15 Rookie Mistakes That Can Kill Your Freelance Design Career

If you’re a freelancer who is just starting, you’ve likely felt like this at least once: You know why? Because freelancing is hard. It’s really hard. But what makes it even harder is when rookie mistakes cost you projects and jobs.

I’ve been working in the field for more than 20 years now, so let me get all Obi-Wan Kenobi on you, young padawan: these are the 15 rookie mistakes that can kill your design career.

7 Rookie Freelancer Website Mistakes To Avoid – YouTube
1. Avoid underestimating the value of your work.
2. Don’t neglect to communicate effectively with clients.
3. Always have clear project agreements and contracts.
4. Set realistic and well-defined deadlines.
5. Don’t overcommit and take on more than you can handle.
6. Avoid working without proper project specifications.
7. Pricing your services too low can devalue your skills.
8. Don’t forget to save for taxes and manage finances.
9. Steer clear of scope creep; stay within project scope.
10. Don’t rely solely on one source of income.
11. Avoid over-promising and under-delivering.
12. Remember to market yourself consistently.
13. Don’t disregard the importance of continuous learning.
14. Avoid neglecting self-care and work-life balance.
15. Don’t burn bridges; maintain professionalism.

1. Failing To Communicate Expectations As A Freelance Designer

State your expectations clearly. As a freelance designer, you should be able to explain how much work you can take on at any given time and how long it will take you to complete that work. 

Your client needs to know what they can expect from you for them to plan their budget and schedule accordingly.

Communicate clearly if something is out of scope or not possible within the time frame of the project. 

You may find yourself needing help from someone else or being asked for advice on certain aspects of a job it’s okay! Letting clients know that this is likely will save everyone time, stress, and money in the long run.

Be honest about deadlines and deliverables so there are no surprises down the line when things don’t go as planned (and yes this does happen).

When pursuing a freelance design career, avoiding common mistakes is essential for long-term success. Learn how to navigate the pitfalls in our guide on How to Avoid Common Mistakes in Freelance Design and ensure a smooth journey in the design industry.

2. Not Being Able To Handle Criticism As A Freelance Designer

As a freelancer, you’re going to get feedback. A lot of it. And while this can be nerve-wracking at first, it’s important not to take the critiques personally or let them discourage you from improving your work.

As someone who has been working as a freelance designer for several years now, I’ve learned that getting constructive criticism is crucial for your growth as a designer and for making better designs overall. But first, let’s talk about why criticism is important:

It helps you become better at what you do: The truth of the matter is that there are many different ways to approach any given problem or design challenge and there will always be people with different opinions on how best to solve those problems (and their corresponding solutions). 

So if you’re ever unsure about how exactly to go about solving something, seeking out advice can help point out potential issues before they become major problems down the road or even worse!

3. Not Setting Boundaries In Your Freelance Design Business

If you’re serious about being a freelance designer, then it’s time to start setting boundaries. If you don’t, you may find yourself overwhelmed with clients and unable to take on new projects. 

Besides being able to say no when needed, freelancers need to set boundaries in other areas of their lives as well.

Here are some tips for establishing (and maintaining) healthy boundaries:

  • Set limits on the number of hours per week that any single client can consume from your life.
  • Establish clear expectations with clients regarding how much communication is appropriate between project milestones. And stick to those expectations!

Crafting a path to success as a freelance designer requires careful planning and determination. Discover essential insights in our article on Essential Tips for Building a Successful Freelance Design Career and uncover strategies to maximize your potential in the design world.

4. Letting The Client Do All The Talking As A Freelance Designer

In the workplace, you don’t always have time to ask what your boss wants or why she wants it. The client is often in a hurry and stressed out about deadlines, so if you ask for clarification and she doesn’t answer quickly enough for you, well…you might get punished for that.

As a freelancer, however, it is your job to clarify everything with your clients and not just once! You should be asking questions all along the way: before starting on their project; during its development; after turning in work or presenting concepts; even after delivering final files. 

Asking the right questions will help prevent misunderstandings with your clients (and maybe even save you some money).

5. Not Having An Online Portfolio As A Freelance Designer

It’s no secret that having an online portfolio is essential to your freelance design career. It’s a great way to showcase your skills and work, as well as a fantastic way to show off how you were able to solve problems for clients in the past. 

But it’s also a good idea to have one because they’re good for business: they can help you land client work and even create relationships with other freelancers (which could lead to future job opportunities).

6. Neglecting Networking And Marketing As A Freelance Designer

Networking is about building relationships. It’s about having a good reputation, and it’s about being a good listener, storyteller, and problem solver. You’re going to get plenty of ideas in your head at any given moment the key is to be able to translate those ideas into something tangible (and profitable). If you can’t do that yourself, who will?

The best way to network as a freelancer is through our community here on 99designs! We host weekly design contests on 99designs that offer designers the opportunity to showcase their skills and gain exposure with potential clients who are looking for quality designs. 

