How to be a Freelance Designer Without Going Insane

Being a freelancer can be difficult. A recent study showed that 34% of the US workforce are freelancers, and with the world becoming more friendly towards freelancers, the competition is growing rapidly.

You may be wondering how you can stay ahead of the pack, how to keep yourself motivated, what tools are the best, and how to find potential new clients. Fortunately, there are ways to figure these things out without pulling out your hair.

Let’s look at 4 common problems freelancers face, and I’ll give some advice from my personal experience on how you can solve them.


Where to find work

Finding freelance jobs can be difficult, and that can end up being another major stress inducer you don’t need! Here are some great places to look for freelance gigs:

Most of the time, freelance job websites are stuffed full of incredible talent which makes it difficult to win a job, but just make sure your proposal is attractive and is the best it can be.

Include some of your previous work and make the proposal personal — not just a generic one that you send to everyone.

Keeping your productivity high

Now that you’ve taken the first steps and found your perfect freelancing gig, you’ve probably noticed that it can be even more difficult to stay productive than working in an office.

This is because there’s no one but you checking on whether or not you’re hitting your targets and meeting your expectations (unless you’re past your deadline! That’s when others start checking in on you!).

When you get a job in a typical office environment, you usually go through a whole employee onboarding process where you’re encouraged to be your most productive. As a freelancer, you don’t have that luxury

You’ve probably sat through some onboarding sessions and thought, “I know exactly how to do my job.” You think it’s a piece of cake– Just arrive at the office by 9, work yourself sick by 5, and off you go.

In fact, it’s so easy, why do you even need an office? Why can’t you just do it from home?

This thought process made me become a freelance designer and writer, but I soon realized that it isn’t always that easy. Productivity is not something you have an innate sense of achieving. It’s not something that will happen on it’s own. And that special someone ruthlessly supervising you and making your life miserable was in fact someone that you needed to get you on track.

Now that you’re a freelancer, you won’t go crawling back to your supervisor. Here’s what it boils down to — if you don’t keep your productivity up, you don’t get paid. You really don’t need a guy in a suit telling you that.

It’s not always as easy to keep yourself on track, so try these 4 simple tips to help keep your productivity on the high end.

Create a routine

Having a daily routine works and helps keep productivity levels high. Experiment and find out what works for you. It doesn’t have to be a strict 9-5 routine. As long as you keep a schedule and set some boundaries, you will get stuff done.

A routine helps to eliminate any distractions you might encounter if you work without a set schedule. People tend to invent things to distract themselves when given the chance, so don’t give yourself the chance.

A schedule can also help you deal with boring tasks. Allocate a time to do it, disallow any “side-projects” like checking Twitter or seeing if you’ve got finally got a reply to that email, and get it done.

Get rid of distractions

With all the convenience technology brings, it can also be distracting. Even if you’ve closed your browser and your email program on your computer, your phone could receive a notification from Facebook or Twitter. You might argue that checking that notification takes less than a minute, but we all know that’s not true.

To get more work done, you’re going to have to learn when to ignore your phone and notifications. The best way to go about it is to switch on “Do Not Disturb” mode on your device. Better yet, turn it off completely to avoid the temptation to “just check”.

Set daily targets

One of my other productivity tricks is to set daily targets.

I’ve talked about using various apps to track personal workflow before, and there’s one thing all of these apps have in common — you need to write your tasks down and make sense of them first. Writing your tasks down can be extremely helpful.

Make sure to include everything, and be clear about your tasks. Add quantities where possible (e.g. 15 emails).

At first, you may set your goals too high or too low. In time, you’ll find the perfect balance of things you can manage to do in the day.

Don’t get stuck on emails

There’s two schools of thought when it comes to emails – some say it’s best to wake up, check your emails and then get to work. Others insist it’s best to leave your email tasks for the end of the day. I believe in a smooth balance of the two.

I check my emails in the morning before I start working and then again in the evening when I’m done with all the other tasks. That way I have dealt with all the emails I’ve got overnight and can be up to speed with all the ones received during the day.

But the time allocated for your emails is not as important as the fact that you don’t dwell on the same screen for the entire day refreshing it over and over again to check if something’s come in. That’s the real timesaver.

Use the right tools to keep your work up to standard

In today’s world, there are many apps that you can use to help you save time, manage your workload, create prototypes, and much more. If you’re not taking advantage of these tools, you may quickly find yourself falling behind other freelancers.

Here are a few apps I’d recommend to help keep yourself productive and professional:


Toggl is a simple time tracking app. With just one simple click, you can track time, create reports, and switch between tasks. Toggl aims to make you more productive, and it’s really easy to use!


Toggl also has a Google Chrome extension to go along with iOS and Android apps if you’re not too keen on the desktop program. Toggl also backs up its data every 12 hours, which is a life-saver for those “Oh no! I forgot to..’’ moments.


Before you can show off your amazing design skills, you’re going to have to win clients over with your resume.

BidSketch, with their amazing templates and electronic signature features, makes proposals easier to write. All your potential client needs to do is sign and close the gig. It’s that simple.

BidSketch also offers a 14 day free trial with every plan which is a nice bonus when trying out new apps!


Trello is a online collaboration tool that is organized by boards, lists, and cards. Organize your projects and tasks by using cards to stay on-top of your workload.


With Trello, you can add checklists, images, files, labels, and more. It’s useful for multi-step projects and is a lifesaver for collaboration tasks.


InVision is the perfect tool to create prototypes to show your clients or potential colleagues your progress.

InVision is useful because it lets you show your client progress without having an awkward Skype call to explain everything you’re working on. debcce38-6e99-42ca-a838-483b7513cca6_pasted20image200-9381736

With a visual presentation to look at, your client will know their money isn’t being wasted. It also helps your client to recognize well in advance if they don’t like something about the project. This prevents having to re-do it at the end and the project taking twice as long.

Taking time out to relax

As a freelancer, you may find yourself working longer hours than you would have in an office. Burnout is real if you don’t look after yourself. Learn to take regular breaks, and don’t forget to occasionally shut off the computer and take some time for yourself!

Knowing when you are most productive is the key to this. For example, I know I am most productive between 12pm and 4pm, so I schedule my most time-consuming tasks in that timeframe. The rest of my time is allocated to smaller tasks.

You will, however, realize that rest doesn’t always come easily when you’re working on a job you enjoy. A good alternative is reading articles and books on the subject, as long as you don’t forget to find a solid work-life balance.

If you’re burning out, don’t keep working! Re-energise and start fresh the next day. The best way to stay sane is to make sure you’re staying organized and getting all the rest you need.

Do you have any tips for surviving freelancing? We’d love to hear them in the comments!

Do you want to be part of these success stories?

Join more than 11 million who already use Piktochart to craft visual stories that stick

Yes, I'm ready!