As a freelance web designer, one of the trickiest skills to master is maintaining a steady flow of cash. In years past, friends used to chide me about my "feast or famine" way of life. I've learned a few things since then about keeping things steady, and have written about this subject before, but today I want to talk about just one way - Ongoing Contracts.

Many companies (especially those who manage their own web applications) need design work not just to get a project launched, but on an ongoing basis as users offer feedback and suggestions. Their options are to (a) hire someone in house, (b) hire an agency, or (c) hire a freelancer. Because of the costs associated with options (a) and (b), you can easily present yourself as the better business decision.

Simply offer your services for a fixed number of hours per week, in exchange for a discounted rate, to be paid monthly. By offering a fixed number of hours and a special rate in exchange for a long term contract, you can gain a number of benefits.

Benefits of Ongoing Contracts

  • A fixed, expected payment each month
  • A project that allows you to really dig into the details of how your design decisions affect real users
  • Credibility as a result of long term association with a project

Additionally, the client gains a valuable asset to their project, in that you'll continually be adding to it over time, and you'll be fresh with inspiration from the regular freelance work you'll still be doing.

How It's Working For Me

In 2008, I spent the year working 24 hours a week on Viviti, a popular WYSIWYG content management, which I actually use to author this blog you're reading. During that time I was the only interface designer on the project. We took the project from an idea, to an application, through a beta phase, and into a paid product. Viviti gained my interface design work and still uses it, while I gained steady cashflow and a great experience.

After freelancing for almost a year now through 2009, I've been just been retained by my good friend Tyler Kiley, for 8 hours a week of ongoing interface design work on InQuickER, his web app to get people into US hospital emergency rooms without waiting in line. It's already generated a ton of buzz and some controversy on Hacker News and netted him calls from reporters at Forbes, LA Times, Fast Company, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and other lesser known publications in his home state of Georgia.

My duties will include:

  • Analyzing the site for UI weaknesses
  • Designing new pages and interface elements
  • Designing the back-end administration and reporting system
  • HTML / CSS
  • Some Ruby tinkering (to my delight)

Since I'm only offering a limited number of hours each week, the contract is affordable for the client, and effective for me (for things like paying my rent on time). Also, it still gives me plenty of time to keep my existing and new freelance clients happy, so business is good.

How To Land an Ongoing Contract

Landing an ongoing contract is easier than it sounds. Chances are that one of your clients already has a need for ongoing work, but doesn't think you're available for it, or thinks you'll be too expensive.

Here are a couple of things you can try:

  • Approach a few existing clients with the idea, make an offer
  • Make sure it's an affordable offer for the client, and doesn't take too much time away from your regular business
  • Be clear in your marketing that you're available to be retained for fixed amounts monthly

Before you know it, you'll have offers for ongoing work in addition to the stream of one-off projects you already get. Not sure how to get a stream of one-off projects either? I wrote another post a while back on this topic, you may find it interesting as well.

Don't agree? Have something you want to add to this article? Leave a comment!