Articles - 18th January 2019

Launching your career as a Freelance Graphic Designer – where do you even begin?

Words by Holly Patrick
Illustration by Jon McCormack

Leaving your desk job for the free reign of a freelance graphic design career is the dream for many – but without any direction it’s difficult to get started. Switching from a 9-5 to self-employment can be tricky, and learning to manage your own projects can be daunting.

So, without further ado, here are some tips on how to get your foot in freelancing’s door – with a little advice from those who’ve been in your shoes.

Gather contacts

First of all, having a contacts book is essential for any freelance designer. They’re the ones you can turn to when you’re at a loose end, so it’s important to establish a solid list. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out to people – be brave and confident in your abilities.

“My contacts are from networking groups, cold calls, referrals and word of mouth” says Adam Garlinger, a freelance designer who works in branding and identity. “I try and open the relationship through casual conversation and give them advice on their site, building interest, and opening their eyes.”

Without a doubt, your contacts are one of the most critical things to have during your freelance career. Even if you don’t work directly for them, they may be able to refer you to your next job, so it’s important to maintain warm relationships.

Establish where you’d like to work

Freelancing doesn’t necessarily mean flitting between your home office and cafes every week – it can take many forms. Although many designers choose this path for flexibility and autonomy, these perks aren’t exclusive to working from home.

I know people who’ve been freelance at studios for years” says Simon Young, a designer at TM Studio. “There’s still freedom to chop and change and you don’t have to stay fixed anywhere at one point, but you have less time to bond with different studios if you’re changing all the time.”

Build your portfolio

Like many other industries, building up a portfolio of your work to show to potential clients is invaluable. Whether it consists of work you’ve done on your own or work for customers, it’s the shop window into your talents.

Although we’d all love to get paid from the moment we start designing, working for free is unfortunately a rite of passage. But, that doesn’t mean you should go without an income. Free projects can seem tedious, but they allow you to build a personal brand and establish the kind of work you’d like to do in the future.

Of course we’d all like to start getting money for our dream projects from the get-go, but in reality anything that pays the bills is sometimes all we get.

However, working for exposure can be dangerous. There’s a fine line between the need to put yourself out there and the need to get an income.

Thad Cox, a branding and marketing specialist, explains that sometimes working for free is the best thing you can do to get a head start in the industry.

“Work for free to do the work you want to be hired for” he says. “Showcase only that to build your brand, whilst not being afraid to take on less glamorous work to pay the bills.”

Set up social media accounts and a website

The world revolves around social media these days – so take advantage and start creating profiles for your work. Set up a LinkedIn page and an Instagram displaying your work, and don’t forget to add your contact details. Instagram now has the option to create a business profile, with opportunities to promote your posts and gain valuable insights on your work.

Going one step further, an attractive website is a good start – after all, you are a designer. But, you don’t have to spend a lot on a shiny webpage for it to look good. From GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, WordPress to Tumblr (to name but a few), it’s up to you which platform you choose and most come with a reasonable price tag.

Getting paid

It’s the stuff of every freelancer’s nightmares, but learning how to create invoices and contracts, as well as getting paid on time, is a hard balance to strike. It goes without saying, but making sure you’re paid adequately and on time should be a huge priority for you. Also, make sure you set up a professional invoice template with your contact information, exactly how much you’re charging, your bank details and a deadline for payment.

In my first freelance job, I had to ask the studio how much to charge”, explains Simon. “But, the more you do it, the more experience you have handling people as clients and meeting expectations.”

Be careful not to undersell yourself. “When I was freelancing, I was underestimating how much I was worth” says Simon, “be confident in what you charge and what you can deliver.”

Whatever your reason for freelancing, it’s not a hobby, it’s a job – make sure your client knows that.

Looking after yourself

Perhaps most importantly, don’t compare yourself to other designers out there. Everyone starts out with different projects, at different times and for many different clients. Freelancing can be unpredictable at the best of times, but one thing you should keep as a constant is your wellbeing.

Maintaining a good exercise routine and healthy diet is easier said than done, but your health goes hand in hand with your productivity.

Ultimately, it’s your call how you choose to establish your career. There’s no right or wrong way to set out as a freelance graphic designer, but these tips will make sure you’re well on your way.

 “It’s not about talent, but rather a combination of patience, tenacity and consistency” says Thad. “As they say, it’s a marathon not a sprint and comparison is the thief of joy.”

Some useful websites

To help you on your way, here are some useful links to follow:

We champion the freelancers and every entrepreneur who took a leap of faith with their idea.

If this sounds like you, head over to our Virtual Office and send us your best work via an UnderPinned Portfolio. We want to hear from you!

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