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Charting Your Course: The Graphic Designer's Guide to Freelancing Success

23 Aug 00:00 By Lawrence Akers

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Charting Your Course: The Graphic Designer's Guide to Freelancing Success

As the economy continues to crawl on a knife-edge, many businesses have slowed their requirement for permanent staff members.  Historically, when the economy has slowed down, the world of freelance has ramped up.  Short term requirements and limited budgets drive that need and, while many freelancers hate the risk vs reward nature of the temporary work, it is periods like this that can help to really hone their craft as a professional creative.

Embarking on the journey of freelancing is akin to setting sail on the vast ocean of creativity and entrepreneurship. As a graphic designer, you possess the tools. But as you transition to freelancing, you'll need more than just your artistic prowess. You'll need a compass, a map, and perhaps even a guiding star.  Let’s explore some of the key points that you might want to consider if you’re thinking now might be the time to dive into the world of freelance.

1. Understanding Your 'Why’

Before you even begin, ask yourself: *Why do I want to freelance?* Is it the allure of independence, the flexibility of hours, or perhaps the desire to work on diverse projects? Your 'why' is your anchor. It keeps you grounded during stormy days and reminds you of your purpose. Remember, freelancing isn't just about escaping the 9-to-5 grind; it's about building a brand that's uniquely yours.

2. Building Your Portfolio

Imagine walking into a gallery where every piece of art tells a story about its creator. Your portfolio is that gallery. It's a curated collection of your best works, showcasing your style, versatility, and expertise. But remember, it's not just about quantity. A few well-executed projects can speak volumes more than a multitude of mediocre ones. Think of it like a novel: each piece is a chapter, and together, they tell your story.

3. Setting Your Rates

One of the most common questions I’m asked when I talk with people jumping into freelance is about how much they should charge.  The reality is that this could be (and probably will be) an article in its own right.  This is where the balance between art and business comes into play. You’ll need to consider your revenues of income and how the rate will be different for each of those; for instance, a direct client can generate a higher rate than if you were to go through a recruitment agency.  You’ll also need to consider if you’ll do project rates, day rates, hourly rates, or a combination.

The easiest way to approach your rate is to do the following:

  • Consider what yearly salary you would like to achieve.

  • Divide that by the number of hours each week you wish to work.

  • Divide that by 48 (this factors in four weeks annual leave)

  • Benchmark this against industry standards to see if this is a realistic rate.

An example of this would be that if you wanted to earn $85000 package in a year.  Divide that by 40 hours for the week, then divide that by 48 weeks in the year, and you know your minimum rate is $44.27 per hour.

4. Networking and Building Relationships

In the world of freelancing, your network is your net worth. Attend workshops, join design communities, and engage on platforms like Behance or LinkedIn. Look at your professional associations and consider joining them and what value they may be able to bring to your world as a professional freelancer.  Keep in mind that your network and the relationships you build may also directly offer you work opportunities as you go through your freelancing career.

5. Managing Finances

As you sail these entrepreneurial waters, you'll soon realize that managing finances is as crucial as mastering the pen tool in Illustrator. Consider investing in accounting software or even hiring a part-time accountant. Set aside funds for taxes and superannuation, and always keep personal and business expenses separate. Think of it as colour-coding your finances; it keeps things organized and ensures you're always in the black.

Also be aware that not every client you work with will be as prompt in paying you as you would like.  Running your own creative business involves multiple hats; not just being creative, but also marketing, finance, and yes, credit control.  Outsource where you can so that you can free yourself up to focus on what you do well.

6. Continuous Learning

The design world is ever-evolving, much like the seasons. New trends emerge, old ones fade, and staying updated is crucial. Enrol in courses, attend webinars, and always be curious. Remember, every creation you make is informed by knowledge, and the more you know, the more vibrant your conceptual ability becomes.

7. Embracing Rejection

Not every pitch will be a home run. There will be clients who don't resonate with your style, and that's okay. Rejection, though bitter, is also a teacher. It moulds resilience, refines your approach, and sometimes, opens doors to better opportunities. It's like sketching; not every line is perfect, but each stroke brings clarity to the final piece.

8. Work-Life Balance

As the lines between work and home blur, it's essential to set boundaries. Dedicate a workspace, set working hours, and remember to take breaks. Freelancing is a marathon, not a sprint. Just as a plant needs both sunlight and shade to thrive, you too need a balance of work and relaxation to flourish.

9. Marketing and Getting Clients

Again, this could be an article in itself and if there was a sure fire way of achieving this, then freelancing would be a no-brainer.  The reality is that it takes a little while to build up your client base and to nurture them so that they come back to you time and time again.  One of the main reasons many designers turn to recruitment agencies to assist them is to take away this pain point of how to find clients.  Otherwise, you often need to tap into your self belief in the service you provide and a touch of tenacity to approach people and to sell your service. 

Risk Vs Reward

The reality is that becoming a professional freelancer is a risk vs reward situation.  I know of many people who have become very successful freelancers and who would not want to do it any other way.  If you’re someone who likes certainty and feels anxious from not knowing what is next, then the temporary life might be an adjustment for you.  It involves a certain amount of planning and managing your life as though it is your business because… well… it IS your business.  But once you’ve got that mastered and you’ve become your own boss, then it might prove to be the lifestyle that works best for you.