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How to Become a Freelance UX Designer

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Gigly team, Marketing at Gigly
Freelance UX Designer studying wireframe

With all the new apps and software coming out in the digital age, someone needs to make sure the user experience is good.

Without someone to test their product’s functionality, businesses could spend lots of money on an app or product that their clients won’t want to use.

That’s why UX designers are in such a big demand.

UX design is a perfect career to take to the freelance world due to the nature of the job. Freelancing allows you to work where, when, and for whom you want.

If you are trying to decide whether you are ready to embark on a career as a freelance UX designer, you will find your answer here.
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The Benefits of Becoming a Freelance UX Designer

Trying to decide whether you should become a freelancer as opposed to a full-time employee?

The first thing to consider is what you gain and what you give up by doing so.

First, let’s talk about what you can gain:

Grow as Fast as You Make It Happen

When you are a freelancer, you are your own boss.

You don’t have to wait for your boss to assign you more challenging projects; you can take on as much work as you want at the difficulty level you choose.

This allows you to gain the knowledge, expertise, and experience in as many different industries as you want, as quickly as you want.

You can gear your business more toward interaction design or focus on becoming the best visual designer.

Your growth is solely determined by your actions.

Work When You Want

Again, as a freelance designer, you set your own schedule.

You can work when you want, take vacation time when you want, and get as many hours as you need.

Set Your Own Rates

You get to decide how much your time is worth. Since you set your own hours, you can work more to make more.

The power to earn a higher salary is in your hands.

Live Where You Want

As a digital entrepreneur, there’s no office to hold you down.

Since most digital product design and usability testing happens online, you can work wherever there is internet access.

Imagine being able to go on vacation and still make money!

You also have the option to live where the cost of living is low while charging the same rates.

For example, you can work for a large corporation in New York without paying New York living expenses.


Some Things to Consider

With all these benefits, it may sound too good to be true.

Well, there are definitely some things to be aware of before you just jump into it.

Unpredictability

As a freelancer, your income is never guaranteed. You don’t show up on Monday and pick up your check on Friday and aren’t handed assignments.

You need to go out and get your income, and sometimes there will be slow spells, especially in the beginning.

The trick is to have reliable repeat clients, but you first have to acquire those clients.

Equipment Costs

You’ll need your own tools. You probably already have your own computer, but you will need to purchase all the software that you regularly use at your current job.

Costs add up fast (although you can write them off as business expenses on your taxes).

You’ll also have to procure a business license and pay for any association memberships, marketplace fees, etc.

Solitude

As a freelancer, you’re on your own. You must be self-motivated, be able to work in an isolated environment, and make all the decisions.

There will be no collaboration, no group brainstorming. You will be doing all the marketing, expense management, and customer service. You will essentially be in every department and the project manager.

Not only will this place a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, but you may feel lonely.

Lack of Benefits

Another big thing to consider is that freelance jobs do not come with benefits.

Most nine-to-fives come with insurance, healthcare, retirement plans, and paid vacation, but you won’t get those as an independent contractor.

That doesn’t mean you have to go without benefits, though — Gigly offers supplemental health insurance for freelancers!

Are You Ready to Go Freelance?

Freelance UX Designer working

The pros and cons of going freelance shouldn’t be the only determining factor in whether you decide to become a freelance UX designer.

Your personal situation should also weigh into your decision.

Let’s take a look at some of the signs that you may or may not be ready to go freelance.

Skills

You should obviously be a very skilled designer with several years of experience in UX design. However, you should also have some niche skills that you can market.

This could include iOS mobile app design, wireframes, design systems, or information architecture.

You need good business skills, too, as you will need to be able to draw up contracts, market your business, and turn a profit.

Additionally, you should have some basic administrative skills such as invoicing, doing taxes, and acquiring the necessary licenses.

Experience

Before you land your first client, you need to show prospects your capabilities.

It can be difficult to show your design work as a UI/UX designer from start to finish, as there are many steps involved.

This website offers a unique template for showcasing your UX portfolio. You can create prototypes, user flows, and landing pages, then display them alongside testimonials from happy customers.

Equipment

You’ll also need a specific set of equipment to complete your work.

For one, you’ll need a desktop or laptop computer (or both). For a list of recommended computer specs, read this quick article.

Your computers need to be filled with software and apps that you can use to design or enhance your design process.

For example, you should definitely have WordPress, Sketch, Figma, Adobe, and Photoshop, but there may be more depending on your niche.

You can find a comprehensive list of the best online tools and apps for modern designers here.

You’ll also need to set up a home office complete with a scanner, printer, filing system, and other organizational items.

Finances

It may be a while before your freelance career takes off. You need time to build a solid client base and to learn the ropes of freelancing.

