or appointments. Or maybe on Fridays you let yourself impulsively work from the park, if you're feeling like it.

Find your routine, however structured or loose, and you'll naturally manage your time better.

At the end of the day, managing time mostly comes down to removing distractions. I tend to get tons of work done on airplanes and it's only because my phone is in airplane mode, I have a defined amount of time to mentally focus, and there are only so many other things I can physically do.

While I can't feasibly work from an airplane every day, I can follow these other practices that help me manage my time as best as I can. I hope they’ll be helpful for you too.

November 8, 2017No Comments

How to not suck at remote working

I’ve been trying to work remotely (from home, in my case) since the moment I had my first job. I’m not sure why exactly, but I just wasn’t made for the 9 to 5 office life.

I dislike everything about working in an office. The daily commute, the empty conversations, the distractions and of course the meetings. But on top of it, my productivity never peaked when working in an office environment. I only showed up to clock my eight hours, then went home to do my “real” creative work. Often I didn’t even do anything at the office, just pretended to be busy before I could finally call it a day at 5 p.m. That was about 14 years ago and things have changed quite a bit since then.

Today, remote working seems to be more popular than ever. According to a recent survey from Gallup, 43% of employed Americans have worked remotely in some form over the past year. Other reports state that by 2020, 50% of the American workforce will be working remotely. Some because they want to, some because they have to.

And it makes sense. Working remotely, if done right, is a win/win situation for everyone involved. According to this study, given the choice of a 10% raise or the option to work remotely, 53% of all participants chose to work remotely instead of getting the 10% raise. Dropping the commute is by far one of the biggest factors of increased happiness for those who made the jump. Even if your commute is only 30 minutes it makes a huge difference; the influence it has on your overall mood and happiness is enormous. There are few things people hate more than their commute.

Other benefits of working remotely are a more flexible working schedule, and typically a lower cost for the company that employs you (they don’t need to provide office space, etc.). The positives are fairly clear for both parties, at least on the surface.

Yet, I’ve learned that while working remotely is appealing to many people, very few are good at it. Most people I’ve worked with remotely are distracted, unproductive and certainly not performing the way they should or even want to. The remote life is not easy and you have to learn how to do it right.

These are the rules to live by if you want to be a successful remote worker, at least from my perspective.

#1. Know who you are

Although some might say “remote working is the future,” I don’t believe this is a general truth. It simply doesn’t work for everyone.

For one, working remotely can be pretty lonely. Some need the daily watercooler conversations and a tangible feeling of belonging. This may exist to some extent within a remote team, but it’s inherently different. For example, your Slack chat may help replace the daily watercooler conversations, but it’s not the same as sitting down and sharing lunch with your coworkers.

Some people, given the chance to work from home, would not accomplish anything because they’re easily distracted or simply need the fixed schedule and structure of office life.

Ask yourself:

  • How much do I value social interaction throughout the day?
  • In what specific ways could I create a healthy social balance as a remote worker? Would that be enough?
  • How much do I value and depend on the structure of an office environment?

I’ve worked with people who were two completely different personalities when working remotely compared to working in an office on location. Be honest with yourself about who you are and what you need before jumping into remote work.

"There is nothing more toxic to a remote working environment than people who make assumptions."

# 2. Over-communicate

This is by far the most important practice of a successful remote worker. You have to over-communicate, almost to an extent where it feels like you’re talking to yourself out loud.

The challenge with working remotely is that you don’t really know what other people on your team are doing. You can’t just walk over and check in with them at their desk or exchange a few words over lunch. To sync up remotely means you have to schedule a call or bother them via chat, and you can’t just have meetings all day to make sure you’re caught up with everyone.

My biggest frustration when working with people remotely is when those people do not communicate — folks who don’t ask any questions, who don’t tell share they’re doing or what they have accomplished. It’s easy to fly under the radar and disappear when working offsite; you have to actively fight against it.

The most damaging are those who make assumptions — assuming that someone will do something about X or will get in touch about Y. There is nothing more toxic to a remote working environment than people who make assumptions:

“Oh, I didn’t reply to that email because I assumed you would do it.”

“I assumed you would get in touch with me if you needed something.”

“I thought you already did that.”

“I thought this wasn’t as important, so I didn’t do it.”

Remove assumptions. Over-communicate and be proactive about it. Reach out immediately and try to inform people about what you’re doing as often and as efficiently as possible. That doesn’t mean you need to schedule dozens of meetings, but a simple message in your group chat such as, “Hey team, today I’m going to work on X. Just FYI,” puts everyone on the same page and gives people the opportunity to jump in if needed.

Over-communicate everything: What you are working on, when you think it will be done, if you’re running behind and how much you’re running behind. Even if people don’t respond to your updates, you need to be consistent about it. Just because someone didn’t acknowledge your update doesn’t mean it’s worthless — quite the opposite. It means they feel informed and satisfied about your current status.

I love working with people who speak their mind as openly as possible, people who proactively reach out about everything and don’t shy away from bothering someone if they think it’s important. The worst thing that can happen when working remotely is that you work on something for an entire week, only to find out that everything you did wasn’t at all what your team was expecting you to do. Over-communication helps set expectations. And as a bonus, it helps you manage your time better, since keeping your team informed requires you to stay on top of your to-do list.

# 3. Use The Daily Status Update

Yes, the third rule also relates to communication. It’s that important.

I try to have relatively few meetings when working remotely. I don’t like calls and I think they’re time wasters for the most part. I do schedule calls with my team every other week because they boost morale, and a little bit of chatting certainly helps you build relationships with your team (some people need this more than others, and I’ll admit I’m low maintenance when it comes to social interaction). But most days, I like to be efficient and productive. After all, that’s the reason I decided to work remotely.

