The Book for Freelance Designers


Have you ever Googled "tips to freelance"? You'll receive a slew of search results that jump from topic to topic, and contradict themselves. I've found this to be a huge dilemma while trying to kickstart my own freelance efforts doing product designs and event engagement pieces. The amount of information out there is so vast, and yet how do you know that the person behind the article actually knows what they're talking about? You don't.

I was at Barnes and Noble perusing in the design section when I found a yellow and black book called "Burn Your Portfolio." I was very interested because the subtitle stated, "stuff they don't teach you in design school, but should." This seemed appropriate since I did not go to design school, and could really use some valuable real world help. I picked up the book and brought it home. I fell in love with this book not only because the chapters are short and to the point, and the illustrations are great, but because there is value in each section.

I must preface the rest of this post by disclosing that I was not paid to review this book. I bought the book at the store, and then I contacted the author, Michael Janda, because I liked it so much.


The thing is that when you begin to freelance design, you can encounter many issues. These issues are wide-spread and include communication conflicts, poor terms, no contract, under-pricing, not collecting, and much more. There is a lot more effort that goes into freelancing than simply signing up on a website or doing work for a cousin. I've found out the repercussions, and have experienced many of these issues that I didn't handle as well as I could have. The book has helped me realize this. Although I don't do graphic design, , websites, or games as Michael Janda's company, EKR, does, I do freelance design and similar principles apply.


Quick note on the author: Mr. Janda started off as a freelancer and developed his practice into a firm that was acquired. He is now a partner & CCO at EKR, a design firm out of Utah, and he answers his emails if you have questions or want to tell him how awesome the book is!

This book is not about a single discipline but rather establishing a process:
1. This book is for everyone: It can be useful to anyone in design or consulting businesses to ensure that they don't get burned or how to make sure every party in the transaction wins. At the end of the day, Mr. Janda says, customer service is key, and over delivering will take you from being good to great. Granted, there will always be grumbles or issues in relationships but the truth of the matter is that you have control of the situation. As a freelancer, never think you're not in control. If you do, you've already given up your power, and will likely be miserable.


2. There will be issues: Problems will always arise. Designers and freelancers aren't perfect. In fact, I can bet many people have had really poor experiences with a freelancer. Part of that is likely because the freelancer didn't know how to handle the situation or there were communication flaws between you two. Everyone, unfortunately, gets burned, but as a designer or freelancer, you can mitigate these issues by understanding the lessons that this book teaches.


3. Process and measuring. Have you ever heard of a person who is adamant that they will lose weight but just doesn't plan out or measure their results. This seems stupid right? Then why should you, as a designer, continue without taking steps to understand and track yourself? You can't really see where you've gone without understanding where you began. As time goes by, our memory gets hazy and what we thought we did, wasn't actually what it was. With concrete starting points, you can track your results, and follow a path. You don't have to a be a chicken without a head.


4. Payment as a freelancer: This is often one of the trickiest subjects -- how to price yourself, how to collect, and how to have repeat customers. This is a tough task as a freelancer because you have to get paid for your work to continue doing it. Mr. Janda provides a formula to calculate how to price yourself with a profit margin, how to communicate with clients about your price -- as some will try to undercut your price, and how to be smart when money is on the table. He recounts several anecdotes where money was left on the table, or should have been. The book highlights red flags in opportunities or relationships, and how a freelancer can react. It is really important to decide if you want this client to be a repeat customer or a one time transaction.


5. Honest customer service seems like a no brainer, right? This is not the case for some people. Groups and individuals have, unfortunately, taken it upon themselves to provide additional services that extend past the contract, then charge extra for them upon completion. This should be infuriating to a client and to fellow freelancers. This puts a bad taste in everyone's mouth, and puts everyone in an uncomfortable position. If this happened to you -- wouldn't you be angry? One of the many lessons learned from this book -- communicate beforehand about what modifications you'll need to make before you implement them. You don't need to trick people into paying you, and the client should be able to say no. Design is very much customer service, and great customer service will result in repeat business and referrals.

Designing and freelancing can be very rewarding but when it doesn't go well -- it absolutely is not a fun position to be in!


This book is a great resource for anyone interested in engaging in freelancing, consulting or has a design firm. It can help establish a blueprint, process, set of guidelines, and relationship expectations for a designer. This book is without a doubt, something to return to and look back on to review to see how your results are going. I love this book for many reasons and hope that it can help you in your design or freelance endeavors.

On a final note, the author, Mr. Janda, is providing valuable information and tips from experience that outweigh the price tag of a book. The contents can be referred to over and over again, and guide you along new projects. He comes from a knowledgeable perspective, and delivers value to readers.