40 Tips for brand-new freelance designers

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The switch to becoming a freelance designer is difficult because you have to learn how to handle yourself and your client.
When I started out, I was completely clueless and I would often accept too many projects or bad clients. As I dealt with more clients and learned from other freelancers, I began to grow as a person and started to realize my mistakes.
The first step to becoming a freelance designer is hard, but with the help of other freelancers, it is well worth it. Here are a few tips I picked up as a freelance designer that I wish I had known when just starting out.

Client Relations

Clients are the most important part of your freelancing career. Without them, you wouldn’t have money or pieces in your portfolio. Knowing this, you need to be armed with a solid knowledge of client relations to keep getting clients and maintain the ones you have worked so hard to find.

  • Don’t undersell yourself to clients.
  • Explain your process in simplest terms.
  • Your client is not always right and it is okay to respectfully disagree.
  • Having great customer service goes a long way.
  • Always have the client deposit a certain percentage of the money up-front.
  • If a client is angry with you, do not respond immediately to them; give yourself a few minutes to cool-off.
  • Go the extra mile for your clients.
  • Create a contract or terms and make your clients stick to it.
  • Strive to get long-term clients and referrals.
  • Always be professional.

When Designing

We all have different ways of approaching the design process. Some go straight to the computer and some start off with a pencil. Either way, it is important to remember certain aspects while you design. Here are a few of my tips:

  • Always sketch out your ideas first before designing on the computer.
  • Research your client’s target audience before designing.
  • Think of the user and NOT yourself while designing.
  • Look for outside sources to inspire you instead of design galleries.

Time and Project Management

Time and project management are two keys to effectively freelance designing. You have to face the fact that you will receive multiple projects at one point. Once you have come across that, you need to make sure you are managing your time effectively and you are managing the project effectively or your project could collapse.

  • Learn to “productively procrastinate”; which means you work on what is most important first.
  • Don’t make procrastination a habit.
  • Find a project management application you like and stick to it.
  • Frequently use a to-do list.
  • Outsource to other designers when you are busy.


Freelance designers often think they can bypass marketing, but you can’t. To reach potential clients, you need to constantly market yourself and prove your worth over others. Here are a few marketing tips for new freelance designers:

  • Create an effective elevator speech.
  • Use social media to your advantage.
  • Advertise yourself locally as well as globally.
  • Create business cards and hand them out whenever you can.
  • Never advertise your services on internet forums.
  • Look for work on Job Boards.
  • Research your target audience and find out where they go on the internet.

Some Other Important Things

Some of these tips are very important. Starting out, I wish I would have known most of these tips because they have severely hurt my business and hurt myself. Without realizing some of these tips, I would not be where I am today and I would not be as happy as I am today.

  • Have a diversified portfolio.
  • Get an email client for your desktop.
  • Learn from your mistakes and move on.
  • Do not accept every project you are offered.
  • Learn from criticism instead of shrugging it off.
  • Step away from your computer and get some sunlight.
  • Exercise is important.

Your turn to talk

In addition to adding your suggestions to the comments, we also asked you to share your thoughts on twitter. The following are a few great ideas from the community:

@thephuse – I wish I would have known that even friends will screw you if you don’t put together a contract.

@gmsdesigns – I wish I could have known just how difficult some clients can be. And I wish the term “scope creep” had been in my vocabulary.

@blooji – I wish I would’ve known about the 30% self-employment tax (+ quarterly payment options). That hurts at the end of the year!

@mgpwrHow to do the other stuff, like TAX and books, how to approach clients, and deffo read up on their rights and law.

@evldesign – New freelancers should have a good handle on some of the business side or at least have a person they could turn to for help.

@MCDezigns – Find good partners and have an elevator pitch that grabs attention. NETWORK!

@amberweinberg – advice: to succeed just get out there and start freelancing. Don’t wait for the perfect time. It will never come.

