Twelve Tips for Success as a Freelance Graphic Designer

You are creative, have a number of graphic design projects in your portfolio, and want to work for yourself. What does it take to become a freelance graphic designer, and a successful one?

Becoming a successful freelancer—in any field—requires thought and planning. Running a solo practice can be a challenge, but I think I can help. Here are twelve things I have learned in leading a solo practice for 20-some years.

1. Know Your Motivation

Are you motivated by the freedom to select clients and projects, focus on a distinct niche, do hybrid/remote work, lifestyle flexibility, or other reasons?

Are you willing to put in the effort? Can you balance work and life demands?

2. You need creative skills, and then some...

As a freelancer, you will be running a small business, whether you realize it or not. You need business, financial, marketing, and people skills—on top of graphic design talent and expertise.

You will be responsible for sales and marketing; proposal writing; invoicing and accounting—and graphic design work!

Holiday Menu | Layout and Typography by Jill B Gilbert, Graphic Designer and Amateur Chef

3. Freelancing is Not a hobby

Treat freelance graphic design work as a business, not a hobby. Set up a studio or office where you you can work without distractions. Whether or not you work from home, have regular office hours—on your own schedule. Just make time to communicate with clients on their schedules.

4. Develop a Business Plan

Once you have a few clients and know what you’d like to do, make a simple business plan. This is especially important if you want to get a small business loan, apply for a grant, or obtain business credit. Have someone review your plan and provide feedback before you finalize the plan.

The plan gets you to think about what you really want to do. What is your vision? What type of projects do you prefer? Who is your target client base? What is your timeline? What is your budget, and how do you set rates for your services? What are your startup costs?

5. Save 6-12 months' expenses

It may take a while for the first client payments to arrive, and you may not have an even cash flow month-to-month. Save 6-12 months’ living expenses before you start. Maintain this reserve fund and add to it as often as you can. 

6. Know what you don't know

You’re not expected to be a Jack/Jill of All Trades, so know what you don’t know. Get legal and financial advice as needed to set up your business, provide standard graphic design contracts, and to plan routine cash flow and paying taxes. Develop relationships with legal and financial experts so you can call them for advice on a moment’s notice.

7. Be Professional

Avoid cute business names, though it’s OK to be clever! Act like a professional. Dress appropriately. Have business cards available—yes, people still use business cards! Avoid acting too casual on sales calls or in client meetings. Be aware of post content in personal social media accounts. 

8. Network, Network, Network

Don’t underestimate the value of networking. Network to learn your market niche. Find local chapters of professional organizations for graphic design, and for specific niches like illustration, web and user interface design, advertising, package design. Consider attending local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary or similar meetings. All of these can teach you about business and can lead to new work.

8. Learn from others

Just because you are a freelancer, you need not isolate yourself. If you want to be a great illustrator, seek out role models, and get to know them and how they work. If you want to be package designer, then reach out to an expert in this field. You may find a mentor this way… I did! 

10. You are valuable

Your time and expertise are valuable. Do not work for free, or for bargain rates, to build your portfolio. Professional associations frown on this behavior, as it cheapens the graphic design profession. Clients who ask you to work at bargain rates likely do not value your services, and will not pay your full rates in the future.

11. Be a leader

Once you focus on your graphic design niche, become a leader in that area. Develop a terrific portfolio and put it online to reach a wide audience. Get client testimonials. Write a blog and spread the word. Use social media for marketing your graphic design services.

12. Keep on Learning

Continuing education is critical in graphic design, especially with developments in technology. Keep your skills up to date with formal and informal training. I am a firm believer in lifelong learning.

Posted by Jill B Gilbert in Best Practices, Graphics

Five tips for making the transformation from graphic designer to digital marketer

You’re a graphic designer, and want to be a digital marketing pro. This involves a transition from traditional marketing to digital marketing. I know, because I mastered the move through exploration, research, and course work.

Moving from analog to digital requires thought and planning

I did not just wake up one day, and poof—I was a digital marketing pro!

Moving from traditional to digital marketing took some thought and planning. I had done traditional marketing communications in past job positions and was self-taught in certain aspects of digital marketing when I founded a management consulting firm more than twenty years ago. I knew how to use a few Adobe creative apps and learned enough HTML/CSS to manage my Website.

At some point, I knew that I needed more formal training and found a course of study that would take me where I wanted to go. Then I continued to explore new technologies and apps to provide digital marketing services.

Five tips for making the transformation from graphic designer to digital marketer

  1. First, decide on the digital marketing services you will provide—social media marketing, content design, web design, web development, web analytics, user interface/user experience (UI/UX) design, advertising, analytics, and more.
  2. Assess your software, IT, business, sales, marketing, and people skills. Yes—whether you work for an employer or are a freelancer, you need to use “soft” people skills to identify clients’ needs and provide the appropriate digital marketing solution.
  3. Network, network, network! Find local digital marketing firms and identify professional organizations. Speak with people in the digital marketing industry about the required skill sets and job opportunities. Find a mentor if you can.
  4. Make a plan to fill skills gaps between where you are currently, and where you want to go. This can entail classroom and/or online training, as well as formal and informal internships.
  5. Finally, work your plan. Acquire new skills. Learn new technologies and software apps. Build your digital portfolio to demonstrate your capabilities, and market to potential employers or clients.

