Well well, what a wild ride it’s been. I feel like I’ve just come up for air after struggling to swim, underwater, against a current with sharks biting at my heels for the last year.

Jokes aside, it’s been a fantastic year. I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but I’ve achieved a lot and have started to gain confidence for my future goals.

So, I thought I would recap and give you all an insight into my first year as a full-time freelance graphic designer. Dive in!

[Don’t enjoy a good read? No worries check out the YouTube version of this article below instead]

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Lessons from my first year as a freelance graphic designer

1. What you put in is what you get out

You soon realise after numerous sleep-ins or ‘days off’ tending to the garden and going for swims at the beach that the work is somehow not getting done.

Yes, you have these perks being your own boss and working from home. However, they should be used when necessary not whenever you feel like it. It’s important to stick to a reasonably fixed schedule to ensure the work is getting done.

You will no doubt have a lot of moments in the first 6 months where the work simply isn’t coming through. Take these opportunities to work on self-guided projects, competitions or volunteer with an organisation that appeals to you.

2. Be prepared to wear many different hats

Ideally you’re already prepared in all other aspects that come with running your own business. But if you are like me, you can find out how to do it all on the fly.

Utilise what you can to absorb as much information as possible on design, accounting, marketing, sales and more.

Yes, creating that invoice, sending it off and seeing it hit your bank account is quite enjoyable. Though this can’t be said for some of the other mundane tasks that come along with it.

Be sure to also incorporate the amount of work you do quoting, invoicing, meeting, FaceTiming etc. into your pricing for clients.

3. Invest in a decent business planner

This one probably isn’t as crucial for the first few months as you’ll be able to count your active jobs on one hand. But as time goes on and word gets out of your offering it will be crucial to keep organised. After all, you are the boss and it’s up to you to keep things running smoothly.

I like to break up my weeks into a few different categories. Predominantly, Client Work, Self Work, AEIQ (Applying, Emailing, Invoicing, Quoting). Set aside some time in each day (or a whole day) to do each task. No multi tasking and ruining your state of flow.

4. Resilience and determination

This one is a tough one as it can really take a toll on you mentally when the money or clients just simply aren’t coming in. At the start when things aren’t working out as they should. Consider a casual job to offset this problem. It’s important to have faith. Keep looking forward as I’m sure in time they will come. The biggest thing is to not give up and keep putting yourself out there to attract as many opportunities as possible.

It can also be handy to reach out to other designers/ mentors/ teachers etc. for reassurance. Everyone goes through early struggles and they will have plenty of advice for you if you ask nicely.

5. Cash flow, fluctuating monthly revenue and deposits becoming your best friend

Tip 1. Don’t be like me. If possible, have a few months worth of salary in safe keeping for those low months. Tip 2. If you want to be like me, prepare yourself. There will be times where you might not be able to put petrol in your car and other times where you think you are the richest person alive once multiple invoices come in on the same day.

It’s beneficial to track incoming and outgoing cash ASAP. This way you can start averaging out what you are earning each month and better prepare yourself for those financial strains.

With the nature of our work, payment timings always fluctuate. Whether through lazy clients, or large jobs that take months to complete. You can help to spread out the cash flow through deposits.

Myself, I have been charging a 25% upfront deposit. This way I know the client is committed and I also feel pressure and a desire to start on the job straight away.

6. Don’t be afraid to utilise your personal network

Lastly, your personal network is going to be crucial in your initial success. Over 80% of my jobs this year have come from word of mouth through my personal connections. Your friends and family are going to look after you whilst you are still building up those professional relationships.

Invite friends to your page on Facebook. Reach out on LinkedIn. Join forums, hand out business cards. Whatever you need to do to get your name out there. Go for it!

That’s it guys, I hope you are all a little wiser and a little more prepared for what will no doubt be a rollercoaster ride.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions and please do me a massive favour and share to anyone that you think this could also help.

Keep up the faith and best of luck.

Cameron Gomersall | Cjgoms Design

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About the author

Stephen Cleary is a Freelance Graphic Designer and Founder of Clear Design. He specialises in helping brands connect to their desired audiences by creating memorable logos, brand identities, and websites. View Stephen’s portfolio or get in touch to start a design project today.

2 thoughts on “Guest Article: 6 Tips From My First Year As A Freelance Graphic Designer”

  1. That’s quite a good article! As a full time freelance graphic designer for almost 2 years now, can relate with each of these 6 points. Specially the “wearing a looooot of hats” part and the whole money part. I wish evey person who’s thinking about being freelance know about this. You don’t just become freelance like this. You need to save money, make it work, accept that they are months when you’re not gonna earn a lot. Know about marketing, about sales, about client relationships even when it’s not your cup of tea at all.

    But, I think we can all agree on this, it’s totally worth it right ? ahaha

    Can’t wait for the other articles to come!!!

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for your comment Hanna. I couldn’t agree more. Marketing, sales strategies, and strong client relationships (& passive income methods) are all fundamental. The hard work is always worth it indeed!

      Thanks again,
      Stephen

      Reply

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