3 freelancing mistakes you could be making (that might get you ripped off)

Statue looking embarassed

A few months back I decided to start actively offering my services on a freelance basis, as a means of supplementing my income and gaining freelance experience whilst I was still a student.

Whilst my first few forays into the world as a freelance graphic designer went surprisingly smoothly, I didn’t realise that I was making three mistakes that could have resulted in me being ripped off by an unscrupulous client.

Thankfully I was able to rectify these before I learnt a harsh lesson, but I was shocked at how easy I was making it for someone to take advantage of me.

Are you making these same mistakes?

1. Not asking for a deposit


Getting a deposit (or payment in full) before even starting work is common practice for freelancers.

Having a percentage of the final amount in your bank account before you begin work is important in establishing whether a client is trustworthy.

It also helps you to identify ‘tire-kickers’, namely those clients who are just looking for free ideas or concepts with no real intention of actually hiring anyone.

Asking for a deposit is awkward at first, and will inevitably result in you not hearing from many people again, but not getting one can potentially lead to you not being paid at all for the work you’ve done.

If a client disappears at the mere mention of money, how do you know they will hand over the agreed payment in full when the work is done?

Look at it as a lucky escape.

2. Not using a contract

The thought of writing a contract seemed daunting at first. I didn’t think I would even be able to write one, but by not using a contract I was just asking to be screwed over by a dishonest client.

A contract doesn’t have to be long, boring and full of legal jargon.

It simply needs to be a set of guidelines that explains clearly what each party is responsible for, when payments should be made by, what happens if the client doesn’t like a design, and so on.

There are design contract templates available for you to modify to suit your own projects.

You don’t have to cover every single eventuality that may happen, but having things in writing can help prevent or resolve discrepancies between both parties.

3. Sending design concepts as a PDF

Sending design concepts in PDF format seemed logical to me.

I’d save the Illustrator file I was working on as a PDF, with each art-board becoming a separate page, making it quick and easy to send multiple concepts and work in progress designs to clients for feedback.

What I overlooked (rather embarrassingly) was that these PDFs could be opened by the client if they had a copy of Illustrator themselves.

Yep, I was sending the clients designs they could alter before they’d paid for them.

All they had to do was wait for me to send the design at a stage they considered to be final and they had their design done, in a format they could open or pass on to another designer, without paying me a penny.

Combined with points 1 and 2, I wasn’t doing much to prevent being ripped off by a client.

I was basically giving my work away for free and taking a gamble that the client wouldn’t disappear without paying.

Now I send a flattened image, such as a high quality JPEG, with a watermark attached. The client can still see the design and give feedback, but there’s less chance of them simply running off with the concept.


Thankfully, none of my early clients did rip me off.

But looking back now, it’s embarrassing to think just how easy it would be for me to lose time and money, simply because I wasn’t prepared.

Making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process, and so long as I learn something I don’t feel too bad making them. I’m glad I got these ones out of the way early though.

What mistakes have you made in the past, and what did you learn from them?

Main image source.

5 Replies

  • I always send PDFs as proofs, as do many other designers. There’s plenty of ways of protecting them, and make them non-editable with Adobe PDF Pro. You could expand the appearance of elements, or even rasterize the graphics directly in the PDF. By sending PDF, you ensure that most people can view it, as the reader is free 🙂

    • Thanks for commenting Andrew, nice to see you here again.

      I still send a PDF from time to time if I have a few concepts to show, but it depends on the job in hand. Logo concepts for example could be sent as a flattened image (or a flattened image that’s exported as a PDF for ease), where as a multipage document is almost certainly going to require being in PDF format. Now that I secure a deposit first though, I’m much less apprehensive about someone stealing my work.

      For a future blog post I may look at different ways of presenting work and take a look at the pros and cons of each method.

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