6 Signs you’re going to be a great freelance designer

Do you ever wonder if you can make it as a freelancer?

I mean, are you afraid to leave your full-time job even if you hate it to pursue the freelance lifestyle?

There’s nothing wrong with a full-time day job (I have one), but many designers choose to stay at a dead-end job despite their intense desire to branch out on their own and start freelancing.

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So what keeps them from reaching for their dreams?

Almost always, it’s the same answer: fear.

They’re afraid they may not be able to make it as a freelancer.

They’re afraid they won’t be able to pay the bills.

They’re afraid they’ll fail.

If you fit into this category, cheer up my friend, because today I want to share with you 10 signs you’re going to be a great freelance designer. If I left any out, please add them to the list by leaving a comment!

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1. You’re persistent.

The first sign you’re going to be a great freelancer is that you’re persistent. You don’t give up when times get tough. Because, believe me, times get tough quite often (especially in the beginning) when you’re a freelancer.

But if you can push through hard times, it totally pays off!

2. You’re optimistic.

There’s almost no trait more attractive in business than optimism. When clients come to you with “brilliant ideas,” are you the type of person that shuts them down right away telling them all the reasons it will never work? Or do you optimistically give their ideas a chance?

3. You’re friendly.

When a client is searching for a freelancer or a temporary hire they want someone who they can get along with for the duration of the project.

Even if you’re an amazing designer who produces killer results, no client will want to work with you if you’re upset, angry and rude all the time.

4. You understand finances.

One thing many designers don’t think about when they’re getting ready to make the switch to freelancing is that they have to understand finances.

A business that doesn’t make money can’t stay in business for very long. So learn the ins and outs of finances and what it takes to run a profitable business before you decide to take the jump and you’ll be just fine.

5. You’re humble.

There will be many days during your time as a freelance designer where clients will fight to the death on their opinion. If you can determine the right moment to stand up for your design decisions and the right moment to eat some humble pie and accept your clients’ opinion, you’ll be better off in the long run.

6. You’re a problem-solver.

Lastly, a good freelance designer is a problem-solver. Not only do you need to solve problems for your clients, but you’ll also need to solve problems for your own freelance business. If you’re short on cash for the month, how do you solve that? Find ways to generate passive income? Find more clients? Outsource some of your business tasks? Partner with another designer?

So Relax

If you’ve got most of the traits listed above, stop putting off the switch to freelancing. Make the change today and start living the rest of your life!

Anyone with the traits I’ve listed above that I’ve seen make the switch to freelancing have been successful…and I’m sure you can too!

What did I leave off the list?

What other signs show that someone is going to be a successful freelance designer? Add to the list by leaving a comment on this post!



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About Preston D Lee

Preston is an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, and the founder of this blog. You can contact him via twitter at @prestondlee.


  1. I think being patient should be on that list.. cos you need patience to deal with some employers when you first switch to freelancing right?

  2. And you’re fantastic at managing your time and meeting deadlines…

    • YES! Time management mastery is a big one (especially for myself). Thanks for this great article, Preston, I’m sharing it with my colleagues!

  3. I think sometimes the importance of having a supportive network of friends and family is neglected. When those times are tough many times their encouraging words and hugs will help get you through them. And it also more fun when you have people to celebrate the good times with, the ones who were there for you when… Those are the best people.

    • it’s true..but hope for …don’t expect those hugs…because not everyone really understands why one would leave a ‘good, full time job with benefits’…to slug it out on your own. when i was starting out, it was ‘a novelty’ to be a designer (and get paid for playing on the computer all day)…but every item on list above is an equally crucial part of this mix..for the record, i’ve worked as a freelancer for the past 15 years.. being called upon repeatedly by a few special clients who saw the list above in me…even though i might not have seen it in myself

  4. You have a thick skin. Because clients don’t mince words.

  5. THANK you for the motivating speach – Awesome. I will start, today 😀

  6. Give your client the time of day. If a client calls/meets with you – focus on them – that’s their time that they are paying for. If you don’t have time for them – tell them so and reschedule the call/meeting for another time.

