By Rebecca Jee
Setting up your own freelance business is exciting and can sound like a lot of fun at first — you’ll get to design all day, doing only the projects you love!
However, you’ll soon come to realise running a freelance business is a lot more complex than that, and it helps to start off on the right foot. Here are some tips for laying down a firm foundation for success in your freelance graphic design business.
Get to know yourself
You’re the boss as well as the employee, and usually you’re the bookkeeper, marketer, and office manager too. It’s worth taking some time to think through your working style as you start out, so you can set up systems that will help rather than hinder you. Can you work at home alone or do you need to be around people? Can you network and promote yourself? Are you able to do your accounts or would it be better to outsource this work? How do you handle stress and tight deadlines? Are you able to stay motivated?
Know what you’re worth
One of the hardest things to determine when you’re starting out is how much to charge. Do a quick online search — there are plenty of articles and blog posts on the topic, and it could help to read a few. But what it comes down to is: work out how much you need to live on, how much work you want/are able to do, and base your hourly rate on that. As well as living expenses, remember you’ll need to factor in paying tax and superannuation, accounting for sick days and holidays, as well as all the overheads of running your business. Whether you then decide to charge an hourly rate or per project will probably come down to the client and the project itself, but it helps to know in your head before you quote what you think your time is worth instead of having to reassess it with every new job.
Develop a thick but flexible skin
Don’t take criticism of your work personally; there may be times that a client will be quite harsh in their feedback. You might also have a client whose ideas and opinions of design seriously clash with yours! In the end, however, remember that the client has the final say and you may have to compromise on your design. Be prepared to be flexible with your ideas, and even if you disagree, always treat the client with respect. Remember, you can often get further work through a positive referral but earn a bad reputation through a negative referral.
Get the best tools for the job
Make sure you have a reliable computer and do regular backups of all your work. In terms of software, Adobe Creative Cloud is the industry standard (including Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign as well as many other applications). If there are some programs you’re not too confident in, take some time to learn how to use them; there are plenty of online courses and tutorials that can help you skill up. That way, when a job turns up that requires you to use one of those tools, you’ll be ready.
Freelance work can come from all sorts of places, so you need to be prepared to show off your work at a moment’s notice. Make sure you have a strong online presence; at the very least make sure you have a professional looking website with your contact details on it. Keep your portfolio up to date with 4-6 samples of your best work. Design some great business cards and hand them out (they’re no good in your wallet!); tell everyone you know that you’re starting your freelance business and to let you know if they hear of anyone who needs some design done. You never know where that might lead!
Fill your tank and keep learning
Obviously you have a passion for design or you wouldn’t be pursuing this career. The key is to keep that passion alive; it can be easy when you’re setting up a business to get stuck into the nuts and bolts and lose track of what got you started in the first place. Only you know what will fill up your creative tank, but make sure you take regular time to replenish it. Whether that’s going to an exhibition, reading a design book or surrounding yourself with inspiring images, it will all help to keep you on track and producing your best work.
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