Take your path to success in this exciting creative industry that hardly existed twenty years ago! You can become a digital marketer by shaping and working a thoughtful plan, through networking, and developing a solid digital portfolio.

Posted by Jill B Gilbert in Best Practices, Design, Education, Graphics, Guidelines, Marketing

Questions to ask if you want a new or refreshed brand

A couple of weeks ago, a client selected my design firm to help with getting their brand on merchandise to sell at events and in their online store. I asked if they had their brand in various layouts and file formats for digital and print purposes. If the answer was, “Yes,” they were ready to go. 

It turns out that what they really wanted was a new or refreshed brand, as they felt the current one was outdated. 

If you want a new or refreshed brand, find answers to the following eleven questions before you speak with your graphic designer. 

Great Explorations | Original Brand
Great Explorations | Original Brand

Arm yourself with plenty of information before you start the design process. If you don’t know where to start, seek advice from a graphic designer in knowledgeable in design, business and marketing issues and trends. 

1. What are your business goals?

Believe it or not, a brand is more than a logo or graphic design; it is about your organization’s message, and how you communicate that message verbally and visually. So, it follows that business goals are connected to your brand. What is your organization’s “big picture?” Are you expanding into new markets? Are you planning new products, services, locations, or methods of reaching out to current or prospective clients? 

2. What do you want this Brand to accomplish?

Think about how the graphic design of your brand fits into your marketing plans. If you have an established brand, you might want to update it to capture new markets. If you plan to launch a new brand, how will you generate brand awareness in the marketplace?

3. Who is your target audience?

Do/will you use digital marketing–social media, email, blogs to communicate with current and prospective clients– or traditional print, TV, radio and merchandise marketing methods? Where and how will you display your brand?

4. What marketing channels will you use?

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

5. How Do you want your brand perceived?

What 3-5 adjectives describe your brand’s personality? For example, “youthful, urban, and edgy,”  “corporate, seasoned, and traditional,” or something else? Do you see your brand as casual or formal; modern or traditional? Where do you see your product or service positioned in the market?

6. What are your brand/company values and mission?

If you closely tie your business model to your values and mission, then your brand design may reflect them. A preschool might want to incorporate a school or students. An environmental organization might want to use a tree, a leaf, something green, or something related to the earth. 

7. Do you want to avoid certain topics, themes, imagery or colors?

Images and colors mean different things in different cultures. You may think that all firms that cater to your target audience have brands with similar elements, and you want your brand to stand out. Or, you simply might not like the color orange or purple. 

8. Who are your key competitors?

What do you like or dislike about your competitors’ brands? Your graphic designer should create a brand that stands out from the competition, at the same time keeping in mind that you are going after the same audience. 

9. Which existing brands do you admire or want to emulate?

If you are a tech startup, do you admire the designs of Apple, Dell, or Microsoft?All of these are quite different, yet recognizable worldwide–and each has gone through a transformation over the decades. What do you specifically like about the brands you admire?

10. What do you like and dislike about your current brand?

Knowing what you like and dislike is valuable information that will help you to launch your new or refreshed brand. You may think the colors or typeface are outdated, or you may think you want to start over with a new design. Either way, this is a great opportunity to enhance your overall brand strategy.  

11. What is your decision making style?

When you embark on a branding initiative,  your graphic designer will ask you to make a series of decisions, from design choices like brand style, images, color and typography (fonts) to technical choices like file formats, resolution, and the size your brand will be displayed. Where you are on the scale from Decisive to Indecisive will impact your ability to meet project objectives, scope, schedule, budget, and timeline. 

Do you make decisions quickly? Do you make decisions based on feelings or facts? Do you get bogged down in “analysis paralysis?” For a description of business decision making types, read more here

When I say, “You,” I really mean “you and your key stakeholders in this branding effort.” I recommend that you seek input from your key stakeholders before reaching key project milestones, but I do not recommend building your brand “by committee.” 


The Justice Hub School | Original Brand
The Justice Hub School | Original Brand

Spending time to answer these eleven questions–including input from key stakeholders–can better position you for success in your branding initiative. Credit to 99 Designs for their original post; I added my perspective to their eleven questions.

Is all this effort worth it? Clients who understand the importance of branding say it is. If branding is new to you, So You Think You Need a New Brand might provide some insight. 

As always, if you lack the internal resources to do a branding project, seek outside help. And, if you don’t know where to start, seek advice from a graphic design professional that also understands business and marketing issues. You will be glad you did.

Posted by Jill B Gilbert in Best Practices, Branding, Color, Consulting, Corporate Identity, Design, Graphics, Logo Design, Marketing, Typography, 0 comments