A Guide to Freelancing as a Graphic Designer
Freelancing is a form of self-employment. Going out and finding your own clients, managing your workload and pricing your work. Getting started can be difficult, especially when you’re fresh out of uni and trying establish yourself and get your foot in the door. But it’s a great way to make extra money, learn new skills and find your creative identity and style. You’re in full control of the type of projects you take on and how many. It could simply be a source of extra income or it could be a stepping stone to full-time self-employment.
I personally freelance alongside having a full-time job as a Digital Designer at Sky and have been doing this pretty much since I left uni about 5 years ago. I will definitely say that those first couple of years were all about learning – how to find and keep clients, how to price my work, how to communicate with clients and understand their needs even when they don’t and establishing my own style. These are things I’m still learning but I’d like to think the hardest part is behind me. I now have regular work from new and returning clients, a structure for how I take on new projects and create briefs and an understanding of how to charge for what I do.
Some of the obstacles I faced getting to where I am were:
• How to price my work.
• How to find new clients.
• How to communicate my cost with clients.
• How to manage my time.
I stumbled across a great quote on Pinterest once that went a little something like this: ‘don’t spend 8 hours working on someone else’s dream, then go home and not work on your own.’ This made me realise that no matter how tired I may be after work, I have to spend some time developing myself and my brand.
So, here are some of the ways I overcame those initial struggles:
• Lots of lists! Setting goals at the beginning of each month, week and day for what projects I’ll be working on.
• Setting myself a minimum target each month for starting/ finding new work.
• Creating a questionnaire, proposal and invoice for clients.
• Understanding the value of my time and skills so that I can effectively communicate this with clients.
• Cutting back on my social life and understanding what’s important right now.
• Networking – attending meetups, events and just talking about what you do any chance you get because EVERYONE needs a designer or knows someone who does.
• Pricing has been a major struggle for me and other designers I know. I’ve often gone back and forth with other designers comparing pricing and trying to work out if I should have an hourly rate or a project-based rate. I’ve also come across a number of helpful websites.
Some other useful things I’ve picked up:
• Be cautious when deciding to work for family and friends, especially when you’re first starting out. But don’t avoid it completely because these can be your most challenging clients and can teach you a lot about how to handle clients. They can also show you flaws in your process – working with family and friends has helped me to develop the project proposal and other paperwork that I now use for every project. They’re also great for spreading the word about your services and bringing in new clients.
• Always use a project proposal and contract. You prevent misunderstanding, set expectations and you’re simply being a professional.
• Meet with your clients face to face when possible to discuss projects and aim to get as much information from them as possible before starting work.
• Always take a deposit before starting a project. I’ve had a few clients in my time who have wanted some work and later realised they don’t have the funds or no longer want the work, meanwhile you’ve wasted precious time that could have been used doing other work.
• Don’t work for free – you don’t need to, not even for experience.
There are great books and websites with creative briefs that you can use to build of your skills and create projects for your portfolio:
• 99 Designs
• People Per Hour
• The Graphic Design Exercise Book: Creative Briefs to Enhance Your Skills and Develop Your Portfolio
• Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming (Design Briefs)
• Typography Workbook: A Real-world Guide to Using Type in Graphic Design
Some useful information: