The world of freelance graphic design has many ups and downs, but one thing is certain – getting paid to do something you love through graphic design can be an amazing career path. As an artist, you need to stay focused on your craft while simultaneously maintaining a strong business acumen so that you make the most out of your freelance graphic design career.
As a creative person, the business side of freelancing can be daunting and often overwhelming. That is why we put together this comprehensive guide. We want nothing more than for the creative types to make a real living doing what they love.
It often sad to see so many incredible artists of various types, including graphic designers, fail to build a real business and make a living doing what they are good at because the business side of freelancing proves to be too much.
We want you to make the most out of your freelance graphic design career, so here is your guide to get started and grow an excellent freelance graphic design career or side hustle.
Part One: Building the Foundation
One of the best things about freelance graphic design is that you can start your own business with little overhead. You don’t need to invest in a lot of equipment or software, and you can work from anywhere with an internet connection.
Most graphic designers already have the software and equipment they would need just from treating it as a hobby or going to school for it. This is a huge advantage that a lot of freelancers don’t get. Oftentimes, the startup costs alone can keep many from pursuing their freelance career.
However, just like any other profession, there are some things you need to do to set yourself up for success.
First and foremost, you need to build a strong portfolio that showcases your skills and style.
One of the best ways to build a portfolio is to do work for free for friends, family, or local nonprofits that could use some help. Also, just sharing your doodles and personal sketches of various projects can be a great way to showcase your style.
Although, sooner rather than later you will want to start building a portfolio that reflects the type of clients you want. Think about the kind of work you want to do and ensure your portfolio reflects that.
If you want to focus on logo design for SaaS companies, that is what your portfolio should consist of. If you want to design band posters and t-shirts for the music industry, then what you publish online should reflect that.
If you don’t have a portfolio, start one as soon as possible. With something as visual as graphic design, if you don’t have work to show prospective clients, you will rarely get hired for obvious reasons.
Just use your sketches and what you have been working on for fun to sharpen your skills. They don’t need to be commercial brands or something you have been paid for, they need to show your prospective clients what you are capable of.
I have even worked with freelancers who brainstorm creative ideas for massive brands and create something original for them. Redesign a logo of one of your favorite brands, design a killer concert poster for one of your favorite bands, or even a movie poster for one of your favorite films.
Just get creative and have fun with it. Just be sure to disclose that you have not actually worked with that brand.
You will eventually want to build a website, but a free and totally worthwhile place to start would be Instagram or other sites like Dribble and Behance. There are dozens of portfolio sites, so pick a few and start publishing your work. Don’t be shy; get your ass out there, and show the world what you’ve got.
Identify Your Niche Or Style
Next, you need to identify your target market or niche. This is an extension of what we just discussed. You don’t need to decide and commit to any particular industry, and it is usually a good idea to start broad. Still, you want to apply what you know about your artistic style and apply that to particular industries.
If you are clean and modern, plenty of SaaS or services-based companies out there need logos, brochures, website graphics, and more designed by a professional.
If you are edgier and have a grungier style, then as we mentioned above, perhaps the music and entertainment industries are where you need to be.
Ultimately you need to ask who are the clients or businesses that you want to work with. What kind of work do they need? You don’t have to pigeonhole yourself, but it can be helpful early on in your career to focus on a particular type of client or project so that you can build up a substantial body of work in that area.
Over time, as you work in multiple industries with different types of companies and people, you will start to narrow your focus. This is a natural process and not one that you want to rush.
When you are ready to niche down, you will want to go all in and identify your target market to really fine-tune your marketing and sales strategy.
Finally, you need to start making some connections. Get involved in your local design community and online design forums and groups. Attend meetups and conferences. Follow industry leaders on social media.
The more people you know, the more likely you’ll hear about opportunities or be able to network your way into a great gig.
There is a reason why you keep hearing your network is a direct reflection of your net worth.
Another great way to approach the whole networking thing is to find web developers, digital marketers, video producers, and other freelance professionals, both online and off, that could send work your way.
Web developers are always looking for great designers to help with their website icons, imagery, and their client’s logos. The same goes for any of the other professions.
As a freelance graphic designer, the more freelancers who can send you work you know the less time you spend sending cold emails, making cold calls, or finding new clients.
Another massive advantage to getting referrals from your fellow freelancers is that the clients they refer you to will often hire you simply because you came highly recommended by someone they already trust. This reduces the time you have to spend convincing them you are the right person for the job.
Part Two: Getting Started with Clients
Now that you have a strong foundation for your freelance graphic design business and the referrals are rolling in, it’s time to start making an impression on your clients!
The best way to find work as a freelancer is through personal relationships and networking. As mentioned before, getting involved in the freelance community is a great way to make connections that can lead to work.
But don’t stop there – reach out to your friends, family, and acquaintances and tell them you’re a freelance designer. When people need design work done, they’ll think of you first!
Another great way to find clients is through online marketplaces and job boards. There are many of these platforms out there, but be careful not to apply for every job that comes up – it’s important only to take on projects that fit your skill set and interests. Also, ensure you have a strong portfolio and pitch ready to go before applying for any job.
Finally, don’t be afraid to cold call or email potential clients. This can be a great way to land some high-quality projects, but you need to ensure your pitch is well-written and professional.
Once you have a few clients, keeping them happy by delivering high-quality work on time and within budget is essential. Stay in touch with them throughout the project, and always be available for questions or revisions.
