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I was searching around and I found this question here talking about how a designer knows when thier work is 'good'; and it has a lot of crucial information.

My question is almost an extension to this:

How do I know when I'm ready to start doing professional work? Right now all the jobs I do are for school so they are free/very discounted and they are all for friends who've hired me.

I feel like I may be ready to start doing some small-time freelance work (like on Etsy or craigslist, for example) to get some portfolio pieces and to make some money on the side, but the thought of actually freelancing beyond the confines of a class assignment is really daunting...

I'm scared I'm going to start taking work orders and then get in really over my head.

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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It's like swimming... you have to just jump in the water and learn as you go.

  • You will get taken advantage of.
  • You will get clients that fail to pay you.
  • You will come across clients that argue about pricing, some to great degrees.
  • You will get projects that grow well beyond what was explained to you.
  • You will have clients that want to design for you and treat you like a monkey behind a mouse.
  • You will hit all the same issues everyone hits. And, in fact, you'll probably hit them more than once.

Don't get discouraged. Everyone deals with this stuff. It's not you or your work, it's just the nature of client-driven work. In my experience, freelancing is a 60-40 thing.... 60% client relations and 40% work. You can't learn client relations until you start dealing with clients. Reading experiences and stories of client issues doesn't really help you learn how to deal with clients. Although they can make you feel a bit less isolated, it really just takes practice and experience to handle clients well.

Start with small, safe, jobs - a flyer, a business card/stationary, a logo and you'll progress to larger jobs as you feel more confident. ALWAYS hit deadlines, and I mean always. Never yell at or insult a client, no matter how much they deserve it.

You're "ready" as soon as someone is willing to pay you and you understand all that's needed to complete their project. Don't take on projects at the beginning if you don't understand how something is going to be reproduced and you haven't agreed upon pricing and deliverables in writing.

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+1 for last sentence. –  Random O'Reilly Dec 21 '13 at 18:10
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Adding to Scott's answer, not only start small, but also start with what you are more comfortable with. Because I had been doing websites for myself for a while, my first 'real job' was a small page. I was familiar with most of the issues I was going to encounter, so it was almost a smooth transition.

There's, however, one other thing I found very useful when I had just started, and that was working with a partner.

The advantages I found were mainly:

  • Two brains solve technical issues faster than one brain;
  • You might have to spend longer than you initially thought on a project (this could mean hours and hours at a time, perhaps weekends), and having someone to share the desperation with can be quite therapeutic;
  • You might have complementary skills that will allow you to work on larger projects;
  • You might find it easier to deal with clients if you answer as a collective (or not, I guess it depends on each person!), or if someone perhaps a bit more experienced handles that side of things at first.

You might find your creativity either limited or propelled by teamwork, but for the first approaches I think it tends to work quite well. You don't need to necessarily work with someone, but it might help to have someone who has been working a bit longer to go to in case you have questions (and hey, you can always come here!).

I seriously doubt you will have any issues, you have been doing this at school, the knowledge is there. The rest is practice (mainly dealing with people), that comes with time, but the only way to get started is to take the first step :)

Good luck!

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