Would you like to become a freelance graphic designer, but don’t know where to start? It might not be as impossible as you think.
Back in 2017, I wanted to bring more creativity into my professional life. Doing another degree was out of the question, so I started researching creative, but short courses. Graphic design, a subject that always interested me, kept cropping up. So from that point onwards, I dedicated time towards becoming a freelance graphic designer alongside my full time job.
In the past 3 years, I have worked on a number of graphic design projects and now feel like a much more well-rounded professional. If you think that becoming a freelance graphic designer is something you are interested in, read on for some key tips.
Study a Graphic Design certified course
When researching graphic design courses in my area, I discovered a classroom-based and certified course nearby. It began in September 2017 and sounded perfect. I was determined to remain working full time, while studying a course part time. Also, I felt that a classroom setting with a teacher would motivate me more than an online course.
The course incurred a small fee and a 9 month commitment. During the 9 months, I learned a lot about graphic design principles, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, and how to create a print portfolio. I completed 6 projects in total, ranging from logo to magazine design. After months of hard work, I received a distinction and a diploma.
The reason I recommend choosing a certified course is to give yourself a starting point. If you search online, you will see many graphic design courses, which can be overwhelming. Enrolling in a certified course provides exposure to many graphic design areas and helps build your portfolio. Having a portfolio plus a certification will help in your job search, and alleviate imposter syndrome.
Joining a course also allows you to connect with others in the design community. These relationships are important for sharing tips, discussing trends, competing in design challenges and sharing possible job opportunities.
Another particular benefit of joining a classroom-based course over an online one is having a teacher and classmates to hold you accountable. Learning something on your own can be daunting and demotivating. A real life teacher will likely give you projects, ask for progress updates and give you feedback.
Get projects through freelancer sites, family and friends, and referrals
After completing your certified course, it is important not to become complacent. You still must practice regularly and develop your portfolio. Freelancer sites offer an ideal way for newbie designers to practice graphic design projects, develop their portfolio and get paid. Unless you have a graphic design degree, finding a full-time graphic design job can be difficult (but not impossible), which is why I recommend the freelance route. However, depending on your financial situation, you could definitely apply for internships at companies, at this stage of your career.
In the months after completing my diploma, I joined a freelancer site called Fiverr. While some can be sceptical of this website, the platform allows anyone to advertise their design skills to buyers who need them. The main disadvantage of using a site like Fiverr is that you need to charge very low prices at the beginning. However, once you achieve some five star reviews, experiment with raising your prices a little.
Even if you charge low prices, getting work on Fiverr isn’t always easy. So here are my best tips:
- Create as many ‘gigs’ as you have time for. If you work a 40 hour week, I would recommend having 1-2 gigs so that you are not overwhelmed.
- Upload aesthetic and professional photos of your design work.
- Ensure that your gig description is clear to any potential buyers. Tell them what you have to offer, and how much they need to pay.
- Upload a clear profile picture so buyers know they are talking to a real person.
- Fill out all profile sections fully and don’t lie.
- Don’t say you speak and understand English if you don’t. Buyers will notice quickly and may give you a bad review.
- If you are frustrated with the low price versus time spent on project, provide projects that take 1 hour or less to complete. For example, for $5, you could offer to remove backgrounds from photographs in Photoshop.
- If you find that, even with limited gigs, that you have a lot of orders, you can ‘pause’ gigs.
- Check the ‘buyer requests’ section every day, especially if orders are slow to come in.
- Ask a good friend to request a service from you through Fiverr; this is a great way to get an initial 5 star review and gain trust from potential buyers.
- Once you get more reviews and experience, don’t be afraid to turn down jobs. If you feel a job is unsuitable for you, kindly turn it down and explain why. Accepting a job above your skill level can lead to a bad review, which is not a great addition to your profile in the early days.
Family and friends
Another great way to get design projects is through family and friends. Don’t be afraid to tell your nearest and dearest about your new freelance adventure. You never know when a family member or a friend might need a freelance graphic designer for their company. Multiple studies to date have shown that people are far more likely to buy from those they know, so ensure your closest connections are aware of your skills.
Informing your family and friends about your skills is also important because they can refer you to their connections; these people are known as referrals. Since completing my diploma, many family and friends have approached me regarding design projects from their own network. Referrals are an extremely valuable resource for developing your career and portfolio as a freelance graphic designer.
Referrals also expand your network, job opportunities, and bank balance since you can charge more for these projects than on freelancer sites where there is competition to keep prices low. Similar to clients on freelancer sites, if you do a good job, buyers will hire you again. Returning buyers are key in establishing a firm and consistent freelancing career.
Create reusable material
At this stage, you are creating graphic design work regularly and it’s time to learn about content reuse. Why? While your print and online portfolios are in good shape, you have a steady stream of new and returning buyers, your work is all over the place and you’re run ragged from creating new material. Efficiency is essential in any job, and freelance design is no different.
Luckily in graphic design, many elements can be used over and over. To become more time efficient, use ‘Libraries’ to store fonts, colours and graphics; create ‘Swatches’ to save and reuse brand colours; and save design templates from projects. I would also recommend using assets.adobe.com to store your design projects. If you have a standard monthly subscription, you get 100GB of storage.
Get freelance work as part of your full time day job
If, like me, you have a full time job whilst freelancing part time, look out for any possible graphic design opportunities available in your workplace. Depending on your workplace, and how well graphic design fits into your job, let your boss and colleagues know about your freelance design projects.
You never know, there might be events at work you can help advertise for free. While this may not be a great move financially, it will help develop your portfolio and your contribution to the workplace. If you have some free time at work, discuss possible projects with your boss. The worst they can say is no.
Similar to your family and friends, your work colleagues may also have connections who may have graphic design projects. Remember, informed colleagues means more potential buyers for you.
No matter how experienced you become in design, you still need to upskill as much as possible through an online course or further college training. I personally love Udemy and the Fiverr courses platform.
Once you have a firm understanding of Photoshop, Indesign and Illustrator, I would recommend learning more about programs such as Adobe XD and After Effects. When you complete more projects, you can reflect on what you enjoy creating the most and refine the services you offer. For me, I prefer creating logos and illustrations, but for you it might be something different. Upskilling will help you learn more about yourself and where your freelancing journey will go.