Breaking Into Freelance Graphic Design

There are many reasons people do freelance work, whether you’re in between jobs, need to make ends meet and pay bills, just graduated school, or haven’t secured your target job yet—you need money coming in to stay afloat. Or you’re a creative that just needs to get an extra client on the side. We’ve all been there before. 

Becoming a freelancer, whether full-time or as a side gig can fall on a large spectrum ranging from terrifying to empowering. It is not an easy path to walk but it has the potential to be an incredibly liberating journey. In this blog, we’ll go over where to begin in creative freelancing, how to sustain yourself as a freelancer, and how to maintain your emotional and mental well-being as a freelancer. 

Where to Begin

So you want to break into freelance graphic design? First and foremost, freelancing is like starting your own business, which is just as important as the creative side—and businesses have their own set of trials and tribulations: paperwork, taxes, accounting, etc. Not having a handle on those things will be detrimental to your business, and will lead to costly mistakes. (Should we provide some resources here? Or just prompt the audience to look on their own?)

One of the first things you want to think about in freelance creative work like graphic design is who you want your audience to be. This is what your portfolio(s) should be centered around. If you’re pitching your services to work on children’s books, your portfolio should reflect that kind of work. Graphics and brand logos? Your portfolio should reflect that as well. This is how you’ll attract the kind of clients you want. There are many ways you can market yourself to potential clients—and not just portfolios in the traditional sense, especially since we’re in the age of social media.

Social media will be one of the most powerful and useful marketing tools in your arsenal—and these days companies take the scale of your social media following and influence into consideration when commissioning or onboarding new employees to their team. Posting regularly on social media helps your business brand grow while simultaneously accumulating an audience and showcasing your work to potential clients.

Ethics in freelance is something every freelancer should keep in mind. We recommend The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines for every freelancer, novice or advanced. It’s an excellent resource to guide creatives through the world of pricing, invoices, and protecting your creative intellectual property to keep growing your freelance business. 

How to sustain yourself as a freelancer

Now, after you’ve worked out who your target audience is and you’ve figured out how to brand yourself in a way that attracts the kind of clients you want—we have to address the inevitable “dry spells” or lulls in work/projects you’ll face in freelance. Lulls are something every freelancer experiences. The beginning of the year could be filled out with back-to-back projects for you to work on, and then you’re hit with little to no incoming work once the influx winds down. This happens. How you handle those lulls will determine your longevity as a freelancer.

Take advantage of the break these lulls give you—brush up on some skills or learn some new ones that will benefit your business and increase your prices. Sites like LinkedIn Learning, YouTube, Coursera, and SkillShare teach specialized skills in specific industries that could prove useful in your own business model. Some people view these hiatuses in their work as vacation, or a break to recoup after a load of consistent work as well. Resting is just as productive as actively working as it benefits your ability to create work you’re proud of. 

Your Mental and emotional well-being in freelancing

The workforce as we know it has transformed dramatically since the pandemic, more and more people are searching for remote work and starting their own businesses. It was and still is, a stressful time to be looking for any kind of work right now. That’s why having a group of peers in the same field as you as a freelancer is crucial—to have a community to fall back on when things prove a little too difficult. Being able to talk about how others are pricing their rates can inform whether you’re lowballing yourself or not. Trading stories on what freelancing has been like for them, learning what you should and shouldn’t avoid with certain clients, and having other people to bounce ideas off of are all reasons why you should build community beyond clients in your work. 

As a freelancer, you’re constantly marketing yourself, whether on social media platforms, web portfolios, or blogs or in front of prospective clients; and at some point, you may be working on more than one project at a time. Without proper time management and support systems you could burn out—and no one wants that. Establish your own personal limit, how many times a week you’ll post, how many projects you can take on at a time, how many meetings you can attend in a day—lay it all out to use as a reference. This is a difficult thing for most freelancers out there, especially when you start to gain momentum in your business—but setting limits allow you to give each project the attention it deserves, and allows you to be more flexible in your work in the long run.

Setting limits for yourself as a freelancer also allows you to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Believe it or not, it is okay, if even encouraged for people to maintain a social life outside of work. Building and maintaining a business is hard work, but so is keeping up with personal relationships. Both take effort. So don’t forget your life outside of freelancing!

That’s all folks! We hope this blog proves useful in your journey to becoming a creative freelancer. If you would like more content like this, please check out the rest of the blog and our Instagram @designexplorr. Thanks for reading.

Tahlia Gaulding

Tahlia Gaulding is an editorial intern here at DesignExplorr, and set to graduate from Cleveland State University this December with a BS in English-Creative Writing. Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio; she writes poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Post-graduation she wants to work in the book publishing industry as a developmental editor.

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