With opportunities for remote work increasing in recent years, many professionals in the design industry have switched from traditional employment to working as a freelancer. According to Upwork’s 2019 study, nearly 57 million Americans work as freelancers, growing by almost 4 million since a similar study in 2014. Many professionals, particularly those in the design and creative industries, are starting long-term careers as freelancers due to the independence and freedom this type of work offers.
Though freelance work is increasing in popularity, many are left wondering how to start working as a freelance designer. Every industry has different requirements, so there is no set way to start working remotely. You don’t have to quit your full-time job right away to begin working as a freelancer, as many professionals find success when they take time and care with this change. There are some helpful tips below for those new to freelancing to help make the transition from traditional employment easier.
Build a Portfolio
One of the most important steps for design freelancers is building a portfolio that showcases your work and unique skill set. This is often one of the main areas a potential client or employer will look to determine if you are a good fit for a project, which is why it’s crucial you have a clean, organized, and well-balanced portfolio link to share. If you are new to the field, you can complete personal projects or volunteer work to gain content for your portfolio that paints a clear picture of who you are as a creative professional.
There are countless different hosting sites and platforms to build your online portfolio, though some options have more benefits than others. Popular choices for portfolio hosting among design professionals include Adobe Portfolio and Behance. These platforms allow you to create, manage, and share your completed website with potential clients with ease.
Master the Software
Another vital step to take when starting to work as a freelancer is ensuring you have mastered all of the industry-standard software needed to excel in the field. This will vary depending on your area of expertise, but the most common software among creative and design professionals is Adobe’s Creative Cloud, which features Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and Adobe XD.
Utilize Job Boards
Many professionals assume that freelancers search endlessly for their clients, but in reality, there are a variety of job boards and online communities to help freelancers find work. Standard websites like Upwork are great resources but can become saturated or unuseful for those with specialized skill areas. Some job boards require a membership fee to gain access to postings or projects, though these sites often have incentives for those who provide quality work over time.
Creative design freelancers have vast options for online job boards and community resources, with AIGA and Coroflot being top-rated options. In addition to the latest job openings, users can find helpful sections on these sites freelancers may benefit from.
Define Your Services
Once you have a solid portfolio and a range of skills, it’s time to define what specific services you plan to offer to clients. To do this, it’s important to look at your strengths and weaknesses in the field, as well as what tasks you truly enjoy performing. For design professionals, ask yourself if you excel more at product design or website design. Which task do you enjoy that you feel can bring value to potential clients’ projects? Once you have determined these areas, it’s essential to focus on these tasks and see how they benefit your target audience.
Build Your Brand
Once you have defined what services you will offer to potential clients, you can start building your brand to reach your target audience. Having personalized branding for your freelancing services will help you reach your target audience, build trust with your clients, and build an excellent reputation for your business. Since freelancers can work directly with companies without being a W-2 employee, it’s essential to have a brand and reputation for representing your services.
Set Your Rates
One of the most challenging steps for new freelancers to complete is setting rates for their services. It can be overwhelming to determine what exactly our work is worth and when throwing things like overhead and taxes into the equation, many assume it is just too difficult to achieve. The truth is it’s perfectly acceptable to be flexible with your rates depending on the project, time commitment, and overall value. Instead of trying to set specific rates, start off deciding between hourly pay or project-based rates. Each has its own set of advantages and drawbacks, which is why it’s crucial to research based on your unique situation.
While working as a freelancer offers freedom and independence traditional employment lacks, certain legalities and responsibilities are associated with this kind of work. Freelancers who work directly with companies are not W-2 employees, which means they pay self-employment taxes each quarter throughout the year. This also means they are not eligible for health insurance through the company and will need to secure this coverage independently. Many freelancers choose to file an LLC for their business while others opt-out of this. Each employee and working scenario is different, so don’t hesitate to seek legal advice for any concerns.
It can be tempting to stop networking efforts once you have secured a few clients or have a freelance contract position with a company. Freelance work is ever-changing, meaning the demand can ebb and flow throughout the year. It’s important to remain current on your portfolio, website, and online channels to ensure you reach potential clients. Keep networking with existing and new clients to build relationships and utilize sites like LinkedIn to grow your network.
If you’re ready to start working as a design freelancer, remember it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing switch. You can keep working full or part-time as you make changes towards a long-term career as a freelancer, as it can take time to make connections and build clientele. There is also the option of working as a contract freelancer with a company, which can offer more stability than starting an independent freelancing business.
Regardless of which career path you take as a freelancer, staying current with industry trends and software is crucial for your continued success over time. Taking graphic design classes is a great way to refresh your skills and ensure you are current in the field. If you are worried about commuting to classes while balancing other obligations, live online graphic design bootcamps provide flexibility for learning new skills in a short amount of time. If you are unsure of the options available, search for graphic design bootcamps in your area to learn more.