Looking back after five years in self-employment, here’s the advice I’d give my younger self.

wood typeWood type photo credit

1. Look at the big picture

Creating a modern business plan will help you think through the hard issues.

2. Tell your friends and family about your self-employment

You never know what contacts they might have, and the people who are closest to you will want to help.

3. You’ll lose potential clients because your pricing is too high

But also because it’s too low. Whether you like it or not, the rates you set will immediately give others a perception about the quality of your work.

4. Don’t stress over pricing

Design pricing is something all independent designers will struggle with at some point. The best way to learn is through experience. Be vary wary of underselling yourself, though. Update: Chris Do gives his take in this 30-minute tutorial.

5. You’ll make mistakes

We all do. Don’t let it get you down. Learn from them, move on.

6. When wrong, admit it quickly (and emphatically)

Along similar lines, if you receive a complaint, allow the other person to do most of the talking. People want to be acknowledged, and the more you learn about a grievance, the more you can do to make sure it won’t happen again.

7. Compose your pitch

This is a very brief description about how you’ll help your clients, and it’s useful when describing your job to new acquaintances (without the risk of boring them into submission). The length should be somewhere between elevator and dumbwaiter.

8. Never stop learning

In order to reach (and stay at) the top, you can never stop learning, whether through recognised design courses, mentors, books, new experiences, or something else. To start, you might find my design books of interest. Look for others by Michael Johnson, Alina Wheeler, Bob Gill, Debbie Millman.

9. Publish a blog

Your readers will become an invaluable source of knowledge and help. My blogs, Logo Design Love and Identity Designed, are powered by the free-to-use WordPress. Here are some blog mistakes worth avoiding, and various WordPress plugins I use. An alternative to WordPress is MovableType. This blog was hosted by ICDSoft, but is now hosted by Fused (both recommended).

10. Consider a partnership

You and your clients can benefit when you work alongside those with differing skills — a web specialist or brand strategist, for example. Just because you’re going it alone doesn’t mean you need to be the only one doing the work. When approaching a potential partner — whether for a one-off project or longer term thing — speak about the other person’s interests. Would you say yes?

11. Encourage clients to talk about themselves

A key element in all design projects is the information-gathering stage. Think that everything you learn can be used to your advantage during the project.

12. "A man without a smiling face must not open a shop."

A wise Chinese man once said that.

13. You’ll work with clients you don’t like

Especially at the beginning. But with experience, you’ll be able to spot troublesome clients before a project starts, and equally, how to spot the excellent ones.

14. Designing for committees isn’t a bad thing

You can still create amazing work if you know how to keep the process running smoothly. Chapter 8 of Logo Design Love gives advice on dealing with committees.

15. Put the wheels in motion

It’s time. People will tell you it’s not, but it is. The only thing stopping you?