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5 Steps to Make the Most of Freelancing

Creative Market March 31, 2021 · 4 min read

Freelancing can be one of the hardest parts of becoming a graphic designer. It takes a lot of time and effort to put your professional work into a place where it can be seen by potential clients. And what can be most frustrating at times is that there is no clear set of instructions on what you need to become a good freelance graphic designer.
Sure, there are books, blogs, and tips and tricks lists– much like this one– that can give you an idea of what you’re supposed to have, but when it comes down to it, you are the person who has to market, manage, create and sell your work. I like to think of it as being your own one person company. While I don’t possess any magical key to success, I do have five steps that will make sure you’re getting the most out of your work as freelance artist.

Step 1: Give Everything The Five Second Test

Chances are, when a potential client is looking at your work, they’ll spend between five and ten seconds before they decide whether or not it’s worth more of their time. This means you should make your presentation materials (i.e., your portfolio, your samples, your mock-ups, your website, your business cards, etc.) grab a client’s attention in five seconds.
It may seem daunting, but that’s only if you see it that way. I see it as a challenge. Now that you know what you’re up against, tailor your material to fit this standard.

Step 2: Save Time Wherever Possible

As I said above, freelancing can be like running your own company, with little to no help from other people. However, we live in an age where technology exists that makes it easier to streamline your business. Use apps like “IFTTT” (if this, then that), which use one app’s notification to signal another app to function.
For instance, if you share a new link on your Facebook have this app trigger that post to be tweeted as well. While this may not sound like a big time saver, if you create a bunch of them to accomplish smaller tasks, they add up to a lot of time spent actually designing.

Step 3: Keep Your Portfolio/Resume Up to Date

I know personally that this is one I struggle with the most, but trust me, if you get into the habit of updating your portfolio and resume as soon as you complete a new job or learn a new skill, you’ll save so much time in the future.
An easy way to make this habitual is to add it to your to-do list for a certain project. If you make refreshing your resume/portfolio a task on each job, you won’t have to worry when you want to apply for something new and realize you have an hour or two of work ahead of you making sure everything is current.

Step 4: Treat Your Freelancing Like a Real Job

This may sound obvious, but it is often overlooked. Just because you can work from home doesn’t mean you should work on your new designs in your PJs. Imagine that you, as your boss, is checking up on you. If you were managing a design firm and you saw your employee checking Tumblr every five minutes, walking to the cabinet to grab a snack or playing with their cat when they were supposed to be working, would you be happy? Plan out your day just like you would at work: set a schedule (including lunch and breaks) and stick to it!

Step 5: Research, Research, RESEARCH!

This information is just the tip of the iceberg that is information on freelancing. There are plenty of sites for you to get help on freelancing and places to make some extra money. Here are some resources to check out:

What Are Your Favorite Freelance Sites and Tools?

We’d love to hear all about your freelancing experience. Leave a comment below and tell us some lessons you’ve learned for success, and what sites you find invaluable.


Header image created with Vintage Logo Bundle and Tablet, stylus and notepad 1.


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6 Comments
  • One point worth mentioning (which relates to the step 2 above) is that every designer should also build a library of design resources as these can help save some serious time too. 8 years ago
  • Thank you for the post Zack! Great links at the bottom. I agree with what @Layoutlet said, and I would add "READ, READ, READ" as step 6, because keeping informed & aware of design trends, etc, will definitively give you an edge by propelling you to step outside the box or make the inside even better! ☺ 8 years ago
  • Another great post, Zach! To add to the list I'd say another step to make the most of your freelancing would be to "Develop a Work Process" Many freelancers are daunted by the everyday tasks; like landing projects, working with clients, getting paid on time, asking for referrals, etc. If you can develop a process for your work, things will go much smoother. I like to automate as much as I can. For example, I have project brief and feedback forms to start and end each project. These help save tons of time and gives me everything I need to filter and complete projects. Also, it's in my feedback survey where I can learn how to grow and ask for referrals. There's so much that can be said about this, but hopefully what I have to share can spark others interests in the subject to look into it some more. 8 years ago
  • Great tips for freelancers! I would also like to add that it's important to make some to-do-list and track your activity somehow. I use one of time-tracking programs for it, because checking tasks in the list is not enough for me (sometimes you can work on one thing whole day and feel like you did nothing). Also it's important to learn your own schedule - some of us are most productive during morning times, some - after lunch, etc. If you know your best times and limitations - you can make most of it. As for me, I also divided my working week between different types of tasks - each one gets it's own day. I do marketing on Mondays, draw on Tuesdays, etc (actually no, it's just a sample, in reality it's much more complicated :) And probably the most important is to learn how to give yourself compliments for things you done great. 8 years ago
  • Three things I can add. 1. Making and sending great invoices. Use invoicing applications like Wave, QuickBooks or Zenvoice. I use Wave myself. www.waveapps.com/invoice/ 2. Making a mailing list of your clients and sending them monthly newsletter. It can be about you, your current work and things happening in your life. It helps build that unique bond. Try sending them season's greetings and wishing them on special days. Everybody knows www.mailchimp.com/ for this 3. Avoiding procrastination and increasing productivity. As freelancers work a lot of time online, they can be easy victim of procrastination. Facebook, youtube, gmail, twitter creep in and we tend to loose hours in clicking random things. Check out www.laterbox.co it is simple anti-todo list which helps you to do important work first and everything later. Stay happy :) 8 years ago
  • Navin - I just tried out Zenvoice (Zenvoice.co) and think its pretty cool. Simple, and easy way to track invoices and collect payments. I heard they are currently working on V2 with a bunch of new features. 8 years ago