12 Expert Tips for Getting Started as a Freelance Graphic Designer

expert freelance design tips

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You attend college to study graphic design (or something related such as illustration or UI/UX design). And hopes are that upon graduation, your newly acquired knowledge & degree will make you more desirable (and eligible) when applying to work at a company that interests you – a process that has been typical for years. However, as the world has become more connected, it’s now easier to expand your own reach and offer your skills to a wider audience than ever before. This opportunity, generally known as freelancing, is being called the industrial revolution of our time. And although opportunity may be overwhelmingly present, there is no guarantee that you’ll find success.

Freelancing as a graphic designer can be lucrative, liberating, and also intimidating – especially if you’re just getting started. To help get you off on the right foot, here are 12 expert tips from established freelance designers. 

Tip 1: Have your foundation laid before going full-time freelance.
What’s your plan? Who are your clients? How are you going to get them? What are you going to charge?

Tip 2: Know your worth.
Don’t undercharge. Learn how to sell your work, and how to sell the value of your work.

Tip 3: Diversify.
Get your income from multiple sources. Create a product(s). Work in different industries. Have a specialization.

Jacob Cass, justcreative.com, @justcreative


Tip 4: Learn / practice how to be a better, more convincing, authoritative communicator.
This helps on the top level when you’re talking to potential clients on, say, your value, down to convincing them of your decision-making throughout the approval process.

Tip 5: Stop considering yourself a “freelancer.”
For some odd reason, “freelancer” to clients mean “I own you for x-amount of time.” Position yourself more as a business and others will treat you as such.

Tip 6: The work you do is the work you get.
Nearly 10 years of running my company and this statement has been spot on. A few years back I had a dashboard project that focused on unique data visualization. I must have done well on that particular project, because for a year straight 80% of my work requests were for data visualization. After a year or two of feeling like I needed a change, I removed all (or most) of the data case studies from my site and focused on other industries I wanted to work with.

Brian Hoff, brianhoffdesign.com, @behoff


Tip 7: Start a blog NOW!
My Spoon Graphics design blog has literally transformed my life. I set it up back in 2007 while I was working at a local studio as a Graphic Designer. It soon began giving me extra exposure which resulted in client projects from around the world coming my way that I worked on during the evenings and at the weekend. My freelance work soon became more enjoyable than the design work I was doing at my day job, so I soon took the leap into self employment and ended up earning more in my first month than I previously received from my salary. This is all thanks to the massive worldwide client base my site allowed me to tap into.

Tip 8: Gradually transition.
I touched on this in my last point, but starting to freelance while you’re still in full time employment is a great way to gradually transition into your freelance life without the sudden plunge from a regular salary to nothing. It’s tough at first working all day, then freelancing into the early hours of the morning, but it’s the safest way to do it. Once you reach the breaking point, that’s when you know it’s time to quit your day job!

Tip 9: Have a savings

To eliminate the risk of leaving a regular salary, having a decent amount of savings is a good safety net for if you hit an unexpected dry patch in your early freelance career.

Chris Spooner, spoonergraphics.co.uk, @chrisspooner


Tip 10: Pick one thing you want to be known for and go all in.
This will help you out tremendously in finding work. The great thing is, you can always shift your focus as you continue to grow. But you’ll grow faster by focusing what you do and who you do it for.

Tip 11: Make the type of work you want to be doing apparent in your portfolio.
Whatever work you want to be known for, curate your portfolio around that.

Tip 12: Put value into real client relationships.
If you focus more on building a quality brand, setting up a professional website, and producing content in some form, then the clients will come to you. Create case studies with the work you complete, share your work process in detail, write and/or record design tutorials, share your experiences, write about what challenges you’ve overcome – the possibilities are endless.

Brent Galloway, brentgalloway.me, @brentgalloway


Bonus Tip: Focus on value and visual engagement
People respond best to social media content that provides them with something beneficial, be it helpful information or a product that solves their problems. Even if your content is valuable, that doesn’t necessarily mean people will stop to read it; that’s where the “visual” comes in. Use engaging images and videos to help grab your audience’s attention. Images with bright, warm colors help create a sense of urgency and immediacy that encourages users to click.

Vladimir Gendelman, companyfolders.com@vgendelman

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