10 steps to becoming a successful freelance designer

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Let’s face it. There are a lot of us out there: freelance designers trying to make a dollar and gain experience at the same time.  Freelance designing is wonderful but the market is so saturated that we often lack what we need to stand out from the crowd. Below you will find 10 tips on becoming a successful freelance designer.

1.    Brand yourself. Nearly any company or organization falls apart without an established style. Without a impressive personalized logo you will simply fade into the background where literally thousands of freelance designers wander.

2.    Create an effective online portfolio. It is nearly impossible to be successful in graphic or web design without having an impressive inline presence.  Any potential clients or employers will want to see your work and most of them will prefer to type in a URL and click on what they want to see.

3.    Create an equally effective print portfolio, business cards, resume, etc. This is somewhat a combination of the previous two steps.  Be sure to create an impressive tangible portfolio that you can give to those who want to see your work “in person”.  Also use your branding and identity to create business cards, stationery, etc.  Any time you can slap your personal logo on something, do it.

4.    Be brave, bold, and professional. Don’t be afraid to call people, offer services, email businesses and more. Recently, I was printing a job for a client and at the printing shop, a man complimented me on the design of the piece.  After engaging in friendly conversation, he asked me for some tips on the piece he was printing for his own business.  Although I was short on time, I was happy to help him and when I got ready to leave, I offered my future services and handed him a card.  Have confidence that people will appreciate your skills.

5.    Go the extra mile for your customers. Word of mouth is the most important tool you have. Nothing can help you or hurt you more than rumors and compliments spread by those for whom you have done work before.  About 90% of the freelance work I do comes from word-of-mouth advertising.

6.    Take the small jobs first.
Doing well at a small job for someone can help open doors for your client to do bigger, better things. I entered a logo contest for a particular organization and out of the four logos I entered, two tied for first place pick.  They were so impressed, I offered to design their website as well.  Similar offers can be made for an organization’s stationery, business cards, etc. Find a niche and then take courage and offer more.

7.    Don’t underestimate yourself. This goes along with Number 4.  Be sure to believe in yourself.  No one will ever hire a designer that thinks he may not do as good a job as the next guy.  Be sure to reflect your confidence in your pricing.  If your work is good, charge good money  for it.

8.    Network. Graphic and web design are rapidly changing.  Every day new techniques and styles are developed and the designer found sleeping on the job is left in the dust.  Sign up for social networks like twitter, linkedin, facebook, digg, and more.  Start a blog and frequently add meaningful comments on others’ blogs.  Creating a name for yourself in the design world takes some time but can be done using social networking resources.

9.    Practice, practice, practice. Nothing will help you increase in confidence and ability more than practice. If work is a little slow, nail down some of those personal projects you’ve been meaning to finish.  Join a group at school or in the community where you can freshen your skills.  Participate in design forums, contests, and workshops.  Nothing can take the place of real life application and experience.

10.    Pay attention. I like to carry a small notebook around with me.  Whenever I see an advertisement, photograph, building, person, etc. that influences my creative thinking, I try to write it down.  When you go places, pay attention to new trends.  Collect successful design pieces that you find at restaurants, at the mall, or anywhere you go just to relax.  Always be on the look out for creative inspiration.

What else would you add to the list? Tell me below.

Photo by DonSolo

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee


  1. I usually don’t post in Blogs but your blog forced me to, amazing work.. beautiful …

  2. This was a great post! Very helpful points you brought up. I can definitely see how I can utilize some of these. I have done some freelancing in the past but it was not by choice to be honest – people were just sending me clients. But I had not decided to get heavily involved in freelancing. I’m changing my direction now and have decided to get more involved in the field … so this has helped me a lot :)

  3. This was the excellent post, When i enter to that field i gave more than my costumer want and in return he game me more work.

  4. Great article! I found your blog yesterday and since then I’ve just been going through and trying to absorb all the useful information you share. keep up the good work!

  5. I’m a believer in doing pro bono work to get your name out there. It certainly won’t serve you to have a full load of pro bono work, but I like to always be working on one pro bono job if I can. It gets my name out there to people, and you wind up with very grateful new contacts. Many non-profit organizations have boards made up of very successful business-people who might need a freelancer and have the money to pay you! And besides all that, it just feels good to volunteer!

  6. am i being silly? where is the blog?

  7. I am a bit old school in regard to this but I do not believe a graphic designer needs a logo to be successful. In my mind, a logo can pigeonhole you in a style, perhaps a soon-to-be-dated one at that, the way trends change so quickly these days. I have avoided this in my own branding and only use typography to create my identity. So far, so good, 30 years on. Cheers!

  8. Thanks for the steps. Well said!

  9. I’m just starting to freelance and these tips are very helpful. Thank you!


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