With so many people taking a dive into freelance waters nowadays, you may be wondering if it’s a good idea to follow suit. As a designer, you’re in luck, because there are ample opportunities for both full-time and freelance roles. Most freelance designers choose to go freelance because of more freedom, higher rates, a larger scope of work, the ability to work with diverse clients and much more.
But how do you actually make it as a freelance designer? Here are a few bits of advice to have in mind, for experienced freelance designers and those just about to take this next step in their careers.
Have a stellar portfolio
There’s a large number of factors that come into play when a client is choosing their new freelance designer. The price, availability, recommendations, and most of all, a solid portfolio. You could (and most definitely should) use websites such as Behance or Dribbble.
However, having your own website is an even better idea. First, you get to work on your own branding and identity – there’s a unique chance to show off some more design skills. Second, you decide how to display and sort your work. Finally, you can do a little bit of marketing as well and work on your blog, do some SEO, run some ads to your site and much more. Basically, you’re in charge of your online presence.
Always look for more clients
You probably already know that as a freelancer, work comes and goes. There are times when you’re overloaded and have plenty on your plate. Then there are times when a month goes by without work. Naturally, you’re more in client-hunting mode when work is low. However, you should always be on the lookout for more clients.
Even when you’re overloaded with work, you can still benefit from a new client. The way to move forward is to always get new clients that pay more. The principle is simple:
- Find a new client and charge them more than your current highest paying client
- Fire your lowest-paying client
- Rinse and repeat to increase your rates
By staying in prospecting mode at all times, you ensure two things. One, you’ll never run out of clients. Two, you’ll find clients that pay more. It’s a good idea to set aside an hour every day for prospecting and looking for new clients, no matter how much other work you have on your plate. There are freelance platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr and a variety of remote job boards to find new work – it’s all about persistence.
Equip yourself with the right set of tools
As a salaried employer, your role as a designer is fairly simple. Your boss gives you a task and a deadline and you have to finish it in time. On the other hand, as a freelancer, you’re in charge of your entire workflow and some extra. You can either outsource this work to a virtual assistant or do it all on your own, using a variety of tools.
First of all, you will need some sort of an app for project management to stay in the loop with what you have to do. There are plenty of them available on the market, such as Trello, Infinity and others. Pick something simple so you don’t have to spend lots of time adapting.
Speaking of time, if you’re charging by the hour, you need an app to track your time as you work. Solutions such as Toggl, PomoDone, Harvest, and others allow you to track time for your tasks and export it to other apps so you can accurately bill clients.
When it comes to clients, winning new ones can be a challenge. Besides being present on freelancing platforms, you can (and should) try pitching clients on your own. You will have to send out quite a few business proposals, so I recommend using a service such as Better Proposals.
Finally, you will need to manage your finances. Depending on your country and its regulations, there will be different obstacles in your way, so you need a tool such as Xero to help keep your books.
Don’t just jump into it
As prepared as you feel, you shouldn’t quit your day job and immediately go freelance full time, don’t rush and take your time. Your income will be inconsistent, especially at the very beginning, so try to find a side gig or two next to your full-time job first. Once you feel that you can make a living with the clients you have on the side, only then can you quit your job and turn to freelance work.
In other words, make sure that you know how to pitch and close new clients besides your knowledge of design. Moreover, make sure to have a significant savings fund before starting your freelance career. You never know what tomorrow may bring, so prepare a safety net to rely on.
Specialize and find a niche
It’s an age-old question – should you be a generalist jack of all trades or specialize in a niche? While there are plenty of debates on this question, it’s generally better to niche down and become a master in a specific design field.
If you go the generalist route, you will never know what tomorrow brings. Website design, flyers, social media graphics, logos, restaurant menus… You’ll have to do it all. Moreover, everyone in the world will be a potential client, so finding new business may be a chore.
As a specialist, you only do a certain kind of work for a certain kind of client. For example, you can focus on social media graphics for B2C brands. If you position yourself in this way, you will find fewer clients, but you will have an easier time pitching to them and winning new business. What’s more important, you will be able to charge more as an expert in your field.
Get testimonials for each completed job
Social proof is one of the most powerful marketing tactics for getting new clients. Besides a strong portfolio, having a short testimonial from the client for each job well done will increase your chances of getting new clients. You can display testimonials on your social media profiles, your website, in your proposals as you pitch new clients and many other places.
Here’s the thing: most clients will happily give you a testimonial, but they will never think of it on their own. Unless you ask for a testimonial, you’ll never get one. Therefore, make it a part of your standard operating procedure to ask for testimonials every time you finish off a project.
Becoming a freelance designer can be a scary thought, especially if you’re transitioning from a full-time job. However, the benefits of this career path brings are numerous. You’ll have more freedom, earn more, enjoy the ability to choose your clients and most of all, have the pleasure of being your own boss.
You can use some of these bits of advice here in launching your own freelance designer career. Best of luck in your future work endeavours!
Adam Hempenstall is the CEO and Founder of Better Proposals, simple proposal software for creating beautiful, high-impact proposals in minutes. Having helped his customers at Better Proposals win $120,000,000+ in one year only, he has launched the first Proposal Writing University where he shares business proposal best practices. He’s also a goalkeeper and huge fan of music festivals.