If you are currently a Graphic Design student, and thinking , I already have so many assignments, and a part time job, and you want me to do freelance work too, but why and how?
Yes I do. I did it, so I know it is possible and I know the great benefit you can reap from it. I was working at a fabric/craft store, working on class assignments, running an etsy store AND doing the odd freelance job. It is possible and it will be of great benefit to you.
It has been 7 years now since I graduated, and it set the foundation for the business I have today, providing me with industry contacts a portfolio, getting my name out and real experience.
Even if you intend go get a job with a design studio and never freelance again, it can still richly benefit and kick start your career.
So before I tell you how, first the WHY.
- When you graduate most students only have class assignments to show in their portfolio. And guess what you all had the exact same assignments and there were not real world, just make believe. If you want to stand out, set yourself apart and show you have some ‘real world’ experience working on a design brief, freelance projects will make a big difference. Even if you intend to get a job with a studio rather than go it alone, having these jobs to share will look impressive.
- It shows you have passion. That you don’t just do the work you have to do to get a degree, but that you love design so much, you are doing extra work outside of your studies.
- It gives you the real experience of how to deal with clients, follow a real brief, develop a concept based on real client feedback, knowing how to present your work and explain your thinking, work to real deadlines that matter more than marks, and have client meetings. And while you will learn all this ‘on the job’ getting good at it, and making the mistakes early while still a student, will make you a better design once you graduate.
- Gaining industry contacts and suppliers. Building relationships is one of the best benefits outside building your portfolio. By doing real jobs you will meet others in your industry, make friends and contacts, and get to know suppliers like printers. It will teach you how to liaise with people and you will have people to turn to when you need help with something.
- It also gives you a great confidence boost. To know you can work on real jobs, make real clients happy and have your work used in real life.
And so now that I have convinced you why you need to freelance while studying.. the HOW.
To get started you need to find jobs, get your name known and set yourself up.
First decide if you want to run under a business name or your own name and register your business and any appropriate paperwork for your country, and consider taxes (in Australia you need to apply for an ABN, and if below the threshold decide if you wish to register for GST).
To prepare yourself for networking and promoting your services, create a logo and brand board for yourself (a great first job to show off your skills) and get some business cards printed. Buy up the right domain name for yourself too. You don’t have to have a full website right away, but a proper domain linked to a portfolio site or blog will make you look more professional and easier to tell people about. And set up a matching email address for liaising with your clients.
Now to get your name out there and score some jobs! Here are some of the things I did to start getting work:
- Start a blog. I always tell people this, and it really is so important. Blogging keeps a site active, rather than static, which makes you good friends with google. It also gives you a chance to share what you know, some behind the scenes and help potential clients get to know you, so even though you are only a student, they will want to work with you. Make that personal connection. When I started pinterest wasn’t yet around, but it is now the best tool for sharing your posts, and getting traffic to your site. If you want to learn more about harnessing the power of pinterest, there is a great course here.
- This might sound obvious, but actually let people know you are available. No one is a mind reader, just because you say you are a graphic designer and share your designer world, doesn’t mean people will instantly know you are available to do work. They may even feel too shy to ask, so spare them the uncertainty and put it loud and proud on your site and social networks ‘available for freelance design work’
- Let your current contact know your are available directly. Go through your email directory and let any friends and family know that you are now accepting freelance work, if they or anyone they know is looking for a designer. This is also a great chance to start building an email list using a service like mailchimp. In your email ask them if they are interested in keeping up to date with what you are doing and if so add them to your mailing list. Sometimes people don’t need something right now, but if your regular keep them updated about what you are doing, when they do need something they will remember you.
- Enter design competitions. While you may not win and end up doing work for free, this is one up from school assignments, because the brief is a real world brief. And if you do win, its a great way to get your work published and your name known. Your school/uni will likely put up posters about current design competions. you would be surprised how a lot of students just can’t be bothered, so be one of the few and give it a shot and do your best, it may just pay off.
- Submit your work to magazines, design publications and industry books to help get your name known. (e.g Curvy and Semi Permanent)
- When you do work for someone, encourage referrals. Ask them if they know anyone else who needs design services to refer them to you. If you design websites, add your link as the designer.
- Share your work, your progress and your behind the scenes. Use social media to give people an insight into what you do and your world.
- Take those business cards with you wherever you go, so if the opportunity arises, you are always ready with one handy to give out. Parties, supermarket checkout, the pub, cafes, weddings, art shows, industry events, talks, markets. Get out there, go places meet new people and always have your card a the ready. Don’t be pushy about it, but often when you meet someone new the inevitable question arises ‘What do you do?’ And this is a perfect chance to share and slip them a card if they are interested in seeing your work or even better, in need of a designer.
- You might not like me for this one, but charge junior rates. While it is important to value your work, and charge your worth. While you are still a student, you can get a little edge over the full time professionals by charging a lower fee. This also makes it less awkward to increase your rates once you graduate, as you can tell your clients you are now fully qualified and with some experience now behind you your rates will be going up. If they loved working with you when you hooked them in on the lower rate, they will likely be more than happy to now pay the new rate to keep working with you.
- Create pre-made digital products for people to buy. This gives people a taste of your work at a lower price point and also gets your name as a designer out there. You can sell on places like Etsy or Creative Market.
- Other than the top social networks, also get your work and profile up on design specific and professional networks. Places like Linkedin, The Loop, Dribble, Behance and Deviant Art.
Good luck and if you have questions, just let me know. It is only the start, and there is always lots to learn and mistakes to be made, so the sooner you get going the better!