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To my dear audience, I know that this website has been not updated in a while and I sincerely apologize. I am here to announce that certain parts and graphics on this website may look "broken" or "out of place", but rest assured there are good reasons for that, as I am slowly but surely moving to re-design "Dream Infinity" as a whole from the ground up. Everything is being re-invented, new establishment of brand identity and design is being re-imagined. I have been working on a new version of this site for quite sometime, but there has been several set backs due to commercial projects taking up almost all of my working time. But please note that this website is far from dead and a lot of new changes are planned. Although I cannot promise any date in regards to when these changes will surface, you will start seeing additions of new content (primarily tutorial posts!) being added here slowly and I invite you to read them in advance before the new re-structuring takes place. In addition to content changes being made here, I invite you to always check up on my official Facebook page for up to date information on what I am up to, newest work, and the new design. I am excited to present the new changes to the world and I whole heartedly thank you for your patience.

- Chris Takakura

10 Essential Tips for Freelance Designers *RE-POST*

Date December 14, 2009 | Published by |

Being a freelance designer requires you to wear many hats but there are certain hats you MUST wear in order to protect yourself, who you are, and your image as a designer.

1: Before you do anything, make a contract for you and your clients

No matter who it is for, even if its a friend of a friend, make a contract. Of course it’s a bit dramatic to throw a contract at your relative that wants a website or business card designed for their business, however if you do not know the client requesting your services, you need to have a contract. If you would like to use my contract as a template or an sample, you can download HERE. You can even use mine for yourself (just make sure to change the header or delete it so it doesn’t say my studio name on it).

Now I know as designers we don’t want to write a paper, let alone a legal document, however you spending that one weekend afternoon writing up a contract will last you forever. You only have to write one up once, and you can keep using that over and over with making small adjustments once a while to fit the project. It will be worth it in the long run for these reasons:

1) It protects you, the designer, from a client running off with your work. With this contract, you can take them to small claims court. Either way, it will put your client on a moral decision to run off with your work and disappear or be being summoned by a court to pay up (which would make them look bad.)

2) It protects the client and makes them feel safe to do business with you. It also reflects professionalism on your end. A designer who just jumps on a project without any communication of conduct screams “amateur”, and you don’t want that.

3) It helps you get paid. When they sign that contract, they have fully accepted in how the payment is going to be made. Currently I work at 10% deposit at the beginning of project, another 10% at the final cycle of revisions, and full payment at final content delivery. They have to follow this payment cycle when they sign that contract.


2: NEVER, and I mean NEVER do free work

I don’t care how long you have known the client. I don’t care how long or how good of a friend they are to you. Never do anything for free. I promise you that they will take advantage of your kindness again and again. To set some personal records, I haven’t done any free work for anyone including family and friends. In all honesty, it should be insulting to you that someone is asking you to do something that you do for a living… for FREE! How many lawyers do you know that will represent you for free? Next to none.

Don’t fall for those famous lines such as “you do this work for free, you will get paid on future continuous projects coming up”, “you do this work for free, you will get exposure from my personal clients and they will want you hire you”, “you do this work for free, and you can use it for your own personal portfolio”. Now let me respond to these individually:

1) If a client can pay you on future projects, then you need to tell them to pay you for the current project. What makes the future project and the current project different? If they can’t pay now, who knows if they can pay later.

2) If they state that you will get massive exposure, just simply shake their hands or be nice and say thanks but no thanks. That is a statement you just can’t risk to take chances with.

3) If they state that you can use it for your own personal portfolio, reply back stating that all work provided by you SHOULD BE able to use for your portfolio as long as it is for non monetary purposes. You have the right as a freelance designer to use projects that you have done for your clients to market yourself. Remember though, you better not make money off of a clients project ever. Putting it in your portfolio and using it for commercial purposes are not the same thing.

In the long run, if you have time and budget to do free work, you are probably better off making or revamping your own site, business cards, or portfolio. Do a personal project, or take the time to learn a new web language. It is better than getting screwed at the end.

However, sometimes doing free work for a good cause is essential, which is step #3.

3: Pro-bono work for a non-profit organization or charity

It is sometimes important for a designer to do some pro-bono work for charity. Here is why:

1) It shows that you care about one or two things about the world. This shows intelligence, awareness, and interest in change. As a designer, it is important to have one or two ideology about making the world a better place through art and design. Even if its simple as helping people know where they are going through a nicely designed signage system is a “change”.