    It used to drive me crazy when I was working full-time and a freelancer would come in to help out and all they would do is check their email and answer their cell.

  7. Obey the phrase “If you charge less, you’ll be valued less!”

    • I’ve been learning this one!
      I find it hard to charge for something I love doing (or as someone above said “play on the computer all day”). I recently obtained a client who, upon receiving a quote from me, effectively said “That won’t do. I’ll pay you 25% more.” What a gift!

  8. I think being resourceful and also knowing to balance your time wisely is a must as a freelancer. You’re on your own on a project without and traffic managers, project managers, etc etc.

  9. It’s hard for freelancers (in any field) to get affordable health insurance. Otherwise I would consider doing it permanently.

  10. You’re motivated. Some people can’t steer themselves away from video games or goofing off if they don’t have a boss pushing them to get things done. Habitual procrastination is a dangerous thing for freelancers.

    Great post! I’m feeling pretty awesome! 🙂

  11. If you don’t already have one, be sure to get a dog – or possibly a cat. You’re going to need some company, someone to talk to and someone to vent to.When deciding between a dog or a cat, just be aware that my personal experience is that cats aren’t very good listeners, whereas dogs will give you their full attention as long are you are talking to them. Of course, this primarily applies to those of us working out of a home office. Seriously I do find the long periods without some face time to be a bit lonely at times and, worse, not being around other creatives can have a negative impact on your work if you’re not careful. Fortunately there are ways to still interface with other creative minds – iron sharpens iron!

  12. Time Management: You juggle time and projects well. This should DEFINITELY make the list.

  13. While the above are good traits to have for most any kind of job, they certainly aren’t the most important indicators of whether someone making the move to freelancing will be successful. Implying that is very bad advice.

    People who want to make the move to freelancing usually have spent years developing their skills, have experience working with many different kinds of people in different roles, have made many connections in the industry they work in, and have an established reputation. Its called “career capital”, as outlined in Cal Newport’s “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”.

    Without career capital, you can be the most optimistic, friendly, humble, etc. person in the world…but the odds of you becoming a successful freelancer are slim.

    • Paul,
      I appreciate your disagreement, but I don’t think it’s right. There are hundreds of young entrepreneurs and freelancers who begin freelancing without “paying their dues” to the cubicle or corporate america before taking the leap. Perhaps in the past you had to spend years in your industry before you could be a successful solo-preneur, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. Thoughts?

      • Hey Preston.

        While I genuinely appreciate your optimism, I just think young people need to be very careful and realistic when making this leap. Paying your dues results in connections and experience. Maybe it now only takes a couple years to build up these things instead of the 10+ years it used to take. But a person still needs these things in order to get work, work well with people, and produce high-quality results.

        Ultimately, anyone who has valuable skills, and can convince clients to pay them for their work, month after month, so that they can actually make a living, should absolutely make the leap to freelancing. As long as they realize that there are many real factors (many in and many out of our control) beyond following your passion and overcoming your fears that determine success or failure.

        • There are many ways to develop your chops. Working for someone else is just one of them. What I have noticed though is that the successful freelancers often started their careers that way. I’ve never worked for someone else. I was working professionally as a freelancer while still in high school. I’m not even sure freelancer is the right word. I think collaborator, consultant, or business owner is more accurate to what a freelancer really does.

          I wouldn’t call an IP attorney a freelancer. Nor would I call my mechanic, the contractor who works on my house, or my acupuncturist a freelancer. They are professionals who work on their own terms.

          I have several designer friends who started as full time employees and most of them have tried to switch to freelancing at one time or another and they all ultimately went back to being an employee. Part of the problem is you can’t just press a “freelancer” button and start freelancing. It’s a completely different lifestyle and way of thinking than being an employee in a firm. The change to freelance is just to traumatic for most to handle. The reverse is also true. I would be traumatized having to be a full time employee, working on someone else’s schedule, having to show up at specific times, and then dealing with all the office BS. I would be profoundly unhappy. So my vote to being a successful freelancer has more to do with your your priorities, your temperament, your values and your personality than your current skill level. Skills are always being built upon, new skills are acquired and old ones fade when they are no longer needed. But who you are, at your core, is permanent.