But there is one practice that has been incredibly effective for me: The Daily Status Update. It’s a simple email sent at whatever time you end your day. This status update follows a few rules which are as follows:

You’re not allowed to spend more than five minutes writing this update. It should be efficient, and spending more than five minutes writing a status update would defeat the purpose. By imposing this time limit, you will focus on the most important details and your status update won’t be a nightmare for others to read.

My remote team uses a set format and template for this status update, which looks like this:

What I’ve worked on today

  • Something I did
  • Something else I did
  • Another thing I did

What I will work on tomorrow

  • Something I want to do tomorrow
  • Another thing I want to do

Where I’m stuck

  • Need help with XYZ

Every day you take this template, add your bullet points and send it to your team. Since you’ll only be spending five minutes max, it’s an easy addition to your daily routine.

These three headlines work wonders for you and your team’s productivity without having any meetings whatsoever, especially when working across time zones.

By sharing what you worked on today I know what you’ve accomplished without having to ask. Seeing your “tomorrow” list lets me know that you have enough on your plate to be busy tomorrow, plus I can plan my own work around your tasks. Worst case, I can jump in and say, “Hey, I saw you want to work on this tomorrow, but can you work on this other thing instead?”

The third list in your Daily Status Update email is the most important: The list of what you’re stuck on or where you need help. If I, as your manager or colleague, see the same task under “What I will work on tomorrow” and “Where I’m stuck,” I know to jump in and help you with whatever you need so you’re not roadblocked for tomorrow. This is one reason why your status update needs to be sent every single day. If I continue to see a team member putting the same task under “Where I’m Stuck,” I know something is wrong.

P.S. I always encourage people to link their status updates to the work they’re referencing. Dropbox links, images, to-dos in Basecamp — link to it so I can easily get more context if I need it. This will save time for both of us.

Knowing who you are, over-communicating and having a structure for how you communicate are in my experience the three main ways to become a successful remote worker. If you do these things right, everything else will follow.

Do you have your own routines or tips for remote working? Send me a tweet @vanschneider and let me know what they are. And if you’re interested in more freelance and remote working advice, check out this series.

May 1, 2017No Comments

The 6 contradictions of freelancing

With this article we’re going to switch it up a bit and write from the perspective of Nika and Tobias at the same time. Just imagine you’re sitting with the two of us in a coffee shop talking about freelancing.

When we went freelance we both had some ideas about how things would work out. For many, going freelance is a decision to escape our 9 to 5 job. We imagine we’re going to be in control of our time and only do the work we love to do. But we quickly found out that this isn’t exactly the truth, at least not in the beginning. Freelancing is interesting, because there are always two sides to the story.

In this article we’re going to look at some of the common contradictions of freelancing. Of course, all of these depend on your personal circumstances, but generally these seem to hold true for most people who start fresh as a freelancer.

Earning More Money vs. Earning Less Money

Nika: People think that you must be earning a lot when you tell them your hourly or daily freelance rate. And when you multiply that by the amount of hours and days a normal person works in a full-time position, yes it does come across as if you are making a lot more money than you are. If you have a good month, this indeed can work out in your favor and your bank account is nicely filled.

But on the other hand, when you work on a project with a fixed-fee, hit a dry patch work-wise, go on a holiday or you are not working for any other reason (spending two whole days on your tax returns), you are earning... zero. There have been projects where I didn’t manage expectations and timing well, so I ended up working many more hours than I was paid for. So when you calculate that back I was earning way below the average minimum wage.

Tobias: As Nika already mentioned, earning money as a freelancer scales directly with the amount of work you put in. Compared to being full-time, the moment you take just one day being sick, you’re not getting paid. And of course, never forget that the amount you charge per day or week isn’t really what you get out of it in reality. Deduct taxes, healthcare and other expenses, and then you’ll know what you really made.

While I don’t like to make generalizations, I’d say that most freelancers who just started out usually make much less or roughly the same as their full-time counterparts. In the end it’s really up to you, how much you charge and how well you negotiate.

Having More Free Time vs. Having Less Free Time

Nika: A lot of people go freelance because they like to have more control of their time. This was the main factor in quitting my full-time job. I didn’t want other people to tell me when I could take a day off, or when I could or couldn't go on a holiday for more than two weeks. So the first year freelancing I worked as a contractor for different agencies in London and took a lot of time of to travel. This was obviously amazing!

Later, when I started to work more with my own clients on design projects, I realized that having more free time is not always the case. It takes a lot of practice and time management to achieve that perfect work-life balance. I must say, I struggle with this quite a bit. I’m not very good at managing time and I’ve spent many evenings and weekends at home, finishing projects for my clients. I admire people who run their own business but can stop working at 6 or 7 PM.

Tobias: I would agree that if you’ve figured out the project management part of this whole freelance situation, you will enjoy more free time. Sometimes free time just means you can work at night, sleep in and enjoy the summer days outside.

As Nika already mentioned, many people go freelance because they want more free time, but they end up working more than when they were full time. This really just comes down to your project and time management skills.

No Control vs. In Control

Nika: One of the main reasons people hesitate to go freelance is that they are scared to lose the security of their paying job. I’ve always found this very contradicting. Because to me (especially in today's financial climate) job security is a myth. There are plenty of examples of companies that move their offices and production to lower-paying countries and lay off their long term employees by the thousands, just to cut costs. They completely ignore the years of hard work from their employee  and pay them off with a few months’ salary (if you're lucky). And when you aren’t prepared for this, what are you going to do when you can’t find a new job?

When you work for yourself, it's true that you have less control over your income, where your next job is coming from and how much you will be earning. But you are in control of the rest. When you go freelance, you need to learn how to learn. You learn to be proactive, to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit. You learn how to network and how to manage your finances. You also learn to be flexible. If you notice your work is running low, you can learn a new software and pick up other jobs you normally wouldn’t do. The longer you run your own company, the bigger your network will be, the more jobs can come your way. I think going freelance and having an entrepreneurial spirit is the best job security you can get.

