How to get freelance graphic design jobs

three laptops saying, gimme a job!

One thing I am often asked by designers – old and new alike – is: “how do you get work” or “how do you get clients”.

Here are the principles and practices that I have used and found successful over the years.

my site on an imac

Put most of your effort into developing your own site

Building and maintaining websites is a time-consuming business, but at least the time and effort put into your own site will benefit you and you alone.

Many people often ask me about the plethora of design work sites and bidding sites and whether I use them. The answer is “no”. Sites where people bid for work or upload their work for display will always benefit the consumer (the clients) rather than the producer (you). You are up against multiple competitors on the same site and the client can pick and choose and this means you make less money.

Compare this to having your own site, with basic SEO and incoming links. This will take a bit of time but when you are found by clients you have much less competition and can make more money.

Of course, you can engage with social media, directory sites and forums, etc., but use them for driving interest to your own site. Your site should be the hub of your online world.

But why would potential clients contact you from your website? Because you write quality content on there about what you do. You should write about everything you can possibly think of about your particular area of expertise – generally and specifically. Even take the time to research into related areas you don’t know much about now but hope to in the future. There is nothing quite so educational as writing a tutorial. People will start to arrive at your site from search engines, see you know what you’re talking about and hire you.

Remember – it’s far better to have clients going to you than to go cap in hand to potential clients.
email footer

Put your USPs, skills and services on your business stationery and emails

For example, I have “Marketing materials, Design, Animation, Print, Re-branding, HTML Email, Search Engine Optimisation, Website design & development, hosting & maintenance, etc.” in my email signature. So that anyone receiving mail from me will know that I don’t just do web design. Put this on your invoices, business cards, letterheads, etc., online and off.

don't say no sign

Never turn down a job if it’s a good client

If someone asks for a job you can not do, say “yes”! Find someone to do the job and charge the client a little more than you paid for it. Did I say don’t use bidding sites? Don’t use them to look for work. But use them to find workers. Elance and oDesk are good.

This way you get a new client, find a new contact through the bidding site and learn a bit about how to do work in an adjacent field to your area of expertise. Oh, and you get paid!

two businessmen shaking hands

The best clients are the ones you already have

Some clients have come to me with tiny jobs and end up using me to rebrand their company. By saying this I don’t mean do all manner of jobs for rock bottom prices. But always treat clients with the utmost respect and honesty and this good karma will come back to you in terms of repeat business.

However, I don’t bombard my current clients with unnecessary email marketing – when they leave me alone, I leave them alone. But I do send them a card every year wishing them and their families the best season’s greetings and a happy new year. The card has my contact details and a synopsis of my services, of course.

It never ceases to amaze me how much work I get from people I have already worked for or from their recommendations.
chick emerging from egg

If you’re just starting out

Whether you’ve been working as a designer for years or you’ve just left college, you can enter the freelance world with zero risk! There is nothing to stop you being a freelance graphic designer as you can work in your spare time. Many people ask me when is the best time to go freelance. I say now! You can start by creating and improving your own website and writing valuable content that is indexed by search engines. But do this in your spare time. Don’t leave your steady job to go freelancing with no clients!

What you can do next

Start a website and write the best articles you can each and everyday. That is honestly the best advice I can give you!

I’ve run a business since 2006 and the only reason I’ve been able to continue is this blog! I write more about the business of attracting the right clients to your business in my e-book How To Get Clients. Plus there’s more about the setting up, running and extra monetizing in the Running a Web Design Business e-book.

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Rob,

    Excellent points. I’ve been contemplating on freelancing. In fact, I’m now doing a revamp/redesign of my site which is your first point.

    Looks like I’m on the right path.

    Thanks for sharing this. Have a good one.

  2. says

    Hello Gines, you are definitely on the right path with your site. I’ve been reading it recently that there’s loads of great stuff there. Thanks for your comment.

  3. says

    Hi Rob

    Great article and really helpful to me. Just 2 months into freelancing and trying to build clients from my site so this is extremely helpful.

    Cheers
    Rob

  4. Mark Narusson says

    Great article Rob with some good advice. I have tinkered with the bidding sites and have found them to be hard work with little or no reward. Starting a blog is on my list of things to do – just need to make the time…

  5. says

    Hello Rob, that’s a great site and company name you got there! Type Cast Creative. Best of luck on your journey. You seem to have set off particularly well.

    That’s right, Mark, I think we both have the same negative impression of bidding sites. I hope you get round to starting a blog someday!

  6. Ursula says

    Thank you for sharing this post, i really appreciate the fact that you spend time to make this and just share it to us.