        • People skills is key. Working in the field before freelancing for the first time really helps build that.

      • Thanks for your response.

    • I agree with Paul Rand… Pierce. All of those traits are good, but it’s important to take time developing skills and experience before jumping out into the world of freelance — especially when others depend on you.

    • Blanche Gordon says:

      Speaking as one who has gone from the days of past-up boards to computers (God love ’em) I agree. There is a level of confidence that comes with having a variety of experiences under your belt before plunging into freelancing. It inspires your clients to believe in your ablility to understand their business and goals, thus reducing the time it takes to help them achieve their goals.

  14. Thank you all for your advices, this article is really good.

    I am freelance and i have experienced pretty much the things above. It’s not easy every day but at least i get to be at work in less than five minutes, instead of two hours (i used to spend 4 hours a day in the train)

    One advice : keep a place at home where you work only far from distractions and keep it clean, you never know if someone is comming (a client?) if possible have two computers in different places, one to work in your workplace, the other to do whatever you want like play games and stuff.

  15. Kjetil Tørum says:

    I am a freelancer, but for me, the most salient issue, the lever between success and not success, is if your’re a sales person, not as in commercial, but “bread-and-butter”-mechanics, do you make to persuade a permissible customer to come to you for advice and to solve design-issues and problems of aesthetics?

  16. I have found that a very important trait is reliability. There are a lot of talented people out there, but repeat business (the mainstay of any freelancer, IMO) is that the client trusts you are reliable, responsive and respectful of their deadlines.

  17. Jill Shaffer says:

    One key trait: Flexibility, although you might find that this is an underlying trait to persistence, optimism, and problem solving. I’ve been working as a freelancer for over 30 years, and you have to be able to adapt, go with the flow (or not) of work, and have faith/confidence that the next job will turn up.
    Which leads to another trait: self-assessment. Recognize what your talents are, even what you might specialize in, within the broad field of graphic design. For instance, I know I’m really good at long-form documents — most of my income is made designing book interiors — but I’m also really good at tight-fitting newsletters. While I can do a good cover, maybe someone else would be better for a really snappy cover that marketing would love.
    And now I realize I’m primarily a print designer, not so much into web or electronic media. Specialization may limit your marketability, but knowing your strengths will get you to the right clients. And those clients will appreciate the order you bring out of their chaos.

  18. You DID say that you were going to list 10 (ten) signs, but you only listed 6. =D

  19. my problem is how do i find clients, and what to charge when i do.

  20. How about someone with 35 years of design experience, half of that being full time freelance, considering going back to the corporate design world as an Associate Art Director for a regular pay check, paid vacation and insurance benefits and corporate hierarchy?

  21. Hello all. I agree with danielle on time management. I consider being organized one of the most important things when working on different projects for different clients. I know there is a lot of tools for tracking your activities, but I would like you to take a look at what we do in OpenBrand (https://openbrand.com). It is a smart platform which lets graphic designers to collaborate with their clients, store all their creative items, technical specs, descriptions and source files and not getting lost in the creative process at the same time.

  22. All good points Preston. I’ll just add:

    Be professional. Keep deadlines, communicate well and use contracts (even if it’s just a letter agreement via email), this keeps everyone on the same page with no surprises. Courtesy=yes, friendship=no, this is where lines get crossed.

    Know your value. If you undercut your rates just to get jobs or the hope of future work, you’ll have to keep undercutting as you’ve set your pricing expectation low. Unfortunately, some clients think “freelance” means inexpensive and that you are employed by them. You are a business, so don’t give your time away.

    I do believe that having previous professional experience teaches you a lot of this stuff, but there’s no reason you can’t learn on the fly, just be careful. If you fall short and disappoint too often, this may hurt your reputation, so learn as much as you can in the areas you lack.