2) Volunteer work in any type of industry is a good thing. It shows that you are a good personal ethically.

3) You’re no different than a musician. Okay maybe famous musicians have a lot more money, but there are plenty of musicians that have done free concerts, charity concerts. Same goes for you as an artist. You need to do some free stuff once a while to show that you are morally and ethically a good person that thrives on positivity.

For the record, I’ve done 4 charity based work in my history as a designer. Is that a lot? No, but it is still something. I know you won’t be able to do charity based design work every single month, or a year even, but at least have one or two in there.

4: Never tell your client you can do something you cannot.

So you are a web designer or a print designer. You are contracted to do a project but they ask you to use or know how to use a certain software. Don’t ever claim that you know how to use it if you don’t. You can always scale yourself in terms of knowledge you have with a certain software. For instance you can state that you know flash in a beginner level, but if you have no experience in it, say so.

Yes there is a possibility of you not getting that job but is better than doing a crap job or telling the client you don’t know the software after all. There are 3 notes to this:

1) No you will not learn the software on the fly while you work on the project. (Especially not if you are asked to do a website and a client asks you if you know a certain programming language that you don’t.)

2) No you will not BS around it.

3) No they will not hire you again in the future if you admit to them you lied.

Be honest.

5: Create a back up of a backup

When you are doing a project, for instance a website and you have a good looking PSD file, make sure to make a back up of that project. Now when I mean back up I mean the following:

1) Back it up onto another hard drive, another computer even. Also burn a CD/DVD disk of that file. You will love yourself later if something happens to your computer.

2) Duplicate that file. When I say this, do a SAVE AS… and make another file of that master file. Why? You will never know when that file will decide to corrupt itself. Even a more possible scenario is you merging your layers to export it to their website (to show what you have so far), and you accidently save and close that file in a merged state. When you realized you did this, it will send shivers down your spine and cry later (like what happened to me).

6: Work your way down, not up.

The very first question a client would ask you is “how much?”. Do not sell yourself short. Make sure to do research on how much designers are charging in your country. If a client gives you a budget, and you find it to be a bit short, don’t be afraid to tell them that the project they are requesting will meet the budget cap. You are not being greedy by stating you want the max payment. If the project they are asking for is a lot of work but only giving you so much for it, you need to take everything they can offer (if you find it that it’s worth your time and money to do it).

7: Make sure to keep up communication.

When the contract is signed, make sure to get some personal contact information from them. Now, don’t over due this by asking them for their home address or social security number. Get their business phone number, address, e-mail. Make sure to follow up with their e-mail within 48 hours. Make sure to e-mail them frequently if they do not respond. When I say this, I don’t mean like a bill collector. Send them the 1st e-mail, and if you don’t hear from them in 48 hours, follow up with them to make sure they got your e-mail. Do this about 3 times. If they haven’t responded by then, it is important that you invoice them for the total hours the project accumulated. From that invoice, if they are still interested to continue, then continue with the project but make sure to follow your payment schedule on your contract we talked about on #1. If they don’t respond to your invoice in 15 days of receipt, send an e-mail stating that their payment is over due. Wait another 15 days from that (which will total 30 days) and consider the project to be nullified and you need to take that client to small claims court. This is where your contract becomes VERY handy.

8: E-mail them at courteous times.

Don’t e-mail your clients at 2 in the morning. If you are the type to work at night cause your creativity is fueled in the evening, thats fine. But don’t e-mail them at that time. It makes you look like you are not business hour friendly. E-mail them from the hours of 8 – 10pm.

9: Clients expect you to work 24/7. Show them this is not true!

Make sure to let them know this is not the case. If you are going to be gone a weekend or gone a certain day, make sure to let them know. Also it is not a default thinking for everyone to think that holidays are automatic days off. You need to let them know that you are not going to be in your office to read e-mail during the holidays. (i.e Thanksgiving).

10: Research the company / individual you are working for.

Always research the company you are working for. Not just to make sure it’s a legit business but to make sure that they are a ethical company. A true story:

My friend was contracted to a site for a diamond company. She did a website and a full catalog for them only to find out afterward that the diamond was being imported from a company in Africa that was ran by rebels who are known to steal and kill innocent tribes in that country. Yes, money is money and you might be getting paid but really, we went over the whole thing of working for charity, and this doesn’t go hand in hand.

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