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About Nicole Foster

Nicole Foster is a professional website designer from New York that loves meeting new people. At Nicole Foster Designs, she offers website, wordpress, and ecommerce services to unique businesses. In her free time, she enjoys meditating and chatting with other designers.

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  • http://www.carlinscuderi.com Carlin Scuderi

    This is great. Useful info here!

  • http://www.blooji.com Rachel Goettl

    Great article for new and old freelancers alike. This is good bookmarking material for everyone to reference back to, just in case you’re one to forget things such as, “don’t undersell yourself!”.
    I’m loving GDB’s articles, keep it up!

  • http://meceanu.com mece

    What a great article for the new freelancers! Keep up the good work

    • http://www.serenedestiny.com Nicole Foster

      @mece, I’m glad you enjoyed my article. Becoming a freelancer designer is hard, so I hoped I armed everyone with as most knowledge as I could (:

      • http://www.nityanandgraphix.in Rahul

        Great Job……. Sharing ur knowledge

  • http://www.amberweinberg.com Amber Weinberg

    Thanks for including my advice 😉

  • http://www.killcoindesign.com Aaron Kilcoyne

    Awesome article. I’m a new freelance graphic designer and all of this information is very useful. Thank you!

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  • Maura McDonald

    Awesome post for new and old freelancers. Thanks for including my tweet advice!

  • http://www.website-and-graphic-design.com/ Anne

    Good post, though I would add a word of caution for “Go the extra mile for clients” – be cautious on this front. Certainly, do a sterling job – exceed expectations and be a total professional. Circumspection and prudence are wise bedfellows; there are people out there who have no compunction about taking complete advantage of you if they think they can get away with it.

    About preparing to start the design process — I always insist on getting all the content for the site before I even put a pencil to paper to draw a concept. A good design should be centered around the content, not the content around the design.

  • Ian B

    One thing I’ve learned about dealing with clients is to not let them push you into making a design that is very similar to something else. I had someone who pulled up another design and literally said “make it basically like this”. In other words, don’t be pressured into copying designs.

    • http://tr1studios.com/ Byron Wilkins

      My old adage is “Professionals Steal, Amateurs Copy” So if a client likes an existing design, take the basics and make it your own. There are not many “original” designs” out there, just be sure to give it your spin so people will go “Yeah, that’s so-and-so’s work.”

  • http://www.chromacolours.com Jay Kaushal

    A very well written and properly segmented article covering every single aspect of freelancing business.

    They say freelancer is like a mercenary and anybody can hire him. I will disagree in the sense that we should choose our clients rather than clients choosing us. Being working as a full time freelancer for the last 6 years I can see how I reaped the fruits by proper scrutiny of my clients and not just to grab everything coming my way just for money. My motto is Run after work and money will follow.

    So my advice to newcomers go for quality and quantity will follow itself. Once again my sincere thanks for writing such a great article. Keep it up :)

  • http://deseynerseyecreations.net Lisa Raymond

    Well written! Lots of great thoughts here, and I echo many of them. I wish something like this had been written when I first started years ago, would have saved on the headaches.

    It’s not so easy still with so much design software around, as well as many business owners still content to try and do their marketing on their own. I continue with my networking groups and am trying to pick up more on my social media to educate my clients on the importance of saving them time and frustration by outsourcing.

    Thanks for the well-written article!

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  • http://www.qaisermehmood.com web designer

    This site is an amazing reference for graphic designers like myself who were not formally trained and as i am doing my own freelance designer online work. It gives access to the best education you can get which is personal experience and wisdom from those who have already walked the path. Thank you.

  • http://online-earning-ways.com imran

    it’s a nice article……..keep it up.

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  • http://www.wisekal.ca Bryce Wisekal

    Fantastic article. I found this to be a very beneficial read. Thanks!

  • http://www.hmwebsolutions.co.uk nathan powell

    Great stuff!
    The “Don’t Undersell Yourself” is a very hard one to try and live up to. You really have to believe a bit…If you don’t why should they?

