How to Pick the Right Design Projects

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As your freelance design career progresses, you’ll be presented with many project opportunities. But one of the hardest aspects of being in business is learning to pick the right projects for you.

There are several reasons for this. First, we tend to be trusting of others when they’re telling us about their needs. Second, saying “no” to anyone can feel like we’re going against our instincts (who turns down a paycheck?). And third, you never quite know exactly how a project will go. Predicting the future, as it turns out, isn’t a sure thing.

Still, there are some things you can do to increase your odds of being right. The goal is to ensure that you’re taking advantage of the best opportunities that come your way.

So, how do you know when a potential project is the “right one”? Ask yourself the following questions:

Does the Client’s Idea Sound Realistic?

One of the first considerations for signing onto a project is the client’s take on reality. You will usually find that the best projects come from those who are realistic. Their ideas and goals are smart and attainable.

Occasionally, you’ll run into someone that thinks big. They want to turn the world on its head and make big money while they’re doing it.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with having lofty goals. But don’t mistake an ambitious person for one who’s detached from reality. These people will talk of all the money they’re going to make, yet won’t be able to pay you much (if anything) for your initial efforts. Instead, you get promises of a large payout once their pie-in-the-sky idea is a success.

Think of it this way: If this person is really serious, they’d probably have enough funds to pay you fairly. Asking you to jump in head first to make their dreams come true isn’t at all realistic.

Therefore, it’s up to you to be a bit of a cynic. You don’t want to come off as rude or dismissive, but you should ask the tough questions. As in, “Where’s the money going to come from?”

Better yet, if the idea sounds like a lot of hot air, politely remove yourself from the situation. Most likely, you will save yourself a lot of frustration.

Notebook with a bar graph.

What Kind of Work is Involved?

It may sound a bit silly, but sometimes it’s easy to ignore the actual work that needs to be done. You can get all caught up in simply accepting whatever the client needs because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do. Not so fast.

Early in my career, I felt like it was my duty to do whatever a client asked. So, I took just about every project that came my way. This was so very wrong. In short, it led to a lot of misery.

Web designers are creative professionals, not hardware stores. We need to put ourselves in the best possible position for success. Pretending to be a jack-of-all-trades doesn’t fit with that mission.

So, if you don’t like data entry (and can’t hire someone to do it for you), then that project isn’t for you. Likewise, if someone asks you to work with a CMS you hate or other various grunt work that does nothing to move your career forward, walk away. Unless you’re in dire financial need, you’re under no obligation to take the project.

Instead, consider the type of work involved. If it’s something you enjoy, the results are bound to be better because of it. Plus, you’ll be able to proudly display it in your portfolio.

Woman working on a laptop compute.

What Will the Future Hold?

Remember all that talk about predicting the future? It’s still not a sure thing. But you can reasonably predict the potential regarding your future involvement with a project. The real question is whether or not that is something you actually want.

For some designers, the lure of extra revenue down the road is welcomed. Knowing that you’ll receive some steady cashflow from monthly or yearly maintenance packages can really help your business.

Then there are those who are more comfortable just handing off a website to their client with a polite wave goodbye. After all, there is a certain burden that comes along with maintenance – especially if it’s not something you enjoy doing. And, just maybe, a long term relationship isn’t your thing, either.

Regardless of where you fall on the issue, it’s important to find out where your potential client stands. It’s worth the effort to ensure that everyone’s expectations and wishes are out in the open. Once you know what type of situation they’re looking for, you can respond accordingly.

Chalkboard with "What's Next" written on it.

Choose Wisely

Being a freelancer affords you the freedom to work the way you want. That means that you don’t have to jump on every project that comes your way. In fact, you have the right to be as picky as you like.

So, before you break out the contracts and handshakes, take some time to really think about the project in front of you. If it’s a great fit, then go for it. If not, there’s always next time. Either way, you have the power to decide for yourself.

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