Maybe to you, the idea of a nine-to-five job sounds dreadful, or maybe you don’t want to work in a stuffy office all day. I certainly can’t blame you. Sure, becoming a freelance graphic designer is attractive – you set your hours, pick and choose projects, and, to a certain extent, charge what you want for your work. It sounds like the perfect life, right?
Well, I’m here to share that full-time freelancing isn’t without its challenges, however, and many young professional designers jump the gun before realizing what lies ahead. The silver lining is that it doesn’t have to be an uphill battle, so long as you prepare yourself and understand the following 10 tips:
1. Be a jack of all trades
So you’re pretty good at Illustrator or Sketch, huh? Those skills got you through your last job; however, now you need some serious diversity in your new career. Being good at more than just Photoshop and Illustrator will help you open windows of opportunity compared to your old work.
Now, you don’t have to go back to college to learn these skills; there are plenty of online courses, tutorials, and blogs like this one that can get you started with some basics. Remember, being a jack of all trades doesn’t mean you have to be a master at all of them.
2. Become a master at one (at least)
Those design skills you think you have perfected? Could you continue to make them better? After you’ve done that, make them the best. Having multiple skills in your arsenal ropes clients in; however, becoming a master of at least one art keeps them coming back. Strive to become good enough, and word-of-mouth advertising will take care of you.
3. Learn to embrace selling
Word of mouth aside, you still need to sell your abilities to people who do not know you. It isn’t easy as a freelance graphic designer to work on building some sales skills. Many of us, myself included, cringe at the idea of being a salesperson. However, the way to freelance graphic designer success is to tell clients or would-be clients why they should hire you.
4. It isn’t easy money
If an unsteady income is a deal-breaker, back to the day job you should go. There will be months where freelancing pays out big time, and there will be others where it’s downright brutal, and you’ll need to have set aside some food money. A constant paycheck is not guaranteed; however, there are a few ways to ease the blowback.
Work more than you think is necessary—your old notion of the 40-hour workweek left with that two-week notice you gave to HR. Just because you’re working for yourself doesn’t mean you aren’t working longer and harder. Save more than you might from a regular paycheck. Slower months won’t induce as much panic and desperation if you prepare for them.
5. Learn to say no
It’s OK to say “no” to a client. If a project is so complex or a client so demanding that the time is not worth the price tag, walk away. When you are a freelance graphic designer, your time is everything.
Sinking into a project’s black hole robs you of other opportunities to earn income and create relationships with new clients. Some days you will be asked if you offer IT support, and other days you may be asked to help design signage on a plane. Always stick to what you are most comfortable at.
6. Have five projects that you’re super proud of
Before you even think about freelancing full time, you should have five pieces of work you’re proud to show off. These can be from a college or your last job; however, you’ll need that portfolio to prove your worth to potential clients.
If you have nothing to show for your skills, offer some small pro bono work to build up your history. Not only are you getting the experience necessary, however, the client could be so happy with what you’ve made, but he’ll also pay cash next time.
7. Remove your ego
In the end, as a freelance graphic designer, you still work for the client. That chip on your shoulder won’t keep you in business any more than the inability to pass on bad work. You’ll still have to take on projects that are less than ideal; however, I promise you, they do lead to good things.
Many clients will offer young freelancers “test projects” to see what they’ve got. Do not pass on these. Before saying “no” to a time-consuming project, know what follows. Even if that first project is agonizing, it’s worth it if that trial period is followed up by good, steady work.
8. Be decisive
Freelance work relies heavily on your ability to communicate with the customer. This is not for everyone, and many designers prefer the separation from customer service that employment with an agency offers.
If you’re going to freelance, you need to know how to deal with the inevitable questioning that comes from clients. Meet the “what should we do here” type inquiries with a quick, decisive answer. Make a decision, and don’t second-guess yourself. Clients appreciate it.
9. Have a good work/life balance
It would help if you didn’t let your life become only about work. Make sure to set aside your weekends for social and family time. Enjoy the outdoors, take up a meditation practice, do some physical activities and make sure to leave the computer alone for hours at a time.
The offline hours are just as important as having online hours, to come back refreshed and motivated to design some great work.
10. This life may not suit you
After all, if being a freelance graphic designer still isn’t working out, it’s OK to admit that to yourself. Search through job listings online for design work that offers a steady paycheck.
You may even find a position that allows you to freelance outside of office hours, so you still have the chance to work on some projects on your own.
Becoming a successful freelance graphic designer is hard work. It will help if you put in plenty of sweat and time at the start to enjoy your labors later. I wish you all the best at becoming a successful freelance graphic designer. Good luck!
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Lauren Clarke writes this article. Lauren writes guest posts for several innovative brands and media outlets around the world. Lauren loves red wine, bush walks, and meditating. You can find Lauren on Twitter.