10 steps to becoming a successful freelance designer

Let’s face it. There are a lot of us out there: creatives trying to become a successful freelance designer.

Freelance designing is wonderful but the market is so saturated that we often lack what we need to become successful.

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.

Becoming a successful freelance designer means becoming a successful, memorable, quality brand.

2.    Create an effective online portfolio. It is nearly impossible to become a successful freelance designer without having an impressive online 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.

Take some time to create an effective online portfolio or you can kiss your chances of becoming a successful freelance designer goodbye.

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”. If you’re a print designer, that is.

Also use your branding and identity to create business cards, stationery, etc.  Any time you can slap your personal logo on something, do it.

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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.

Becoming a successful freelance designer means having 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. Over time, with lots of word-of-mouth referrals, you’ll find yourself becoming a successful freelance designer.

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. Becoming a successful freelance designer means finding a niche and then taking courage and offering more.

To find these kinds of small jobs (and eventually bigger ones too) you can try this helpful list of remote graphic design jobs sites.

7.    Don’t underestimate yourself. This goes along with Number 4.  Be sure to believe in yourself. You can become a successful freelance designer.

But 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. Design is always 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 and becoming a successful freelance designer takes some time but can be done using social media.

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.

BONUS: Tools we recommend once you start Freelancing

Here are a few tools you’ll want to bookmark and use as you start on your career:

  1. Freshbooks: the #1 invoicing software for freelancers & solopreneurs
  2. Bench: for bookkeeping & tax help.
  3. Bonsai: an All-in-one freelancing solution for the world’s best creative freelancers.
  4. Bluehost: for affordable, easy-to-use web hosting—because every business needs a web site.
  5. Chrometa: Time tracking to ensure you never lose time you spent working on a client’s project.
  6. ConvertKit: for sending marketing messages to previous or potential clients.
  7. Udemy: for continuous learning on all kinds of subjects (including business).
  8. LegalZoom: for help with trademarks, copyrights, and other legal issues.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston Lee is the founder of Millo where he and his team have been helping freelancers thrive for over a decade. His advice has been featured by Entrepreneur, Inc, Forbes, Adobe, and many more. Connect with Preston on Twitter.


  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!

  10. Thanks a lot.

  11. I have just started my online services. These tips really helped me a lot. https://www.fivesquid.com/user/TheConsortium

  12. great advise, thank you

  13. Your post is helpful to me as m goin to start my work soon but i had no idea how to take d start … tanx for d guidance

  14. tehreem ahmed says

    Thank you so much for your helpful instructions i hope these steps will definitely helps me to be good graphic designer

  15. Thumbs up! Definitely informative 🙂 Thanks!

  16. Few Words. Great Impact. Hats off.

  17. I agree that the competition is stiff. It’s hard for a new designer to break into the global market with the variety that’s out there. I believe your portfolio is key as well, but should a designer look at establishing a niche market to concentrate on? Instead of being the everything to everyone.

  18. A lot of great advice. Thanks.

  19. Realy helpful for me. To become a successful designer with all these qualities you must have patience to listen to your client to achieve the actual goal.

  20. really love this advice. its very inspirational, am a freelance designer and it has really been hard for me. just created my personal blog due to your steps i know i can make it.


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