20 Unacceptable Behaviors for Freelance Web Designers

I know what you’re probably thinking right now:

“Wow! 20 is a big number for a list of unacceptable freelance web design behaviors, isn’t it?!”

And you are right, 20 is … a lot. But my goal when compiling this list wasn’t to go for volume just for the sake of it.

The reason I’ve taken this approach is to guide your attention towards as many harmful practices as possible, just so you can have an honest deep look into your own method of handling projects, and evaluate if perhaps you’re not setting yourself up for trouble later down the road.

Okay, with the disclaimer out of the way, let’s start by looking into the biggest issue of them all:

1. Not charging enough

Staying underpaid is a common mistake among freelance web designers, and mostly the ones who are just starting out. At first, offering cheaper rates might sound like a good marketing strategy. After all, the less you charge, the more people will want to hire you, right?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always play out like that (more like never). First of all, selling your time for less than it’s worth makes work very uncomfortable. And the further into the future this continues, the more uncomfortable it gets.

Secondly, as it turns out, it’s not necessarily harder to find clients that are willing to pay more for your services. There’s place for everyone on the market. When you think about it, there’s more than enough people willing to buy $10,000 Rolexes.

So instead of constructing your rates based on fear that you won’t be able to find work, try doing the following:

It sounds really basic, but it’s the only way to stay satisfied with where your career is going.

2. Not doing work for free

Okay, so I just spent the whole previous section telling you how you should be charging more, and now I’m going to tell you to work for free?!

Yes, but please bear with me. This isn’t about offering free favors left and right. This is about giving back to the community and/or doing charity work.

For example, maybe some local NGA needs a website to promote their next event? Why not designing it for them just because you can, and because you know how. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but it’ll surely be better than what they would build on their own.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that once you decide to bill, bill accordingly to what you’re worth. But if you want to do someone a favor, do it for free.

3. Biting off more than you can chew

This is something that freelancers all across the board are guilty of, not just web designers.

In a scenario where there’s no one boss, and where we can’t predict the exact amount of money we’ll make in a given month, it’s very hard to say “no” to our prospective clients.

Sometimes this drives us into a blind alley and causes us to either work late into the night or drop the ball completely. Neither is good.

Simple solution? Set a cap on the amount of work you can do every month. Once it’s exceeded, schedule every new client for the next month. You’ll be surprised that most clients are generally willing to wait once they’ve trusted you with the job.

4. Offering discounts for no reason

Discounts are an effective marketing method. They have been so in any niche or market, so clients have grown quite used to the concept of getting a discount just … because.

However, offering discounts out of the blue devalues your work. After all, you’re portraying your proposal as something that was built on top of the actual workload that the project will require, so in a scenario like that there’s not much room for discounts, is there?

A better solution? If a client asks for a discount, agree but also propose a part of the project that will be left out to accommodate the lower price.

If you’re not entirely familiar with the concept of client proposals and how to craft them properly, you can check the resources created by the guys at Bidsketch (they’ve built their whole business around teaching others how to write proposals).

5. Designing what you think is right, not what the client needs

One of the more difficult mind shifts to go through as a freelance web designer is understanding that what you’re building has to be tailor-made for the client first, and only then should satisfy your own ego.

So whenever a client suggests a change that you’re not fond of, ask yourself if perhaps what drives you is a personal bias and not an objective point of view on what’s good for the project and what isn’t.

6. Going too heavy on stock imagery

Whoever invented stock imagery deserves a medal, really, no joke!

However, you need to be very careful when using such things. A general rule of thumb is to use stocks only for non-crucial elements of the design.

In other words, if an image is to be one of the main elements of the design, it shouldn’t be a stock.

Nowadays, users can spot stock images a mile away and they are just not impressed with them at all. Using stocks for everything is just lazy.

7. Not understanding the target audience

At the end of the day, your client doesn’t want to have a website for the sake of it. They want to cater to their audience or customer base.