Tobias: I can’t agree more with Nika here. Being full-time means you rely 100% on your employer. Your fate is in his or her hands. You’re technically zero in control, but while things are good, you’re fine. As a freelancer, you are the one who is 100% in control. Even if that means you make zero money next month, or twice as much as last month. You’re fully in control. For some this might work, and for some it won’t.

Less Politics vs. More Politics

Nika: During my (only) full-time job, I quickly realised how toxic office politics can be to your daily life. Maybe I got unlucky at this agency, because it put me off working full time for a very long time (maybe forever?). Now I know that there are many amazing companies out there where everyone feels like family, colleagues become good friends and some even become part of your life. But still I haven’t found an agency or workplace that I believe is free of office politics.

When you are working from home, there are of course fewer people around who can cause these frictions. So you would think you are free from dealing with these hierarchical constructions. But now, you are personally responsible for good relationships with your clients. And when things go wrong, it will unfortunately involve a lot of politics and relationship management. You need to communicate everything very clearly with your client, not let them step over your boundaries and you have to keep your patience, even if they are being unreasonable. But if it gets too bad, the good thing about being a freelancer is that you always have to option to fire your client.   

Being More Creative vs. Being Less Creative

Nika: When you run your own business, you can choose what kind of creative projects you are going to work on. Besides freedom, a lot of people go freelance because they want to go after their creative passions. They love to create things, and start out with the idea that this will be the only thing that they will be doing. Making stuff and getting paid for it.

Although this is true, when you work for yourself, you also have to deal with a lot of other sides that come with running a business. You will spend a lot of time dealing with clients, getting new work in, writing proposals and contracts, filing your taxes, keeping track of your finances, etc. Especially when your business is going well, you can find yourself more and more on the managing side than actually being creative. I have friends who eventually went back to full time or gave up their business because it was too much.

Tobias: Probably one of the most underestimated parts of being a freelance designer is that you actually have to run a business yourself. This might be a bit easier if you freelance in-house for agencies, but if you have your own direct clients, successfully running your business takes at least 50% of your time. PS: You can counter this a bit if you’re working with an agent. We wrote about this here.

Job Satisfaction vs. Job Dissatisfaction

Nika: Most freelancers dream of working on amazing, ambitious projects and having the best clients in the world with good budgets who understand your innovative, creative ideas. And if you are lucky, you will have plenty of these projects coming your way. But sometimes, you will be working on projects that will just pay the bills. When working for yourself and for your own clients, freelancing can be very rewarding. Job satisfaction can be really high when you’ve delivered a project and your client is super happy with it. On the other hand, when it goes badly or a client is being difficult, you can feel it dragging you down. I’ve had sleepless nights about projects that just didn’t seem to be heading the right direction, wondering if I was any good at all. I guess this is the main emotional roller coaster as a freelancer; one moment you are feeling amazing and competent, a split second later you are questioning your own talent and expertise. But don’t let it get to you! It’s part of being a creative.

Tobias: I always had these beautiful dreams about being a freelancer, working for only my dream clients and being in this perfect state of happiness. But as Nika already mentioned, reality hit me hard. Especially if you’re early in your career, 80% of your projects are most likely not portfolio pieces and just there to pay the bills. And then, slowly but surely this will hopefully improve.

Ups and Downs

I guess the main point of this article is that the freelance life can have many highs and many lows. You will have long nights and weekends, but also long vacations. Your cash flow will fluctuate, you will be happy when helping out lovely clients, you will be stressed when a job goes wrong, you will be annoyed when a client pays late. But the good news is, all of those things can be influenced by you. It will be harder in the beginning, but eventually you will figure it out.

You will be proud when you archive another finished project or when a product sells out. I guess for me it’s the overall idea of choosing your own path, creating your own career and being free in choosing which direction to go in. To be in control of the uncontrollable.

Keep creating & Hope you enjoyed this article
Nika & Tobias

March 31, 20171 Comment

Strategies to find clients as a freelancer

Deciding to go freelancing is one thing, having enough work and clients is another. The process of finding your next freelance job can be stressful, but it doesn't have to be this way.

There are a lot of (fun!) things you can do to get new clients. In this article we will go through some of the most effective ones, assuming you have the basics in check, like an online portfolio, printed business cards and a proactive mindset. But even if you haven’t, some of these tips can help you get your first clients when you are just starting out.

Networking & Self Promotion

Let’s jump straight in with the dirty words and obvious advice. Tell people around you that you are a freelance designer and that you are always interested in meeting new people or discussing projects for potential work. You never know where your next job will come from — maybe even from your taxi driver! I’ve been offered design jobs twice by two taxi drivers when I told them I was a freelance graphic designer. So just tell people what you do. At parties, on travels, start with your friends and family. You are your business, so always have your cards and a friendly pitch ready. Don’t feel ashamed if you hand it out to people at social events; this is your work and just say you are happy if you can help people with their projects.

This is the most simple advice, yet most people I know who are looking for work miss the obvious opportunities like telling everyone around them what they do, including family and friends.


To find new clients, especially early on in your career, you need to put yourself out there both literally and figuratively. Go to meet ups and social events but choose those with subjects that are unrelated to your field of work. Are you a brand designer? Don’t go to a design event, because you will only meet other designers.

Find events that are in your line of interest; go to a meet up for tech start-ups, fashion entrepreneurs, bike lovers or scarf-knitters. Nowadays everyone needs a logo or a website. You will be able to connect with people who have the same interests, and you simply have to tell them you are a designer. You will be surprised how quickly you can find work through this.

The golden rule of networking is: Go to events that are completely outside of your field. Make sure that you are the only designer at an event and the opportunities will be endless.

PS: A great way to find meet ups is meetup.com. Of course, depending on where you live, you mind know even better what local events are happening.