  7. Ka Mei Creative says

    Great tips, for a new budding Canadian Designer this is awesome. Thanks so much, cant wait to read more :)

  8. Carolyn2010 says

    The market of freelance jobs and freelance projects increasing rapidly as contractors get projects and websites at very affordable rates. This industry is increasing day by day as there are more projects available. Freelancing is best option to start your business from home. You can get sufficient work and money through freelancing but it takes experience and effort.

  9. Paul says

    Write down what are probably the most necessary things to you in an ideal job. Yes, a company maserati and unlimited expense account could be nice, but also consider: How crucial are things like flexibility; creativity; working environment etc? Do you like working in a team or are you a lot more of an independent operator? How do you really feel about managing staff and taking the lead? Do you want a job that challenges you or one that you’ll be able to do simply? The clearer you can be about what you want, the far more likely you are going to get it.

  10. says

    Hi Robb,

    I like your article. We do use bidding sites, but I have to say, it’s becoming somewhat tiresome. I think the problem is that despite lots of time spent on SEO, the competition is so fierce, it becomes disheartening. We are currently expanding into Sharepoint and C# and EpiServer and hope that the competition here is a bit less. You’re absolutely right about treating customers with honesty and respect. It certainly does pay off and does almost guarantee repeat business. Keep posting, great article.

  11. says

    Hey Katie, I guess there is a lot of competition out there. SEO is like a huge great cannon ball the size of a house that you need to get moving. It takes a lot of work to get up and running when you see little or no results but it does gather momentum if you keep at it. Best of luck with Sharepoint and C# and EpiServer – you’ve got to keep learning and offering new things. Well done!

  12. says

    Speaking as someone who has been freelancing for a few years this one is really tough for those starting out. It’s almost two jobs in one once you add in building and maintaining a website. Plus, you need work to put on a reel or in a portfolio to show clients but how do you get clients without having any real work to show? One strategy I have used is to create a fake product, or use an existing product and basically create a new campaign around that product. At the minimum, you might learn something new and at best you will have new work for the reel or portfolio.

    A website is a MUST. Put your best stuff up there, and keep it fresh. If you don’t know how to do any web work, outsource it. It will cost pennies compared to the work you could lose if your website design is bad or doesn’t work correctly.

    I have had mixed success with Elance and other bidding sites. Most clients expect way too much for way too little from those kind of sites. Your best bet is to work local and build a good list of contacts through local user groups (photoshop user groups, ect..). Once you get a great set of local clients, start looking at branching out into bigger markets.

    Freelancing can be really scary coming from a full time gig. There are no guarantees of future work or pay. However, it is extremely rewarding to land your own clients, set your own hours, and run the show on your own terms.

    • says

      Good advice there, Jeff. Building and maintaining a website is a must and is time consuming but the experience doing so will be invaluable as you go forward. What you say is absolutely correct about the importance and effort in finding good regular work. But, at the end of the day, it’s a great job to do if you have that! :)

  13. says

    Thanks for the great tips! I’ve been trying to find clients on bidding sites but I think I’m gonna revamp my site, add a blog, and try to get some publicity.

  14. says

    I started my freelancing career in a graphic competition site. I won several projects there were making less money compared to the amount of time invested. However it helped me building my portfolio and get idea about what clients expect from a designer. I tried bidding sites too, but found that’s not my thing and it gives you even lesser money.

    Now I have some regular clients those found me randomly form the sites I worked in from some paid job sites. But I need more clients and that’s why I rebuilt my own portfolio site recently trying to make it more useful. Though I added a blog section too, but probably blogging is not my thing :(

    • says

      Hello, Riday, good to see you here again. I know that competition and bidding won’t pay you very much and getting your own clients is the answer. And the way to do that is to concentrate on your site and make sure that it climbs the rankings for “freelance graphic designer” in your locality. It’s a shame you’re not into blogging because that does help. But another thing you can do is work on getting links to your portfolio site.

  15. Andrew says

    I also think it’s very important to leverage as many tools as possible to get your work seen by people who might be potential clients.

    One thing I’m trying to work on is a way to incorporate very personalized video that can be embedded onto freelancers’ personal websites, shared on Facebook / Twitter, e-mailed to friends and potential clients, etc — a way to promote a freelancer’s portfolio and personal brand through documentary-style video.

  16. Graham says

    hello rob,
    very effective tips . This is the very useful for beginning designers. All above points are helpful to get a job on freelance.

