7 Golden rules of finding freelance design work

Web and graphic Designers put many years into learning and mastering the skills they need to succeed. When just starting out, they have to go through many difficult situations. Potential employers require a portfolio and prefer someone with working experience. The firm or company knows you are a new-comer and need a break. So the classic catch-22 situation continues endlessly. When you have not worked anywhere how can you build a portfolio or gain experience? And without experience or a portfolio, how can you get a job?

I too went through this grind. I started my career with small firms and started getting the work in bits and pieces but it was not satisfying because I wanted to do full fledged web site projects and not in bits and pieces. Nobody was ready to give me a full-fledged site project. At that stage I learned about sites with freelance jobs like Rent-a-coder, Freelancer.com, Lime Exchange, and Guru. I started applying there and got my first break with freelancer.com. It was in August 2006 I got a small flash template customization project.

The amount they paid was small but I achieved a lot.

After that I never looked back, and within 4 years I had already done around 375 small and big projects. Today I work on my own terms and conditions from my home. I am even in the Top 50 freelancers list of that site. I also completed successful projects at Guru and Rent-a-coder later on. Even without a portfolio site I got steady work. These sites give you a very good break, confidence, money and projects for your portfolio too. I’ve experienced it myself.

Seven Golden Rules of finding work on freelancing sites

From my own experience here are seven golden rules if you too want to change your destiny by getting into freelancing sites:

1. Keep knocking on the door until it opens

Most of the freelancing sites work on an open bidding system. When you take a membership at these sites they give you a free bidding option. To enter into freelancing world you need to have a lot of patience at the beginning since you are not the only competent person there. There are many good designers out there vying for the same project. But patience always pays off. So keep on bidding and trying til the door opens for you.

2. Write intelligent messages to the buyer

The buyers are very intelligent. Don’t just write “I can do it” in your bid. Rather you must write why you can do it and how differently you can do it from the next guy. Never try to show someone else’s work as your own. If you are bidding for a Flash site project, for example, explain the process, how you will achieve it, and how you can give the client all he pays for and more.

3. Quick communication is the key

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Communication, or lack thereof, can make or break your design career. Return the messages or emails from the clients as quickly as possible. Try to follow what the client is asking for. Answer every query in an intelligent way to show to the client that you mean business. I have grabbed some projects in 20 minutes just by talking quickly and intelligently. The client is always ready to pick up the best guy; you just have to prove that you are him.

4. Respect deadlines

When bidding you have to provide an approximate number of days you need to do the job. Generally clients are flexible, but I suggest respecting deadlines to show how efficient you are. If some part of the site takes more time, which it always does, try to explain that part to the client so they can see your point of view too. If for any reason you do not work on weekends or holidays, let the client know that so he doesn’t wait for your messages.

5. Ask for advance payment after approval

Never ask for upfront payments–the client will simply run away. Remember, you are trying to break into the business. Try first to make some kind of mock up for the client and get his approval. Once he approves it, you have won half the battle. Then ask for safe escrows through freelancing sites. You can ask for half or full escrow by discussing it with the client. Then you can concentrate on the big picture and complete the project since you know money is in safe hands. Even after doing so many jobs I hardly ask for upfront payments and my clients always respect me for that.

Chase after the work and money will follow.

6. Respect your client and give something extra

In this business if you show forth an extra effort it will always be worth it. If a client has asked you to design a website, you should suggest hosting, registration, or administration as well. Your clients will appreciate small favors. If any small changes are needed later on, help the client with out any monetary expectation. These small steps have given me so much work since many clients return these small favors with more work.

7. Polish your skills

Never think you know it all. Try to learn new techniques and skills every day. I settled for Flash and Html/CSS at some point of my carrier. I used to refuse to the jobs involving WordPress, Joomla, Flex, Jquery and XML and lost some clients in the process. Then I spent some months learning about these technologies and my client base immediately picked up since they can now rely on me for getting different varieties of jobs done.

What else would you add?

My advice to new-comers is to just follow these tips, take a deep breath and jump into the big world of freelancing. I can assure you if I can carve a niche for myself and earn a good paycheck, so can you. What other tips would you offer to the design community on landing some great freelance jobs?