Ask other designers

Someone gave me this advice once and at that time I thought it was very strange. Why would I ask other designers to give me their work or clients? Aren’t they like, my rivals? Now I know that most designers are awesome people (yes, you) and that a lot of them like to help other designers out. Especially when they are busy, most of them are glad to hand out projects to others. I regularly post job requests on my Facebook wall, because currently I work as a contractor at an agency and I don’t have time to take on other projects. So I’m more than happy to refer these clients to my amazing designer friends.

In general, I’ve learned that the more successful a designer is, the more likely they will give away work because they have way too much of it. So don’t bother your fellow designers who are also looking for work, contact those who are successful and busy. Those are the ones who would give work to you.

You can also knock on the door of smaller design studios and let them know that you are available for work in case they need an extra pair of hands.

Pro Bono Work

A lot of people say that you shouldn’t work for free. And while I know you probably shouldn’t, sometimes it can be really nice to work on a project pro bono.

There are a lot of small organizations out there that don’t have the money or the knowledge to find good designers. Reach out to local organizations that you like (and that you think are in need of design help) and offer to do some free work. Be bold and send your designs to them saying if they like it, they can use it! This will build your network and strengthen your portfolio.

And you never know, in the future these organizations may come back to you with another project and hopefully this time with a budget. This brings me to the next point.

Stay connected to old clients

People like to hire through referrals. If you have done great work with a client, try to stay in touch. Build a good relationship with them, because most freelance work comes through word of mouth. People trust other people’s opinions and experiences more than a nice email, good portfolio or LinkedIn page. Your old clients are probably business owners who know and work with other business owners. It’s basically free marketing — you don’t have to do any outreach, your clients do it for you.

Find your niche

This is something that a lot of creative people struggle with, including myself. As a creative person, (and someone who is looking for work) you usually tell people you can do everything. Designing websites, logos, flyers, packaging, presentations, photography, making collages, we enjoy all of it! Even though it might seem like this will help you find more work, it can actually work against you.

We all know the line “Jack of all trades. Master of none.” Clients usually want something specific and they will find the designer that is best at it. So try to focus on the thing you love doing the most and build your portfolio around that. Be the go-to Food Typography Girl or The Animal Icon Guy. This will help you with build a solid client base especially when you’re just starting out.

But do be careful if you don’t like to be pigeonholed. We’ve written about this in the past on “How to find your own style as a designer”. It’s a slippery slope, but when you’re just starting out, focusing on one particular thing usually helps spread the message and makes self promotion easier.

Become an expert

Share your knowledge by creating content through a blog or a tutorial. I hear you thinking, “But what if I’m not yet an expert?” That doesn't really matter. Even if you are just starting out, you can share your experience because there will always be someone who is even earlier in their career than you. Talk about your progress, your values, your workspace, your latest project. Try to talk about things that your future clients will be interested in. So instead of writing about “How to Make a Website in WordPress,” talk about “How the Right Website Design Can Increase Sales.” This will definitely be of interest to them and it will show your potential clients that you are an expert in your field. Clients love experts! 🙂


Passion Projects

Passion projects, or side projects, are something special and can lead to powerful changes in your career. Tobias has talked about side projects a lot on this blog — his Why Side Projects Should Be Stupid article is especially insightful.

There are two kinds of side projects: those that eventually take over and become your main source of income, and those which are similar to a marketing campaign for your own services. In either case you want to be careful that your side project is actually driving traffic to your main design services, and not overwhelming you with more work that may not pay your bills.

Passion projects can include pretty much anything; they can be free tools for your fellow designers, e-books with helpful content for your clients, or just something funny that makes people laugh but promotes you as the designer. It’s essentially indirect marketing for you, even though the passion project has nothing to do with design itself.

Side projects are a great way to fill up your portfolio when you’re just starting out. They also show potential clients and partners that you enjoy doing what you do and don’t just do it for the moneyz.


I hope these little strategies help you on your journey to new clients. And don’t forget, not one of us got our dream client right away. It was a journey and oftentimes many clients later that we found the clients we wanted to work for in the first place.

In our next article we will discuss the top tools that help you get new clients, giving you a bit more tactical and practical tips you can immediately act on.

Stay awesome,


March 1, 2017No Comments

8 tips to stay on top of your freelance finances

Like it or not, but being a freelancer also means being a business owner. And this involves the boring subject of finances.

We've already written about how to quit your job and the difference between full-time and freelance. Today we'd like to continue with our Freelance Life series articles and talk a little about the money.

It’s not always easy as a creative person to also have that savvy business mindset and wrap your head around taxes, expenses and budgeting. The good news: Being proactive about it means you don't have to worry or think about it as much. Here are some strategies and ways of thinking that I've developed these past few years to stay on top of my finances and keep everything organized.

Tip 1: Open multiple bank accounts

In most countries, it doesn’t cost much (if anything at all) to open multiple bank accounts. At this moment I have 7 bank accounts divided over two different banks. One bank for my personal and one for my business expenses.

Multiple bank accounts essentially help you keep you organized. You could theoretically do everything with just one account, but because our brains are often messy, multiple bank accounts help us to keep mental tabs on what’s happening.

Since I started freelancing I’ve always had at least three business accounts, below are some examples to get you started. You can always do it with less accounts of course, but I like to keep thing organized.

Examples of the accounts I have are:

Business account
This account is could be your main account for incoming money as well as any business-related expenses. Unless you move money into savings, this is the account that would hold the majority of cash.

Personal account
This account is for anything that is not a business expense and therefore not a tax-deductible, such as apartment rent, utilities, clothing or other personal purchases.

Times-12 account
Explained in detail below (see Tip Nr.7)

Income tax & sales tax account
This account only exists to keep my tax money before I have to pay it. So for example, if someone pays me $1,000, I move $500 (50%) immediately to this account. Of course, the actual percentage depends on what country you live in. In your case, it might be less depending on your tax bracket.

Savings account
Here you move all the money you’re not planning to touch for a while. Ideally an account with a higher interest rate for short term savings.