Every contest has its design brief outlining what you need from your designer so that they know exactly what requirements they need to meet before submitting their projects back to you. 

This way both parties know exactly what kind of work should be done before getting started with each other’s project requests which means less time wasted trying out different concepts together until finding one that works best for both parties involved. 

Saving precious hours in the process by avoiding unnecessary revisions later down the road when all this could’ve been avoided by simply asking questions upfront instead of guessing what type of outcome might end up working best for both parties involved beforehand!

Navigating the challenges of a freelance design career demands expertise and knowledge. Explore our comprehensive guide, Freelance Design Career Guide: Avoiding Pitfalls and Maximizing Success, to gain valuable insights that will help you overcome obstacles and thrive in the industry.

7. Underselling Your Services As A Freelance Designer

Underselling your services as a freelance designer is one of the most common rookie mistakes I see.

When you undersell, you are telling your client that what you offer isn’t that valuable. You’re also sending them the message that they can get the same service from someone else for less money, and it’s OK to take advantage of you because there are no consequences or repercussions for them (which often leads to an unhappy client). 

Your clients will end up feeling ripped off and taken advantage of when they pay less than they think they should be paying for great design work or worse yet, they could think poorly of freelancers in general because their experience with one freelancer wasn’t pleasant. This is especially true if your client has never worked with any other designers before!

8. Overselling Your Services As A Freelance Designer

One of the most common mistakes that I see new freelance designers make is overselling their services. This happens when a designer doesn’t know what they can deliver at the price they are charging, and then they promise more than they can deliver.

Don’t do this! It’s always better to undersell yourself than it is to oversell your skills, experience, or expertise as a freelance designer. 

You want clients who will be happy with what you’re offering them and will pay for it happily rather than leaving disappointed because they expected more from your work than you’ve delivered (and therefore might not want to hire you again).

9. The Failure To Protect Your Intellectual Property

You need to be able to prove that your work is original and unique. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case when you’re just starting. Some creatives will try to steal your ideas and pass them off as their own and if they get caught, they can make life difficult for you in court.

If this happens to you, it would be easy enough for clients or potential clients to think that you are also guilty of stealing someone else’s work. You could even end up with a black mark on your portfolio for something completely unrelated (like using a font that was too similar).

To protect yourself from these kinds of situations, there are ways for designers like us who freelance full time have had success protecting their intellectual property from being copied by other people looking at their portfolio sites online or attending conferences where they might meet new contacts who could become potential clients later down the road:

Embarking on a freelance design journey involves both excitement and uncertainty. Gather wisdom from experienced designers in our article on Expert Insights: Overcoming Challenges in Your Freelance Design Journey and gain a deeper understanding of strategies for achieving your goals.

10. Not Keeping An Eye On Project Scope Creep As A Freelance Designer

If you’re not familiar with the term, scope creep refers to a project that starts small and grows into something much larger as it progresses. 

Scope creep is a major problem for freelance designers because it can lead to increased work hours and frustration on both sides of the table, but there are ways that you can prevent or deal with it if it happens to your next project.

The best way to prevent scope creep is by clearly defining what your client is expecting when they hire you and intentionally working towards those goals. Keep an eye on how long each task takes so that you have time for revisions (or more time for billing). 

If it seems like something might be taking longer than expected, check in with your client before moving forward they may be able to provide clarity about their expectations or help prioritize tasks within their budget.

11. Neglecting Invoicing And Billing For Freelance Design Work

If you’re a freelancer, invoicing and billing are the foundation of your business. It’s what generates income for you. If you don’t invoice and bill correctly, then you can’t generate revenue for yourself. That is why it’s important to understand how to do this correctly from the start.

Invoicing and billing for freelancers involves more than just sending an invoice or bill out every month (although that’s part of it). You also need to consider things like:

  • What do I charge my clients?
  • How do I get paid? 
  • Do I take checks or credit cards? 
  • Do I accept third-party payment services like PayPal or Stripe? 
  • Do any tax considerations apply here? 
  • Is there some sort of fee structure that needs to be included in each invoice/bill so as not to have too much money taken away by these third parties in between us and our client(s)?

12. Not Taking Ownership Or Responsibility For Mistakes You’ve Made As A Freelance Designer

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen freelancers blame the client, their boss, or even the client’s boss when they make a mistake.

I’ve seen it go something like this:

was late with their work. The client had to pay extra because they were late with their work. The client’s boss wasn’t happy about it and gave them a bad review on Glassdoor because they were late with their work and made them pay more money than he wanted to spend on that project as a result of his dissatisfaction with ‘s lateness.

Stop blaming other people for your mistakes! Take ownership of your actions; only then will you be able to move forward in a positive direction in your career as a freelance designer.”

13. Failing To Have Systems In Place For Your Freelancing Business

The last rookie mistake is failing to have systems in place for your freelancing business.

