Are you a newly-graduated graphic designer thinking about starting your own freelance graphic design business? Are you an experienced in-house designer considering freelancing to get more diverse experience? Are you an agency designer tired of the constant grind and low pay scale? This blog is for you!
Every graphic designer has considered going freelance at some point in their career. In fact, we’d guess that most designers think about it every few years. But the reality is that freelance graphic design is not the right fit for everyone. It takes a specific type of person. But most designers don’t know whether freelancing is the right fit for them until they actually try it out. So we want to save you the headache and help you figure it out without all the hassle!
The Traits of a Successful Freelance Graphic Designer
Let’s talk about the traits that a graphic designer needs to be successful in freelancing. You may be able to make a freelance business work for you even if some of these traits don’t apply to you–you may even be able to develop some of them as you go. But you need to have at least most of these already if you want to start a freelance design business.
Freelance design work requires constant, meticulous organization. You’ll be managing time, files, clients, and schedules on a daily basis. If you lose track of just one thing, it can cause total chaos in your business. You don’t have to be perfect at first–you’ll fine-tune your organization skills as you go. But you need to have a system and the ability to stick with it!
Do you like working alone? If not, freelancing will be difficult for you. A large portion of the job is sitting at your desk by yourself. You can absolutely find ways to work around this, but if you are someone who needs to be around people on a regular basis, you may want to rethink your freelancing plans.
Comfortable Talking to Clients
If you hate talking to people–especially clients–freelancing won’t be a good fit for you. This doesn’t mean that you need to be an extrovert to freelance. It simply means that you have to be able to not only converse with clients, but confidently take the lead in the conversation.
Keep in mind that sometimes client conversations won’t be fun. There will always be times when a client isn’t happy–whether with your work, your communication, or the time a project is taking. You need to be able to handle these conversations with grace.
Sales is probably one of the hardest parts of the job as a freelancer. You need to be constantly selling yourself and your services–and it’s uncomfortable. You will get better at this as you go, but if the thought of selling is terrifying to you, freelancing may not be the best fit.
Networking can be a lot of fun, but if you’ve never done it before, the thought of walking into a room full of strangers and talking about yourself is scary! Not everyone is good at networking–and that’s okay. But it’s the best source of new business for freelance graphic designers. You can, of course, find leads online. But if you aren’t also networking, you won’t be able to create a sustainable business that pays the bills.
You don’t need to know everything about running a business before you get started, but you absolutely need to have a baseline understanding of business practices. You’ll need to get comfortable with bookkeeping, paying your own taxes, and strategizing as if you are a real business–because you are!
You don’t need to do this on your own. There are organizations like SCORE that offer free mentorship for small business owners as they navigate the process of building a business. And, of course, you can (and should) hire a CPA, a financial advisor, and other experts to support you in your business.
Other Factors to Consider
Now that you’ve taken the time to consider whether you have the traits to become a freelance graphic designer, let’s talk about some of the other factors you need to consider before taking the plunge.
The Time Commitment of a Freelance Graphic Designer
Freelancing is a bigger time commitment than you might think. It’s not just about the hours you spend on projects. You also need to consider the time spent networking, selling, communicating with clients, organizing, and even time spent on administrative tasks.
If you work long hours in your primary job and leave work every day feeling burnt out, you won’t have the bandwidth to work on your freelance business. If it’s financially feasible, you may choose to move into a part-time position to pay the bills while you build your freelancing portfolio.
The Financial Commitment
Speaking of paying the bills…
That extra time commitment won’t pay off immediately. In most cases, designers spend months doing the unpaid labor that eventually brings in sales. If you are desperately in need of cash, freelancing is not an ideal solution. Ask yourself how long you are willing to tough it out before getting paid. If you have a family or partner, have this conversation with them up-front as well. It’s best to go into freelancing with realistic expectations!
Is Your Heart in the Right Place?
Freelancing is a lot of work. If you aren’t truly passionate about graphic design, you’ll have a difficult time succeeding. Make sure that your heart is really in it–otherwise you may quickly find that you’ve lost motivation.
We hope this helps you as you make your decision. Good luck!
Written by Rebekah McCubbins
Jun 27, 2023