Many creatives dream about the freedom and pleasure of working as a freelancer, but to become successful as a freelancer you must know how to obtain a steady stream of income and much more. This post will cover how to start off as a new freelance designer and how to build a successful freelance design business.
Step 1: Preparation
Setting up strong foundations in the beginning will make everything you do as a freelance designer much easier. Before you do any work, it is important to set up things such as your tax file number for tax purposes and gather all the resources you need to do your design work. Without the necessary hardware and software, you won’t be able to do your work, so make sure you have everything prepared.
Step 2: Build a Portfolio
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A freelance designer’s greatest tool is his/her portfolio, nothing will demonstrate your ability as a designer better than your portfolio. When putting together a portfolio you only want to show your strongest works which reflect your current skill level as a designer. Put your strongest work first and always finish off with another really strong piece of work. You want to make a great first impression but also leave them on a high note.
If you are working as a freelance designer you will need an online portfolio. There are numerous portfolio sites such as Behance, Dribbble and CarbonMade which offer free portfolio services. However, it is much more professional to host your own portfolio. A custom-made portfolio, designed and coded yourself can also be seen as a portfolio piece in itself. If you aren’t that confident in your coding abilities there are easy-to-use portfolio solutions such as WordPress themes from Themeforest and other templates you can alter for your own purposes.
The most important piece of advice to take away from this post regarding portfolios is to include works that target specific clients. If you want to work on logo designs or branding, try to include more of these types of works rather than trying to please everyone. Try to showcase your strengths as a designer instead of catering to the masses.
Step 3: Look for Clients
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There are 4 main methods of finding clients as a freelance designer.
Referrals – The easiest way to get clients is to ask your existing contacts and clients to refer you if they know anyone that needs design services. It is much easier to “break the ice” with a referral and they will be more willing to listen to you. As a new freelance designer you can advertise your new business on social media and ask your friends and family if they need any design work done.
Bidding Websites – Websites such as Elance and oDesk are great places for new freelance designers to start. However be wary of the bidding wars and don’t undervalue yourself and your work too much or you will end up hating it.
Job Boards – Job boards such as Behance, Smashing Jobs, Coroflot, Authentic Jobs, Freelance Switch and Krop are great places to look for high quality clients. The job boards listed above are influential names within the creative and design industries, and most of them are updated daily with new jobs. Competition is much more fierce on these job boards but it is well worth the effort to continue applying and trying. You’ll notice that over time as you complete more projects from referrals and bidding websites you will have an easier time finding clients from these job boards.
Competitions – Websites such as 99designs and Crowdspring allow freelance designers to submit their designs to contests, and if their design is chosen as the winner they will receive payment for their work. Payment for your work isn’t guaranteed but it is a nice place to start and build up your portfolio.
Step 4: How to Win Clients as a New Freelance Designer
As a new freelance designer it is difficult to land your first client and then to secure other future clients. Until you hone your strategy for winning clients, you’ll need to experiment with different styles and see what best suits you as a designer and businessperson.
Learning how to write a strong and concise cover letter will get you very far, don’t try to dive into too much detail about the project when you first contact a potential client. Instead you want to relate with your client and appear like you can provide the solution to their problems.
Once you get past the first stage of initial contact, then you can work on really pushing and selling yourself. There is a fine line between being assertive or overwhelming, and it can only be learnt with time and experience.
Step 5: Do Great Work
Image by Maurizio Pagnozzi
So you’ve landed your first client, now it’s time to fulfil your job as a designer and create an amazing design for them. Always give your best work and push yourself to become better as a designer. Not only will your clients thank you for your hard work, but they will be more willing to refer you and also do repeat business with you.
If you are constantly creating amazing designs, your hard work won’t go unnoticed and other clients may start contacting you for future work.
Step 6: Grinding it Out
Once you are consistently finding new clients and are keeping yourself busy with your freelance work, then you are on your way to becoming a freelance designer. Continue to produce beautiful work and try to line up new clients to keep a steady flow of work and income.
If you continue to keep a good work ethic and reputation, you can quite easily become a successful full-time freelance designer. The journey of a freelancer is much like a snowball rolling down a hill, it may take a while to start up but when it gets going it picks up a lot of momentum.
Step 7: Maintaining Working Relationships With Your Clients
Freelancers like to talk about themselves a lot, but they would be nothing without their clients, so it’s important to maintain good relationships with your clients. While there might be a few bad experiences, you will learn to love most of your clients and enjoy working with them.
It is always a bad idea to “burn bridges” so try to rectify any problems instead of attacking your clients. Periodically “check in” with your clients to see if they need any more work or know of anyone that needs design services.
Step 8: Becoming Consistent
Most freelance designers experience times of great profit and then dry seasons where work is very scarce. If you are someone that can’t deal with a fluctuating income, then freelancing might not be a good fit for you. Learning to be consistent is a hard skill and it takes a long time to reach a level where you can find a steady stream of work and income.
It’s good practice to look for new work as you are still working on your current projects. This helps to keep the downtime between projects lower and you’ll become more consistent.
Step 9: Handling Business
Image by Tax Credits
Don’t neglect the financial and logistical side of running your own freelance business. Since you work for yourself you have to do your own taxes and also manage your business operations on your own. It can become quite time-consuming to do everything yourself and once you reach a stage when handling the business side of things takes away from your freelancing, it can be a good idea to hire a personal assistant to help you with miscellaneous tasks.
These 9 steps are designed to take someone completely new to freelancing and help them build a successful freelance design business on their own. Freelancing is often times portrayed as something that is easygoing and stress-free, when at times it is actually the complete opposite. If you are willing to take the plunge and become a freelance designer, hopefully these tips will be able to guide on your way to becoming a successful freelancer.
Every Freelance Designer Has Their Own Story
Every freelancer designer has their own beginnings and reasons for doing what they do. Listening to how other freelancers overcame their struggles and how they have become successful is a great way to avoid making similar mistakes. Let’s learn from each other and share our successes (or failures) in the comments below, or connect with us on social media.