I can usually get through these things by more carefully defining the problem, then picking it apart piece by piece.
You mentioned getting overwhelmed by the client brief. As a freelancer, you should have been, at least, a co-writer of that brief. Potential problems really should have been identified there. Designing websites is a lot more difficult than, say, brochures or packaging, which are relatively straight-forward.
Designing websites, is more about structuring a complicated environment full of information in which the target audience can be guided toward some kind of positive outcome. That can be difficult unless you really think through the problem. And then, depending on the requirements of the site, there is the actual construction of the site, whether hand-coding it, using a WYSIWYG web builder or using a content management system with a bunch of add-ons. It’s complicated.
It doesn’t always work this way, but here’s how I like to approach a website design:
- Potential client expresses interest
- I look through their existing website (if they have one) before meeting the client
- I meet with client, listen to them and ask a lot of questions.
- Get a contract signed covering all my fees through the first part of the job, usually with an advance.
- Dig deeply into their current site to understand the situation. Compare that with what I gathered from the initial client meeting.
- Meet again with the client regarding my observations, basic suggestions and making sure we’re all on the same page.
- Dig deeper into their site while thinking along conceptual lines of what needs to be fixed, redone, abandoned, added, etc. I’m also trying to accomplish what the client stated was the objective.
- I have a third meeting with the client where I discuss more detailed ideas, how to make the site more efficient, cost-effective, etc. This is also the meeting where I push back on what seem to be bad client suggestions and make sure that the client understands the problems and the costs associated with them.
- I write a detailed initial creative brief, then run it by the client for changes and, with some back-and-forth negotiation, get the client to sign off on the next phase of the project.
- Design wireframes and comps of important pages.
- Get the client to sign off on the basic design and structure of the site.
At this point, I know exactly what needs to be done. What needs to go in the site and how it will be done, whether it involves hiring a developer, buying CMS components, recoding templates, etc. From this point on, I might get frustrated with things that don’t work at planned or finding myself having to do additional research, but I’ve factored these inevitabilities into my fees and I know what needs to be done.
What I’m really saying here is that I break these things down into step-by-step tasks that can be tackled one at a time before moving on to the next step. This keeps things from becoming overwhelming and keeps me focused on the tasks at hand in an orderly way, It also provides the opportunity to think through the next step as I’m working on the current one, which means that when the next step comes, I’m all set to tackle it.
Like I said, it doesn’t always work this way, but I’ve found the more structured I can keep the process, the better it tends to go.