Why do you need systems? They’re great because they help with all of the following:

  • Saving time by standardizing tasks and processes, providing a more efficient way of completing work, and making you more productive.
  • Being more organized by having things in one place, so you don’t have to go looking for them when you need them (or worse, when clients need them).
  • Being more efficient by saving time on mundane tasks so you can get back to doing what’s most important creating content that helps grow your business.

Nurturing a thriving freelance design career takes dedication and the right strategies. Explore proven methods in our guide on Proven Strategies for Thriving in Freelance Design Industry to shape your career path and achieve lasting success in the competitive design field.

14. Not “Speaking Up” For Yourself And Claiming What’s Rightfully Yours

There are a lot of things you can do to avoid being taken advantage of by clients, like setting boundaries and having a contract. But one thing that will help you feel more confident about yourself and your work is knowing how to speak up for yourself if someone tries to take advantage of you.

If you’re nervous about asking for what’s rightfully yours, remember this: Your time is valuable and just because someone offers you lower rates than you deserve doesn’t mean it’s okay. 

If the client refuses to pay what he or she agreed upon in writing (or in person), always follow through on your end of the agreement until the issue has been resolved and if possible, save all communication related to this situation so there are no misunderstandings later on.

In general, I think it’s important not only as designers but also as people who work with others in any capacity that we make sure everyone gets paid fairly for their time and effort no matter what kind of job they’re doing.”

15. Not Having A Mentor Or Coach In The Design Field Who Can Help You Navigate Trouble Areas

>If you’re just starting in the design field, it can be difficult to know what to do. You may not have enough experience or knowledge to navigate trouble areas on your own. That’s why it’s so important to find someone who can help guide you through these challenges.

A mentor doesn’t have to be someone older than you you may have a former colleague who knows more about design than you do, or maybe there’s someone at your local library who could lend her expertise. 

The most important thing is that this person has experience working in the field and understands what it takes for designers to succeed professionally. This way, she will be able to give advice based on her own experiences working as a designer in different organizations and environments over time.

Further Reading

Explore more resources to enhance your understanding of freelance design careers and avoid common mistakes:

6 Ignorant Mistakes That Could Destroy Your Freelancing Career Short Description: Uncover crucial insights into the freelance world by learning about the ignorant mistakes that can hinder your career growth.

6 Things to Avoid Which Might Damage Your Freelance Design Career Short Description: Discover the six key pitfalls that freelancers should steer clear of to maintain a successful and thriving design career.

The 20 Biggest Mistakes Freelancers Make and How to Avoid Them Short Description: Dive into an insightful article that identifies the top twenty mistakes freelancers commonly make and offers strategies to avoid them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is A Mentor?

A mentor is an experienced professional who offers guidance and encouragement to someone who’s starting in their field. Mentors are often older than you, but this isn’t always the case. 

Sometimes they’re peers or even junior-level people at your company. Mentors don’t advise per se; rather, they offer feedback on how you’re working and what you could be doing differently to get ahead (and keep ahead).

How Do I Find A Mentor?

The best mentors know about themselves that they can only help other people for so long before needing to take some time off for themselves some even have rules about how much time away from mentees they need for the relationship between them both to work well. 

It’s important that if someone wants a mentor that person understands these constraints from the outset so as not to waste anyone’s time or expectations later down the road when things don’t work out as planned or hoped because of those constraints put into place by both parties involved with this arrangement  whether it be today, tomorrow year, 50 years ago when we first met here today.”

What Do I Do When The Client Doesn’t Like My Design?

If you’re dealing with a good client, they’ll give you feedback and ask for changes. But if they just don’t get back to you at all, then it’s most likely that your work wasn’t up to par. If this happens more than once (or even once), it might be time to move on to a different client or company.

How Do I Know When My Projects Are Done?

You can tell when a project is complete when there is no longer any new information coming in from the client or company. You may also want to set aside tasks for yourself related specifically to this project so that there isn’t any confusion later on down the line as far as what needs to be done next

What Is A Mentor?

A mentor is someone who has more experience than you in your field and can help guide you along the way. The most effective mentors will advise on everything from creative projects to business strategy. They’re also there for moral support when things aren’t going so well, which will happen from time to time as a freelancer.

What Is A Coach?

A coach is similar to a mentor but may have less experience than them, but more information about the current industry trends and practices. Having someone who knows what’s going on now (and not just in their head) can help get those new ideas out of your head onto paper or screen!

What Are They Both Good At?

Both coaches and mentors are good at breaking down complex problems into manageable chunks so they’re easier to solve. 

They’ll help with anything from basic workflow issues like how do I set up my computer/accounting system/marketing materials so that it works seamlessly with everything else going on around me right now; 

To coaching me through how other designers think about design problems when faced with something similar; helping me figure out where my strengths lie within this particular studio environment (e.g., sketching vs rendering); etcetera ad infinitum…


I hope this article helped you to understand how to avoid these fifteen common mistakes made by freelance designers, and why they are important. If there are any other mistakes you think we should add, please let us know in the comments!

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