Freelance Design Tips

When it comes to Freelance Design, we've been there, done that, now serving 290 tips in 16 categories ranging from Art & Creative Directors to Working with Freelancers.

Know Your Users

Artisan Talent Tip: When you work on Web design jobs, you are working to please not only your client, but the users of your client's site. It's helpful to know as much as you can about that audience as you begin designing a site for them. For example, who is the target market and what kind of demographic information is available about them? (For instance, a site appealing to men in their 50s will have a different look from one appealing to women in their 20s.)

What type of freelance jobs can I look for to make some extra money?

Freelance Markets For Artists

If you are an illustrator who is still in school, it can be a challenge to know where to look for clients. Unless you sign on with a talent agency or have established connections in the industry—where do you look for jobs? You can't just walk into a company and get hired for one of the high-paying freelance animation jobs—you'll need some experience.

Here are a few simple things that you may want to consider that can help get you started—especially if you don't have a lot of items in your portfolio:

  • Artwork for CD covers. If you are hoping to do a creative project for your portfolio, why not consider designing a CD cover? Although this won't rank high on the pay scale, it can give you a client to add to your roster and another sample of your work as a freelancer.
  • Illustration for a kid's book. Try reaching out to authors who write books for children and see if any of them are looking for an illustrator to work with for their next project.
  • Create imagery for websites. If you are an illustrator that is computer-savvy, why not team up with a web designer to help create imagery for customers.
While it can be hard to find well-paid work at first as an illustrator, you can work on projects that will help pad your portfolio and give you some experience. Many people find that doing things like this while they attend classes in their field helps to prepare them for their career once they finish school.


Finding Web Design Jobs

Artisan Talent Tip: If you're serious about a freelance Web design career, you want clients who are serious about their Web sites. Many of the prospective clients out there are people who want the cheapest possible product, and don't have a good understanding of how much a quality designer can help their sites.

If I'm thinking about a career change, what are some steps to take?

Switching Careers

If you have decided that it is time for a change in your professional life, you may want to speak with a career counselor to discuss your options. Career counselors can help you find a direction that will be a good match for what you want—and what your skills are. You may wind up going into business for yourself, or even going back to school to study something you have always loved. Once you decide on what you want to do, it will be time to think about where you can find employment.

Some career counselors can help you with this next step as well. Another option is to register with a talent agency so that they can do the job search for you. These places form relationships with companies that are looking to hire a freelancer, and this can be a great way to work yourself into a permanent position. Even if the job doesn't wind up being a long-term position, you will gain experience that you can use to move yourself up in the field.


Mockups and Prototypes

Artisan Talent Tip: At the mockup stage, it's easy to add features, switch elements, and even redo the whole look of the product. These changes get a lot more difficult when you're working with the real product. A team of Chicago designers might use a standard contract that includes at least one round of alterations at the mockup stage, to emphasize to the client that now is the time to change one's mind.

How can I be sure a talent agency is a good match for me and my skills?

Make It A Good Match

If you want to use a talent agency to get freelance work instead of looking for design positions on the web, it can be a great way to find work. One of the key things to consider is whether the agency is a good match for you. Trying to sign on with a design agency that doesn't meet your needs is a waste of time, both for you and for the company. How can you know when it is a good match? Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Find out who they represent. Designers may want to pass on agencies that work primarily with other fields. If you can't tell from the website, you can ask if they have relationships with any design agencies when you speak with a representative.
  • Make sure you are qualified to work in positions that you would get through the agency. If you are just starting out and the agency works primarily with high-level freelancers, it may not be the right place to find work.
  • Be sure you are comfortable. Talent agencies run a service. You should feel comfortable with your representative and be able to communicate your needs easily.


Getting Paid for Graphic Design Work

Artisan Talent Tip: To protect themselves and get proper compensation for their work and skills, many designers recommend a series of milestones and payments. For instance, a partnership of New York designers might bill 30% of the final fee on completion of the prototype, 30% on completion of the first draft, and 40% after two rounds of changes. Only after the invoices are paid are the final files provided to the client.

How can I get started as a freelance professional?

Freelancing as a Career Choice

If you think you would like join the ranks of freelance creative directors rather than work for a corporation, consider the advantages of this type of lifestyle. As a freelance professional, you'll have a more flexible career, and you'll be able to call your own shots. This is appealing to many people, and it's one of the main reasons that people pursue the freelance lifestyle. In addition, the variety of work can be stimulating.

Making the leap to freelance work can make some people nervous, but if you do it properly, there's no reason for alarm. Take the time to get a good resume together and then sign on with a talent agency that will help you locate good freelance positions. This can be a big help, as you won't have to conduct your search alone. Talent agencies have relationships with many companies that use freelancers on a regular basis, so they can reach out on your behalf.


Elements of a Freelance Design Contract

Artisan Talent Tip: A good contract protects the freelance graphic artist by setting out the work to be done, the schedule of work to be delivered, and the schedule of payments to be made. A graphic designer should have a standard contract available for clients to sign, and should not do any work without a signed contract. You should also include a clause reserving the right to display a copy of the completed work as part of your portfolio.


Corporate Identity

Artisan Talent Tip: Larger organizations seek graphic designers to develop visual styles that will permeate every aspect of the company's work. Freelance graphic designers seeking New York design jobs, or jobs in other sophisticated markets, may be asked to demonstrate proficiency with corporate identity work.

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Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.