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The following is an interview with Kirill Brusilovsky the founder of the popular site crossmind.net This interview originally appeard in the “Web Designers Success Guide” published several years ago. This information is still useful so I post it here now.
How long have you been doing freelance web design?
How did you get into doing freelance web design?
I first began my career first as an employee. I just started as a junior designer and worked my way up to a senior graphic designer. I decided I wanted to get a good design education so I quit my position to be able to go to the University. I wanted to take a break from “work” but found myself in a middle of the internet boom, and in my first year of studying I had plenty of freelance jobs to do ? “ it was a nice great time? ¦
What is your education?
During the last ten years of my designer career, I have always tried to study, parallel to my practical activities. As a junior designer, my employer kindly paid for my private advertising academy, which I attended in the evenings. After working in a big multimedia company for a while I decided to continue my education and went to Essen University to study visual communication.
What software do you use on a daily basis?
I am proud to say, that I have worked with Adobe Photoshop since the version 2.0. Now I work with Creative Suite, of course I found out, that making small layouts for print is very easy with Freehand and the software of choice for bigger print projects would be InDesign. My Flash knowledge ends with manual animation (I prefer to leave the development to professionals) ? “ that’s why I use an older version, which is easier to use. A question of software is should come second. First, you have to have a good idea of what you want to do, and then choose the appropriate software.
How do you keep track of your finances for your freelance? Excel? Book keeper? Simply Accounting?
As with most designers, I am quite chaotic. I keep my receipts (MS Word-Documents) in one directory, moving them into the subdirectory “payed”, as soon as I receive the money on my account. I write them in MS Word because it is universal ? “ I know that some designers do this in QuarkXpress and I think this is a bad idea. I leave the actual bookkeeping who does all my accounting.
When you engage a client is there a process you follow. (i.e. Have them follow a client questionnaire, sign a contract, pay 30% up front)
It differs from client to client. I try to be as flexible, as possible. Longer projects (over a month) I usually split a total amount in three parts. The last one should be paid as the project is finished.
I have tried to develop a questionnaire, but have quit. There are thousands of possible questions, which differ greatly from client to client and very few common ones, which I always have in mind, when talking about a new project.
Do you charge hourly or on a fixed price?
It depends on the job. Normally, I find fixed prices better. It gives the client a secure feeling. For the designer it is important that the job description is clear, and fixed in written form.
What do you charge an hour?
Pricing is a very complicated subject in the design field. It is true, that it is the most asked question, but frankly, I hate the hourly charging for creative jobs. It is like selling paintings by square meters!
Clients often forget that you can not just compare two designers by price. There always will be somebody, who will demand less per hour, but is he/she as quick, as experienced, as professional? Your client can buy a watch for buck, a tie for five and a suit for fifty, which would probably do the same job, as the things (probably much expensive ones), than he has ? “ ask him why?
The best way to give a client a sense for your price is to show similar projects from your portfolio and to say, what they have cost. It does not work with every client, but the best way is to ask for a budget, a client is willing to spend and to tell him what you are able to do with this money. In 99% percent of my clients have a very precise idea of what the want to spend and just pretend stupid.
Of course, internally I do count my working time and convert it into money if I plan a project. And if a client would insist on this model, I will name him the hourly charges. That would be around 60 Euro/hour, depending on the job type. I would charge an agency rather a bit less, than a final client.
Have you ever have a client not pay you?
Twice in my whole career, both very small projects between friends. Beware of making deals with friends! For a friend, rather work for free of charge fully!
How do you find work? Word of mouth? Past clients from full-time work? Networking?
Probably, since 9/11 and with the end of the internet boom it has become harder to find clients everywhere. In Germany, where I live and work the situation is critical ? “ there are very few spending clients and endless crowds of designers, most of them of a very poor level.
In this situation it is almost impossible to find a new client without a recommendation. No matter what effort I have invested in self-advertisement, clients have come only from one direction: personal connections. Some of them were from the past jobs ? “ that’s why it is a good idea to gain some experience as an employee, before starting a freelance career.
My tip is: don’t just sit in front of your computer all the time ? “ go meet people and make new friends! Make sure that everybody in your circle knows what you do.
Do you have secrets or tips for people looking to wrestle up new work? I.e. Tips for finding new clients. (I.e. Cold emailing secrets? Or anything else?)
Cold emailing or lettering did not bring much in my experience. If you do it (it’s still worth a try), I would try to personalize the communication as much as possible. Analyze the clients’ needs and make precise offers. The best way is still meeting new people personally ? “ on exhibitions, for example.
How do you “keep” clients coming back for more? And any advice for the newbie? ¦
A fair client would probably notice your effort. Do rather a bit more, than exactly what was agreed. Make a client understand, that he has done a good deal, engaging you.
What type of computer equipment do you use? What does your home office look like? / Configuration? Do you have a fax machine? Extra phone line?? Mac, PC (specs please)
I used to have a separate office for a few years as I used to work with a partner and a few other people. Now I have rented a bigger apartment, where I work and live. Having a working room and a bedroom in the same place has many advantages to me: I save time, not having to go to work, I can work (or rest) whenever I want. This way is good for people, who are not afraid to mix private and work life.
In my working room I have three working places: for my girlfriend, for my developer, who works both here and at his home, depending on a project, and for myself. I try to make it as home-like and comfortable, but have everything workplace needs, including phone, fax, webcam, stereo and a lot of table surface.
It has turned out that, except for their design, I was rather disappointed with MACs, especially concerning their price performance ratio. The thesis that a “MAC is quicker than PC” is an eternal myth, smartly created by Apple.
I buy a new PC every 2-3 years. For somebody, planning to invest in hardware I would advise them to spend as much as they can on a good monitor.
If you could recommend 3 books a person starting out in freelance web design what 3 books should they buy first:
It is helpful to get books with samples of standard documents and agreements. Much of the rest, mostly quite expensive design literature must not be owned and can be rent in the library.
What general advice would you give someone who is thinking about going freelance either full time or part time?
This decision often comes rather occasionally. If you are just planning with an idea of becoming a freelancer, ask yourself, where you get your first client. If you have no idea, think it over again ? “ perhaps you need to get some experience as an employee first.
Kirill Brusilovsky works in the field of design since 1994. He studied advertising in Westdeutsche Akademie fÃ¼r Kommunikation (WAK) in Cologne and at the same time did practical trainings at an advertising agency and a software company. Afterwards, he was employed as a designer at Concept! GmbH in Wiesbaden (later Concept! AG) where he worked on various print, internet, CD-ROM and terminal projects. After more than one year, he left the company to study design in Essen University and worked as a freelance designer up to the foundation of crossmind communications in 2000.
Kirill is a co-founder and chief editor of the internationally recognized design portal www.crossmind.net. He lives and works in Germany.
www.crossmind.de ? “ Agency and Portfolio
www.crossmind.net ? “ International Design Portal
Image Credit: www.lumaxart.com
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