How to Keep Rejection from Ruining Your Happiness as a Freelance Web Designer

Freelance web design is your dream job–and now, you’re finally living the dream. You’re running your own web design business, and you’re in charge. Things should be fabulous, right?

Well, not exactly. First of all, running a freelance web design business is much harder than you thought it would be. You’re doing tasks you never realized you’d have to do to keep your web design business afloat. (I can say this with confidence even though you and I have never met because nearly every freelancer goes through this experience.)

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Then there’s rejection. You never thought it would get to you like it has. After all, criticism never bothered you when you worked in a traditional job. But now it does bother you and you wonder what is going on.

In this post, I’ll take a closer look at an experience many freelancers go through–rejection. I’ll also give you some tips to help you get through it. I’ll also identify three types of rejection that freelancers are likely to face.

Your Own Secret Fears

One reason that rejection hurts more when you freelance is that you have more invested in your freelancing business than you would have invested in a traditional job–more time, more money, and more of yourself. So, when someone doesn’t like what you do, it feels personal.


Another reason it hurts so much is because many of us secretly fear rejection. Whether it’s a result of the Imposter Syndrome or simply a desire for people to appreciate us, our own fears play a big role in how we respond to criticism and other types of rejection. You can learn more about Imposter Syndrome in Drake Baer’s FastCompany article titled Do You Have Imposter Syndrome Or Are You Actually Qualified For Your Job?

However, it’s actually quite normal to have doubts and fears about our own abilities. Most of us are much harder on ourselves than we would ever be on anyone else. It’s nearly impossible to be totally objective about your own work.

Anyway, when a client or prospect gives us negative feedback it plays right into our own fears and seems to validate them.

Of course, as a freelancer, there are some types of rejection you are more likely to get than others.

Rejection Type 1: You Didn’t Get the Job

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One of the most common types of freelancer rejection is when you are not selected for a project. This stings, because it can take hours to provide an accurate estimate for a complex project. At the end of the proposal process, you may even start to count on getting the job.

Losing out on a job may seem like a huge negative (especially if you are going through a lean period with your business), but there are actually pluses to it. Here are a few of them:

  • Eliminates bad clients early.
  • Gives you a chance to make a good impression.
  • Helps you to understand what’s in demand.

Of course, just knowing that there are some pluses doesn’t mean you won’t feel the pain.

Rejection Type 2: The Client Didn’t Like Your Work

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Another common type of rejection that freelancers receive occurs when a client doesn’t like your work. Unfortunately, there’s no way that you can satisfy everyone. And web design does have a subjective nature to it. You may feel you met a client’s requirements perfectly while he or she feels that your design fell short.

Even constructive criticism can feel like rejection.

However, there are some steps that you can take to minimize the chances of rejected work. Here are a few:

  • Ask the client to show you an example of what they have in mind.
  • If possible, share preliminary work (such as wireframes) before you get too far along.
  • Always, always use a contract that contains a detailed scope of work.
  • Specialize in one or two areas where you excel.

However, if your client does reject your work, don’t automatically assume that you did something wrong. There are some clients who are never satisfied no matter what the freelancer does.

Not all freelancer criticism is directly related to project work. Freelancers can face criticism in other areas as well.

Rejection Type 3: Mean Comments and Other Negative Reactions

Social media and blogging also expose the freelance web designer to criticism. Not everyone who reads your posts on social media will like what you posted. The problem of comment trolls is especially well-documented.

If you don’t know what a comment troll is, it’s a reader who leaves extremely negative (and often off-topic) comments on a blog post, video, social media post or other online material. Empowered by the lack of face-to-face contact on the Internet, comment trolls often say things online that they would never say in person.

In fact, some analysts believe that reducing the number of trollish comments is one reason why YouTube made a recent controversial change (as of the date of this post) to their comment policy. You can read one perspective on YouTube’s policy change in Aaron Taube’s post, YouTube’s New Comments Policy Is Sanitizing YouTube For Advertisers – And Crushing The Number Of New Comments, on Business Insider.

Putting It in Perspective and Moving On

What should you do when you face rejection as a freelance web designer?

The first thing to do is take a deep breath and realize that it’s normal to be hurt by mean words. If criticism or rejection has hurt your feelings, it’s a sign that you care–and caring about your business is actually a good thing.

Give yourself a little time. If it’s a big hurt, take a short break and don’t think about the rejection or criticism for a while. Getting out of the office for an hour or two can be good for you in other ways as well.

When you get back to work ask yourself whether there’s anything you can do to calm the client down. Some clients overreact to issues that can easily be changed. If there’s something easy you can do to fix the problem, do it.

Then consider whether this is really a client you want to work with in the future. You may want adopt more stringent steps to evaluate prospective clients and choose the best ones.

As far as trollish comments left on blog posts and social media posts, often they don’t require a response. Most other readers will recognize the troll for what they are and it’s usually best not to waste your time and energy on a flame war.

Finally, remember that the rejection or criticism doesn’t represent everyone’s opinion. It’s just the opinion of one person. And one person’s opinion does not determine your worth. Above all, don’t let the negativity destroy the happiness you feel as a freelancer.

Your Turn

Have you faced rejection or criticism as a freelance web designer? How did you handle it?

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