How to start working as a freelancer – short guide

Freelance Tips

First, let’s explain one important thing – being a freelancer is not the same as working remotely or being your own boss. Freelancers are often employed for shorter or longer contracts at the company’s headquarters, and they have a project manager, creative director, company owner and probably a few more people in decision-making positions that will manage their work. This doesn’t mean, of course, that becoming a freelancer you can not work on your own terms and arrange your offices in your own apartment.

However, to achieve such comfort of work you need to put a lot of energy into your startegy. If you truly want want to puddle your own canoe you’ll have to face the same challenges as other entrepreneurs.

Therefore, before you decide to move from a full-time job to your own freelance business, you need to answer some key questions.


Before you decide to become a freelancer

If you work full-time and your dream is to work with trendy cafes somewhere at the end of the world, everything is in front of you. However, it is important to think about a few important things before submitting your termination. Answering the following questions will let you know if you really are prepared to become a freelancer.

  • Can you afford to become a freelancer?
  • Do you have a customer base?
  • Or an extensive database of contacts that will help you get your first geeks?
  • Are you recognizable and present on the web?
  • Do you have a strong portfolio that will attract your perfect customers?
  • Do you know what you want to do and found your niche?
  • Do you know what formalities are associated with starting your own freelance business?

Is this really all that important?

Of course, you can decide in a fit of euphoria, to quit everything and not looking back. No planning, strategy or portfolio. But I have a picture of myself a few years when after a few years in an advertising agency I decided it was time for a change.

After graduation and a two-week short stay in the tropics, which changed my life, I decided to resign and start a new chapter of my life. I had worked as a freelancer before, but I could not know that a few clients who came to me on a casual basis were not enough to pull my business and become financially independent.

Believe me, if I knew the answers to the above questions, this change would be less painful.

That’s why it took me 4 years to get back on my feet and become a full-time freelancer not worrying about paying the bills. That’s why I know how important it is to think twice before making a decision.

You can find more about my experiences after a year of being a full-time freelancer in this article.


Is the job of a freelancer for me

Of all the questions you should ask yourself, this is probably the most important. To answer them, you need to know what freelancer work really looks like. Below are some pros and cons of working on your own.


Disadvantages of freelancer work

  • Flexible working hours, often work on weekends and holidays,
  • No paid holidays or no vacations during the first few years,
  • Projects uncertainty,
  • Handling administrative matters, taking care of payments, and other formalities,
  • Promotion and advertising costs,
  • A much smaller percentage of time spent on creative work,
  • Being responsible for your own actions and decisions.

Pros of working freelancer

  • The possibility of refusing to work on projects that we are not interested in,
  • Setting your own rates,
  • Flexible working time,
  • The ability to work remotely and from anywhere in the world,
  • Constant learning and improving your skills,
  • Signing the projects with your own name.


Things to take care of before you become a freelancer

First of all, save enough money to be able to support yourself when you don’t have any orders. If you do not yet have a database of regular customers who will flood you with ​​work right away, make sure you have savings that will allow you to survive for the next 6 months.

Take care of your portfolio. Stay focused on what you want to do as a freelancer, what customers you want to attract. Find your niche – what interests you the most and build it in such a way as to attract them. If your former employer does not allow you to publish the past projects, spend time building personal projects that will attract your ideal clients.

A full-time job can dull your vigilance and you forget to be present in the global network. Therefore, it will be important to make up for a lost time before you leave your job. The basis is your own website, an active profile on LinkedIn, Behance. The more channels the better, but each of them should show you from a different angle and look the same.


What knowledge will you need to become a freelancer

Recently, you can notice a  big discussion about what skills a designer should have to stay in the market. Many specialists believe that a good portfolio is no longer enough. Currently, clients are not only looking for people who have good technical skills, but also unique interpersonal, communication and business knowledge.

Therefore, becoming a freelancer, you should not only consider the quality of your work but also how you approach clients. What can you offer them besides the project, how to make them feel special.

