Articles - 22nd May 2020

How to find well paid work as a designer

Words by Elizabeth Bennett
Illustration by Jon McCormack

Balancing creativity with commerce is a tricky line to tread for those freelancers who work in design. Making a career out of something you love is a covetable feat, but finding those lucrative jobs isn’t always easy. So I chatted with some designers about how they secure well-paid commissions.


Trust in word of mouth

Across the board, personal recommendations was where the designers I spoke to had most success with finding money-making clients. “High paying clients are looking for high quality work, as well as someone they can communicate well with and trust with their brand. Many clients would rather hire someone recommended instead of risking working with someone unknown,” Molly Maine, a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, told me.

To a certain extent, relying on word of mouth is out of your hands but there are a couple of tactics to boost your chances of work coming your way.  “I always try to maintain good relationships with my clients and ask for testimonials at the end of the job. In the past I have also offered referral discounts for clients who pass on my details,” Molly suggests.


Use your network

Rob Dicken, founder of Strike Three, suggests thinking local first and foremost: “Concentrate on businesses and studios in your local area if possible, because that will make you stand out. Pop your head in the door at new businesses near you.”

Beyond that, it’s all about making the most of your immediate network. “If each of your family members or close circle of acquaintances keeps an ear out, you never know what might come in,” he added.  Remember to notify people when you are available for work; a friendly follow up email to past clients or employers pushes you to the front of someone’s inbox (and mind).


Strengthen relationships IRL

While keeping in touch over email or via social media is good in the interim, meeting in person can boost those professional relationships even further. “If I am in the same city as one of my clients I always make an effort to arrange a coffee meeting. I find that meeting people face-to-face can really strengthen a relationship,” Molly said.

Plus, networking doesn’t always have to mean cheap wine and awkward name badges. “It can include a few drinks at the pub with a friend of a friend or working at a co-working space and getting to know the person opposite your desk,” Sean Muntaner, founder of Palma Bay Creative, pointed out.

Of course, in-person meetings and networking aren’t feasible during the current climate, but scheduling a Zoom catch-up versus an email back and forth is worth your while when trying to build or cement professional relationships. In a similar vein, once social distancing measures have eased, it will be a great opportunity to reach out to clients and suggest a meet up.


Utilize recruitment agencies

If you’re looking for a regular freelance contract, recruitment agencies are often your best bet.

“If you are looking for long-term contracts then recruiters have got me my best-paying clients. Whilst some can be tough to work with, there are lots out there that can really help you find these contracts,” Sean said. Find the recruitment agencies working in your design niche and send them your portfolio for consideration.


Don’t let social media swallow your time

Social media can easily become a full-time job and one that shows little financial rewards up front. “If you’re looking to gain followers it takes time and knowing algorithms to make the most out of your posts. When, what, what time and how often are big factors in posting,” Russell Daniels-Lake, a multidisciplinary designer, commented. Having a presence is key for anyone in a creative field striking out on their own but using these platforms strategically is key.

Industry specific Facebook groups like Creative Networking, Freelance Heroes, and Freelancers UK can be a great place for finding new clients, pitching for work and checking out your competition. While Linkedin might not seem the obvious spot for sourcing creative work, it shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s a great place to network with a wide range of industries, and corporate places with big budgets. “After referrals, Linkedin is where my best paying clients come from,” Bhavini Lakhani, founder of B81 Designs, noted.


Approach marketplaces with caution

The designers I spoke to were wary of using freelance marketplaces where you bid for work. “I tried to use Fiverr when I first started freelancing but I quickly realised that it was pretty much a race to the bottom kind of place. I found that If I wanted to win any work I’d have to massively underprice myself,” Bhavini said. “The competition can be quite high, so you are often forced to push down your rates to compete with designers from countries such as India and the Philippines who are willing to work for less,” Molly concurred.

Molly suggests filtering jobs based on your niche and prioritising Western clients. “They are more likely to have a budget that matches my rates and are willing to pay a bit extra for someone with fluent English, as well as a cultural knowledge and understanding of the design aesthetic and current trends in their country,” she said.


Know your worth

Finally, avoid underselling yourself wherever possible. When work feels scarce – especially during the current climate – it can be tempting to cut your prices but sticking to your gun is key and will work in your favour in the long run. It’s always easier to negotiate before you start a new project rather than six months down the line. In the meantime, you could offer a one-off discount to attract new clients. “Instead of lowering your rates, add a new business discount or even a pandemic discount,” Russell suggested.

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