How Do I Become A Freelance Graphic Designer?

A seemingly easy and straightforward question to answer right?  But with approximately 286100 employed graphic designers across the globe and an estimated 143100 unemployed – each startup story is as unique as the designer.  Instead of just giving you my story, I decided to ask 100 graphic designers (employed, unemployed or freelance) how they would answer this question for you. Let’s face it, there are a lot of us out there in this wonderful but difficult field!

So how do you become a freelance graphic designer you wonder? 

  • Start with art related subjects in school (art, art history, web design).
  • Earn a degree in Graphic Design (if possible) from a reputable institution.
  • Complete Internships where possible. A Small start is still a start!
  • Create a high-quality compelling portfolio.
  • Stay Current even if that means after hour online studies.
  • Brand yourself and sell yourself.

Unfortunately, obtaining a degree is a costly step which is out of reach to many.  The average tuition and fees for a school year can range anywhere between $9,650 and $33,480 with an approximate employed income of only $27,950 per year.  Luckily with each passing year, new “self-help” platforms become available to all Graphic Designers at little or no cost.  Platforms available include:

  • Online Courses at a fraction of the price.
  • Free online software courses.
  • DIY tutorials on a variety of subjects.
  • YouTube Videos and Tutorials
  • Blogs  and much more

Create a striking design portfolio

Whether you’re a web designer, developer, graphic designer or illustrator creating your own portfolio is a great move.  Remember that your portfolio will speak on your behalf and answer questions whether you are in the room or not.  a Great Portfolio, be it online or in printed media, can in some circumstances cover the “no degree” gap, as a well-designed piece of artwork speaks for itself.  Be thoughtful about what you include as this step can make all the difference.

  • Do not overdo it:  Keep it clean and simple. Less is more and first impressions last. Show your best work first.
  • Include only your strongest pieces of work:  Successful projects with rave reviews and good results should be your first choice.  If you are unsure, ask friends, family or even strangers for an opinion.
  • Showcase Unique & Creative work:  Pieces that fall in with the latest trends shows that you are staying current.
  • Go with a Variety:  Include a wide variety such as print media and web design.
  • A number of pieces:  No less than 10 and no more than 20.  Once again, Less is more.
  • Keep to high quality and high resolution:  The standard and quality of your portfolio dictate the standard and quality that employers or clients will expect from your work.
  • Keep it interesting:  a possible employer does not have hours to spend on each submitted portfolio.  Make sure your profile is interesting enough to afford it that life-changing extra 5 minutes from a possible client.

Remember, your portfolio is your entry to a race! Make it strong, beautiful and interesting.  Update your portfolio yearly and never include anything past the 3-year mark.  A Design portfolio creates your “brand” and you want it to be consistent and clear.  Make sure all of the chosen pieces flow – color, angle and layout is key!  Building a portfolio can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. If you create a beautiful portfolio with unique projects that showcase your strengths, you will be well on your way to landing your first freelance client. A freelance graphic designer is only as unique as their work.

Potential employers want employees or freelance contractors that bring something new and fresh to the company.  A Few top tips to follow:

  • Never copy another designer’s work.  Not only is this unethical but building your reputation on the work of another, may cost you your client in the long run.  Being unable to recreate or match the quality of a portfolio project will brand you untruthful and can damage your brand beyond repair.
  • If you are a Print media designer looking for a different angle on an online portfolio, try taking pictures of your printed media to make it your “own”.  Time and effort shows.
  • Not all choices need to be paid for.  Adding personal projects to your portfolio shows initiative on your part.
  • Instead of saying what you do, say what you can do for them.
  • Give them an easy way to contact you.
  • Spell out the exact type of work you like to do, what kind of clients or companies you’d like to work for.
  • Describe your work style.

How to get your first clients as a freelance graphic designer:

Don’t be afraid to reach out to companies you would love to work with.  Always reach out with a personalized message instead of copying a template.  Always give your best in all you do no matter how small the project. Even the most well-known freelance graphic designers had to start somewhere.  I started by designing for a Real Estate agent as part of my Receptionist position. I know right! A start is a start – no matter how small!

Becoming a successful freelance graphic designer means becoming a successful, memorable, quality brand.  Aside from your portfolio invest in business cards, email signatures and stationary.  Sharing your brand is never a bad idea.  Remember – your own logo or branding showcases your skills.  Never work for free!  No matter what promises are made, design is your profession and you deserve to be paid for your service.

Is Freelance Graphic Design a good career Choice?

Whether graphic design is a good career choice for you is not up to me, or even entirely up to you.  Schooling and platforms can create skills but many designers do not have the natural ability which gives them a lesser chance of success in comparison with those who pick it up naturally.

This is not a career for everyone, inviting criticism every day.  Freelance Graphic designers will need:

  • a Thick skin: Do not take it personally.  Your favorite design style may not appeal to your new client, it’s nothing personal.
  • Great communication skills:  If you don’t understand, ask for clarification from the start.  Do not ask your client 20 questions after the brief.
  • Intelligence
  • Intuition
  • Creativity
  • Technical skills

Sometimes keeping your calm as a designer is an art form in itself.  Freelance Graphic designers will need to solve problems by meeting challenges set by a range of different clientele.  Design is a diverse field, and in many instances, it intertwines with many other areas such as art, business, marketing, psychology, software development, and more.

What skills do you need to be a Freelance Graphic designer?

  • Creativity:  This is the most important skill to have as a freelance graphic designer will need to come up with new ideas and innovative designs.  Visualisation is key!
  • Communication:  Client – Designer communication is very important.  No client is going to spoon feed you.  Make notes and listen with intent.
  • Typography:  Written language used in design needs to be visually appealing.
  • Adobe’s Creative apps:  Adobe illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop is a basic requirement in al design jobs.
  • Branding Knowledge:  To understand your client’s needs, you first need to understand the brand.

Graphic design is always rapidly changing.  Every day new techniques and styles are developed and the designer who gets stuck in the “past” will be left there.  Nothing will help you increase confidence and ability more than practice. I like to make a note whenever I see an advertisement, photograph, building or a person that influences my creative thinking.  Collect successful design pieces that you find at restaurants, malls, or anywhere you go.  Always be on the lookout for creative inspiration and take a look when you need some extra inspiration.

Some final advice from one freelance graphic designer to another –

Be brave, bold, and professional. Always keep the passion!  Call people; offer services, email businesses – go the extra mile. Becoming a successful freelance designer means having confidence that people will appreciate your skills. NEVER underestimate yourself.  Clients cannot believe in you and your brand if you do not believe in yourself.  You can become a successful freelance graphic designer.  Word of mouth is the most important tool you have – yes it can help you but also hurt you. Always treat your clients with the utmost respect.   Up to 80% of graphic design freelance work comes from word-of-mouth advertising. Doing well at a small job for someone can help open doors for you to do bigger, better things. Small steps lead to big dreams! Save for a rainy day, work with a plan and remember – the success of your business depends solely on you!

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