I am very regularly asked for advice from people who want to become a freelance graphic designer and so have decided to compile some of my advice on this page.
LEGALITIES & FIRST STEPS
1. In the UK there is a legal requirement to register as self employed with the tax office (the Inland Revenue), and failure to do so once you start taking payment as a business and/or individual freelancer will lead to stiff fines.
It depends on the law of the country you are a resident of, but I would say it’s likely that for most countries you will need to register as self employed with your tax office.
2. You will need insurance; in the UK this is at the least ‘Professional Indemnity’ insurance, and if you are having customers coming to your place of work/premises you will also need ‘Public Liability’ insurance as well.
3. You will need a computer of decent quality that in an ideal world has a powerful processor to handle multiple large programmes open at the same time without crashing or ‘going slow’, a decent sized monitor (min 19inch), a good quality graphics card, and the revelant software, as well as a dedicated telephone line.
Don’t be tempted to skimp on inferior design software at lower prices, you really do need the best design software even if you can’t afford the best computer hard ware.
4. You will need an office space. This can be in your home if necessary/desired, I work from home through choice, as do many freelancers, and always have done but I do have my own office in my home.
5. Get some paper based accounting books and/or software and make sure you record every amount of money you spend for business purposes, and record every amount of money that comes in make sure each item is dated, and ensure you collect and retain all receipts for money spent.
6. Open a business bank account where you will deposit any money earned, and use for business expenses.
7. Obviously it goes without saying that before you start charging customers for your services, you will need some sort of knowledge and experience in the field of graphic design; you can either to go college and/or university to learn this, or you can teach yourself – either is fine. I’m self taught.
HOW TO MARKET YOURSELF
My advice is I’m afraid restricted to the sort of freelance business that obtains it’s clients via the Internet, as this how I have operated my business. I can’t really offer any advice for those who want a more ‘bricks and mortar’ style of business where they may visit with clients face to face for instance.
1. First of all ensure you have a neat, professional, easy to navigate website to contain your portfolio and information about services. A lot of designers get hung up on having a website that is ‘the most incredibly cool and beautiful website ever seen’ – yes it needs to be attractive, but not at the expense of usability practicalities that have a greater impact on converting website vistors than ‘a cool site’.
2. Networking with other businesses – not only can you gain clients by networking properly (no hard sell), but you will also gain invaluable advice and friendship from other business owners. I recommend the following websites for business networking:
3. Search engine optimisation of your website.
(Follow the advice at www.trulyace.com/searchengineoptimisation.html)
IMPORTANT NOTE ON MARKETING/ADVERTISING FOR FREELANCERS
One thing I can say though, is do not pay to be placed in any online or offline directories this will not get you clients, or certainly not enough clients for it to be worth the cost of the advertising. Advertising very rarely works for any business unless you have a huge advertising budget such as the brand names – I’ve never heard any other freelancer say differently in 7 years.
Update 15th January 2009
I have just discovered the best blog ever for any new design firm or freelance designer. Called ‘Selling In A Creative Industry‘ by sales trainer Andy Preston. It’s a must read and full of outstanding and spot on advice, some of which I regularly extol myself to newbies.
Once you actually start;
1. Never work without first taking 50% deposit off the client first. (Although if you have no portfolio you might have to do the first few without a deposit to land the first few jobs to get something in your portfolio).
New freelancers always neglect to take deposits, and it always eventually bites them in the…..
Decent customers expect it so don’t be afraid to take a deposit, and any customer who doesn’t want to give you one is a bad debt risk. To be clear; a bad debt is where you work hard for someone and then they don’t pay you.
2. Ensure that what you are offering the client is fully laid out in writing, in great detail before they accept your offer, including payment terms, cost (and what they receive exactly for that cost) and what copyright to designs they do or do not receive to avoid future court wrangling over ownership.
This (failure to outline detailed terms and conditions covering all aspects of a project) is one major area that trips up new freelancers and can result in unpaid final invoices and nothing to back your case up with in court because you didn’t give the customer any formal terms before you started the project and took the deposit.
Terms and Conditions can be outlined in an email as long as they are clear, the customer accepts your offer and the terms tied to that offer, and you take a deposit from them this is classed as a contract in the eyes of the law provided those three events transpire.
3. Treat your customers very well, avoid errors, and never be late or slow with deadlines. Referrals to other businesses from your current clients will make up a good percentage of your work, unless of course you don’t get any because you aren’t treating your customers well. In which case you will probably loose them as well anyway in addition to not receiving any referral business.
4. Offer the client more than one way of paying you, you need to make it very easy and painless for them to start a new project with you, these can include cheque in the post, online payment (www.paypal.com or www.worldpay.com if you can afford it, which does look more professional than Paypal I guarantee you), and perhaps by direct transfer to your business account as another option.
The information on this page is for general guidance purposes based on my own personal experiences only and does not constitute legal advice. When starting out in business we advise that you obtain formal advice by getting in touch with qualified business advisors and legal professionals.