A thought from the editor

Jay, Thanks so much for contributing this article to Graphic Design Blender. It came at a great time considering the newest and most exciting advancement here at Millo. I would like to introduce everyone to the new Graphic Design Blender Job Board. Currently the job board contains over one hundred job opportunities for both web and graphic designers. These archives are updated daily and new sites will constantly be added to the board.

The entire purpose of Millo is to help designers truly succeed and make a living doing what they love. These hand-picked freelance and full-time job opportunities provide a great way for you to build your graphic or web design business. Be sure to visit the job board frequently, make suggestions, and find some great job opportunities to help build your portfolio and grow your design business.


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About Jay Kaushal


  1. Good rules here, especially the Keep Knocking til the Door Opens one. I’ve been freelancing for just over a year now, still trying to carve out my niche. One thing I’ve done to insure a decent flow of cash is to get my name on the vendor lists for larger corporations – the work may be sporadic and uninspiring, but sometimes it comes in at crucial moments, just in time to keep your head above water.

    • @Daniel, Thanks Daniel, the Keep Knocking rule is what I went through. The door not only opened but just fell down giving me a straight entry into this big and beautiful world of web design. You are right sometimes we need off and on work too for our daily needs from big and small firms. And as far as I think work is work. No matter if it is small or big. I still do small jobs or quickies and full projects too. Balance is a must. Glad to know you liked my article 🙂

  2. This is such a great and informative article. I’m very excited about all the opportunities that are also coming my way. I’m glad to meet you!

    • @Candy, Thanks Candy. I am glad to meet you too. As I said Keep Knocking and door will not only open but you will be flooded with projects. The trick is patience and doing better and better each day. Take a deep breath and keep focused. 🙂

  3. To add to #6, make sure to suggest things that will make it easier for you and the client alike. You want their experience working with you to be effortless. If, for example, the client didn’t know they needed hosting space and they have to jump through hoops and call Godaddy themselves, that reflects poorly on you. Even though it’s not your responsibility it may benefit you in the long run as the customer will come back for repeat work. They’ll recommend you to other people etc.

    • @Jonathan Patterson, A very valid point Jonathan. That is why I raised it. Most of the clients are not that tech saavy and want your support for everything. They do not know what hosting is and what ftp is all about. Here, if you provide strong support then rest assured you are in their permanent books for rest of your life. Small gestures pays in the long run.

  4. True and honest approach pays……that’s what i smell from this artcile.Good job done.

  5. Hi Jay, thank you for the nice tips. The first: having a lot of patience, is the one that suits for me. And I’d like to add: do some personal project while you are waiting for paid works, it helps you to build new skills, it lets you experiment new techniques and it makes you grow your portfolio. Thanks again 🙂

    • @Federica Sibella, Thanks Federica. Yes Patience is what had helped me reach where I am today. You are absolutely right regarding personal projects. I used to make dummy projects for dummy clients in the beginning. All those helped me get work from real clients later on and also boosted my confidence by learning new skills too. It is always when you learn at your own, you start mastering the skills. Glad to know you liked this article 🙂

  6. Thanks for the great article. I believe communication is one of the most important factors in finding new freelance projects. If you are on hand to answer any queries quickly, it gives the client confidence in you, and shows you are someone they can rely on.

    • @Mark, I am glad Mark that you liked the article. Out of 100 clients with whom I worked, 98% priased for my quick communication. It is a bad habit to keep your client waiting for you. Even if I move out for a day or two, my clients know where and when I will be available again. To bridge the gap technology like Blackberry is always on your side 🙂

  7. I would add having some sort of Statement of Work written up that the designer and the client can agree upon. It doesn’t need to be anything formal, just a list of the work to be completed and possibly include time-frames and costs of the project. This will serve as a reference for both parties in case there is some sort of disagreement, which unfortunately happens occasionally. Otherwise this is a superb article Jay, keep ’em coming!

