There’s nothing quite like the thrill of starting your own freelance graphic design business. You get to be your own boss, set your own schedule, and work on all kinds of exciting creative projects. It’s a great way to get your creative juices flowing and make some extra money on the side.
With WFH on the rise, many individuals can choose to start a side gig to become freelance designers. Plus, the ability to travel and work from anywhere is a great motivator for starting a freelance graphic design business.
However, working as an independent designer can be scary since so many unknown factors are at play. To help you take a leap of faith, we’ve compiled a proven 10-step guide to becoming a freelance designer in 2022.
Let’s get straight into it!
️ Thanks to our friends at Clientjoy for writing and sponsoring this blog post!
1. If you’re doing everything, you’re not doing anything!
Think of it this way, whom do you prefer to consult if you have bleeding gums, a Dentist or a General Physician?
While initially you can experiment and try all sorts of freelance design gigs, it’s essential for you to define your niche to become an expert in one particular area. As they say:
“The riches are in the niches.”
For example, let’s say you offer design services for Social Media, Brand Identity, UI/UX, Video, VFX, and almost everything else comes under the array of design services. This might be great for a sprint but not for a marathon—you may land some clients initially, but it won’t be sustainable in the long run.
Instead, focus on taking a qualitative approach to your portfolio rather than a quantitive one. Make sure that you master your chosen design niche and make it your USP (unique selling proposition) to attract the right clients. Remember, if you are doing everything, you are not doing anything!
2. How does a tiger chase its prey? Through strategy
There’s a famous quote for people who think money is a roadblock to kicking off any business or a freelancing endeavor:
“Money is never the roadblock; a poor strategy is.”
Below are a few strategic things you should do before starting a freelance graphic design business:
️ Build your online credentials
Create a website, be active on social media platforms like Dribbble, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook Groups, participate in webinars, and build backlinks for your portfolio website.
️ Create a strong portfolio of work
In your portfolio, include some information about you, your background, design process, previous work, testimonials, and an email to contact you. You may want to give a hint about your pricing as well!
️ Set up your workspace
Although freelance design work can be done almost anywhere, it’s a good idea to have a dedicated space for creative work. Choose a place that puts you in the right mood and boosts your productivity. Make sure you steer clear of distractions to deliver the best possible designs to your clients.
️ Start a cold email sequence
Cold outreach is still one of the best ways to find and close new clients. There are many free tools like Hunter, Apollo, Linkhelp, etc., that can help you find the official email addresses of your potential clients. Use these tools to find the right contacts, start a cold email sequence, and reach your target’s inbox directly to propose a free consultation or maybe even a free design.
Pro tip: You can download personalized cold email templates to save time and focus on more critical tasks.
️ Spread the word
Chances are, your first client might be someone you’ve already met! So, get together with your friends and family to inform them about your new freelancing gig. Spread the word about your freelance design business and offer them a free consultation.
You could even go to the extent of making mockups or a few fundamental designs for them for free. This is a great way to practice working with clients and give you a project to add to your portfolio as a new freelance designer.
️ Work on a milestone-based payment structure
When working with someone from your inner circle or a reference, work on a milestone-based payment structure rather than asking for a 50% or 100% advance. For example, split your project milestones into 5 parts of 20%, where the first payment will be an advance.
️ Prepare a questionnaire
What if we told you that your designs could be approved the first time? (No kidding!🤭) The secret to getting designs approved faster is having a set of fixed questions to ask your clients before you start designing. Prepare a questionnaire that helps you understand your client’s entire scope of work, industry, and competitors. Once you understand everything, take a look at what works in your client’s industry and present the best possible design solution.
3. You can’t survive without a CRM in 2022
Unfortunately, delivering good designs is just half the battle won. For most freelance designers, the remaining 50% of their time is spent on administrative tasks like:
- Managing leads
- Creating proposals
- Rounds of negotiations
- Onboarding new clients
- Generating invoices (at least 3 revisions are requested, #PunIntended)
- Following up on payments
- Paperwork and many more mundane tasks
Fortunately, 50% of the work can be taken care of by a CRM software (customer relationship management) so you can focus on the fun stuff—designing.
The Clientjoy CRM helps over 9000+ freelancers manage their business efficiently with lead management, a built-in proposal engine, mailbox & appointments, accept international payments, send automated invoice reminders, and a lot more.
A cherry on top for freelance designers is the custom Client Portal dedicated to each of their clients, where you can share your designs, embed Figma boards, and get feedback from your clients right within Clientjoy.
Bonus: Clientjoy CRM has a library of 25+ Proposal Templates that can get you started right away. Sign up today to fast-track your process and close more deals with freelance graphic designer proposal templates.
4. Showcase your work to the world, shamelessly
There’s no better way to win over clients than to parade in front of them with your best work. Leverage these digital channels to make the best use of them to showcase your design work to the world:
Upload your certifications, design degrees, and best work portfolio on the profile page. A potential client should be able to check your previous work and certifications when they land on your profile. Additionally, be active on LinkedIn by regularly posting your design inspirations, latest work, tips, or hacks, and sharing your opinion on the latest design trends. This can be one of the best ways to build authority in your niche as well as connect with other freelance designers.
