How to Start and Build Your Freelance Design Business?

If you have a passion for graphic design, the thought of starting your own freelance design business likely may have crossed your mind before. Of course, there are plenty of challenges to starting a business no matter what field it is in, and these challenges are far-too-often enough to discourage many designers from ever striking out on their own.

With that said, running your own freelance design business is often one of the most rewarding careers possible for those who have a talent for graphic design. If you are finally ready to take the plunge and start your own freelance design business, follow the tips in this guide to help make your business a smashing success.

Start Out Freelancing Part-Time

Before you throw caution to the wind and quit your job to start a freelance design business, it may be beneficial to test the waters by freelancing part-time. In fact, this is the path that most full-time freelance designers follow as it allows to them to iron out some of the kinks in their plan while still having their day job to fall back on if things go wrong.

Start out slow by picking up a few gigs on the side, and see how they go. Build up your client list so that you will have some work you can count on when you do go full-time, and work through any issues via slow and steady trial and error. Once you’ve got a good feel for what it’s like to work as a freelance designer, you’ll be much better equipped to start your own full-time freelance design business.

Define Your Niche

Many freelance designers start out saying that they’ll take any work that someone wants to send them. However, to really succeed at starting a freelance design business you will probably need to narrow your focus a little more than this.

Define an area of graphic design that you want to focus in, and build up a reputation in that area. You’ll almost certainly have an easier time building a reputation and rising to the top if you bill yourself as a specialist as opposed to a generalist.

The specific niche you choose is ultimately up to your own talents, interests, and the need you see within the market. It may end up being web design, logo design, or anything in-between. Once you’ve defined your niche, though, you can begin marketing yourself as an expert in that specific area.

Create Your Portfolio

Freelancer designers are often hard-pressed to find any business without a quality portfolio. After all, it’s only natural for clients to want to see a sample of your work before they hire you for their project.

The trouble is that when you are first starting out, putting together a portfolio may be difficult. If you don’t yet have any work that you feel accurately showcases your talents, consider options such as creating a few self-inspired projects, offering your services to a local non-profit, or taking a continuing education course that promises you the chance to create projects to put in your portfolio.

However you go about putting together your portfolio, keep in mind that quality trumps quantity every time. Choose just a few projects that you feel are your best work and you’ll be good to go.

Build an Online Presence

No matter how great of a freelance designer you are or even how impressive your portfolio is, finding clients is going to be difficult until you establish an online presence.

Start out by creating profiles on popular websites that match freelancers with clients. From there, it may benefit you to create social media profiles for your business on sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. You might even want to consider building your own website for your business. Even if the site doesn’t get a ton of traffic, it’s still really impressive to be able to link potential clients to a website that you own.

It’s important to realize that, when it comes to establishing an online presence for your business, building a successful freelance design business is going to require a certain degree of marketing acumen. In fact, the most successful freelance designers are likely as talented at marketing as they are at graphic design, so brush up on the marketing strategies and tactics you will need to be successful.

Treat Your Freelance Design Business Like an Actual Business

Many freelance designers sometimes prefer to focus only on the artistic side of their business, and this is often to their own detriment. While the artistic side of working as a freelance designer may be your passion, keep in mind that you are running a business, and how you go about running that business may very well be what determines whether or not you are successful.

Start by working with a CPA to incorporate your business rather than working as a sole proprietor. Come tax season, having a corporation such as an S-corp will save you a lot of money.

Next, get comfortable drafting contracts that you and your client will agree to. These contracts should include specifics such as the deliverables you are to provide, the compensation you are to receive, and the timeline you are to complete the work in.

Lastly, be sure to keep track of any business-related expenses that you may have. These expenses could include things such as the hardware and software you make use of as well as the space you work from. Even if you have a home office, you are allowed to deduct a portion of your utilities and rent/mortgage.

In everything you do as a freelance designer, you should approach the situation with the eye of an artist and the mind of a business professional. This combination is often what it takes to be successful when working as a freelance designer.


Starting your own freelance design business is a highly rewarding pursuit, and it is a goal that is well within the reach of any talented designer. Once you’ve done all your research and preparation, all there is left to do is to go out and make your dream of owning your own design business a reality.

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