A guide to becoming a freelance graphic designer

Becoming a freelance graphic designer can be a bit of a daunting task - not only is there the design work, there’s clients, rates, and tax to worry about. We spoke to Ash, a designer based in London, to get his advice.

What qualifications do you need to become a designer?

While qualifications aren’t necessarily essential, Ash says it’s best to have a degree in graphic design. “Creativity comes naturally but being able to harness that creativity effectively requires effort and an understanding of good design principles.”

On top of that, when you’re looking for clients it helps to be able to show you have a qualification, at least at first.

“The most valuable asset to a designer is their portfolio,” says Ash. Your portfolio is where you showcase your talent and abilities, as well as your individual style.

“The saying goes ‘you are only as good as the last job you did’, so be sure to have a good website with clear examples of previous work.”

Should you specialise in a specific aspect of graphic design?

‘Design’, and even ‘graphic design’, can be incredibly broad, so Ash highly recommends specialising in in a particular area.

“This is especially useful in a broad and heavily populated industry like design, where any differentiation and expertise you can offer will benefit your ability to attract work and allow you to excel at the projects you undertake.”

What sort of contacts do you need as a freelance graphic designer?

Unless you’ve decided to set up a design agency, designers tend to work alone. “Having contacts will help you immensely,” Ash says, adding that “being able to bring people in who are able to offer expertise that complements your core skillset” is invaluable.

When you have a network of other designers to work with, you can take on bigger projects, as well as offer your clients a more complete service.

Working with clients can be difficult - how do you make sure things run smoothly?

The best way to make sure things run smoothly is to ensure you and your client are on the same page. You should try to get as much detail as you can from your clients, ideally as a written brief.

“The key here is communication: always be as clear as possible with your client, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification to ensure you understand what they are after,” Ash says.

Costing can also cause difficulties. “Be clear about what your costs are and what the client will get for that cost,” says Ash. How many initial designs are included? How many rounds of changes? And how much will you charge if your client requests more? Make sure you know, and your client does too.

“Another good rule of thumb is to request 50% of your fee upfront before starting work with the remainder being settled upon completion of the project, especially with new clients.”

How much should freelance graphic designers charge?

“People always ask this, but there is no definitive answer,” says Ash. Costs will vary hugely depending on the particulars of the project - and on the designer.

You can read more about how much freelancers should charge or check out some common mistakes that freelancers make. And if you’re ready to go freelance, make sure you keep the hidden costs of self-employment in mind.

What are your tips for becoming a freelance designer? Let us know in the comments.

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