  17. says

    Hi Rob
    just stumbled about your article this is probably the best advice anyone could ever give I actually applied most of your ideas over the past two years and has really worked for me now I have my own company and have a team of 5 in my company at the beginning i outsourced and as we grew i was able to employ programmers and an extra graphic designer. We now build mostly professional ecommerce stores, but for anyone reading robs plan actually works it did for me. top man rob

  18. says

    Hi Rob,

    Great article, thanks so much for sharing. I have been freelancing for a few months now and achieved top position in google for ‘Graphic Design Glasgow’. The search term hasnt landed me any work to date so what kind of things to you recommend getting ranked for? Am i too general with the term ‘Graphic Design’?

    I am in the middle of adding EVERY service I can offer on my site and Im going to start a youtube channel doing tutorials and place them on my blog.

    Thanks for your time.

    Alistair

    • says

      Thank you, Alistair, congratulations on your success with the top position in Google. Use the Google Keyword Tool to discover what people are searching for. You can search for exact match and narrow it down to the UK. You may find “web designer Glasgow”a good keyphrase to target.

      Hope you keep coming back to find useful stuff here, Alistair.

      • says

        Thanks for taking the time to reply. My homepage as I said is ranked for ‘Graphic Design Glasgow” but I should really start to optimise my other pages for the likes of ‘Web Design Glasgow” etc like you said.

        Also one thing I have completely overlooked is an email signature! How does yours look? I am reading articles right now that suggest avoiding HTML signatures and keeping it basic? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

        Thanks, Alistair

        • says

          Alistair, you could always build a few links to the home page for “web designer glasgow” it will be possible to rank for the two phrases as they are both relevant. But building links to an internal web design page will also be worthwhile.

          I actually put my logo in my email sig. I don’t often have problems with my emails going into spam folders. More than one image in an email may be a problem.

          I also include a bit about my services and have a few pertinent links.

          Here it is!

          email signature

  19. says

    I totally agree with what you say about accepting any job and iff you cant do it find someone to do it for you, this is how I use the bidding sites. Great article btw, theres not many freelancing articles out there with good advice.

    • says

      Thanks again, Mike. I agree there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information in this area. Plenty of good tutorials about design, plenty of sites claiming to be great on passive income, but not much about how to get work and get paid doing stuff like design. All the best!

  20. says

    Very good info, but I personally find it very hard to implement!
    At lease I think it will take some time to implement!
    I often check the freelance bidding sites, but never got my feet wet, I find them very disconcerting.
    And blogging is not my thing either, even though I did set up another site, a blogging site and then had it link back to my website.
    Attracting traffic to my website is my number one priority right now in the hope that it will land some jobs.
    Everyone that I know, is aware that I have created an at home company, and I think that helps somewhat!
    Anyway thanks a lot for the info

    • says

      Alphonso, you need to set up the blog on your actual site. It’s less effective to blog on another site to the one where your products or services are all explained. This is the best way – bar none – to attract traffic to your site.

      Give it another go, if you have time!

      • says

        Hi Rob
        Thanks for taking the time to reply.
        You know I never thought about placing the blog directly on my website!
        Adding an additional page, will certainly make my site look more active, especially for Google!
        I need to give this more thought, to see how i will be able to design this additional page, it will take me some time.
        Thanks though.

        • says

          It’s a challenge to get WordPress look the way you want it, Alphonso, but it’s an idea to start by tacking it on to your website and then have it run the whole website once you’ve got the hang of it. That’s one way to do it.

  21. Minhaj says

    Great article brother, I love this site. Your tips are very helpful. As a freelancer I always in search of something new. Thanks for sharing, have a nice day.

  22. says

    Rob

    Great tips here. I am currently trying to go freelance full time. I have had my website running for 10 months now. I am finding that although the site has a good pr I google and lists on the second page for “web design Portsmouth”, I don’t seem to get many enquiries. Most of the time the enquiries are from Indian based companies offering their services to me. Think I need to expand on my body text. What do you think?
    Is it worth me setting up a blogger blog page?

    Any advice would be great.

    Thanks

    • says

      Hello Gary. You want to look at your titles – they’re the same on every page and they mention Portsmouth twice. I would try to write a few guest posts and put anchor text that has variations of “web design Portsmouth” on links back to your site.

      And start a blog!

  23. O. Lone says

    Hi Rob,

    Nice article…needed one , planning to start business and getting work online..All my sites are down , i need to retry now , i already tried once but not great results because i am involved in full time job..but i will start again……..

    Thanks.

  24. Va Cong says

    Hi Rob,

    Thanks for the inspiration, I will be uploading my 3d models and websites I have done, just been busy installing servers but I find graphics fun and want to work for myself.

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