5 Solid Strategies to Keep Freelance Work Rolling In

In the past few years, I’ve noted a significant increase in the number of job postings for freelance graphic designers.

While it doesn’t surprise me, as I keep on top of job trends in many professions, I thought it would be useful to see what labor gurus – i.e., Bureau of Labor researchers – say about graphic design as a career.

The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook says that between 2008 and 2018, employment for graphic designers is projected to grow 13%, as fast as average for all occupations. It suggests that there will be keen competition for jobs, and that designers with experience in website design and animation will have the most opportunities.

Important specifics to keep in mind.

With the economic recession predicted to continue for a while, employers are tightening their belts, choosing to contract out their design needs rather than maintain staff. A boon for freelancers!

So, what’s the best way to land freelance jobs and to keep them coming? Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or have 30 years of design experience under your belt, or whether your specialty is illustration or package design, I offer you five overlapping strategies for marketing yourself to keep you busy as a freelance designer.

Strategy #1: Create Your Brand

First, figure out what kind of design work interests you, what technical skills you have and will use, and the tools you’re most comfortable with. This will help you determine how to market yourself – who your clients will be, the types of work and services you’ll offer, etc.

Chances are you know a lot of this already, and as a designer you know it’s all about image, but it’s still important to think through these questions and maybe even put pen to paper to clarify your marketing objectives.

Stop putting off the first steps to success

Next, use your design expertise to create a company name and logo for your business that reflects you accurately and that demonstrates the quality of your work. Along with the logo, you can create a range of marketing materials. These include a website with a description of who you are, and your work philosophy and interests, examples of your designs, a list of clients, and quotes from satisfied customers.

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They also include a blog (see below), social networking pages, and even a voicemail message that’s appropriate to your freelance work. You’ll also need a resume. If you have one that you’ve used in the past to get full-time jobs, you’ll want to spruce it up to indicate your current interests and experiences with freelance work.

Strategy #2: Use LinkedIn

The next step is creating LinkedIn profile for yourself, as well as one for your freelance business.

As soon as you contact a new perspective employer for work, that person is likely to Google your name to learn who you are and what you’ve done.

LinkedIn profiles almost always come up on the first page because the site is one of the most popular social networking sites. Your LinkedIn profile will show that you’re a professional and that you value communication. You will want to create a well-written and complete profile, and include your logo and other graphics you’ve created.

Start making connections and become active on the site. The larger the number of people with access to your LinkedIn page and your activity on the site, the more obvious you are.

And, if you’re working from home – whether it be in the middle of the Amazon or on the 32nd floor of a Chicago apartment building – you’re likely to be somewhat isolated. Seek out recommendations from colleagues, join groups, engage in group discussions, ask and answer questions, and demonstrate what you know about graphic design.

You can also use LinkedIn to research potential employers. Many companies and organizations have Company pages that identify staff members and their positions. Through your connections, you can gain access to people who may be looking for your services.

With LinkedIn, you can play the networking game for all its worth. Same goes for Facebook and other social media sites, but LinkedIn is the one most used for professional purposes.

Strategy #3: Engage in Face-to-Face Networking

Getting out and talking to people is another tried and true methods of getting a job.

That’s not to say that there are automatic or direct pay-offs every time, but the more people you meet face-to-face, the more memorable you become. Real-life meetings give you a chance to communicate what you’re like – both personally and professionally, what kind of jobs you’ve done and can do, and what your style is like.

Plus, you can bring along a portfolio of the graphics you’ve created and discuss them with your colleague. This gives the viewer a good idea of how you work and what clients might expect from you.

Strategy #4: Start Blogging

I’m sure you’re aware of the power and outreach of blogs. They’re excellent vehicles for demonstrating your interests and knowledge, as well as serving to bring attention to yourself.

You can include graphics too, showig off some of your experiments, as well as finished designs, and writing about the design process. For a new designer who doesn’t yet have a large portfolio, you can use your blog to demonstrate that you work well with clients, you’re a good listener and you respond to feedback. You do this by engaging your readers in dialogue and responding generously and appropriately.

Teach your audience about the latest ideas and techniques in graphic design, and do it in a convincing and fun- to-read way. You want your readers to follow you to the last word, and to beg you for more.

The nature of blogging is that you’re creating a continuing conversation – one that the blogger initiates and readers respond to. This means that you need to be diligent and dependable, establishing a publication schedule and keeping to it. In doing this, and in maintaining dialogue with your readers, you demonstrate that you are responsible and communicative, features which employers of freelancers value as much as the product itself.

Strategy #5: Work Pro Bono

Again, whether you’re new at all of this or you’re a veteran, there’s no better way to gain friends, publicity, gratitude and experience than to give away your talents from time to time.

I’m sure you know small businesses or non-profits who have little money to spare but who could use really benefit from some graphics or web design work to get their messages across.

In helping them out, with no expectations of immediate remuneration, you’re likely to gain satisfaction from doing a good deed, and you’ll receive many kudos from the organization or company’s supporters who, because of your generosity, happily and loudly acknowledge your skills and generosity. Next time a paying client needs your expertise, you and your work will be on the top of their mind.

Give it a try, and tell me how it goes!

Give these ideas a shot, and let me know if my design for getting work have, indeed, increased your design opportunities!

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About Brendan Cruickshank


  1. Dennis Salvatier says

    Brendan, this is a great list of practical ways to get started and thrive, but I think that if you keep thinking of yourself as a freelancer, that is the way you will be perceived. If you introduce yourself as a business owner, what better way to conduct business?

    • @Dennis Salvatier,
      That’s an excellent observation and one that I have always found interesting, Dennis. Just to understand both sides, it can also be beneficial for people to think of you as a freelancer, right?

      I mean, sometimes people prefer to work with a freelancer than a “business”. They feel like they get a better rate, less overhead, etc etc.

      There are obviously pros and cons to each approach. What do you think?

  2. I really like this list. On the pro bono work however, I’d suggest that for even a small company, charging a bit of money. This gets you to used to using contracts, etc.(basically working as a business). Obviously, for a non-profit, free is absolutely fine if you’re so inclined.

    Good job.

  3. Great tips — except for #5 “Work Pro Bono”.

    Most pro bono clients never turn into paying clients. Let me re-phrase that. I’ve never been paid by somebody after starting to work for them for nothing.

    My new strategy: work for no money, but make the deal explicit: you will pay me in, say, new business leads, or recommendations on LinkedIn or letter of recommendation or (use your imagination).

    That raises the stakes for me because now the work is professional again — I’m being paid in another currency: reputation. And I don’t start resenting the time and energy I’m putting into the work I do.

  4. Hi Brendan, thanks for sharing your list of strategy in getting started.

    “I mean, sometimes people prefer to work with a freelancer than a “business”. They feel like they get a better rate, less overhead, etc etc.”

    I agree with you on this. People hire freelancer rather than web agencies because of the rate.

    One of the great things about a freelancer is that they have more freedom and flexibility to take on a variety of projects. Some of the most creative people in web design work strictly on a contract or freelance basis.

  5. Great post, LinkedIn is a great resource and is an even better place for exposure!


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