    • @Daniel Craig Jallits, That is right Dan. Sometimes misunderstanding arise about quantum of work as there is no written statement. I personally send a list or requirement sheet to my clients, before I start, to know what and how much it will take to complete the job. That gives me clear indication how much time and energy will go into it and what the final price should be. Personally speaking, I have mostly worked with good clients and they mostly paid for my extra time and effort. Thanks for visiting Millo and I am happy your liked the article. 🙂

  8. I am just looking into getting back to freelancing after working for an agency for a while. I have to disagree with the point you are making on asking for an advance on the money. In my experience it is actually a sign of respect and standard business practice to have a policy of 30-50% upfront payment. No half decent client could refuse that. If they would I would seriously questioning their motives…

    • @Rita, As far as my experience goes, if you ask for upfront payment even without showing any concept/mock especially in freelancing business, 75% chances are client will look for another service provider. We have to remember we are not the only one working here,there are thousand of talented people around to choose from. But, as soon as the client is happy with your mock/demo I personally ask more than 50% or in some cases even more as advance payment. There is a difference if you are running your design agency and if you are working as a freelancer as far as advance payment is concerned. If you are established shop/agency then your point is correct 🙂

    • @Rita & @Jay Kaushal,
      This is an interesting issue you both bring up. While I would normally side with Jay on this, I am beginning to ask myself why. When I worked for a design firm, we always took partial payments BEFORE any work was done. Why, now that I freelance, don’t I do the same thing? It seems to make sense to me.

      I think it shows confidence on both sides. By paying you a portion (say 50%) the client shows he has confidence in your work. By charging a portion, you show that you have confidence in the relationship.

      This way both parties are committed.

      Any thoughts?

      • @Preston D Lee, Well Preston, when you are starting as a individual freelancer you do not have a identity of your own. There are thousand of freelancers out there. But when you are working for a design firm, you have a tangible and visible identitiy. In latter case client will happily give advance payments and get a receipt from you. He knows if something goes wrong he will catch us easily.

        But just imagine a client talking to a freelancer from India, whom he had never met and who just had a email as his identity, how can he give advance payment to him even without seeing any work or mock. This is what happens on even the best freelancng sites. Whatever your experience may be you are asked for some mock or demo first. The percentage of clients who directly give advance through paypal or escrow are very very few.

        Even after doing around 380 plus projects I am have to prove myself. For some, even my portfolio site has no meaning. Some clients say anybody can copy anybodys work and show it as his own 🙂

        Just place yourself in buyer’s position and think about it. They want to be sure that the guy they are hiring or paying is worth the money they are giving him. That is why I happily provide mocks even today before actual start of the project or advance payment. If client number one do not like it,client number two will sure buy it 🙂

        • @Jay Kaushal,
          I can see your point when talking about freelancers in india or fresh students without any projects to show off. But as an experient worker you don’t just run into a client saying – show me the money or I’ll leave. You will of course have a good talk – best personal – about the brief and draw up a written propsal after that. Once the client agrees on that you can set up a contract and send an invoice for advance payment. I do not see the big difference between the business of being a freelancer or a freelance team and an being an agency – you are both doing your business hopefully in a professional way. Freelancing is not a game or anything like that. And as such your clients should respect you. Because if you turn it around – if I am a freelancer in India doing a whole bunch of a work for a company I never met that didn’t give me any contract or upfront payment – how do I know I will not get ripped off?

    • @Rita, Well my comment is only for freelancer working on freelancing sites not freelancers opening their own shop. I think best way is to test waters by joining a freelancing site and see for yourself how the things move 🙂

  9. It was my pleasure to deal with Jay,
    I did a project with him, and he was such a wonderful talented and dependable person. I think my business will step forward with people like him.
    When I read his article I see what strategy he use, and how customers depend on him, I am afraid when Jay’s clients reach higher numbers what shall he do then?! He will keep that good service, communication and good quality or leaking service will start?! I don’t know, but I am sure of one thing, I will be one of those clients 🙂

    • @Johnny, Thanks Johnny for your kind words. My strategy is always simple, Top Class Work at a Competitive Price. There is nothing to afraid of as my clients already reached 400 plus mark and at least half of them are repeat clients coming back again to get their work done. So rest assured, my service is still good, communication is great and there is no leaking service. 🙂

      It will be pleasure to work for you as well on all future jobs and I can assure you that the 7 golden rules I mentioned still apply to me irrespective of where I stand today.

      Once again thanks for your comments.

  10. Hey Jay,
    Comunication is the key, also after you have the project. The client allways want to hear news from you. So it’s better to say: I just received your email with modifications, I will think 5 hours about that and you will give you the corect answer, than answer after 5 hours/days.
    Great golden rules for finding freelance work.


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