Tip 2: "Not my money" mindset

With this, I’m talking about the tax money that you owe to the government. It’s plain simple... it’s not your money. Don’t spend it, don’t borrow from it and try to visually separate it from *your* money. Just leave it alone. I know this sounds very strict, but my greatest fear is to get a tax bill and not have the money together to pay for it. Besides the stress, if you pay late, you end up paying interest and penalties and it will only cost you more. And on the other side, if you put the money aside on a separate savings account, it can make (even if it’s maybe little) some interest for you.

The “not my money” mindset can easily be achieved by following the advice of opening multiple bank accounts and keeping the chunks of money clean and separated from each other.

Tip 3: Check every day and before you pay

I know exactly how much money there is on each of my accounts. People who say they never know how much money they have on their account, just blow my mind. Especially as a freelancer it is very important to stay on top of it. Luckily nowadays, most banks have amazing banking apps and they show you a quick overview of all your accounts together.

Before I buy something I always quickly check the status of my bank account, not to see if I have enough money to pay for it, but just so it becomes a real transaction. With all the contactless payments its very easy to spend money, without realizing how much you actually spend.

Make it a once a week, or even a daily ritual to log into your bank account or your accounting software (such as Quickbooks, WaveApps, Moneybird for example) and organize your transactions. The more often you do it, the less work it will be and you will have a pretty good overview of your profit & loss numbers.

PRO TIP: Put a recurring event in your calendar to remind you every other day.

Tip 4: My "Broke Budget"

I like to keep my running expenses account on a tight budget, I call it my Broke Budget. Seeing a low amount on my account helps me not overspend. Even though I have money on the other accounts, I like to think before I spend. You will prioritize better and you feel hesitant to spend it on something not worthwhile. I will move over money from my Short Term savings account when I do feel like spending it on something (plants, always more plants) but it helps to put another action in between, before I can buy it.

This can easily be achieved by having another separate savings or checking account that you always keep around a certain amount of dollars. Let’s say, for example, $1000 per month. If you spend more than that, you have to manually transfer more money from your other account. And it’s not so much about that this isn’t possible, it’s more about putting a little barrier in place to keep you away from overspending.

Tip 5: Don’t buy before payday

When there is something bigger I want to purchase for myself, like a nice new laptop backpack (tips welcome), I let myself wait until that one invoice is paid – even though I have money to spend or money coming in. I designate that one invoice to that specific purchase. This prevents me from impulse buys and I can budget it in. Sometimes the invoice takes much longer than you expected, and by the moment you get paid, you might not want that thing anymore or it’s already sold out. Then you have some extra money!

Tip 6: Pay yearly if possible 

As a freelancer, monthly bills make me nervous. What if business hits a dry patch and these bills still need to be paid? So to give myself some breathing space, I like to pay for things yearly. Not only does this give me fewer monthly bills, it also usually gets me a full-year discount. So even though it might feel like a lot of money at once, I do save some in the end.

A good example is the Adobe Cloud subscription for designers. You probably already know that you will be using Photoshop and Illustrator for the next 12 months. And yes, that $700 bill looks pretty big, so you might settle on $50 monthly payments. But you know what? Pay the $700 right away and it’s out of your mind for a full year. Just make sure you note it in your calendar a year ahead, when you are up for a renewal.

Tip 7: My "Times-12" bank account

Sometimes yearly payments aren’t possible, so I thought of another solution: my "Times-12" nank account. Here I put all my monthly bills, times 12.

For example: I pay for a web-domain package $15 a month, so I put this amount times 12, which = $180 on this bank account. Now I know that I don’t have to worry about this bill until January 2018. I try to do this with my internet and phone bill, business insurance, any bills for apps I use, etc. All the payments are direct-debits, so I don’t have to think about it at all. I have a simple excel sheet to keep track of the months that I have covered. So far right now, I’m all good through next year.

Tip 8: Use apps to help you track everything

If your bank already has a good mobile app, install it and make it a habit to log in daily. And if you’re not yet using some sort of accounting software, get one now. They’re different in each country because most of them only connect with certain local banks, and you want to make sure that they can connect with your bank so you can manage all your transactions within those apps.

An example of how that could look like for you.

The good thing is, these apps (Quickbooks, Moneybird, Mint) automatically import all your transactions and help you categorize them. Which means, at the end of the month you can see exactly how much money you spent on food, supplies or even how much coffee you had that month.


So these are just some handy tips for keeping track of your personal and business finances. But this is actually the easy part. In more articles to come, we will also tackle the more serious issues, the things we actually don’t really like to think about. For example: Should you get a professional accountant? What about insurance for when you get sick? What salary do I pay myself? Should you start a pension plan? And how to prepare an emergency account. Freelancing gives you a lot of freedom to be creative, but to be a happy freelancer, you also need to make sure you keep your finances fit and healthy.

February 20, 20171 Comment

LinkedIn for Designers – Is It Worth It?

As I’m sure you’re aware, LinkedIn is the number one business network out there. Even though it’s highly valued, not everyone is comfortable using it, especially designers. Some don’t see the benefits, other just don’t want another social network to to keep up with.

But as a freelancer, especially one that is looking for work, you can definitely get a lot of value out of it. At least, if you know how to use it. LinkedIn is a business network for professionals, so it comes with certain etiquette. First I’ll share a few tips on LinkedIn etiquette and how to optimize your profile. Then we can talk about actually using it to expand your network and find freelance work.

And yes, I know, we designers love to make fun of LinkedIn. But if you’re a fresh freelancer looking for work, LinkedIn can do wonders for your career.

