How To Become A Freelance Graphic Designer

Many graphic designers have at one time or another considered leaving their job and becoming a freelancer.  It is easy to see why — working for yourself and choosing projects that you are interested in is a very alluring proposition.

But how do you actually become a freelance graphic designer?  Are there risks involved?

How do you get your first client?

This guide will answer these questions and many more.


What does a freelance graphic designer do?

A freelance graphic designer is a master of visual communication.  Their job is to communicate the client’s intended message to the audience in a compelling and exciting way.  This task is accomplished using a variety of images, fonts, colour, symbols, and design techniques.  The designer will endeavour to produce work that closely aligns with the client’s brand and achieves the necessary objectives.

The kinds of work performed by a freelance graphic designer include:

  • Logo design
  • Business card design
  • Print advertisement design
  • Company letterhead & envelope designs
  • Booklet designs
  • Catalogue designs
  • Greeting card and invitation designs
  • Website designs
  • App interface designs
  • Social media page designs

The pros and cons of being a freelance graphic designer

You might be wondering why a graphic designer would want to be a freelancer instead of simply working in-house for a design agency.  There are some excellent benefits to be obtained by being a freelancer, including:

  • You can set your own timetable
  • Freelancers can pick projects they enjoy
  • It is possible to work from home
  • A greater variety of work will be available
  • You can set your own rates (freelancers tend to be paid at a higher rate compared to salaried in-house designers)

Of course, there are also some drawbacks associated with being a freelance graphic designer, including:

  • You will have to manage your own clients
  • There will be more administrative work, including managing bills and appointments
  • You may sometimes work anti-social hours
  • Maintaining a healthy work-life balance becomes more difficult
  • Less job security

You will need to way up the pros and cons before deciding if you wish to pursue freelancing.  Many designers absolutely love the freedom that freelancing brings, but others are concerned about job security and work-life balance.

Getting started as a freelance graphic designer

Here are the most important steps you must take before becoming a freelance graphic designer:

Step 1: Learn the skills

Your first step towards becoming a freelance graphic designer is to learn the skills.  Graphic designers need to have a combination of creative, design, and technical skills.  They range from technical knowledge relating to computer design programs through to understanding the basic principles of designing for print media.  You have two options for learning the skills:

  • Obtain professional training
    You could enrol in a university, vocational training institution, design school, or online course to learn the art of graphic design. The cost and quality of each course will vary greatly, so choose one that is appropriate for your skills, budget, and goals.  The main benefit of professional training is that experienced designers will be teaching you virtually everything you need to know to become a professional freelance graphic designer.
  • Self study
    The other option is to perfect your craft by yourself. This is the more difficult option as you will need to spend a lot of time sourcing useful information in books and from online sources.  You will need to learn what you need to learn, which can sometimes be difficult.  Some of the best resources for self study include Treehousecom SkillShare and Udemy

Some of the many skills you will need to learn include:

  • How to draw a wireframe
  • How to use computer design programs like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign
  • How to use the Pantone Color Matching System
  • How to help a business develop a visual brand
  • Printing theory
  • How to use markup languages like HTML

Step 2: Build your portfolio

Potential clients will always want to see examples of your previous work.  That is why it is important to build a diverse portfolio which showcases all of your talents.  Your portfolio should include different types of graphic design work including website designs, business branding, business cards, office stationary and much more.  You really need to show clients that you can create work that is stylistically varied and in a wide variety of digital or physical formats.

Step 3: Brand yourself

When you are a freelance graphic designer, you are offering clients your skills, creativity, experience, and knowledge.  You will need to market yourself in a way that clients appreciate and respect what you are offering.  The best way to do that is to make yourself a brand.

Share your mission and values with clients, create a unique logo and brand personality, specialise in certain areas, and establish a point of difference (POD) that separates you from the competition.  Make yourself a desirable brand that clients want to hire.

Step 4: Set up your website and online profiles

All freelancers should create an online presence.  This includes your own website and profiles on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, DeviantArt, and Pinterest.  Use these platforms to promote your work and share details about yourself.

Step 5: Prepare administrative details

Part of the challenge of being a freelance graphic designer is that you must manage all of the administrative details yourself.  This includes:

  • Time tracking
    You will need to devise systems for determining how much time you are devoting to each project.
  • Financial details
    You will need to calculate how much time was spent on each project and send invoices to clients. There will also need to track payments and deal with tax matters.
  • Contractual arrangements
    All professional freelancers should use freelance contract arrangements. These contracts will specify the deliverables for each project along with payment requirements for clients.  You will need to ensure these contracts are in order and that the client understands their requirements.
  • Business cards and other promotional material
    Print up some business cards and create web pages that showcase your capabilities.
  • Contact details
    Make sure you have an email address, work phone line, and postal address for documents.
  • Purchase any necessary software
    There are many software packages that make handling these administrative details easier including Freshbooks, Bench, Bonsai, and Chrometa. Legalzoom is also a great resource for obtaining pre-made freelancer contracts.

Step 5: Get clients

Next, we can start finding some clients to work for.  There are many ways to find clients including:

  • Register on freelance websites
    There are dozens of freelance websites where you can offer your services to thousands of eager clients. Using these websites is one of the easiest ways to get started as a freelancer, but there is usually a lot of competition and pay rates start low.  Check out Upwork, Toptal, Elance, Guru, and peopleperhour.
  • Advertising
    Some freelancers will use online advertising to promote their services. The best practice for using online advertising is to target the the kinds of clients who would be interested in your services.
  • Use word of mouth
    Tell everyone you know that you have begun freelancing and share your portfolio.
  • Promote your website
    Continue building your website so it becomes a valuable resource and it will begin to attract prospective clients.
  • Use LinkedIn
    LinkedIn is a very popular social media website for professionals. You can use this website to form connections with businesses and design agencies, which can lead to employment opportunities.
  • Use traditional forms of media and local advertising
    Place an advertisement in the paper or on a radio station. Give flyers to local businesses which advertise your services.  Place ads on Craigslist.
  • Network with former colleagues
    Make sure you tell former colleagues and employers that you have started freelancing. They may begin to send work your way.
  • Be active in the design community
    Make yourself known to online and offline design communities. Use websites like MeetUp to introduce yourself to designers and businesses in the local area.  Become a guru on design websites and share your knowledge with others to raise your profile.

Step 6: Get to work!

Finally, you can get to work and produce some designs for your clients.  Remember to manage your time efficiently and track how much each client owes you.  Working as a graphic design freelancer does require a lot of dedication and hard work, but it can be extremely rewarding.

Richard Hammond

I am the founder of 9Mousai and am deeply interested in creativity and what inspires it. My main passions are writing, film and music but I have huge respect for all the arts. I'm also an animal lover and have a little cat called Winston and enjoy the occasional whiskey or two...
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