When pursuing a career in graphic design two main paths come to mind: 1. Working full-time as a graphic designer at a company or creative agency, or 2. Working as an independent contractor, also known as a freelancer. Each path has its pros and cons but in this article, we will focus on what it is like to work as a freelance graphic designer and if you should freelance graphic design.
To work as and become a successful freelance graphic designer you must be able to manage your time effectively, have great communication skills, market yourself to clients, and also be financially responsible to manage your business’s finances.
While all of this may sound a bit scary, as someone who recently decided to become a freelance designer. I will walk you through everything I’ve learned so far and what I wish I knew before starting my own freelance graphic design business.
Can You Freelance As a Graphic Designer?
First, let’s talk about if it is even possible to freelance as a graphic designer. The answer is YES, you can and it would seem that there are a lot of graphic designers who choose this career path for many reasons. In April of 2022, Zippia conducted research using a database of 30 million profiles. They estimate that there are over 120,000 freelance designers currently employed in the United States alone. Imagine the rest of the world! Becoming a freelance graphic designer essentially makes you your boss and with that can come flexibility, unlimited earning potential, and the ability to work on a variety of projects.
Is It Hard To Become A Freelance Graphic Designer?
Becoming a freelance graphic designer is very easy. It can be as simple as coming up with a name for yourself and finding some client projects to get the wheels rolling. However, I genuinely believe that becoming a freelance graphic designer will require some personal reflection to understand if you are ready to make the leap. While I’ve listed some of the pros of becoming a freelance graphic designer above. It also has cons that can include an inconsistent flow of work, a lack of health and security benefits, and the potential to interfere with balancing your work life and your personal life. But fear note, I am going to give you all the lessons I’ve learned so far and what I wish I knew before starting my freelance business in the rest of this article.
Are You Comfortable Wearing Multiple Hats
As a freelance graphic designer, you are now more than just a graphic designer. You are now the boss, the marketer, the project manager, the accountant, and more. Being a freelance graphic designer comes with other responsibilities besides completing the work you are assigned by your clients and being comfortable with this is a big part of becoming a freelance graphic designer. When I first began my freelance graphic design journey, these were all responsibilities I had very little insight into. I had only experienced these responsibilities previously while in full-time roles for companies and agencies. And while that didn’t mean I couldn’t learn them quickly, it took me some time to understand that my job as a freelance graphic designer had expanded. Understanding this concept before becoming a freelance graphic designer is helpful because it allows you to ask yourself if you are ready to handle more than just one responsibility. While becoming a freelance graphic designer can be simple on the surface, it does require mental strength and the ability to learn new skills on the fly. If you are willing to welcome new learning experiences and understand at times that things can be a little uncomfortable then becoming a freelance graphic designer can be a very enjoyable process as it will allow you to grow in so many ways.
Managing Your Time Is Key
When becoming a freelance graphic designer you can make the decisions you want, create the work you enjoy, and spend your time how you would like. However, if you are not mindful, your time can be spent on tasks that don’t advance your freelance graphic design business forward. When I first decided to become a freelance graphic designer, I thought my work days would be filled with creating work for clients. I learned very quickly that was not the case. As a freelance graphic designer, your work days will slowly become filled with more tasks and responsibilities outside of actually creating work for your clients. For example, when you’re starting, you don’t have any clients. So you now have to spend time finding clients to work with. Once you find those clients, there is the potential situation where that client project or campaign may only take a few weeks. Once the project ends you then enter back into a cycle of finding clients to work with before doing the work. An alternative to this would be to spend part of your day, creating for clients and part of your working day finding new clients to work with. This is just one of the many responsibilities you will have when becoming a freelance graphic designer. In addition to finding new clients, you will also be required to meet with clients to discuss project goals and objectives which we will talk about next.
The More Communication The Better
Being a freelance graphic designer will require more than just sending a few emails. In part, becoming a freelance graphic designer is becoming the head of a small agency or design company. You need to make your clients feel confident to ensure they know you can complete the project without any problems. This usually takes shape in the form of many conversations and meetings. Whenever I am working with new clients I schedule daily meetings and weekly check-ins to not only review work but review goals and go over any new information that may come from the client’s team. Meetings can take anywhere from 1-4 hours of your day. Of course, this is something that I do when working with clients and that can vary with how you would like to work but at the very minimum you can expect to be in some form of meetings with your clients. Of course, you have to ask yourself if this is something you are ready for and comfortable with. There are many ways to go about conducting your freelance graphic design business but I have found that communication is key in any successful business relationship and will help keep things running smoothly with your clients.
Know How To Market Yourself to Clients
Now that we have discussed how great communication can help lead to success with your clients as a freelance graphic designer. Let’s talk a little bit about marketing. Marketing as discussed briefly above is the process of selling your work and services to new clients so that you can bring in income as a freelance graphic designer. Your day cannot be filled with creating work for clients of course if you don’t have any. This is where marketing comes in handy. Now I’m not saying you have to be an expert marketer, and by no means am I. However, the skills that I have learned about marketing have helped me reach and bring on more clients to work with. A few marketing skills that can be valuable for a freelance graphic designer to know are, being able to identify your ideal client, understanding the problems they may have, and being able to articulate why your services can solve those problems. Combining these three marketing skills with your design portfolio should grant you the ability to effectively bring on new clients as a freelance graphic designer.
