40 Tips for brand-new freelance designers

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 finding remote graphic design work, 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 design 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 consistently get new freelance graphic design jobs, 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.

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@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 tax payments). 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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  1. Hi Nicole,
    I have started my career as a free lancer for web and mobile products. You wrote “never advertise on internet forum” please can you elaborate this ?

  2. Excellent information! I have been pushing myself to take the dive and I am steadily creeping towards that edge. With this I feel way more confident in myself!

  3. Hey Nicole,

    Great read! The point about underselling yourself really struck home. It took me a few years and many bad web design projects to figure out that competing on price was not a good thing, happy I finally got there in the end.

    Hope this helps a few newbie freelancers!

  4. I would like to add that Paypal is a great resource! You can create your own invoice which is a receipt for the service you render to client! It’s free to do so! It’s also helping in keeping track of your taxes!

  5. Thank you so much for the straight forward advice. Do you do freelance consulting work? Would it be beneficial to hire a freelance consultant to walk me through the steps?

  6. Great article Nicole! Freelancing is scary. I worked a safe job for two years then jumped. 34 years freelancing in a small market. Clients were often in the “weeds”, small tech companies, ice cream store, roofing manufacturer. Even in the slowest times I never regretted it.

  7. Dear #Nicole Foster I want to talk with you please help me about web design i am graphic designer i can well adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. others design software
    so please I am new in the web design world would you help me in web design..?

    my skype ramjanaf

    Thanking you

    Farhad Hossain

  8. 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!

  9. 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 ?

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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?

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

  16. 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!

  17. 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!

  18. 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?

  19. 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.

  20. 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!

  21. 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 🙂

  22. 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.

    1. 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.”

  23. 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.

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

    1. @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 (:

  25. 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 Millo’s articles, keep it up!

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