Therefore, it’s incredibly crucial to make sure that your design is in tune with the client’s expected audience. Pay close attention to the demographics, habits, and other general characteristics of that audience. In fact, make them your actual “client.”

Although this might sound a bit counterintuitive (after all, trends are bad, right?), you really should keep your finger on the pulse and always be familiar with what’s new and interesting in web design as a whole (material design, anyone?).

Designing according to the trends will make your clients happier and will also play a huge role in your education and growth as a web designer.

9. Not having a contract

This still happens a lot. I think there’s no need explaining why contracts matter, so I’m only including this point here as a reminder.

Please, make yourself a favor and never take a mid or large web design project without a contract. It’s only a matter of time before it backfires.

10. Not getting feedback from the client mid-project

Sometimes, clients have a tendency to not agree with your design vision, even though it seemed like you were on the same page when you talked over the initial details and goals of the project.

For that reason, set some milestones during the project’s runtime, deliver your work in parts and make sure that the client is happy with what you’ve been doing so far. This will save you a lot of headache when it’s time to deliver the final version.

11. Not getting feedback from another designer

Asking a fellow designer about their opinion of your work can be a great helper. Another professional with a fresh pair of eyes can shed some new light on your work’s shortcomings and possible issues – the things you wouldn’t have noticed on your own.

12. Not getting half of the money up front

There are three main reasons why you should ask for half of the money up front:

Most importantly, no serious client will ever oppose paying you in advance.

13. Not using the latest technologies

Designing websites today is much easier than it used to be even five years ago. We have access to quality tools, frameworks, and technologies. Refusing to take advantage of them is just unproductive.

For instance, have you seen what the current version of Adobe Muse can do for you?

14. Building a portfolio the wrong way

A web designer’s portfolio is just like a photo model’s portfolio … you need to have a great one to land some top-level clients. However, a common mistake among freelancers is going for volume and featuring every website they’ve ever created.

This isn’t the point of a portfolio. Feature just your best work, not all of your work.

15. Taking on all clients that come your way

Are there any red flags about this new client who has just contacted you? Are their expectations a bit unrealistic? How about the deadlines, are they just about … what’s the word … undoable?

What I’m getting at is that sometimes saying “no” to a client is the right thing to do, regardless of what they promise in terms of financial remuneration.

16. Not providing a guarantee and/or support

Although web designs hardly ever “break” (so to speak), in your client’s mind, they’re still buying a service that’s just like any other service they’ve ever bought.

Therefore, offer them a guarantee and X months of free support after the project is done. Most of the time, this costs you nothing, but it can very well be this one final thing that convinces the client to work with you vs. with your competition.

17. Taking criticism personally

Some web design clients have a rather direct way of voicing their negative opinions, which can sometimes get under our skin. So just try to keep in mind that no matter what the client says, what actually guides them is that they want what’s best for their business.

Your approach should simply be about always staying respectful, not taking things personally, and remembering that it’s all business.

18. Overworking

Overworking is a plague these days. It’s just way too easy to spend endless hours by your desk, trying to improve “just this one thing and then you’re done.”

Instead of being in an “on state” round the clock, set a fixed schedule and only work from a certain hour to a certain hour, exactly how people on 9-5 jobs do it.

19. Not backing up your data

“Back up your data” is my no.1 computer-related advice to anyone, not just in relation to freelancing. Really, having a safe copy of your work-related files is the best way to secure yourself against any possible disk-related issues.

Did you know that experiments done by Backblaze indicate that 22 percent of hard drives fail in their first four years? That’s why backing up is so crucial.

20. Trying to do everything yourself

Web design is a process that involves a lot of different small jobs. For instance, apart from getting the general design together, there are also logos, photography, copywriting, custom content creation, and etc.

In theory, yes, you can do all of those yourself. But it’ll be much more effective to either outsource those tasks (for instance through Upwork), or to bring some of your peers on board who might be more skilled in some work areas (you can find some great folks over at Behance).

21. ?

Okay, that was a lot of unacceptable freelance web design behaviors for a single serving! So what do you think? Is there anything that should have its place as the 21st entry here?