question: “how do you gauge your design timelines?”

this process is a lot of trial and error. i learned a lot about timelines and deadlines from working at my fulltime job. i was able to take that into my freelance world (another reason to go freelance after you’ve had some fulltime experience under your belt). if the project is completely clear and i have all the assets i need i give myself a week to two weeks depending on my work load. i factor in a day or two for feedback on each round. sometimes the client doesn’t have a date that they need it done by. sometimes it’s just for themselves and in that case there is wiggle room. other times the clients have a strict date and you just have to work with that if you want to take the job.

if you feel like you’re half way through and you realize that you need more time, ask for it. the worst they can say is no. just explain that it’s more work than you had anticipated and see what they say. speak up as soon as you think you’re going to need more time.

oh man, this one is TOUGH! the main thing i learned is to pad the time. most of the time the client doesn’t have the assets organized or their thoughts and ideas mapped out, so allow a good week or two just for that. for websites designs, i usually say it will take 4-6 weeks from start to finish because that is my average (including coding), and you only know how to figure out an average once you do a handful of projects just like that one. another thing I learned as a freelancer was that you ARE your own project manager which means handling all the details. I usually take that into consideration when I am quoting the project because a lot of the times the emails and phone calls take up the most time of all.

i usually work really FAST. i only got that way because i had to be when i had a full time job and because i am usually genuinely excited about the projects that i am working on. sometimes i will say a logo takes 4 weeks and have it to them in a week. it’s a nice surprise for them but gives me some room to breathe if the ideas aren’t coming as quickly as i’d like. win win! the worst thing you can do for yourself is throw out deadlines you can’t meet, stress yourself out, and deliver a rushed design.

i know it’s really difficult to plan ahead on whether you have time for a new client or not. that probably won’t change. i still get stressed out about that. you will have projects overlapping each other, you will have down time in between…just buckle your seat belt and go with it.

(illustration by . more freelance advice posts are here.)


Add your own

    Laura Mason says:

    How many project on average do you have at a time? I know you do web design, which is super time consuming, and I don’t (they decided to add that to the graphic design department the month after I graduated, would have been a nice skill to have) But on average how many logo/print projects do you have at a time? Because when you say 4 weeks for a logo design to be ready for a client I wanted an idea of how many things you are juggling in those 4 weeks, because I have a feeling you have more then I do and i wanted to be able to calculate your time-management with mine, Thanks 🙂

    Lindsay says:

    Thanks for this advice.. I’m at an internship now and some days I wake up just wishing I worked for me, but it’s good to have someone experienced remind me that I do need the help of these wonderful people around me. They may be frustrating at times, but they know what they’re doing!

    Christa says:

    This is all really helpful information, ladies! Especially for a Graphic Designer starting her career and still in the midst of school! Having these advice posts are really helping me lay down some foundation regarding how to work so I can juggle a load of school, internships, and freelance all at the same time!

    Jaclyn says:

    This advice couldn’t come at a better time. I have two projects I’ve been working on and I feel like they have been dragging on for so long. Partly because I’ve been taking my time and because the clients have changed their vision a lot. This will definitely help me streamline the process next time and appear more professional.

    Keep the great advice coming!

    chloe says:

    love these advice posts! they are such a good barometer against my own work practices and to learn new ways of doing things.

    Mandy says:

    Y’all are wonderful! Thank you so much for answering this question. Timelines can be such a three-ring circus sometimes!

    gloria waters says:

    bri and kate, these are my most favorite things to read on the web. these articles have guided me greatly as a recent design grad and beginning freelancer slash blog manager/design assistant for an online magazine, thank you times a million and one.

    i do have an off-topic question that i would love your advice on…

    what do you do when a client no longer wants to hire you when you send out your pricing estimates? i think i’m just down and will be okay with it by morning, but although i priced a little low because i am new to the industry, now i am second-guessing my estimates… help!

    Donnie says:

    Love these columns! I am starting freelance full-time in August (moving to Detroit area with my boyfriend who’s going to grad school) and have been making arrangements to better prepare myself. I’ve consulted with some older designers (print and web backgrounds) for feedback. One piece of advice that I found helpful was giving clients a range (low and high prices) + your hourly rate thereafter. There are always unforeseen circumstances that can affect the timeline. Keep track and adjust your hours as needed for the next project!!

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