HOW TO GET STARTED AS A FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Graphic design is used by all types of businesses in some capacity to promote their products or services in an eye-catching way. Graphic Designers develop a brand identity and produce visually aesthetic 'assets'. Graphic design supports a businesses' marketing efforts and aids in attracting and retaining customers. Graphic Design skills are required in industries such as manufacturing, advertising, media, editorial, public relations and wholesale. How to get started as a freelance graphic designer is the real challenge. We're going to tell you how. 

How to get started as a freelance Graphic Designer

The process of building a graphic design portfolio takes careful consideration. Many new freelance designers like to show a range of logo and App icon design to letter-head and infographics. Knowing your brand and communicating that message is the first step.

Graphic Designers create visuals by first researching and developing concepts. Many designers start their portfolio during a course, university, personal projects or via work experience. What you choose to include in your portfolio (hardcopy, social media, online profiles, and website) will determine your brand and your value. 

Reaching out to an agency or applying for a fulltime role is a great way to learn the craft and gain security but for many, the allure of going freelance is too strong. There is something liberating about setting your own hours and having the opportunity to work with a selection of different clients on exciting and new projects. Graphic design also lends itself to remote work and the idea of packing a backpack with your laptop, camera, and phone to explore far-reaching lands whilst still working is extraordinarily appealing. 

freelance graphic designer

Set Short Term And Long Term Goals

When making the move into self-employment, it is vital that you are aware of your short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals may be as simple as landing your first job or perhaps it is securing a certain about of income each month. It may even be as simple as finishing your website or producing 2 new designs for your portfolio. Little wins provide us with a sense of progress and keep us moving forward. The early stages of freelancing can be frustrating without much work coming in so stay proactive and continue to build your brand.

Quick tip: When considering freelancing as a full-time career, ensure you've got at least 3 months of expenses in the bank. Alternatively, start planning your freelance brand around your full-time job and transition to part-time, if possible, until you eventually break through to a life of freelancing. 

Long-term goals should focus on building your freelance business professionally. It is advisable to develop a business plan in order to put your business on paper and analyse your greatest strengths against potential competitors.

To do it properly, a business plan should include a SWOT Analysis which will detail your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and a list of the cost of materials. Freelance graphic designers must have their own software and equipment which costs to download or install. It should also detail your marketing strategy, unique selling point (USP) and sales forecast.

Quick hack: if the thought of drafting up a business plan sounds as appealing as a cold shower on a winter’s morning, jot down your weekly expenses (rent, travel, marketing/advertising costs etc…) and how much you need to earn to break even. This rough figure will help you understand how many ‘chargeable hours’ you have to work to make the business profitable.

Learn About Potential Clients

As a freelance graphic designer, you will be in charge of finding and securing your own clients and therefore it is important to know which type of businesses require graphic design services. Before entering into the pool of freelancers, designers should question where their particular experience and skill set would be most required and rewarded.

For example, do you have experience creating visual communication in advertising and marketing? If so, the best option is to stick with this to start with and then branch out after becoming more established as a freelancer. Sometimes having a niche that you specialise in and have the potential to become an expert in can give you more of a competitive advantage and lead to a greater earning potential.

Other ways of specialising in one or a few areas could be by choosing to focus on a specific area of design such as logo design or multimedia design. A specialism will give you an edge over other freelancers applying for jobs in that area. 

Know The Software

Having appropriate editing programs and software is the most essential part to becoming a freelance graphic designer. Most designers are familiar with Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator but there are plenty more that clients will expect you to have good knowledge of. Other software popular amongst freelance graphic designers include:

  • Dreamweaver

  • Maya

  • SketchUp

  • Inkscape

  • CorelDraw

Short courses

As well as being adept at using a variety of design software, freelance designers must ensure that they are constantly updating their skillset and may want to invest in a short course, especially if you wish to hone in on a specialisation. Some of the graphic design short courses available in the UK are:

  • IT (Web Design)

  • Digital Graphic Design Fundamentals

  • Animation

  • Digital Textile Printing

  • Graphic Design for Advertising

  • CorelDraw Level 2

  • Excel Dashboards and Data Visualization

  • Introduction to Hand – drawn Type

  • Graphic Design for Businesses Essentials – Online

Check out FreelanceAcademy.com for some of these short courses.

Market Yourself

The most essential method in entering the freelance market is learning how to market yourself correctly. There are many ways you can go about promoting yourself and your work, both on and offline. Consider social media channels, local flyering, and networking events as a starting point.

Online Profiles & Jobs Boards

It is advisable to create a high quality, striking and clear online profile that acts as an extension of your design work.  Some of the most popular sites for graphic designers are:

  • Freelancer Club (obvs)      

  • Behance

  • 500px

Build A Website

Your website should look as good as your graphic design work. Website builders are good (see list below) but if you have got the money, hire a freelance web developer/designer to put something together for you. It's tempting as a graphic designer to want to design your site but it can be challenging. There are similarities between the two sectors but it's not a given that they are transferable for everyone. 

  • Wix

    Freelance Graphic Design website
  • Fabrik

  • FolioLink

  • Weebly

  • Viewbook

  • Squarespace

  • Porfoliobox

  • Cargo

  • Format

Network

Networking events are everywhere and sometimes it’s best to get your face out there to meet potential clients and collaborators. It can be wise to go to places that are targeted at likeminded people from the same or similar industries. Check out our list of networking events HERE.

For example, going to talks and discussions based on design or related subjects can be an excellent way to meet other designers, business owners and entrepreneurs. Exhibitions and art events based on design can also be a great way to meet the right people and network as well as learning more about the history and the current trends in graphic design.

Social Media

It goes without saying that the majority of creative freelancers have at least one social media account dedicated to showcasing and promoting their work. Instagram acts as an ideal way for any visual artists to display their work due to its crisp photography and ability to perfectly display thousands of your images.

However, social media isn’t only used to showcase work, it is also a great tool to use to network. Facebook has many groups dedicated to freelance graphic designers and other creatives who wish to expand their network and make more contacts. These groups are regularly posted on by members who wish to meet likeminded creatives and potential clients.

Work on a portfolio

When first starting out as a freelance graphic designer, it is vital to have something on your portfolio when trying to seek out clients, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be examples of commissioned work.

Clients are more interested in graphic designers with enough creativity and visualisation to create their own concepts and ideas. Therefore, it is advantageous to create a portfolio of work that you have completed by yourself for yourself.

Create and send pitches

Another great way of showcasing your graphic design skills, ideas and potential is to get into the habit of creating and sending pitches. As a freelancer, it is important to be constantly reading and researching new ideas and concepts and then putting them into practice.

Working as a freelance graphic designer comes with a fair amount of rejection and constructive criticism, by sending pitches you become accustomed to this and are therefore more prepared for the freelancer lifestyle.

Apply to graphic designer jobs

Summary

Working as a freelance graphic designer allows you to exercise your passion while working independently on a whole range of different projects, but it isn’t easy. The industry is highly competitive with new designers entering the freelance pool daily and it is vital to keep updated with the latest software and industry news. There are many elements to being a freelance graphic designer, all of them you must take on single handedly, which will mean having outstanding organisational skills as well as being able to achieve great work under pressure.

Freelancer Club is a great way to aid a career as a freelance graphic designer as it hosts an excellent selection of advice, networking event listings and of course, jobs!

Therefore, with enough determination and self-motivation, this career choice can be wonderful. It’s a job that takes plenty of dedication, talent, persistence and perseverance.

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