Your Work Environment Matters
When you are a freelance graphic designer you can work from anywhere you want. You can work from home in your pajamas, from your favorite cafe, or even on the beach in a remote location. This is one of the things I love the most about being a freelance graphic designer. However, for me, my work environment is one of the most important elements. At the time of writing this article, I am currently working from Spain. And while it can be beautiful at times, that is not always the case. I have to make sure I have a reliable internet connection to connect with my clients and complete the projects we’ve agreed to. I have also found that for me, having a decent amount of space to move around and feel safe leaving my things is important for me to be the most productive freelance graphic designer I can be. This may not be the same for you, but understanding what work environments work best for you is very important. I have found that while I am traveling and working, it is worth buying a weekly or monthly pass to a local coworking office in the area. Coworking spaces will be equipped with high-speed internet, plenty of outlets for charging, and private meeting rooms available to book if you need a little privacy for a meeting.
Work Can Be Inconsistent
As we discussed above that your time as a freelance graphic designer can sometimes be dedicated to finding new clients to work with. That can also mean that sometimes you may not have the next project lined up as another project is ending. This ties in with managing your time responsibly so that you don’t end up with long periods without work. Of course, as a freelance graphic designer, when you don’t work that also means you’re not getting paid. Ensuring you have a steady flow of clients and projects will ensure you have more runway to continue enjoying being a freelance graphic designer so you can work towards any goals you may have.
Less Security And Perks
You may be familiar with the concept that when you work in a full-time role for a company you are provided with benefits such as healthcare, retirement options, and more. As a freelance graphic designer, this is not the case. You are responsible for all of these benefits that other full-time roles may provide you. This was one of the biggest concerns I had when deciding to become a freelance graphic designer. To overcome this, I took the time to evaluate my finances, health, and life goals to better understand what it was that I needed in the immediate future versus what I would like to have long-term. Before becoming a freelance graphic designer, I worked full-time in several roles at companies that allowed me to save and prepare for the freelance graphic design journey. This took time and a lot of patience and I worked in full-time roles for about 8 years before actually becoming a freelance graphic designer. I am glad I took that time to do so because not only did it help teach me how to run a successful freelance design business but also to find alternative solutions to things like healthcare and preparing for retirement. If you would like to learn more about preparing for things like retirement and better understanding your financial situation, feel free to drop me a DM on Instagram here.
Becoming Financially Responsible
Becoming a freelance graphic designer involves understanding and managing your freelance graphic design business’s finances. This involves pricing your work correctly, invoicing clients, setting up business accounts, and organizing your finances for tax purposes later on. These were all things that I learned during the first few weeks of becoming a freelance graphic designer. Something that I hear a lot from other freelance graphic designers is that they get themselves into trouble when it comes time to sort out their taxes. Taking responsibility and ensuring you set up the correct business accounts to accept payments from your clients will help you in the long run by avoiding any confusion when it comes to the big bad tax office. Additionally, pricing your work correctly to ensure you are compensated for your time in a way that is profitable and makes sense for you is also very important. You want to be able to produce work efficiently while also taking into account any costs and expenses you have. These can be things like the rent for your office space, software purchases, travel, etc. You will also have to make sure you are communicating with your clients when payment is due and keeping track of all the invoices you send when work is completed. I have learned from working with many clients that anything involving payments can sometimes be passed off to another part of their company or office. This can potentially lead to getting lost in someone’s inbox or never making it to the right person in the first place. As a freelance graphic designer, you will have to keep this in mind and make sure to remind your clients often when payment is due or late. If you are ready to get started as a freelance graphic designer and looking for a way to keep track of all your clients, projects, and invoices, then check out Business CC. A custom-built Notion workspace that I created for my own freelance graphic design business. With Business CC I am able to easily manage all parts of my freelance graphic design business. This includes tracking all of the client invoices I send out because it comes with automated formulas that let you know when an invoice is overdue. Business CC helped me turn my disorganized freelance graphic design process into a real functioning business. Business CC is only $39 but you can use the discount code “FIRST50” for an exclusive 50% off discount for the first 50 readers of this Wellfed article using this link here.
Balance Is Everything
Being your boss, making your own decisions, and working from where you want, are all great benefits of becoming a freelance graphic designer. As with many things in life it all comes down to balance. Balance is key when you are a freelance graphic designer. Knowing when your work starts and when it ends has been very hard for me to learn at the beginning. There is always that thought that you need to work all hours of the day to be successful. That you need to be constantly thinking of your work and your freelance graphic design business. But that can lead you down a dark path causing you to burn yourself out. One of the many joys of becoming a freelance graphic designer is being able to give yourself the work/life balance that you have always wanted. Being able to spend your time with friends and family or doing the things you have always wanted to do outside of freelance graphic design.
If you are looking to start your freelance graphic design journey but are unsure how consider signing up for a free 30-minute 1-on-1 review with me over zoom. Also don’t forget to check out Business CC to help manage, track, and grow your freelance design business. You can use my exclusive discount code “FIRST50” for 50% off for the first 50 readers of this article. As always, you can also find me on TikTok and on Instagram for any other questions you may have. See you in the next article!