  23. Learn to say NO. Don’t try to take any project that comes to you; there is only so much you can do. Have a good working-hours plan so you don’t end up not having a life.

    Don’t work for FREE. People (mainly ‘friends’) have the tendency to think that, because you are a freelance, the word “free” comes together and that you can do “this simple logo that they need to start their own business and they don’t have much budget”. Be careful, even if you think it wouldn’t take a lot of your time; people can easily take advantage of your ‘nice support’, and ‘friendship’ can be harmed. Friends understand that that is what you do for a living.

    Charge the right amount. Pricing your work might be the hardest part of freelance work. Talk to experienced freelancers to see what they are charging by the hour and start monitoring how many hours takes you to do a certain job. And try not to charge less because client begged you to, unless you are prepared to accept the same (or sometimes even more) demands and sets of revisions as the client that paid full price. There is nothing more frustrating that end up making $0.10 an hour on a job.

    Specify sets of revisions included in your cost. Again, do anything to prevent that clients take advantage of you. I always specify in my estimates that cost includes 2 sets of revisions and any further revision will have an hourly charge. I’m not saying that clients are abusive by choice, but most likely they don’t really know what they want and they will change their minds over and over, and there you are changing and changing things. For this kind of clients I always say: at $$$ an hour from this point on, you can change your mind or make this piece ‘more perfect’ as much as you want ; )

    • I agree about pricing. I always set out how many revisions are included in the quoted price too.
      My problem is getting clients. I went freelance after having my children and am at a point now where I really need to get some serious business and earn some proper money. I worked 17 years for printers, am very organised and a good layout designer, smart with type and great at fitting stuff in. I don;t give up either, and am so passionate, you always get more than you pay for.
      I am a bit lacking in confidence with new people and find it hard to broach the subject of promoting myself. http://www.lindawildideas.co.uk
      Must try harder in the community I guess, and overcome my sheyness!

  24. @ Preston.

    What you will learn by “paying your dues” is how to manage customers, and their expectations, but more than anything, hone your craft. SO MANY young designers are blinded in the light that shines out of their own backside. I used to review portfolios of 2nd and 3rd year college students. Some young creatives see their own work as amazing, when truly, it is unprofessional, unpolished, ill-conceived dreck. Poor spelling and grammar; Horrid use of type; inappropriate use of imagery and not the slightest sense of hierarchy. Really? Your a student. You know NOTHING. You might be talented and you might even stand out in a crowd of your peers (it is why I’d hire you), but you need to spend some time learning from someone better. Being corrected, reined, shown, nurtured. Lawyers need law firms; Doctors need hospitals. Accountants; plumbers; electricians; EVERYONE needs to learn the ropes before you/they go out on your own. Otherwise doctors kill patients, electricians burn your house down, and designers fill the world with lousy, hideous, ineffective communications. Get over yourself (not you necessarily Preston, just young designers in general). Pay your dues. Learn. You’ll be better at what you do; able to charge more dough; and (everything else equal) you’ll actually be successful. Take it from an old guy. Really. An old designer who started at the demise of the wax machine and type galleys; when the mac took floppies. See? Old. Good luck! You can do it!

    • Agreed. Passion is the flame that keeps you going, but it does not replace discipline and experience. It’s a matter of recognizing your professional level. Does it correspond to the standard of work you want to do? As Ryu puts it after each battle: “I still don’t have what it takes, I must train harder…”

  25. Don’t forget the fact that you are the company now. Understanding a little small business + finance, and how to file your taxes can keep you out of trouble with the Gov. AND, find out all the tax breaks there are for you: milage, food expenses, cell phone, Internet, computer equipment and other business expenses you can write off at tax time. Every dollar counts when you are just starting out.

  26. Here’s one:
    Work for a printing company! I was required to set up multiple jobs within tight deadlines… and I worked with files set up by other designers that were impossible to print. Now that I freelance, I can give clients print-ready files that save them headaches at the press.

