It’s all about reputation

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How I earned $15,000 last month from freelance design

Hint: there’s no shortcut. I’ve been working at this for 17 years.

Benek LisefskiJun 13, 2018 · 15 min read

*** Update ***
I’ve written a follow-up piece about what I’ve done to sustain these freelance earnings over the long-term. Please also read How I earned $150K last year from freelance design.


I just sent off over NZ$15,000 worth in invoices for freelance design work performed last month. It might have been my most lucrative month ever. I’d like to talk about what’s making this period profitable for me, and share how I’ve gotten to this point in my design career.

I’m a freelance UI/UX designer in Auckland, New Zealand. I’ve been doing it since 2001 — starting part time as a student and then building my freelance business into a full time gig shortly after graduating. I’ve never been employed. This is all I’ve ever known.

I’m a T shaped individual with a broad range of design experience, but my bread and butter is in providing tremendous value to my clients all the way through a product, app, or website’s creation cycle: right from initial strategy, through IA and UX design, and UI design. I often do front-end code too, and sometimes even development.

What I didn’t do

How did I set a personal best in monthly freelance earnings?

I didn’t work insane long hours, burning the candle at both ends and burning myself out in the process. In fact, my normal work day is 9:30–5:00 with a comfortable lunch break in between. I occasionally work a bit in the evenings, but that’s the exception not the norm.

I have a wife and two kids who I spend a lot of time with. I exercise before work each morning to keep healthy, and even find time to meditate now and then. By no means is the balance of my life suffering just to earn a lot of money. Life is too important (and money not important enough) for me to do that.

I didn’t churn out work as quickly as possible to maximise profits on fixed project quotes. Nor did I subcontract work to cheaper creatives so I can reap the profits of marked up labour. Everything I do is of the utmost quality, performed by me, every time.

I didn’t even make passive income.None. My last passive income side project was sold over a year ago and I haven’t yet launched a new one.

Every dollar earned was directly tied to hours worked, for a handful of fantastic clients.Are you working for cost-clients or value-clients?Knowing the difference will mean everything to your freelance business.medium.com

It’s all about reputation

Earning good money as a freelancer starts with having great clients. I’ve spent my entire career defining who my ideal clients are, and then working towards landing those projects. There is no magic bullet here. Without a stroke of luck, rookie freelancers don’t land the kind of clients they dream of. Everyone successful in this business has been willing to put in the work to get there.

More than anything else, this requiresbuilding a reputation. As a freelancer you live and die by it. The foundation of that reputation is doing excellent work, over and over again. Every client deserves your best effort. Deliver it every time. Your clients will be thrilled with your service, and eventually they’ll talk. They’ll tell their family, friend, and colleagues about you, and boom — more work.

Word of mouth referrals are the bee’s knees. Of course you’ve heard this before, but have you really thought about what it means?

If you’re shopping for a new car, computer, doctor, or lawyer, you asked people you trust for their recommendations. You take their recommendations as a starting point, do a bit of your own research to validate them, and then commit to one of the recommendations.

Why? Because if you trust who it’s coming from, and they say it’s good, then you trust that it’s good. You are pre-qualified to trust that recommendation based on the weight of trust you have with the human it came from. You usually don’t bother looking into alternatives outside of what was recommended.

When I get a referral from an old client in this way, the new client comes to me already respecting my expertise and experience, trusting my process, and eager to work with me. There is no hard sell required. Usually no sell at all. My reputation has already sealed the deal.

In fact, I’ve had word of mouth clients delay their project for months until I become available, because they consider working with me essential to their project’s success. After all, working with the right people is always more important than niggling over price or timing. If a new client believes you’re the right person, you’ve won yourself a potential unicorn.

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