Your communication with your clients is going to be what makes or breaks the relationship. Even if you start to fall behind on a project, it is best to reach out to them and let them know what is going on.
You certainly don’t want to make a habit of pushing back deadlines, but if you just let the client know that you are still working and that you want to take your time to make sure you do it right, they will most often wholly understand.
I cannot tell you how many times I have hesitantly sent an email to a client to let them know I had fallen a bit behind, and fearing the worst got a super chill response saying something to the tune of “sounds good, no worries, looking forward to seeing the next revision!”.
As you are working on the designs, you will want to be sure to provide the client with a version you feel good about and that is as close to what you envision they want as possible to avoid a lot of back and forth and crazy number of revisions.
You will also want to ask whomever it is you are working with that you would like to keep the number of people providing feedback to a minimum until you get 95% there. The reason this works is even if they decide to bring other people in for their feedback at the 11th hour, and they ask for some crazy revision, the person or people who helped get you this far with their feedback now have a stake in the current design, and will take ownership of it’s current state.
This means you have them in your corner to help push back if people start asking for revisions that don’t make sense or will take way too much time at this point in the design process.
Knowing exactly how to communicate that and when to send the designs in for feedback will be a learning process. Still, you will get better at reading the clients over time and knowing when to send, and when to make a few more updates to prevent pointless feedback.
One of my favorite tools to use when sending work to clients is Loom. It allows you to send them your work, while walking them through the designs in a short video so they have more context. This save so much back and forth answering silly questions I cannot recommend it enough.
In graphic design, so much can get lost in translation if they are looking at the design.
This especially comes in handy if you work remotely or from home and are not in a board room meeting with your client at every revision.
Again, I cannot express how important it is to effectively and frequently communicate what is going on with your clients. You obviously don’t want to share too much information about where you are as to avoid premature feedback, but you want to touch base with them every few days or so, to keep them engaged and so they don’t worry about you taking the down payment and running with it. lol
Of course, we can’t go any further until we talk about getting paid. We cover the best invoicing software for freelancers in this post and I highly recommend checking it out.
Beyond the software, a few things you should keep in mind; always get a down payment of about half of the agreed-upon amount and use invoicing software so it is easy for the client to pay you with whatever payment method they prefer.
You will look much more professional in a sea of unprofessional freelancers by using something like Quickbooks or Xero to invoice your clients.
You will also want to decide on billing hourly or per project, which is something we cover in depth in this post.
And, of course, don’t forget to ask for referrals!
Part Three: Keep Building Your Dreams
Don’t stop here. Once you start to see some success, don’t let it go to your head. Keep progressing, keep pushing your skills to the next level, keep networking, keep calling on the big companies you really want to work for!
Freelancing has no finish line, but that’s a good thing! It means you can keep building your dream business for as long as possible. Remember to enjoy the ride!
So there you have it – everything you need to know about how to become a freelance graphic designer. Remember to start networking, identify your niche or style, get involved in the design community, effectively communicate, and keep things professional. And always keep pushing yourself to be better!
If you found this guide helpful, we have an excellent free resource that digs into this and much more. Simply sign up for our kick-ass freelancing newsletter and get a free copy of the Ultimate Freelancing Blueprint!
Some other questions to consider:
There is a lot to consider when embarking upon a freelance graphic designer career, so we answered some of the most common questions we get below:
How much can I make as a freelance graphic designer?
On average, the annual earnings of a freelance graphic designer are around $67,000 but can vary greatly depending on your clients, your work ethic, and your experience. If you want to make a living as a freelance graphic designer, you will want to get good at the business side of things in addition to being a really good designer. You will need to learn sales, marketing, and the ins and outs of the business to make more than your peers.
Is it difficult to be a freelance graphic designer?
As with any other category of freelancing, the difficulty level will depend on your experience. If you are just getting started, you will need to not only hone your skills as a graphic designer, but you will need to learn about running a business. This contributes to the difficulty, but over time the business side gets easier and you will be able to make more money in less time as you get better as a freelancer.
How do freelance graphic designers get paid?
As a freelance graphic designer, you will determine whether you get paid hourly or for the project. Once you decide between these two approaches, you will negotiate a rate with your client and get paid using an invoicing software such as Quickbooks or Xero or if you use a platform such as Upwork, they will manage the payment for you.
Is it difficult is it to be a freelance graphic designer?
It can be quite tricky if you do not have experience with the business side of freelancing. The more familiar you get with managing clients, sales, building a portfolio, networking, and the financial aspects of freelance the easier it will be to focus on what you are best at as a graphic designer.
How do I become a freelance graphic designer with no experience?
Becoming a freelance graphic designer with no experience can be as easy as taking a few online classes and finding a friend or family member who needs your services or doing the work for free at first. By helping a friend or family member with their graphic design needs, you can learn while working with someone that understands you are just getting started. Doing the work for free is also a great way to gain experience and build a portfolio.
How long does it take to become a freelance graphic designer?
This depends on how much experience you have and how willing you are to get your ducks in a row. If you really dedicate yourself full-time to building a portfolio, learning the basics of freelancing, and networking to find clients, you could be up and running in just a few weeks.
How can I become a freelance graphic designer from home?
Of all the freelancing career choices, becoming a graphic designer is one of the best if you want the freedom of working from home. Most often, you can find clients, manage projects, get feedback, clearly communicate, and get paid for your work, all while working from home. Unless you are working with really large clients, most won’t mind that you are unable to meet in person.