First, some LinkedIn tips

  1. Don’t add random people you haven’t worked or interacted with just because they look interesting. LinkedIn isn’t like Twitter or Instagram where you can just follow anyone. If you do this too often, people might hit the Spam or "I don’t know this person" button, and you will be sent to the LinkedIn bench with a red card.
  2. If you do want to add someone to your network who you haven’t met yet, always leave them a personalized connection request. Nothing is more annoying on LinkedIn than getting random requests from people who you’ve never met without an explanation. Just a friendly note with your reason for connecting will be just fine.
  3. Create a personal LinkedIn URL. In your profile you can change your LinkedIn URL easily by editing it in your profile. It will help people find you better via Google search, as LinkedIn is high on their ranking system. I use my personalized LinkedIn URL in my email signature, so it’s easy for people to connect.
  4. Have a strong, descriptive headline with good keywords as these will also show up in the Google search results. It is especially important for freelancers to think about the keywords you use. Don’t write "Brand Strategy" but write "Brand Strategist" – people who have work to hand out will search for the latter.
  5. Keep it visual. If you have visual examples of your work, add them to your profile. If you have updates to share, use visuals to stand out in the homepage feed. If it’s a blog post, an interesting article or just an update that you are looking for work, make it visual!

How to find freelance work on LinkedIn as a designer

Users with complete profiles are 40 times more likely to receive opportunities through LinkedIn.  So once your profile is complete, you can start using LinkedIn to find that next freelance job.

1. Build your network, start with friends, family and previous clients

Networking is still the number one way to find new job opportunities. People like to hire people through recommendations. Most of my work comes through friends, family or old client connections. So add anyone you know, from your former boss, to your sister's husband, to your landlord, dentist or personal trainer.

Networking is a word that not many creatives like to use. They think it’s about self-promotion and false interest. I don’t see it that way. If I’m passionate about what I do, I like to share my story with people. At a birthday party, I once got a freelance job by talking to my uncle's business partner. We connected on LinkedIn, and the next week we met up for a coffee. It’s good to know how LinkedIn fits in that gap between Facebook and Twitter. I’m not going to add my uncle's business partner on Facebook, and most businessmen are not on Twitter. LinkedIn has over 400 million users, and 59% of these users don't use Twitter. 

I know what you are going to say: Why not send a simple email or make a phone call?

See my next point.

2. Be on people's radar and create shareable content

Don’t only go on LinkedIn when you need work. It is all about being and staying noticed. I have one creative connection on my LinkedIn who posts a little update every week about the project he is working on, which agency he is at and if or when he is available again. Less than 40% of LinkedIn users log in daily, so it doesn’t matter if you share the same status more than once. If the same people do see your status more often, you will be one of the first on their minds when they are looking for a designer.

When I moved to Amsterdam, I used LinkedIn to get my job-hunting message out. I created a visual with a bold text, and I asked my connections to share it with their contacts. Even if they just liked my post, their connections were able to see my update. I shared this visual multiple times and it got me a few new connections that eventually led to new freelance jobs. Nobody will know that you are looking for work if you don’t tell them. And even if you’re not looking for work, your new dream project could be right around the corner at any time.

3. Follow recruiters, creative companies and design studios

Just like on Facebook, companies can have their own profile page on LinkedIn that you can follow. Find the companies you would like to do freelance work for and interact with them when they post interesting updates. 

I follow quite a lot of companies on LinkedIn and I see multiple freelance jobs passing by every day. Even if it’s not interesting to you, keep your eye out for other people. Do you see something that might be interesting for a friend? Tag them in it. I once helped a fellow freelancer get a great job at a top agency in London. First of all, it was a good feeling to be able to help someone out. But secondly, a few months later, this same person put me in contact with one of his connections in return. It landed me a freelance job for a few months. Just an example of how a small gesture, (simply tagging someone on LinkedIn) can lead to more work.

4. Use the search function and sign up for job-listing emails

LinkedIn has a very good job search function which you should make use of. You can set filters on Location, Job Function, Industry, Experience Level and Time Posted. You can even add Freelance to the Title section. It will remember your filters and show you updates for potential matches in your feed. With every job alert, it shows which of your connections can help you get an introduction (someone  who knows someone). You can also set up automated searches that will be delivered to you in an email every week.

Sometimes the jobs on here are for full-time positions. This can still be very useful; not only will it give you a nice overview of companies looking for talent but it is especially handy if you just moved to a new city and are looking to extend your list of potential clients. It’s a great way to see what is going on in the creative industry around you. Use strong keywords in your own profile so that clients who use the search function can find you easily as well.

5. It’s OK to stalk

LinkedIn is maybe the only social network out there that shows who visited your profile (be aware of this, especially when you are stalking your crush). You can use this to your advantage. If you want to connect with a person you can first visit their profile a few times. They will see you pop up on their Profile Views list. Sometimes they will contact you first. Either way, they have seen your interest. This makes an introduction easier, because you both know you have seen each other's profile and are possibly interested in meeting or working together.

I know that a lot of designers don’t like or even hate using LinkedIn. I get that. It’s full of, well, non-creative people (nothing wrong with that). But this is one of the main things that I find interesting about it. It’s not industry-limited. Sure, many designers prefer Behance, Dribbble or Instagram to promote their work. But these platforms are very focused on making connections WITHIN our field. And not everyone who needs a good designer has knowledge of these platforms. My uncle’s business partner (who, remember, isn’t on Twitter) definitely doesn’t know about Dribbble.

LinkedIn shouldn’t be your only tool to generate new business, but it can definitely be one of them. It might be often seen as “uncool” in the design industry, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be the next step to your dream project.

Thank you for reading,


February 13, 2017No Comments

Freelance vs. full-time, pants vs. no pants

The workforce is changing rapidly and more people are going freelance or starting their own business. Quoting a study from 2014 by Freelancers Union, 53 million Americans are currently freelancing; that’s 34% of the entire workforce.

It’s been estimated that this number will rise to 50% by 2020, and that’s only the United States. And according to this study, things aren’t looking that much different in Europe.

It’s safe to say that the future is freelance. The idea of being your own boss, being in control of your own hours and projects, working from home (or bed) or anywhere in the world is appealing to many. Going freelance sounds like a dream full of freedom and possibilities. And while that is perfectly true in some cases, things aren’t as simple as they seem.

