A guide for people new to or considering a freelance design career. Advice provided by international industry professionals, edited and curated by Richard Baird.

Avoid speculative work

Speculative work from competition websites takes advantage of new designers desperate to increase their portfolios and encourages quick and often superfluous solutions. Try to contact a local design agency and ask if you could work on one of their past briefs, this will give you a valuable frame work to build a relevant portfolio.

Provided by @richbaird

More than just designing

It is certainly a good move, but only for those who know how to handle it. It isn’t just designing. It’s more. Direct communication and client management, budget management, pricing, invoicing, account keeping, etc

Provided by @interant

Contracts, terms and conditions

Even the best of us have been caught out with informal agreements and golden hand shakes be it financially or just being able to display work on your site.

Cover things like deposits, payment schedules, rights to display work and when intellectual property.

Provided by @anilamrit

Utilise social networks

Use social networks and sites like Dribbble, Forrst and Logopond to network and get your name out there.

Provided by @ben_bate

Ups and downs

Unlike a regular job there will be times when you have no work for extended periods and occasions when you will be snowed under, this goes with the territory. Try to remain pro-active and fill your slow periods with expanding your knowledge and looking at possible marketing opportunities. Be under no illusion not everyone can handle a month without work, you have to be able to hold your nerve or admit defeat.

Provided by @richbaird

Don’t be afraid to say no

Sometimes you don’t have the time to commit to the hours the project needs for a solid resolution or the client/brief set off alarm bells in regard to how the job might progress so don’t be afraid to say no.

Provided by @debutcreate

Don’t fall for the ‘this will lead to more work’ line

We’ve had several clients try this when negotiating on the budget for a project. Ignore it, negotiate in relation to the current project and not what might happen in the future.

All the clients that have ever mentioned this to us, never came back with the other work they mentioned. But we never expected them to.

Provided by @debutcreate

Do it for the right reasons

Make sure that when you decide to become a freelancer it’s for the right reasons, the capacity to earn a lot of money takes time and long term commitment. Keep your goals personal and not financial, choose your projects carefully and don’t accept anything just for the money.

Suggested by @pixelcloth

Don’t take on more than you can handle

As a freelancer you may be asked to take on aspects beyond your own skill set, don’t be afraid to team up with other freelancers to get the project done.

Suggested by @pixelcloth

Time management

Make sure to put some time a side for friends, family and you. Set yourself limits “I will finish this at 4pm and go to the pub” this way you don’t burn out, and you will also find you work more effectively during your working hours! Every one needs a good work life balance and its one of the benefits of being a freelancer.

Provided by @Danatdoodle

Client brief and questionnaire

Before agreeing to take on any work, send your prospective client a Client Questionnaire form as well as a Creative Brief form. These two documents are invaluable for ascertaining many details that will give you a clear understanding of your potential client’s business, their target audience, and their particular design needs. With the information gained from these forms, you will not only be able to generate a more accurate quote, but you’ll also be able to determine if the potential client is one you actually want to work for. If you’re unsure about what types of questions to ask in these two forms, search Google. Many designers have examples of these forms posted on their websites.

Resource Links: Graham Smith  |  Jacob Cass

Provided by AtomicVibe

Managing expectations

Keeping a clear concise outline of the project is extremely important. Make sure that the people working with you understand what you require and when. It’s also important to help clients understand their needs, try to categorize and formalize these in a document and set delivery dates remembering to be realistic and upfront. Make sure the client has reasonable expectations that you can meet.

Suggested by @bigdmachine

There’s the temptation to label yourself as a ‘studio’, but this comes with expectations, ones that you may not be able to fulfil. Be wary of how clients may perceive the extent of your services and manage this expectation. There’s really nothing wrong with being an individual designer, there are a lot of clients out there who value a one-on-one experience.

Provided by @richbaird


Don’t be afraid to charge what your efforts are worth.

Provided by @gertvanduinen

Avoid bargain hunters

Like any business cost is important and putting a price on your experience can be hard. Whatever you decide to charge there will always be clients out there looking for bargains and as a new freelancer saying no will be hard. Remember, if a client really wants to work with you they will respect your fee and more likely to be a higher standard of client and not mess you about during the design process.

Suggested by @bigdmachine


Until you find a client who understands that you are bringing to them a wealth of knowledge you may have to compromise in the beginning, the best you can do is guide them in the right direction.

Provided by @MathewHood

Turning down projects

Don’t be afraid to refuse a deal or “fire” a client who is taking up too much of your time, procrastinates on paying your deposit, is rude or difficult, or tries to get too much out of you before committing to a contract. No matter how much you need the money, these situations will never benefit you!

Provided by @VailJoy