  • http://www.pitchedmedia.com Lyla Burns

    Thank you for this great article! I recently graduated as in the field of graphic design, and I really want to freelance. I currently work for a company, but hopefully I can be freelancing soon. Thanks for the awesome tips!

  • http://www.donnastreet.co.uk Donna Street Freelance Design

    Thanks for the article – I’m just starting up and this is a great starting point. I will let you know how I get on!

  • http://www.heartsandlaserbeams.com Steph Calvert

    Such great tips for the freelance graphic designer! I’ve been a self-employed designer for 2 years now, and my biggest tips are get EVERYTHING in writing and never stop marketing your design business! Once you lose that momentum, work slows down. Keep at it!

  • http://www.saadullahaleem.com Saadullah Aleem

    Great tips. Some mistakes such as accepting every project and working for low when business doesn’t low are those which every designer commits at sometime

    And yeah, one should never stop marketing.

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  • Pawan Singh Thakur

    This is great article for my business .
    Thanku GDB team .

  • Marrilyn Tong

    For OVO Creatives, web design is not just aesthetics but it is something which besides looking nice, is user friendly and search engine friendly – bringing you new business consistently.
    A well designed site helps in longer retention of users on your site, which means a higher chance of conversion of traffic to leads. A successful web site is about marketing, increasing sales leads, generating revenue, and maximizing brand awareness. The benefits of your services or products should be clearly seen with the use of crisp, clean content and imagery in an attractive format with easy-to-use navigation – and OVO Creatives will be able to help you achieve them all.

  • http://www.radwafouda.blogspot.com Radz

    Hi Nicole, This is an Awesome article, I’m starting fresh on Freelance and I love the Idea, and thought I HATE marketing, i knw it’s a Must, so I’m trying to pull it off.
    There’s sth that grabbed my attention, What do you mean by “Never advertise your services on internet forums.” Did you mean sth like posting ur links everywhere *Looks like a Spam thing* or sth else?
    And Also, I need to knw about Setting a Rate card for my stuff, I mean how is it usually done?

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  • http://www.jacquelinejouan.com Jacqueline Jouan

    Hello, my name is Jacqueline Jouan, and I am currently trying to get into freelance work as a graphic designer. All these tips are so helpful. I have a website and am ready to get started on self marketing to attract clients. For a designer such as myself starting out as a freelancer for the time, I would like your opinion on what I should start on and focus on first to effectively market myself and thus, attract clientele. Any info/help would be very much appreciated. Thanks.

  • http://www.andyedge.com andy edge

    Great article. Being a freelance graphic designer takes plenty of patience and self motivation. Time management can be especially challenging when working on your own.

  • http://www.naskin.de Jan Willem Kooijmans

    Hi Nicole,

    Great article and useful tips. As a graphic designer with 20 years of experience I can still learn. Some tips are new, some tips are “finally” common exercise… 😉

    Jan Willem

  • http://www.logospecialist.net/blog/ Imran Sheikh

    Wonderful sharing. I agreed with your points and it seems like i wrote that article. Most of the things i learned in my freelancing career which you just mentioned for example: Do not accept every project you are offered.
    Learn from criticism instead of shrugging it off.
    Step away from your computer and get some sunlight.
    Exercise is important.

    I’d love to read more in marketing perceptive. What are the best resources to market your self instead social media ?

  • Andrea

    I’ve got a question about starting a freelance graphic design business! Where can I get images to use? To buy one individually from a stock website is very expensive. Do most designers purchase a package and charge their clients a flat rate for each image? Thanks!

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  • http://www.chrisharold.com Chris harold

    Hey Nicole,

    Great tips and a very useful read!

    I’ve written a similar article called 10 tips for surviving your first year as a freelance web designer and have touched on a few other points which your readers might find useful.



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  • ammumalar

    All these tips are so helpful. I have a website and am ready to get
    started on self marketing to attract clients. For a designer such as
    myself starting out as a freelancer for the time. http://www.design3i.com/school-prospectus-design/

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