Freelance isn’t necessarily “better” than full time. They’re  two completely different things and it depends on you to decide what is better. While going freelance can certainly give you some freedom, you also have to deal with taxes, late payments, client acquisition and working by yourself.

So to help you decide what's best for you - let's evaluate the pros and cons of each lifestyle:


Working full time for a company, your hours are fixed to the weekly, day-to-day structure. You show up at work everyday, and you get a paycheck every month. You have to plan your holidays and ask for permission to take time off for major life events.

There is less flexibility and freedom in your life, but more stability and comfort. You have time for your social life after work and you pretty much own your weekends.

Obviously, all things mentioned above are assuming the norm of a regular 9 to 5 job. There are always exceptions.


As a freelancer you have more freedom in deciding when and where you want to work. But don’t think that the life of a freelancer is always more flexible and free. You have to be a good time-manager to enjoy the flexibility that the freelance lifestyle can give you. Although even then you may end up canceling evening and weekend plans, because of a last-minute client request or a deadline that crept up. As a freelancer you are on call 24/7.

Most freelancers I know work almost around the clock. It doesn’t have to be that way, but working freelance and being a good manager of your own time are two completely different things and very few people have mastered it.

Assuming you are a fantastic time manager, the freelance lifestyle can definitely give you more freedom and flexibility.

One little side note: Lots of freelancers are usually hired as if they’re the fire department. Knowing this is important, because it means you’re much more likely to be put on “burning” projects than anyone else. This only means you need to manage your time and expectations even better.


As a full-time employee of a company, your career path is normally very structured. In the creative industry you start as an intern, get hired as a junior, after a few years you will become a mid-weight, senior and eventually a director or partner. You work your way up title- and salary-wise. Your motivation is tested by performance reviews, being on time, delivering the right work and keeping your boss happy.

If your motivation or performance suffers, someone will most likely tell you pretty quickly. Unless you’re working in some sort of leadership role, there is always someone who will watch after you, mentor you, manage you and make sure you keep delivering good work.


When you work as a freelancer, you have to motivate yourself. There has to be a reason for you to get out of bed in the morning, other than an angry boss waiting for you. You have to motivate yourself to attract new clients, push the work you want to do, negotiate budgets and handle your taxes. If you don’t show up every day, there won’t be anyone to tell you off – except for maybe your bank account, which in itself is a good motivator.

Being freelance means that you are your own boss and mentor. No one else will track your hours, your performance or give you meaningful critique on your work. You have to seek it.


Working at a company gives you peace of mind when it comes to your finances. You are working for a salary that comes in every month or even every two weeks if you work in the US. You can plan your budget, save up regularly and even pension is taken care of in most cases. If you overspend a little on a holiday, you know exactly when and what amount will come in by the end of the month.

Overall, you don’t need to think much about finances. You know exactly what you’re getting and all you care about is your next raise.


As a freelancer, your finances will fluctuate pretty often. You can go from being very broke and waiting for three invoices to get paid, to living comfortably for a few months when those invoices are eventually paid. It is very important you put aside money and build a financial buffer. You can’t always rely on promises made by clients.

Being freelance means that you’re fully responsible for your own finances. You’re the one who needs to run after clients and make sure you get paid on time. This is one of the biggest aspects of being a freelancer, next to managing your time and motivating yourself.

Also when it comes to pensions, insurance and taxes, it is up to you to take care of this.


We spend most of our time at work and having a good company culture is very important. When you have colleagues that you like, your work place can become a big part of your social life. Most companies organise outings, social events, group lunches and Friday drinks.

On the downside, if you don’t have a good relationship with your colleagues, or if there is a toxic work environment, it can really drag you down and you can feel stuck.

But assuming the company culture is positive, being part of a community is one of the biggest benefits of working full time.


Most freelancers start working from home and this can be a very lonely job. You only communicate with your clients, and sometimes there are days where you will be locked behind your screen to work on a deadline. Some freelancers end up finding a co-working space, so you can collaborate or get feedback from other fellow freelancers.

In general, being a freelance designer is a lonely job unless you put in a big effort to change that. You have to put yourself out there, go to events or surround yourself with like minded people at a co-working space.

Being freelance is perfect for us introverts, but being freelance for a couple years just by yourself can definitely take a toll on you.


At  most companies you will be provided with the best utilities and tools to do your job. Some companies want to be up to date with all the latest gadgets, techniques and programs. You can enjoy events, lectures, take relevant workshops or get the latest software and hardware updates via your company. To be able to attend events during working hours is a big benefit of working for a company. You will still get paid.


As a freelancer your personal and work life are a bit more blurred. This can sometimes be a benefit when it comes to taxes. Exhibitions, books, flights, travel, hardware and software can all be deducted from your income. On the other hand, the bigger expenses are also for you to pay. Laptops, cameras and other hardware will be of your own expense. Also, if you need to do a course or workshop, it will cost you double because you need to take time off from client work and pay for the workshop itself.


This is probably the biggest advantage of working full time. Depending on your country benefits can be: health-care, paid vacations, paid sick days, maternity leave, pension, legal protection, workers rights, etc. You are protected by a contract, and through law and regulations.


As a freelancer you are again, on your own. You have to plan for retirement, save up for tax payments, plan holidays in between contracts, and most importantly, not get sick! Building that financial buffer is important if you are thinking about going freelance, because it can protect you from all the things mentioned above.

Unless you create these benefits for yourself, they do not exist in the land of freelance.

We are lucky to be in an industry that makes switching between full time, contracting and freelancing fairly easy. If you’re deciding between full time and freelance, think of it more as a lifestyle choice rather than a career choice.

There are plenty of opportunities and many ways of working. There isn’t one better than the other. Find what makes you happiest, fulfilled and matches your current lifestyle.

