How to find freelance graphic design work: best practices

How to find freelance graphic design work: best practices

Setting up a steady stream of new clients and projects can be challenging. Unless you follow these tips.

How to find freelance graphic design work: best practices

Setting up a steady stream of new clients and projects can be challenging. Unless you follow these tips.

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Written by
Jeff Cardello
Jeff Cardello
Jeff Cardello
Jeff Cardello

Working as a freelancer means going beyond your craft. Besides your graphic design savvy, you’ll need skills to market yourself and secure work. This might be outside your comfort zone, but avoiding it could kill your dreams. Let’s tackle the art of finding work with a little bit of courage and a lot of drive.

Get the word out

‍Let everyone know you’re looking for work, but keep the volume at a reasonable level.

As someone who’s chosen an artistic career path, you probably have many creative friends. Letting them know you’re looking for work is one of the best ways to get new leads. Use email and LinkedIn messages to broadcast your availability.

Social media is also a great way to spread the word. But don’t be obnoxious about it — a few posts, regularly repeated, asking friends to connect you with anyone looking for your skillset is all you need. You never know who knows someone who knows someone who needs a graphic designer.

Consider regularly sharing posts on Facebook, Twitter, Behance, and Dribbble about projects you’re proud of. The more often people see your work, the more they’ll remember what you do. And when someone needs a graphic designer, your name will come to mind. I’ve gotten freelance writing leads from people who recommended me after seeing my work on Facebook.

Reach out to past contacts

Even if you didn't get that job you interviewed for, it’s not a complete loss. Share a link to your online portfolio and show off what you've been working on since you last met. Maybe you weren’t the right candidate then, but you’ve gained experience and it’s possible you’ve grown into the perfect fit! A familiar face can be more compelling than you might think.

I once had an interview I was sure went horribly. I didn't get the job and took it personally. Six months later, the same company reached out to ask if I was available as a freelancer because they liked my work. They've been a steady client ever since.

You never know where your contacts will lead — someone you interviewed with could move to a company that needs graphic design work. Recruiters I worked with have ended up in full-time roles with major companies. It never hurts to reconnect.

Working with a recruiting agency

Working with a recruiting or staffing agency can be a great way to find opportunities you wouldn't otherwise know about. These recruiters only make money by filling these positions. Which can mean that they may pitch dull-as-dust roles with the same enthusiasm as dream jobs. (And to be fair, you never know what an individual’s dream job might be.)

Be clear with a recruiter about what you’re looking for. Don’t turn your recruiter into that friend who keeps setting you up on bad dates. Know what you need and want so you can equip those helping you to be your best possible resource.

Keep in mind that these agencies get a share that automatically cuts into your rate. So it’s actually in your best interest to be your own recruiter. That way, you can create opportunities beyond a recruiter’s network and what you’ll find on job boards.

But how?

Be your own recruiter

‍Freelancing gives you the space to find your own path.
I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.

–Steve Jobs

Being a freelancer means staying motivated at taking the initiative to find new clients. Acting as your own recruiter is a way to find jobs that you’re excited about and that you know would be a good match for your talents.

Try sending emails to creative directors and managers at companies you actually want to work for. Keep it brief with an overview of your relevant experience and a link to your portfolio. Be clear about the skills you offer and the type of projects you’d like to work on. Make sure they know you’re looking for contract or freelance opportunities.

Cold calls are another approach. I know, I know. This sounds daunting. I still break into hives at the thought of calling to order pizza. But the more cold calls you make, the easier it gets. And it only takes a couple receptive people to provide you with a bounty of freelance projects that could last months.

Being your own recruiter means pursuing companies and people you want to work with. So be brave and be picky — find clients that are right for you.

Consider freelance sites

While there are many websites for freelancers, I have the most experience with Thumbtack and Upwork. These sites have a wide variety of frequently updated positions. Clients range from individuals to large companies.

A big pool of potential jobs might seem like an easy place to get work, but starting as an unknown with zero reviews can make this tricky. Most freelance websites require proposals and bids. Figuring out how much to bid and writing proposals is time consuming. There’s a learning curve and an artistry to standing out.

But lots of freelancers make a great living from sites like Upwork — so it’s definitely doable! With some grit and a good attitude, you’re sure to land a job or two. And once that happens, reviews from satisfied clients will lead to more accepted proposals.

The missing guide to the freelance designer's life is here

Learn everything you need to know about making the leap to freelancing, from how to find clients to how to price your services.

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The missing guide to the freelance designer's life is here

Learn everything you need to know about making the leap to freelancing, from how to find clients to how to price your services.

Start reading
Start reading

Pitch local businesses — in person

‍Your favorite restaurant may have an outdated website. Why not reach out and pitch a redesign?

Finding new graphic design work locally gives you the advantage of connecting with people in person. Take inventory of neighbourhood businesses and visit websites to see who’s in desperate need of a makeover. They might not even have a website! (Yes, this still happens in 2017.)

Drop in during a company’s slower times. Ask who’s in charge of marketing or decision-making. Often that person will be the owner, maybe the person you’re talking to. Introduce yourself as a graphic designer and tell them you’ve checked out their website. Without being insulting, share your ideas about possible improvements.

You’ll be surprised how many business owners know their website is less than ideal. You might need to nod through a story or two about a terrible graphic designer they worked with, but this is your chance to shine. Offer your business card and see if they’d like to schedule a follow up meeting.

If they say yes, respect their time and attention. Get thee prepared! Bring your laptop to the meeting. If they don’t have a wireless network Wi-Fi, prepare screenshots. Know the elements you want to point out — the ones hindering the success of their site. Be ready to show good examples from competitors with solid sites. Everyone wants to beat their competition and coming up with a design that makes them stand out from the crowd is a way to succeed.and having a better website is a great way to stand out.

Take some time to find out what your potential client likes about their site and what isn’t working. Listen to their ideas for a relaunch. Wow them with a quick mockup of a landing page and show off related projects from your portfolio. This will paint a picture of the kinds of things you can do with their site. Bonus points if you have screenshots of websites before they were transformed by your design genius. Don’t miss an opportunity to get this potential client excited to work with you.

Your efforts will pay off

‍Freelancing is like surfing. It’s up to you to catch the right wave and ride it out.
There are always door openings. And gradually, it accumulates. The opportunities open up in front of you.

–Buzz Aldrin

It’s no secret that freelancing can be frustrating. Clients who were once a steady source of revenue now only send the occasional project your way. Or worse, they disappear entirely.

But freelancing can also be wonderfully rewarding if you’re willing to put in the time and effort. Being your own boss is a lot of responsibility, but it’s also a chance to take charge of your life. So put yourself out there. Know your skills and be resourceful. Create opportunities for yourself that no one else can and take control of your destiny as a freelance graphic designer.

Last Updated
September 14, 2017