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How to Become a Graphic Design Freelancer: 9 Steps in 2023

Freelance graphic design is a great career. As a freelance designer, you get to work for yourself creating work for clients that you have chosen and, on top of all that, you’ll be doing fantastically satisfying creative work for those clients. Sounds good to you? We’re going to take you through how to become a graphic design freelancer.

What is a Graphic Design Freelancer?

The first step to becoming a freelance graphic designer is to understand exactly what the job entails. At Shillington, we define graphic design as effective visual communication of an idea or concept. This makes graphic designers chiefly visual communicators—they take information, which can come from a variety of sources, and turn it into something visual. 

Though, what are these visual things they are creating? In short, a lot. Graphic designers are responsible for many things we see and use in our everyday lives: posters and adverts, books and magazines, apps and websites, packaging and how all companies promote themselves (you’ll come to know this as branding).

So, what does a graphic design freelancer do? You came here to learn how to become a freelance graphic designer, of course. Well, graphic designers can work for companies, either a design studio or agency or in-house for a company or they can freelance. Freelancers are the lone rangers of the design world—they are independent, creating their own work for their own clients. Freelancing gives you the opportunity to truly put your own stamp on the graphic design industry.

All in all, being a graphic design freelancer is an exciting, every changing career prospect. Still interested? Here’s our nine step guide on how to become a freelance graphic designer:

 1. Be a Creative Person

Since you’re already reading this, we can safely assume that you’ve got this first step under wraps. Your first rung on the ladder of how to become a graphic design freelancer is to simply be a creative person.

This is essential in the journey to becoming a freelance graphic designer because, as it is a creative career, you’re going to need to be creative day in, day out. 

It doesn’t matter whether you were born with a creative mind or it’s something that you’ve developed later in life, as long as you’ve got a creative streak then you’re on your way to becoming a freelance graphic designer.

2. Refine your Graphic Design Skills

Now you’re bursting with creativity, then the next step on how to become a freelance graphic designer is to refine your graphic design skills. This could mean one of two things:

If you’re already a designer or have previously dabbled in design, this means upskilling; if you’re a complete beginner, this means learning graphic design from scratch.

As an existing designer, upskilling could be an important step in your journey to become a graphic design freelancer. Though you have the basic skills to design, before setting out on your freelance journey, it will be worth checking that you still have all the right knowledge for the job. It’s all worth picking up certain tips and tricks that you may not already know. Additionally, as we are sure you already know, the graphic design industry is always changing and evolving so you’ll need to be up to date with the latest trends and software.

If you are completely new to graphic design, then in order to become a freelance graphic designer you will have to learn everything you need to know to become a graphic designer. This includes design theory, design history, the design process, the design programs and so much more.

Whether upskilling or learning for the first time, this brings us onto our next step…

3. Enroll in a Graphic Design Course

Potentially the biggest step in becoming a graphic design freelancer is learning graphic design. The best way to do this?

Enroll in a graphic design course. Any graphic design course worth its salt will teach you everything you need to know about graphic design and set you up to head out into the world as a freelance graphic designer.

But don’t want to spend years training for your new career—you’ll want a graphic design course that will get you into the industry as quickly as possible. Well, we have the perfect course for you.

Shillington’s graphic design course is the best way to become a freelance designer. Our innovative approach to graphic design education means you’ll be on your way to a new creative career in no time. With an industry relevant curriculum, our course teaches aspiring designers all the skills and expertise and all important portfolio (more on that later!) they need to work as a freelance graphic designer in just three months full-time or nine months part-time. 

4. Learn the Right Tools for the Job

Freelance graphic designers need all the right design tools in their design tool box.

Though, the main tool in a designer’s arsenal is software. That’s right, any designer needs inside out knowledge of the Adobe Creative Cloud, namely InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop, and the digital design app Figma—and freelance graphic designers are no different. So, the next step in how to become a graphic design freelancer is to learn these tools.

Taking a graphic design course such as Shillington’s will definitely give you a leg up as you would be taught how to use these four amazing programs on any design task. There are other ways to learn such as self teaching or learning through the internet, but no matter which path you choose to take one of the most important aspects of learning the software is practice. So practice, practice, practice until you know them with your eyes closed and you’ll have another step to becoming a design freelancer under your belt. 

5. Build Your Portfolio

Remember earlier we mentioned that all important portfolio? We really can’t stress how essential a portfolio is to becoming a graphic design freelancer.

