6 mistakes to avoid when going freelance

From the finest free ebooks for designers to how to work from home and free WordPress themes for creating your design portfolio , we've got you covered if you're thinking about going freelance.

But when it comes to tips for going freelance, nothing beats advice from successful freelancers who have already taken the plunge.

Here, six leading designers and illustrators share the biggest mistakes they made when going it alone – and reveal what they learned from them…

01. Not using a contract

Freelance mistakes Brendan Dawes’ project The Shape of Data

Brendan Dawes’ project The Shape of Data uses real-time happenings on Twitter

"I think the biggest mistake was not bothering with contracts," says designer and artist Brendan Dawes. "I think, probably through naivety, you just want to get stuck into the work, and maybe somewhere in the back of my head I was thinking, 'It would put this new client off if I hit them with a contract,' which is crazy."

"Luckily the lack of contracts in those early days didn't lead to anything bad," he continues, "but now I have a contract for every piece of work I do — a nice simple one."

"I've even had clients comment on how straightforward and fair it is. Contracts are e-signed via an online signing service; make it easy for the client to sign and you get signatures very quickly."

02. Offering too much

Freelance mistakes Aviary Tessellation by Stine Jones

Aviary Tessellation by Stine Jones is a pattern design created in vector format 

"When I started freelancing, I made a mistake in thinking I had to compete with larger agencies by offering a full range of creative services," admits illustrator and graphic designer Stina Jones.

"This led to me being overworked with a portfolio that didn't stand out in any particular areas. When I decided to play to my strengths by specialising in what I enjoyed most, people responded more positively and I found it easier to win work."

03. Not achieving work/life balance

freelance mistakes: Jessica de Jesus with Rue La La

Freelance work by Jessica de Jesus with fashion e-commerce website, Rue La La

"I fell into the same bad habits I had while working full-time – my life revolved around work. It was a big emotional struggle, but I had to stop and remind myself that I took this risk of freelance for a reason," says art director, designer and artist Jessica de Jesus.

"Being in control of your own time is an incredible opportunity to realise that life should always come first, no matter how scary that may sound. When I took the time to prioritise experiences, those things became the inspiration and driving force behind the work I wanted to create."

04. Failing to focus on long-term goals

Freelance mistakes - NYC, 2013 by Dylan Gibson

NYC, 2013 is one of a series of intricate cityscapes by Dylan Gibson

"Getting caught up with deadlines and focusing on the here and now," says illustrator Dylan Gibson. "That determination is great for getting those projects finished, but I get distracted from my long term goals and sideline things like promotions or professional development, and miss opportunities.

"It's something I'm still getting the hang of, and a behaviour I can change with time. I'm planning out the next six months ahead with realistic goals to achieve when busy within my longer term strategies to give me more direction on professional development."

05. Saying yes to everything

Freelance mistakes - Becca Allen for VIDDY

Becca Allen illustrated a sticker for VIDDY – a DIY medium-format 35mm pinhole camera

"Recently, while working six days in the studio with no spare time, I said yes to helping the FdA course at a local college," says designer and illustrator Becca Allen.

"I was booked in to meet prospective students at the course open day and realised I wouldn't be able to deliver. I was disappointed I had to let the tutors and students down, but this experience has made me more selective with new work."

06. Not going freelance sooner

Freelance mistakes - Sarah Boris' posters

Three Everything posters from award-winning graphic designer, art director and artist Sarah Boris' beautiful visual identity work

"It's so important to take a leap of faith, take risks, listen to yourself and your desires, and mainly make sure you're happy every morning you wake up to go to work," says creative director Sarah Boris.

"As a creative, I've found a space and way of working where I feel I can fully express myself. So far, this has led to some of the the best exchanges and collaborations I've ever had because I feel free, at ease and tremendously happy."

The full version of this article first appeared in Computer Arts, the world's best-selling design magazine. Subscribe here.

Related articles:

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Julia Sagar
Editor-in-chief retail

Julia is editor-in-chief, retail at Future Ltd, where she works in e-commerce across a number of consumer lifestyle brands. A former editor of design website Creative Bloq, she’s also worked on a variety of print titles, and was part of the team that launched consumer tech website TechRadar. She's been writing about art, design and technology for over 15 years.