A personal website is a must for every freelancer looking to build their online presence and make it big in the gig industry. With Wix, you can create your own website using the simple drag and drop feature. It’s free to use with a watermark and takes only about 3 days to get the website live with all content and design.
Dribbble is one of the most popular platforms for freelance designers and creatives to upload their work and build a portfolio. Get feedback from a community of leading UI/UX designers, illustrators, and graphic designers.
️ Social Media
Upload your past work across all your social media channels, including Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. You can even repurpose your LinkedIn content to regularly post about your services, hacks, inspirations, and your opinion on these social media platforms.
️ Video Content
Videos are much more engaging than static graphics or carousels. Create videos of your work and your creative process, and upload them to Instagram Reels, TikTok, YouTube Shorts, etc., to get more eyeballs on your profile.
️ DM potential clients
Make a business page on Facebook, Instagram, or other social platforms to directly reach out to your dream clients and brands directly.
5. Know how to find freelancing jobs on the internet
Aside from online freelance marketplaces and job boards like Dribbble, here are some other great ways to find freelance design jobs on the internet:
️ Be active in online communities
Join relevant Facebook or LinkedIn communities and actively participate in conversation threads or regularly post about your services. These communities can also help you nurture a relationship with fellow designers enabling you to build a referral network.
️ Collaborate with other freelancers
Get into a Barterdeal with non-competitive freelancers such as a freelance social media manager through LinkedIn or any other social media platforms; introduce yourself and share case studies/past work with them. Ask them to send clients your way if they’re looking for freelance designers, and you can do the same for them; win-win, right?
️ Run retargeted ads
Running retargeting ads cost 5 times cheaper than regular ads! They are a great way to convert hot leads into paying clients.
6. Your first 10K of business will come from your friends and family
Spend a day or two creating a detailed family tree using a free tool like Draw.io. Similarly, make a tree diagram for friends as well.
Once you have that in place, reach out to each of your family members and friends individually to ask them about their work or business. Try to understand whether they already have someone taking care of their design needs or are looking for someone to support their creative projects. Then pitch your services, explaining how you can help them out in a better way.
Pro tip: Try tapping onto the alumni network of your school or college, your parents’ network, and look out for potential prospects in your local community as well.
7. Under-promise and over-deliver (then ask for referrals)
Each client represents an opportunity for more freelance work, whether it comes from them or a referral. If you over-deliver and do more than a good job the first time, you’re more likely to get hired the next time—maybe even for a more significant project.
For example, if you’re designing a client’s social media templates, offer to design their presentations, blog images, or even edit their videos. This way, you’ll not only prove to be a valuable asset but also gain their confidence in your designing skills.
Over-delivering to your clients won’t just increase the chances of them hiring you again but also increase the likelihood of getting their referral.
This secret sauce has worked for everyone who is either starting out or has already made it big. It’s an evergreen recipe that will never fail you!
8. Reach out to agencies for low-hanging work
Any agency, whether designed focused or not, will always have clients with design needs and likely have work they want to outsource. We recommend making two different lists of agencies to target:
- List 1: Compile a list of all design-focused agencies
- List 2: Compile a list of all non-design focused agencies
Working with an agency can prove to be a great resource for getting retainer business, considering you do a great job on the first project.
Pro tip: Communicate and be strict with your payment structure, work scope, and contract terms to avoid a never-ending line of credits.
9. Design hack: Google ‘freebies’ and be surprised.
What if we told you there’s always a free resource or tool for every kind of design service or administrative task?Astounding right?!
- Dribbble & Pinterest: These are excellent sources of visual inspiration for anyone dealing with creative block.
- Clientjoy.io: Check their resource hub for free design goods worth $1,000 including 5000+ premium graphic design templates for icons, logos, posters, 300+ invoice templates, and more.
10. Don’t underestimate the power of Instagram
With 1 billion monthly active users on Instagram, it’s not rocket science that you should leverage it to promote your freelance business. Check out these few tips to make the best use of Instagram:
- Switch to a business account: Get access to detailed analytics, run ads to promote your content, add your contact information, and set up quick auto-replies for your DMs.
- Craft a compelling bio: Include relevant keywords such as freelance designer or graphic designer in your username as well as your bio; it will improve your discoverability.
- Use relevant and trending hashtags: Hashtags are what will get you in front of a new audience. Use tools like Tagsfinder, Keywoordtool, Hashtagify, etc., to find popular hashtags in your niche.
- Conduct live Instagram sessions: Live videos appear first on your followers’ Stories tab, so there’s a high chance of people engaging with you. Conduct #AMA sessions, talk about your success stories, or even go live with other freelancers.
- Find unique ways to involve your followers: Experiment with polls, quizzes, reposting content that inspires you, A/B testing your designs by asking your audience’s opinion, sharing client testimonials, etc.
- Post consistently: Despite the changing algorithm, consistent posting is one of the concrete steps determining how well you perform on Instagram.
Lastly, don’t forget to respond to your followers’ comments on your posts by liking or replying back. It might even lead to spark a conversation with a potential client!
Start your journey as a freelance designer!
Starting a freelance design career can feel like climbing a mountain—there may be multiple unfavorable situations you encounter. Take time to set up your profile on freelancing websites, build processes, invest in a CRM system for designers, and work your way towards a successful freelance design career. ■