For me, more freedom was the biggest motivator to go freelance. There have been two companies I’ve considered working full time for in the last four years, but still – the feeling of being in control of my own life was stronger. I’m not saying I will never go back to working full time, but for now, I’m a happy freelancer.

Ultimately it will come down to how risk-averse you are in your personal life, and the good thing is that you can easily switch between one and the other.

PS: If you're a little earlier in your career, you might enjoy this article comparing being self taught vs. going to university.

Thank you for reading,

January 31, 2017No Comments

How to work with a recruiting agency

In case you just started as a freelance designer or you’re thinking about going freelance in the future, there are essentially two ways of getting work.

The first way is to just work directly with a client that reached out to you, or maybe a client you got through a friend. The second way is to work with a recruiter or a recruitment agency. In this article we talk about getting work through a recruitment agency. As you can imagine, there are a couple pros & cons about this, but first, let’s review the basics:

A Recruiter is like a match-maker between you, the Freelancer/Contractor and a Creative Agency. When an agency needs an extra pair of hands for a pitch or client presentation, they send a request out to one (or many) of the recruiting agencies they work with. The recruiter will then select a few freelancers from their database who are available and fit the job description and day rate.

As a freelancer you will always need to give permission before the recruiter can send over your portfolio to their client. This means, you won’t end up working on a project you don’t like, you are still in charge. When a match is made and the booking is confirmed, the recruiting agency will handle the contract, time sheets and payments. Within just a few hours you can be secured with a job for the following week or even month. At the end of every week, you send the Recruiting Agency a timesheet with your invoice and most of them pay you within 7 days. The Recruiter invoices the Creative Agency and charge their own fee on top.

You can see the recruiter in the middle between you and the creative agency. They’re not only the match-maker, but they also handle crucial details you might not be interested in dealing with yourself (for example contracts, payments etc.)

How to find a recruiter?

There are different ways to find a creative recruiter. The best way is to ask other freelance designers for their recommendations. In big cities such as London or New York, designers are usually happy to share their experiences with the different recruiting agencies and they will give you names of the agencies they like to work with.

To be honest, there is so much work with so many recruiters, there is usually very little competition between freelancers to get work, even if it sometimes feels like it. This especially is the case in bigger cities such as London or New York. Also, if you’re trying to get recruiter recommendations, ask designer friends that in your eyes do very well and always seem busy. Those are the ones who usually appreciate the extra help.

When it comes to smaller cities, things are a little more difficult mostly because there is less work and people are less likely to exchange information and contacts. However, some recruiters in London for example, would have good contacts to advertising agencies abroad. So whatever city you’re working in, contacting bigger recruiters in bigger cities could still give you projects in your local city.

Other ways to find recruiters is to search on LinkedIn. Yes, I said it, LinkedIn. People who work for recruiting agencies call themselves Consultants. Within the agency there are different consultants for different fields : IT, Technology, Creative, Freelance or Permanent consultants. Contact the person that you think can help you out. Also as a bonus tip, if you put Freelance in your LinkedIn title, it will help recruiters find you easier.

Most designers who have good work are constantly overbooked and even jokingly complain about how many recruiters bother them on a daily basis. Knowing this is important because it tells us how much work is really out there, and it’s a lot!

Pros & Cons of working with a recruiter


1. Access to the biggest creative agencies via their network. This will help build yours. LinkedIn is your friend! If you enjoyed working with someone at a Creative Agency, add them on LinkedIn, stay in touch! You never know what will come up in the future

2. The role of the recruiter is to have a good relationship with both sides and it's up to them to find the perfect match.  This means that big agencies trust them to only send over their best talent for the right job. So you have a higher chance to get in.

3. Most of them pay you within a week, even if the client takes forever to pay them. Probably one of the best benefits of working with a recruiter.

4. Recruiters get paid when you work, so they are eager to get you on a job. If you’re on their list, you can be sure that they will push many projects to you.

5. They will negotiate your day rate and overtime fees, so you don't have to deal with this. But always make sure you know what the terms are before you start.

6. You can work whenever you want, for as long as you want. Just let them know and they will contact you with the right jobs. A recruiter or recruitment agency is similar to working with an agent, but more flexible.

7. You can have multiple recruiters working for you, talking to multiple agencies at the same time. You the boss!


1. Lower day rate, as the recruiter will add their own fee on top of yours. However, you don’t have to deal with contracts, negotiations or late payments. But beware of recruiters who charge more than 15-25% on top.

2. Not allowed to work directly with the creative agency within 6 (sometimes 12) months of them introducing you.  This means that you can’t go behind the recruiters back, and cut them out of the deal. But at the same time, this might be bad for your future career not being able to work for a company, just because a recruiter introduced you first. Be careful.

3. Recruiters get paid when you work, so they can sometimes be a bit overeager. Don’t get pressured into a project. Just because they send you one, doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Of course, this is a good problem to have.

4. If you have Freelancer in your LinkedIn description, you will get bombarded with invites from recruiters. Be selective! Always meet (Skype) them first before you take on a booking through them. A good recruiter wants to get to know you and your skill set so they can place you somewhere you will fit in.

5. Communicate exactly what work you want to do, or they might book you for the wrong job. (No PowerPoint for me!)

6. You need to keep track of which recruiter introduced you to which agency, to prevent being put forward for the same job. This won’t look good on all involved.


So generally, my advice is to just be careful. Good recruiters are rare, but if you find one it can be a great relationship. Unfortunately, there are as many bad recruiters out there, so you really need to listen to your gut. Always ask recruiters for all the details, and even ask them how much their cut will be. An average is 15-25% of what the recruiter adds on top, but some of them add even more. Beware of those, and don't work with anyone who does shady business.

Different cities, different ways

These are my experiences of working in London as a freelancer for 3 years. I recently moved to Amsterdam, which is a different playing field.

But generally the rules from above apply to working with most individual recruiters or recruitment agencies. And of course, some recruiters can even find you a full-time position as well, if that’s what you are looking for.

Thank you for reading,