  27. No one has mentioned this yet I think but self discipline is key to success if you work for long periods on your own. It’s all to easy to get distracted.

  28. No one has mentioned this yet I think but self discipline is key to success if you work for long periods on your own. It’s all to easy to get distracted.

  29. One other thing is to be able to work alone for long time. It’s quite difficult because other colleagues thoughts and opinions can inspire and push you to improve

  30. Wow, Most of the comments here are so spot on. I think the comments are just as good as the article. Thanks for all the helpful advice!!!!!!!

  31. Knowing when to cut your losses.

    As a freelancer you are going to come across some difficult clients, clients that pay late, always argue about price, always expect you to work for less and at the same time expect you to drop everything to deal solely with them.

    These clients are the kind that destroy your business.

    Learn to recognize and avoid them. If you already have one or two like this, drop them now. With the time you waste producing their projects (I say waste but its usually worse than that because they always end up costing you money) you could be out finding good clients that pay well.

    You have to be tough and remember you are trying to make money for yourself and not only for your client.

  32. El Warbo Grande says:

    If I’m none of these, and I’m not saying I am, but just hypothetically, heh heh …

    Should my hypothetical self be worried?

    • Randall Beckwith says:

      El Warbo Grande: Did you ever find a graphic design agent? I have left the corporate world after almost 40 years in design and have found a cool little mountain community I want to live in. I’d like to have an agent who gets the work and handles the billing and receivables for a cut of the project fee. Did you find an agent to meet your need? If so, are you happy with that person? If so, would you refer them to me?

  33. Be a workaholic, i wouldn’t make it anymore as a freelancer, since i love my free time too much 😛

    Friends of mine are successful freelancers, but are raging workaholics and i wouldn’t see it work out if they weren’t.

  34. You have to be good at sales, marketing and mainly networking to get your clients. If you aren’t good at it, you have to get good at it!

  35. Vandenberg says:

    Great points. If you find those qualities in yourself, it is a great start. However, the two most important ones are…….make sure you are a qualified, capable designer (not the kind that bought a macbook pro and InDesign and call themselves a designer) and charge the industry rates for your area.

    Just like every other self respecting industry, hacks and low ballers make life miserable for the rest of the designers in the area and the field in general.

  36. Putske Graphics says:

    Solid projects everytime. I’ve found as a freelancer that 90% of my business is repeat business. Ensure that you take care of your current clients before reaching out to prospective clients. Always remember that the best marketing and sales is ‘word of mouth’. I don’t even have a website but new clients contact me all the time. It’s all about word of mouth.

  37. First, never call yourself a “freelance” anything. I prefer, Creative Professional.

    Second. You basically have to get the work done. “Time Management” … I hate the term, makes it sound like you work in an office. Just get the job done, do it when you need to. The beauty of being independent is just that, you are independent.

    And I’ll add. It helps to get experience with a design studio or group before you go freelance. There is too much to learn to do it all on your own.

  38. Find a niche market, and build a network of professionals within that market. For example, if you have worked for a publishing company and know editors who can do your proofreading, you can offer more than just design. This is what makes a client with financial resources comfortable. Don’t limit yourself to small jobs – go for projects that you can bill for several hundred or a few thousand dollars for. You want to make a living, and one business card or band poster at a time isn’t sustainable.

  39. 6. You are able to talk in front of groups of people. Self confidence has been a huge benefit to my package of skills. If you aren’t willing to tell your story…you can’t tell their story.

    7. Spend time networking with your community. Other designers and more important the web community is huge. That would be web designers, developers, Social Media and SEO specialists. There is so much information that no one person can stay on top of it.

    8. Developing strategic partners that can help you with your business. These can be vendors, web designers, video professionals, copy writers, developers, etc. Businesses that can compliment your design shop and can now offer more to your client. Clients like people that you trust! You also become a one stop shop for them.