Unexpected expenses may come up, and it might be a while before you see a steady stream of income.

If you are in debt and weighed down with bills, it can be hard to make ends meet.

Due to its instability, some people start freelancing while working a full-time or part-time job. This is the safest bet but usually the slower route.

Alternatively, you can save up a good cushion of money to rely on while building your freelancing career.


Where to Find Freelance UX Design Jobs

As a freelancer in user experience design, much of your time will be spent pitching clients and looking for work.

Where do you look?

There are so many job boards online that you should have no problem finding job postings.

UX Specific Job Boards

Here are some boards that exclusively advertise UX openings:

General Freelance Job Boards

These boards contain all kinds of freelance jobs, from web design and graphic design to writing, editing, and programming gigs.

You’re sure to find someone looking for a UX expert here:

There are so many other freelance platforms where you can look for jobs. Read the full list here.


UX Associations for Networking

Networking is crucial to success.

In addition to joining social media and telling all your friends and family about your business, you should join these UX communities to rub elbows with industry experts:

For more, check out this list of UX design communities.


How to Set Your Rates as a Freelance UX Designer

One of the most challenging parts of being your own boss is setting your rate.

As time goes on, you’ll get better at setting rates, but it can cause anxiety in the beginning.

These tactics will help:

Competitor Analysis

The best way to determine your rate is to research what your peers are charging.

How do they compare to you?

Check job boards and online marketplaces to get an idea of what other designers charge. Some boards will show you the going rate for different projects, and you can also see what clients are willing to pay.

Be Realistic (But Don’t Sell Yourself Short)

Before you decide how much to charge, consider the other expenses you will be paying as a freelancer (equipment, memberships, etc.).

Talk to an accountant to get an estimate of your expected owed income tax. As a freelancer, you’ll be considered self-employed and will be paying self-employment taxes.

Hourly or Project-Based?

Another important decision concerning your rates is whether you will charge an hourly rate or a project-based rate. It’s really a matter of personal preference, but there are some benefits to each.

It is best to charge an hourly rate for large projects or projects that may evolve because you can bill unexpected hours as they occur.

Project-based rates are best for cookie-cutter projects or short projects that you can churn out faster than expected.

In short, an hourly rate ensures you get paid for your time, and a project-based rate ensures you get paid for your skills.

Make Some Calculations

To get a rough estimate of how much you should charge, take the salary you earned last year and divide it by the number of hours you worked. This is your hourly pay for last year.

Add your expenses and freelance risk fees together. Risk fees are just extra money to pay for vacations and the risk of not having consistent pay.

Bump your past hourly rate up to consider the sum above. This is a good ballpark to base your hourly rate on.

As your experience and client base increase, so can your fees.

Payment Arrangements

It’s important to protect yourself as a freelancer. Always get something upfront to minimize your risk.

You have several options when it comes to your payment arrangement.

You can ask for half upfront and the remaining amount when the project is complete. Alternatively, you can ask for 30% upfront, 40% mid-project, and 30% in the end.

You can always ask for upfront payment, but this isn’t a very popular option for clients.

Further reading: A Freelancer’s Guide to Setting Payment Terms


Tips for Running Your Freelance UX Business

Freelance UX Designer working on laptop

UX design is an in-demand skill. If you offer high-quality work and a professional attitude, don’t be surprised if you quickly get swamped.

Here are some ways to ensure that you can continue to succeed as a freelance UX designer:

Outsourcing

Don’t be afraid to outsource some of your auxiliary work to keep your stress levels down and keep up with your workload.

You can hire a virtual assistant to care for some of the administrative tasks.

This individual can apply to jobs, post to social media, and communicate with clients to keep them updated on project developments. They can compile an email list and complete other marketing tasks.

It would be in your best interest to hire an accountant to care for billing and taxes.

Work-Life Balance

The best way to keep a healthy work-life balance is to build a schedule that clearly delineates the two.

Achieving a work-life balance can be harder than normal when you are a freelancer, but Harvard Business Review has a great article on how to accomplish it.

Don’t Stop Learning

UX design is always improving and evolving. You need to keep up with all the new developments to stay relevant.

Make sure to set time aside in your schedule to keep learning.

Try doing the Daily UI’s daily challenges to keep your skills fresh. There are some educational platforms where you can take more courses to gain certifications and expertise.


Conclusion

UX designers are by nature creative and innovative, and freelancing is just another outlet for their skills.

If you have the skills and financial stability to keep yourself afloat until your freelance design career kicks into full gear, there is no reason why you should be afraid to take this leap.

Remember: As a freelancer, you need to protect yourself with health insurance. Gigly offers supplemental benefits to help freelancers like you stay healthy and productive. Click here to join!