5 Steps to Getting Started as a Freelancer

One of the questions that I get asked the most as a creative business owner is: “how did you get started?”. When you set your mind on striking out on your own, the getting started part feels so daunting. How do I get good clients? Will I make enough money? How will I set my schedule and stay organized? There are so many questions swimming around in your head it can feel completely overwhelming. Here are some tips for getting those first clients and for setting up tried and true freelance business practices.

1. Build a Beautiful and Functional Portfolio

Create self-initiated work that reflects the types of clients you want to work with. If you love creating logos, create some beautiful logos for the types of clients you hope to attract. Having a solid online portfolio is essential for every part of your freelance business. By showcasing the type of work that you hope to do, you are more likely to receive inquiries in line with that. It is also important to create a portfolio that works. What do I mean by works? Think of your portfolio as an employee of your business that does a lot of the busy work for you. Your portfolio should make it extremely clear how clients can contact you, what kind of services you provide, and how you are the necessary ingredient to making their project a success. Your portfolio is your chance to sell yourself and your services in a way that speaks to your future clients. My upcoming course The Hand Lettered Brand is a 2-week portfolio building workshop that will teach you all about creating design projects and a portfolio site that works for you and puts you on the path to booking your dream clients.

2. Figure Out Your Pricing

Do your research. This is your time to figure out the freelancer market, the going price, and ways to differentiate yourself. I recommend pricing your offering within the middle range of your competitors. It is also good to be flexible and open to offering low-ish prices for awesome clients when first starting out. If an inquiry comes your way that you feel really fits your style, but they don't have much of a budget - take them on anyway. If you create work that you like for an awesome client, more higher paying clients will see your beautiful work and come your way.

3. Create Workflow and Processes

Think through your client process. What will you need to have readymade in order to process inquiries, charge your clients, and send along the deliverables?

  • Draft sample responses to inquiries so that they are ready to go. This is a working document and will change as you gain experience. Google’s canned responses is a great resource. You may also consider creating a “media kit” style .pdf with your pricing, services, and FAQ.

  • Create a client contract. You will want to have every client sign this agreement, even your friends. This document clearly outlines what the client can expect. Things to include: client and designer responsibilities, pricing and payment plan, timeline, deliverables, and design rights.

  • Create a step-by-step checklist for your design process - this will help you to easily create a timeline for your clients.  A client timeline should show when designs are due as well as when client feedback is due. Sticking to a timeline is essential for your own scheduling sanity - but also helps to ensure that you have a satisfied client in the end!

  • How will payment work: Will your clients pay a deposit? When is it due? How much time do they have for the final payment? I suggest using an invoicing software like Freshbooks to manage your payments.

  • Think through the delivery of your designs. I recommend using dropbox and sharing a deliverables folder with everything your client needs.

4. Promote Your Work

Social media and Pinterest are your friends! Make sure you have a strong social media and web presence. For social media, specifically twitter and Instagram, research hashtags relevant to your freelance industry and get posting. Don’t forget to pin as well. Pinterest is my #1 referrer and is often cited by my clients as the way they found me! If you created a logo for a photographer be sure to title it something like: "Modern and Elegant Photographer logo". When people are searching for "modern photographer logo" yours will hopefully come up!

5. Spread the News

Once you have a portfolio up that works and you are proud of - it is time to spread the news. Send an email to family and friends, post on facebook and your other personal social networks. Let everyone know that you are ready for hire. Having a network is a powerful tool! I also recommend reaching out to other freelance designers that have a similar aesthetic. Often designers have too many inquiries coming their way and like to have a list of contacts to send the clients they can’t take on to. As an introvert it can be tough to put myself out like this - but I have been surprised by how many interesting and wonderful projects come my way when I reach out to my network.

Launching your freelance business is seriously overwhelming, but when broken down into small win tasks you can accomplish so much. With a beautiful and functional portfolio, a clear workflow, support, and marketing you can successfully launch your freelance design business. My workshop The Hand Lettered Brand will provide you the support AND instruction that you need to create a portfolio you love, attract your dream clients, and get paid to design hand-lettered visual brands.

(Background image source )