Eleazar Ruiz
Eleazar Ruiz. Graphic Designer Based in Seattle, WA.


My 5 Dumbest Freelancing Mistakes


Live and learn, right? In the last couple of years I have tried and failed, tried and succeeded, then tried again. Some things can't be taught by books. We are dealing with people here which means total unpredictability. This sometimes means we find ourselves in awkward, annoying, and humbling situations. I hope you benefit from a few of my experiences. 

Here are five or my dumbest mistakes.

1. Failure to Formalize Pricing

Until a few years ago, I did not have a well-thought out pricing system. When someone asked me how much I charged for a logo, I would say, "$700" and then spend 20-25 hours making it. This worked out to $28-$35/hr. (If you don't know, that is highly underpriced.) Freelancing started to make sense (and more money, ha!) once I formalized with my pricing based on an hourly rate.

The client doesn’t necessarily need to know how much your hourly rate is, but you do.

Sometimes this allows you to accept low budget projects because as long as you only spend the time the budget allows, you make money, you get business, and you can network for future business.

I rarely charge hourly, but having a hourly rate in my head allows me to have a limit.

2. Failure to Have a Creative Brief

Not asking key questions can lead to misunderstanding and frustration down the road. Early in freelancing, I learned that I needed to create a customer journey. A journey that allowed me to fully understand the client and make the client feel good about the project and me.

The journey includes a point where I ask various questions about the project which allows me to create a creative brief. In addition, it allows me to keep both me and the client accountable to what the client indicated at the beginning of the project.

Here are the forms I use. Feel free to use them if you think they might be helpful.

3. Failure to Say "No" 

The fear of losing a client, relationship, or money can cause us to take projects that we know are not a good fit for us. I have learned that a bad deal or a bad client can mess you up far more than the initial loss of that project. My older brother (also an illustrator) says, "There is always gonna be another project. Don't be afraid to say no." I still struggle with this. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes, not so much.

4. Failure to Regulate My Workload

I asked my wife, "What do you think is my biggest mistake as a freelancer?" She said, "Taking too much work at a time." She could not be more correct. 

This one is similar to mistake #3, however it affects me in a different way. I have learned and continue to learn that the stress, loss of sleep, and lack of exercise just aren't worth it.

The word ‘balance’ seems to be out of reach these days.

I'm still working on this one. Have balance, don't kill yourself.

5. Failure to Budget

A budget is a plan. Early on, I struggled with budgeting. Not planning my self-employed taxes, my expenses, my upcoming projects (a.k.a. income) have cost me lots of money over the years.

Today I have an accountant do my taxes. I use Freshbooks to track my expenses. I use the Everydollar app to do my budgeting. In addition, I have actually learned to love it all. Some people label designers like me "blue-collar designers" because we have half business and half creative brains.

How about you? What have your biggest mistakes been?