Your graphic design portfolio is your key to the industry—it is a presentation of your work and what you are able to do and will be your first port of call with potential freelance clients. 

No one is ever going to give you a job as a graphic designer unless you can show them some impressive work in a portfolio. But it’s not just about visual eye candy. You’re not an artist, you’re a designer. The difference is that design solves a problem. And so employers will also want to see something of how you approached the problem, and how your design solved it.

You will also need to develop a condensed version of your portfolio to send out to potential clients when pitching for jobs—but don’t forget to include both your amazing finished work and the process behind it in this too. After some portfolio inspiration? Here’s a great resource showing some of the best portfolios the design world has to offer and some vital tips to build your own. 

Look at that! You’re almost halfway through the steps to become a freelance designer. Most of the learning is now done (not that you ever stop learning as a designer!) and it’s time to start establishing yourself…

6. Price Yourself!

How to become a graphic design freelancer also means learning how to run your own business and

A huge part of this is learning the knowledge and confidence to price yourself and your work correctly.

After all, graphic design skills and good design work are hard to come by and your clients should be aware of that. But at the same time, you don’t want to massively overcharge and scare clients away or undercharge and not be able to live comfortably. It’s a delicate balance that all boils down to knowing your worth.

Want to know how to price yourself as a freelance graphic designer? A good way to get an idea of how much to charge for your services is to compare yourself to other people. Seriously. Measure your experience and expertise up against other freelancers in your area and see what they are charging. Then use this information to decide upon your starting rate and inflate your prices as your experience and client base increases. 

It’s also worth doing some research into local freelance graphic design rates to determine how much other graphic design freelancers are earning in your city. Check out our guide to freelance graphic design rates across the world and discover some other useful tools to help price yourself. Once you’ve got your rates down, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a freelance designer.

7. Find Yourself Some Worthy Clients

The next step in the process of how to become a graphic design freelancer is no mean feat—you’ll need to find yourself some clients.

As well as being your main source of income, client work will also help you build and maintain your portfolio. 

As you start out in the world of freelance, you might not be able to be very picky with who you work with and the work might not always be to your taste. But, it’s all part of the process as you develop and blossom in your career. Working for these clients now will mean that you get to be a bit more particular with the clients you work with in the future. And clients may even start coming to you for work—not the other way around.

Finding a first client is different for everyone but there’s lots of ways to get your name and work out there. You can’t underestimate the importance of industry buzzwords like networking and social media. There’s a reason they are used so commonly—they’re great ways of selling yourself and getting work. We also know freelance designers who have found luck just getting directly in contact with potential clients and people they want to work with—a simple email can go a long way.

8. Build Yourself a Brand

You’ve got the skills, you’ve got the portfolio, you’ve got some clients, now it’s time to make you you.

This might be a very literal part of how to become a graphic design freelancer but it’s important to brand yourself as a freelancer.

It’s a great way to show off your own personality and another way of showing what you are able to do to peers and potential clients.

Your personal branding can spread across all your public facing platforms—your portfolio, your website, your social media, your business cards etc. You could even take it further and make some cool things that you can hand out to people if you really wanted to—because, hey, who doesn’t want to print their own stickers?

Stickers aside, branding is actually a really important part of establishing yourself as a freelance graphic designer. It can set you apart from competitors and even inform the kind of work that you can pitch for and even get offered. Though, remember to always keep your freelance branding looking slick—it will be the first thing anyone sees that you have designed, even before your portfolio or full website.

9. Keep Working!

You’ve made it! You’ve followed all the steps of how to become a graphic design freelancer and you’re now working with clients, making your own way in the design industry. Now there’s one final step—keep on working! Now you’ve established yourself, keep up that momentum.

A massive part of being a freelance designer is continuing to grow. 

Your job isn’t just designing but is keeping doing all the steps in this list. So, keep being creative, keep refining your skills, keep learning, keep building your portfolio, keep reviewing your fees and keep finding new and exciting clients. And, most importantly, enjoy it! You’re in a very exciting job in an inspiring, dynamic industry so make sure you continue to love the work you’re doing! Good luck in your freelance graphic design career.

Want to embark on a career as a freelance graphic designer? Shillington’s graphic design course is the best way to do so. We’ll teach you everything you need to know and equip you with an industry ready portfolio so you’ll be able to change careers in as little as three months full-time. What are you waiting for?


Laura Carrick
January 5, 2023

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