Graphic Design: Top 5 things you need to know before going freelance
“This post might include affiliate links because I need to pay my bills.”
In reality, graphic design is not that difficult to master, and many people have excelled in it.
There are usually two routes that people take when becoming a graphic designer. One is going to school and getting some sort of college degree for design or learning it online from home.
For me, it started as a hobby, a passion that I had. I learned and am still learning about design on a daily basis. Most of my knowledge comes from watching YouTube videos, Skillshare, reading design blogs and eBooks, and a ton of practice.
Sooner or later that hobby turned into a business, which brought a new set of troubles. I’m not much of a marketer or salesperson, and I don’t like to deal with paperwork. But here we are because I decided to go FREELANCE.
Before you even start you need to know what graphic design is and then learn the craft. You will also need to decide which type of design suits you best. There are multiple graphic design variations, from logo design, interior design, website design, pattern design, product packaging, stationery design, and so on.
It’s very lucrative to be a freelancer mostly because you are your own boss and create your own working hours. You’re the boss, your rules. Which also entails you need to hold yourself accountable to DO the work. It is on you to find clients, talk to them, do the job before the deadline, and get paid.
And when working from home you can easily mix your personal life with your professional life, especially if your office is in the same space as your living area.
I figure I’m not alone in this.
So, how do I manage everything and what are the top 5 things you need to know before you decide to go down this rabbit hole:
1. Become friends with bureaucracy (it really doesn’t bite “much”)
Becoming self-employed entails, you are starting a business on your own. Freelancing is just as much about the business side of it as it is about design.
Before you decide to go freelance research basic laws of owning a business and what type of business can you register under. What type of taxes will be relevant for your business and what type of permits you’ll need. It is also highly important to keep your books in order. Set up a financial bookkeeping system that works for you and complies with the local filing laws.
Don’t forget to plan ahead and don’t spend everything you earn. Make plans for the rainy days and also for retirement.
2. Start branding yourself and building that portfolio
Some say you need to build your portfolio before you start searching for clients, but I say you’ll build your portfolio along the way. It will grow through time.
When you’re just starting out, it is better to work on your personal branding than creating new projects. The focal point should be a great readable website, strong logo, and branded merchandise.
If you wish to get clients, you need to establish a strong online presence. Which you can achieve through a strong website design that features your most recent work and your best work. Make sure all your contact information is clearly visible to the visitor.
You don’t really need to have a logo, but it gives your brand a nice touch and a professional look to it.
Ad your personal touch to your stationery as well, which includes your business emails, invoices, etc.
3. Find clients that are worthy of your services
Meaning, clients that will pay you accordingly. As a company, you get business when you find clients that will pay you correctly and on time. Those worthy clients can also turn into marketers that will expand your contact list.
Finding good clients is the first thing your business needs because if you don’t have clients, you don’t have a business.
Some say you need to focus on building your portfolio first, I say start searching for clients first and your portfolio will grow. With your first clients, you’ll grow your confidence and experience in freelance.
First potential clients are almost always around you. Your family, friends, people you know. From there you can branch out to freelance job sites, such as freelancer, Upwork, Fiverr, etc.
4. Make sure you get paid for your work
It is nice when you have clients and it’s even nicer when they pay you on time and in full. But it’s not always the case. So, you need to be prepared and protect yourself first.
As your clients have a need you provide the solution. It is an intellectual exchange between a seller and a buyer.
My point being, NEVER work for FREE. You can offer freebies but never do a complete job for free or for exposure. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills and the time you’ve already spent working on the project.
A contract is important, even if you’re just doing commissions, still you need to have a contract in place to protect yourself and the buyer. To get that win-win situation.
The contract should include your work process in detail, so both parties know what to expect. You’ll need to state the number of revisions you’re willing to do on a certain project (I mostly do 3). You also need to make sure that your contract protects your intellectual property rights, such as what is the client allowed to do with the product and what not (if they can use it personally, commercially, change it in any shape or form, sell it, use attribution …).
In the contract you also need to specify the payment process, how much, when, and how. I usually do a 50/50 split. This way I am partially protected and not working for free. If you’re going to charge hourly or by the project is up to you. Before you set the price you need to crunch the numbers.
What is incorporated in the price: working hours, electricity, water, wi-fi, lunch, … When you work from home you don’t only spend your time, but also your electricity, internet, equipment, programs with subscriptions, and you need to put that into consideration as well. Not to forget taxes.
5. Learn how to balance your work and personal life
Separating work from personal life is easy when you leave your house to go to work. You get ready, put on an outfit, make-up, and off you go.
But working from home that is not the case. Most of the time you don’t have to leave the room. Everything is there. Your office space, your bed, your kitchen, etc. Nobody is watching you, so you don’t have to dress up or even brush your hair. So, it’s harder to tell apart when you’re working and when you’re not.
To not get confused you need to set your limits. Create a schedule with working hours. If you have the possibility of putting your office in a room where you don’t spend most of your time do it. But if that is not possible, creating some sort of a barrier between your home and your office would be nice.
Freelance design work or any home-based work can extend from set hours and invade your personal time. Make sure you keep yourself in check and set boundaries, when you’re working, you’re working. When work hours are over, step away from your desk.
Which brings me to a valid point, when you’re in your working hours, make sure you’re actually working and not dealing with personal matters. If you live alone that is easily doable, it gets tougher when you live with your family or your partner. Let them know, “I may be at home but I’m at work, so don’t disturb me unless it’s a life or death situation.”
We could write a lot more about being a freelancer, but I feel these are the top 5 things you need to be aware of before you embark on that lucrative freelance graphic designer path.
It is not all fun and roses.
There is also one more thing you need to be prepared to. Your paychecks are not steady every month and not the same. Some months you’ll have so much work you’ll think you’re drowning and some months you won’t have any jobs lined up.
This is why you need to be prepared for the rainy days and relying only on one income stream is not realistic. As you grow your business also be sure to branch out and create multiple income streams.