Advice for Early-Career Data Visualization Freelancers
A career in data visualization can be exciting, rewarding, and financially lucrative. There's a world of possibilities beyond the cubicle. But it can also be challenging. As with any freelancing job, you are the only person responsible for your livelihood. You have to secure new contracts, project-manage, do the work, handle client feedback, and more. And you must look out for your own best interests because nobody else will.
Even within a traditional office setting, data visualization freelancers can face unique challenges. Here is our advice for early-career data visualization freelancers:
1. Find a mentor or several mentors
Early in your career, consider finding one or more experienced data visualization freelancers to advice you. One of the most important things they can do for you is share cautionary tales about what not to do. You don't want to learn the hard way that your standard contract is too restrictive or that you should never up-front about late deliverables.
2. Don't undervalue yourself
As a new freelancer, it can be easy to undersell yourself. You may think that you don't have the experience or portfolio to command higher rates, but you should always do your best to negotiate a fair price for your services. In one study, researchers found that negotiation improves well-being and job satisfaction.
3. Don't miss a deadline (and ask for more time when you need it)
Meeting your deadlines is essential. Avoiding missed deadlines is even more critical. Also, when you ask for more time on a project, you should be prepared to provide an updated schedule and explain why the delay is necessary.
4. Always be learning new skills and techniques
You can never know too much about data visualization. It is not just about knowing the tools. You should constantly test new graphics, play around with visual encodings, explore chart types, and try new storytelling approaches. Acquiring a diverse set of skills will expand your range of potential clients and project opportunities. For, example you can show the flow of your data using flow diagram, you can use Sankey diagram generator to create one. Your next client may need that.
5. Network, network, network
Don't be shy. As a freelancer, you are essentially on your own, so you must make connections in the industry and stay up-to-date with the latest news. This is true whether or not you are actively looking for new contracts at any given moment.
6. Don't work for free samples!
One of the most common mistakes made by novice freelancers is to work for free samples. It may feel like a chance to gain exposure or show your portfolio, but unless you secure an ongoing relationship with that client, it's not worth the time you invest. For example, creating a Sankey diagram is not easy, so you should be adequately compensated when you do so.
7. Make sure to update your resume every time you complete a project
You worked hard on that project, so don't let it evaporate when the client approves the final deliverables. It's always a good idea to create a version of your resume that features all of your finished work so you can easily send potential clients an up-to-date portfolio and highlight your current skills.
8. Be transparent and professional at all times
As a freelancer, you may feel tempted to cut corners here and there. But it's important to remember that you are still representing yourself as a professional. Being truthful and being direct has always been the best ways to avoid potential problems down the line.
9. Give frequent estimates/progress updates
Clients typically want time and cost estimates from freelancers before a project begins. But it is essential to provide updates throughout the process, especially if any changes could affect your original estimate or timeline.
10. Keep a positive attitude
It can be easy to get discouraged when things don't go your way when you work for yourself. But avoiding a downward spiral requires self-awareness and the willingness to cut yourself some slack. Forgive small mistakes, learn from them and move on.
11. Seek ongoing support from a professional association
Whether you are interested in gaining exposure or learning new skills, a community of professionals can likely provide you with all the resources you need to succeed. Finding an active association in your area of expertise can help you discover the latest tools and techniques available, network with like-minded professionals or just get unbiased advice.
12. Do the job you were hired to do
It is important to be an active participant in your projects and take pride in your work. If you've been asked to create a data visualization, make sure it is clear and easy to understand. If you need more time or resources, communicate that with your client as soon as possible. When you take over a project or overstep your role, the result is rarely ideal.
13. Define your payment terms
If you decide to take on new clients and projects in an effort to grow your business, you need to make sure that everyone's expectations and bottom line are clear from the start. Setting up payment terms in advance will ensure that every project runs smoothly.
14. Avoid distractions
Yes, there are probably a thousand other things you should be doing right now, but it's important to focus on your current task until its completion. Distractions are not just annoying—they can cost you money!
15. Delegate effectively
You don't have to do everything on your own. If you are able to delegate tasks, decide which ones can be taken on by someone else or an assistant so you can focus on the most important assignments.
16. Accept that you can't please everyone
Even the best project managers and freelancers will not be able to meet all of their clients' expectations. Sometimes, there simply isn't enough time or money to complete a project exactly as requested. Rather than trying to please everyone, it is better to focus on what needs to be done right now.
17. Stand your ground when necessary
Don’t be afraid to negotiate if you feel like you aren't getting paid enough for a project. It may feel awkward, but it will most likely lead to a better long-term relationship with the client and more work down the road (that hopefully pays you what you deserve!).
Freelance work comes with a lot of perks, such as flexible schedules, no commute and the ability to improve your skills. But it is also important to know that you won't be able to avoid every potential issue or problem. Try not to stress about what could go wrong and focus on putting your best foot forward.