Is Your Freelance Web Design Business a Hot Mess? Five Questionable Business Practices to Avoid

You know you’re good at web design, but your freelance business just barely gets by. What could be wrong?

It could be that your freelance business is a hot mess, and you don’t even realize it.

In slang terms, a hot mess is an attractive person whose appearance is messy despite their underlying good looks. The term is often used to refer to stars and other celebrities who are spotted wearing ill-fitting clothes or who make questionable hair, makeup, and fashion choices.

Your freelancing business a hot mess if you are so disorganized that your business is failing despite your underlying design talent.

The thing about a hot mess is that they usually can’t see it in themselves. It takes someone else to point out their questionable choices and bad habits.
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Likewise, if your freelance web design business is a hot mess, you probably don’t even realize what’s wrong.

In this post, I’ll point out five questionable “hot mess” business practices that are keeping your design business from succeeding. These bad practices represent some of the worst business choices a freelancer can make. I’ll also explain how to stop being such a hot mess and get your web design business back on track.


Hot Mess Practice #1: No Contract

I hear from distraught freelancers all the time. “My client won’t pay me for my work.

My first question is always, “well, what does the contract say about the payment terms?” Nine times out of ten the freelancer answers back that they had no contract.

If you’re conducting business without getting at least a written agreement from your clients first, you’re just asking for trouble. So, don’t be surprised if trouble finds you.

One reason web designers don’t use contracts is because they don’t feel comfortable creating a contract. They’re not sure what they should include in a client agreement.

We’re here to help. Our classic post, 5 Things to Include in Your Web Design Contracts, lists some of the basic clauses you should include in your contracts.

Plus, if you face the same problem with clients over and over, considering adding a clause to your contract to deal specifically with that problem. For example, if clients always seem to request too many revisions, add a revision policy to your terms.

And of course, it’s not a bad idea to have an attorney look at the standard contract you send to clients once you’ve developed it.

Hot Mess Practice #2: Not Saying No

It’s surprising how many freelancers never refuse a client request, even if the request is totally unreasonable. You’re not really that desperate, are you?

Even if you actually are that desperate for work, try not to seem that way to your clients. Acting desperate is a sure way to attract the very worst clients.

Saying “no” is tough, especially if you’re not used to doing it. But if you want to succeed as a web designer, you’re going to have to learn to say it. If you never say “no,” you’ll find yourself:

  • Facing Unreasonable deadlines
  • Working below market rate
  • Not getting enough information to complete the project
  • Providing endless rounds of free revisions.

How can you ahead with those setbacks? In fact, how can you even stay in business?

Sadly, many web designers who never say “no” to a client don’t stay in business. Don’t be one of them.

If your mind goes blank when it’s time to say “no” to client, check out this handy guide, 10 Ways to Say “No” to Bad Clients (How to Refuse Bad Projects). In this post we list ten nearly painless ways to turn a client down.

Hot Mess Practice #3: Inaccurate Estimates

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Image Source: Time by Rory MacLeod CC by 2.0

Admit it. You have no idea how to estimate a web design project, do you?

Owning up to the fact that you have an estimating problem is the first step on the road to recovery. And believe me, not understanding how to estimate projects is a serious problem for your business.

If you can’t estimate, you’ll constantly be making promises to clients that you can’t keep. You’ll find yourself so overcommitted that you’ll wind up working day and night trying to stay caught up. And your clients will still be unhappy with you.

Fortunately, you can learn how to estimate projects well. For a guide to three different estimating approaches, check out How to Keep Your Design Project Estimates from Being Guesses.

Keep in mind that you may have to try several different methods of estimating projects before you find the one that works best for your business.

Hot Mess Practice #4: Clients Set Your Rates

Who sets your freelance web design rates? If anyone other than you decides what you charge for your services, you’re on a fast road to disaster.

Remember, your client doesn’t necessarily know the going rate for your services (even if they tell you that they do). They probably also have no idea what type of effort goes into creating a quality web design.

Your client also have a financial interest in getting you to work for them for a little as possible. The less you charge, the less they pay.

When you think about all that, how could you even consider letting clients set your rates for you? Yet every day many freelancers all over the world let their client decide what they should charge.

Is it any wonder so many freelancers are underpaid?

If this hot mess practice describes your web design business, stop it right now. Before you accept another project, decide the minimum amount that you are willing to charge for your services. And stick to it.

Our classic post, 12 Realities of Pricing Design Services, has some good insights on pricing your web design services.

Hot Mess Practice #5: Putting Things Off

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Image Source: Speeding on by Martin F CC by 2.0

No, your project won’t get any easier if you wait to do it. In fact, it may get harder.

While you may feel that you work better under pressure, the negatives of putting of projects off until the last minute far outweighs the positives.

Consider this. When you wait to do a project, you risk:

  • Missing the deadline entirely because you didn’t leave yourself enough time to do the work.
  • Making careless mistakes because you didn’t check over your work carefully
  • Finding out at the last minute that you don’t have enough information
  • Getting your work schedule derailed by an emergency

Procrastinating is a bad habit that you should break. The sooner, the better.

In this post, How to Deal Effectively with Drastic Deadlines, we teach you to deal with even the most challenging deadlines.

Your Turn

Can you think of any other Web Design “hot mess” web design practices? Share them in the comments.

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