Designing products for clients on your own is fun—but it’s not without risks. For one, there’s the time pressure that comes from working for a company or client; while you have the creative freedom to work with vague guidelines, having to start from scratch can be a daunting challenge for the uninitiated. Second, with great design freedom comes great risk; doubly so if you’re working as a freelance product designer without the ability to bounce ideas off of a larger team.

Magnus Skogsfjord is one such brave designer setting out on his own, starting Miror an Oslo based design and engineering firm.

Magnus Skogsfjord

After leaving his previous company to establish his design consultancy, Miror, he spent the first few months building his brand and working on two pilot projects: a lighter render for an Instagram challenge to gain better exposure for his brand, and a lamp design in Blender for a client.

Both projects were posted on a KeyShot forum post, where fellow product designers offered their support and advice for the new businessman.

Magnus Skogsfjord

Aside from exchanging shop inquiries on the techniques Magnus used, there are also tidbits of helpful advice on starting up a design company, most of them from designer Bill Gould (username: ‘Speedster’).

Magnus Skogsfjord

Gould gave Magnus some brilliant advice on qualifying clients and setting out on your own: charging clients appropriately, communicating with them effectively, and being honest with them about the hours required for the project at hand.

Magnus Skogsfjord

10 Tips for Become A Freelance Design Consultant

Bill is a freelance CG artist and previously owned a hobby products manufacturing company with 38 wholesalers and 1800 retail locations. It’s added up to 46 years of business experience and he is chock full of great advice–we just had to collect it all. Here is what Bill Gould advises when it comes to considering a freelance design career.

1. Perception is Key

“Perception is key when marketing your brand to clients. Using words like “we” instead of “I” make them a part of the process rather than just someone hiring an unknown element to work on their brand. It also helps to know that marketing takes time to sink in and convert into sales.”

2. Qualify New Clients

“Be careful to qualify new clients–you don’t need every one of them.  A large percentage of my client base is advertising and marketing agencies, who are just starting to understand the value of CG in the marketing cycle.  But make sure they are above board and liquid, with a strong track record, easily identified by their past and current clients.  I don’t market to the “big boys”, either agencies or manufacturers, as they have internal capabilities, are slow to pay and tough to deal with.  My base is start-ups (well funded!) and smaller agencies without internal capabilities.”

3. Make Sure You Charge Enough

“And be sure to charge enough, which also goes to perception.  Years ago, I was charging what I felt was a fair and competitive rate, but still was having a hard time landing new contracts.  But one day a client suggested I raise my rates to a level commensurate with my skills and experience.  I thought he was nuts, but I doubled my rate!  Guess what, I started landing important and high-end design contracts, as now I was “perceived” to be in the big leagues.  But importantly, I was able to back that up in my deliverables. Even more important, I actually started making money at what I love!”

4. Have a Solid Terms of Service (and NDA)

“Create a really solid Terms of Sale document (TOS) and don’t even think of proceeding with a new client until it is signed and returned.  It should spell out all terms, warranties and conditions, and always include a basic NDA. You will get some static at times, as it may conflict with the client’s NDA and stuff, but most won’t and they see it as a mark of the professional.”

5. Be Absolutely Honest

“Be absolutely honest! That’s a given, but really important. Some clients will want to micromanage you and are usually wrong. Remember, they are hiring you as a professional, and good clients will listen to and heed your advice. You don’t want the ones who refuse. If you run into a snag, have an honest talk with the client.  They are always working on tight deadlines, so keeping them appraised of progress, problems, etc. is critical. “

6. Communicate Carefully

“Many startups are founded and staffed by young folks, most in their 30’s.  They are used to, and require, “instant gratification”, and are always driven by venture capital.  But design work simply takes time, especially in medical devices, and they need to understand this simple fact of life and allow for it. Be very careful with communication!  Most of my clients (as described above) prefer to text or email, and often use emojis, which is not acceptable, at least to the FDA Design History and Data Retention rules. Communication must be clear and concise.”

7. Provide Credit and Mentorship

“I’m usually the “old phart” at the table, so I’m very careful with the politics and hierarchy. I make it clear (in a subtle way) that I’m simply there as a professional team member, not to step on anyone’s toes.  I also try to enable the team members, and give them most of the credit, and make them look good.  I mentor them in a quiet manner, such that they get the credit they almost always deserve. After all, they are also pros!  When they move on, they become my next client!”

8. Track Time Methodically

“I keep a printed timesheet, on which all the important info is logged, as well as a day-by-day charting of time spent, and what that effort was for.  My timesheet is always available for review by the client, and is essentially a duplicate of how I create the invoice for the period.  I bill every two weeks, Net due 30 days.  If a client does not pay within terms I halt the project until it is current.  All of this is duly noted in the (signed) TOS.”

9. Go The Extra Mile

“We all tend to do this anyway.  At least I do, and my clients know this.  My client retention rate is very high, about 80%.  Many have been clients for 15 or more years, and often one guy or gal moves from company to company (common in startups) and “drag” me along. Some clients, of course, are a one-off and specifically project driven. Once finished, they move on.”

There’s a fair bit to read through in the forum post, but it’s definitely worth the time for anyone looking to go into freelance product design.

Read the entire (insightful!) forum post over then let us know in the comments what you think are the most critical skills a designer or engineer needs to have before setting off on their own path.

Author

Carlos wrestles gators, and by gators, we mean words. He also loves good design, good books, and good coffee.