  40. You listen… Listen to what the customer saying, how they respond to questions – body language, facial expression… Watch and listen to them

  41. Are you able to network?
    I found that one of the most important things is networking. I probably got 90 % of my clients through my network – and most of them from my private network. Friends and family, former colleagues, former clients, the childrens school and leisure, commuting, parties and weddings etc.
    Introduce your friends and family to your work. Most of them haven’t got any idea of what you do.
    Don’t be intrusive – conversation with strangers and acquaintances usually covers “and what do you do?” eventually ;o)

  42. You must be able to go long periods with little or no cash flow. Lets face the facts. A freelance artist (even the best) will go through long dry periods. Artists are not a very well respected breed when it comes to business and the business community knows and takes advantage of it every day. That is one reason so many businesses balk at what artists will quote them and usually they will knock you down on price and, being an artist, you will buckle to get the job. I see young artists so desperate to get a job, they will do it for free for the “publicity”. Don’t ever do that. Stick with your price.

  43. Kelli Haggett says:

    You definitely need to have a business plan in play. This will help to keep you focused on the projects you receive.

    It can also help you to get through those tough times. I website with your mission, values, and a brief description of how you normally do business can allow customers to see exactly how you work.

  44. How come ‘creative’ is not included? And while we’re at it, be a good marketer – it wouldn’t hurt.

  45. If you’re working from home, then its important to get your family to recognise your working hours. Yes, you can be flexible, but just because you are at home does not mean you can take the dog for a walk, load the dishwasher and put the washing on!

  46. As a retired freelance designer all comments are commendable… two in particular.
    Michael @Preston “Poor spelling and grammar; Horrid use of type; inappropriate use of imagery and not the slightest sense of hierarchy” and Kim “Work for a printing company!”
    The above comments are quite factual. To these I stress returning phone calls, keeping meetings and being punctual.

  47. the comments are so helpful as the article. I’ve been a full-time 9-5 designer for 10 years and at the same time juggling freelance work for the past 5 years. it’s really tough to work for a day job and create something great for a different client at night, especially if most of your clients are on the same industry (e.g. hospitality) I realized we can only work so much, and great ideas have a quota per day too. But i must say, aside from my hard work and my signature quality of work, my day job really helped me create my network of freelance clients. Now i am about to leave the corporate world to focus on my own design company. Equipping yourself with the things you need – network, machines, and the right attitude is best before going for a plunge in a full-time freelance world.

  48. My time spend working in design firms was key to learning how to manage the business side of freelancing. Estimates, timesheets, job numbers and jackets, creative services vs production – this required paperwork was SO annoying to me as an employee, but have been INVALUABLE to keeping my freelance business organized and professional. Because of this system, I am able to look up old jobs and files at a moment’s notice, and clients are very grateful. However the creative side is better as a freelancer – I get to work for smaller, more interesting businesses and individuals, and am loving it.

  49. There’s a great book out called Quitter. It is by Jon Acuff. In it he discusses how to effectively make the switch from working at a day job to pursuing your dream job. I just finished reading it and I highly encourage it to anybody looking to make the switch!

  50. I cannot personally imagine doing anything else, i love it. The work is varied, as is the pay, but for someone who loves design being in charge of what you do, and how you do it is the most amazing thing there is. Some days are hard, some days are quiet, but overall it is the most rewarding job in the world bar none. I did a post myself on How I Survive, if it is allowed I will post the link here and would love to know other peoples views and own experiences. Whatever you do, believe in it, work hard and enjoy every single second – Lifes short, as are working days so dont waste a second – If you want to be a freelance designer, do it. Today. http://thegraphicquarter.com/how-i-survive-as-a-freelancer-graphic-designer/


  1. […] original post here: 6 Signs you're going to be a great freelance designer | Graphic … This entry was posted in Graphic Design News by 99Covers Team. Bookmark the […]

  2. […] If you fit into this category, cheer up my friend, because today I want to share with you 10 signs you’re going to be a great freelance designer. If I left any out, please add them to the list by leaving a comment! […]

  3. […] (Just starting out? Here’s 6 signs you’re going to be a great freelance designer.) […]


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