  • Make sure you show not only your work but also who you are. Your clients want to work with a person they know, like and with whom they are able to establish an agreement. A portfolio is not enough to decide if you are such a person.
  • Make your customers feel special. That’s how you respond to emails, how you respond to criticism. How you write messages can decide whether the client will cooperate or go to the competition.
  • Marketing and business knowledge will not only be useful to you. It will show clients that you have extensive knowledge and understand the challenges they face.

Invest in yourself

I mentioned earlier how important it is to have enough savings to be able to support yourself for the first few months. It is also good to invest some funds in self-development. The sooner you start the better.

All kinds of courses, training and educational materials that are related to your specialization will help you get better jobs.

Your future customers will appreciate the fact that you are becoming an expert in your field, and you will gain the basis to convince them of your case. However, remember, it’s not the certificate that counts, but the actual knowledge that will be useful in solving problems.


How to build a portfolio without experience

First of all, the portfolio is a sign of what you can do, what style you represent. Before the customer talks to you about potential cooperation, your website must show you from the best perspective.

Therefore, without projects, it will be difficult for you to convince someone that you are the person who can meet their expectations. In this case, it is worth spending a few months to build such a portfolio. How to do it without experience? Here are some ideas:

Personal projects – if you are interested in a specific field in the design and would like to do just that, create a project that will reflect your interests. If it is e.g. logo design or identification – invent a company, create a design brief and design materials that will best show your skills.

Student projects – many people struggle with the decision of whether to include works from the uni or not. In my opinion – WHY NOT?.

Friends – at the very beginning you can also contact friends who have their own business and in your opinion need new projects. It is up to you whether you agree to carry out such a project for free or charge a fee *.

Volunteering * – many foundations seek graphic designers’ support. Due to the low budgets, they are often ready to hire beginner graphic designers with little experience.

Courses – good project courses (even online) have exercises in their program using professional briefs. Thanks to this, you will learn creative thinking, responding to customer needs and defending your ideas.

Work on ready projects – to create your first portfolio you can also choose a well-known company such as Pepsi, Amazon or Audi and propose the re-design of their existing materials. Don’t just do it to give free rein to your fantasy. Identify the problem, find solutions and create a project that will show not only your skills but also the way you think.

Design challenges and competitions – they usually give you the opportunity to really spread your wings and show what you can do. This is a good way to enrich the portfolio if we feel that we want to do really creative projects.


* MY OPINION For many designers, working for free is unacceptable. This is usually met with a strong response from the community. As a freelancer and designer, I agree that as a professional group we deserve a decent remuneration proportional to knowledge and experience. However, at the beginning of my work I did many free projects. It was thanks to these first orders that I could gain experience, work in Belgium or Thailand. Sometimes work for free can pay off in a completely different way.


Where to look for first orders as a freelancer

There is no denying that getting first jobs is difficult and time-consuming. Building a database of returning customers even more difficult. This process can last from several months to even several years. It’s good to know this at the very beginning and be patient. Here are some places where to start looking:

Low-budget websites for designers – Upwork, Freelancer, 99Designs, Oferia, Useme – all these pages allow you to set up a profile, create a portfolio and find customers. A good option to start with, however, due to the low rates, rather no long-term option.

Facebook groups for freelancers – the presence on freelancers’ websites makes it possible to find orders from both small and large companies. Diversified rates and offers work as a plus here.

Behance and Dribble – It’s a rather passive way of looking for a job, but having a profile on one of these portals will help you find contractors from all over the world. Remember, however, that these portals bring together the best of the best and you need to invest a lot of time in a strong portfolio to stand out on them.

Advertising and promotion – good promotion is the key. If you have a promotion budget, invest in Facebook or Google ads that will attract potential customers. It may be a good idea to publish ads on portals such as OLX or Gumtree.

Friendships – if your friends are running a business, they may also need promotional or branding material.


Do you think to become a freelancer? Do you have any questions? Let me know in the comment.

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Written by Magdalena

Written by Magdalena

Brand Specialist

I am on a mission to empower small entrepreneurs in reaching their brand’s goals, connect with the right audience and stand out from the crowd. I use strategy and design to show their brand’s true potential.

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