How to Start Making Money Designing

Let me get straight to the point here:

First of all, you’ve got to know that you will need to start, like everyone else, from… well, the beginning. Or say, the bottom. 😛

Until your freelance business picks up and you make a name for yourself, you’ll have to know that you’ll be working for not so much money as you aim to make someday. It sounds obvious, but it’s what usually leads aspiring freelancers to go back to their previous “safe” (boreeeng!) life. You’ve got to stick to it, and constantly, slowly but surely work your way up.

The great news is that after some time, as you start gaining more experience, you’ll achieve better clients, which will help you to have a higher revenue margin. You’ll also become more efficient in performing your administration duties and you’ll be able to automate most of the repetitive tasks that when you’re starting take too much of your time.

First: A couple of things always to keep in mind and possibly, hopefully, to fall head over feet with

1. Research other people’s portfolios and elect your dream team

Like the honorable Mr. Thomas Edison once wisely said:

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Thomas Edison

Awesome, now read the full Edison’s quote:

None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.

Thomas Edison

Which leads us to concude that:

  1. Those 1% of inspiration are still very much needed. And where best to find it than among talented people? Like every artist have a list of influences, you should to. Have a database of kick-ass designers whose work you admire.

2. Seeing how other people find great solutions to design tasks helps build a sense of what’s good, and what’s not.

2. Be an insider when it comes to Design Trends

Keep always a close eye on what’s going on in the designing world and what are the trend-setter designers up to these days. Pinterest is a great window for taking a glance at beautiful stuff. There in NOTHING that better helps a creative professional to develop an outstanding aesthetical sense than to be flooded with beautiful stuff. But be aware: to be inside trends doesn’t necerally means that you are supposed to follow them. Sometimes to go against the trends is the break-throught solution.

Second: Steps to prepare yourself to rock

1. Focus on quality and not on quantity

I read an article the other day in which this guy was actually advising people to take $4 dollar logo jobs. He was saying: “Oh, doesn’t matter, at the beggining you will try and make as many logos as you can, and whenever you reach the mark of 1.000 logos per week, than you should consider asking for someone’s help”. I was: Wha? $4 dollars for a logo? 1.000 LOGOS PER WEEK?

So, let’s stop real quick here and make a very important statement: to design something is not to assemble a font with a circle and choose a color for it. A logo is the FACE of a company. A Brand Concept is the first and more important impression that a business will pass. Never, please, in any case, accept that a thought-out, considered, pondered, quality concept work should cost as little as a chocolate bar. Don’t undercut yourself.

Set a reasonable price according to your skills and experience levels and don’t accept less than that (there’s more about pricing coming below). Eventually, by having quality work added up to your portfolio, you’ll be able to choose your clientele. Always think of yourself and your time as an investiment in the future.

2. Work your marketing moves

The aim here is becoming a person that other people will relate to Design. First, the word of mouth publicity is highly important in our area. Let everyone know that you are taking in projects. Create a cool flyer and stick it on your gym, university, supermarket, whatever board.

Second, work on your social media presence. There are plenty of articles on the internet on how to increase your awareness and online audience.

Take Twitter, for a start (wait, listen to this!): there is a thriving and remarkably active design community on Twitter. Making lasting connections on Twitter can open up a lot of opportunities down the road. There are millions of people tweeting every day. Naturally, several of these people are mentioning that they are in the market for a freelancer. You need only find them and make contact. It’s a really personal way to connect with potential clients that actually works. Give it a try and you could be pleasantly surprised.
(More about Social Media on How to Get More Clients When You’re Freelancing.)

3. Update Your Resume

Before throwing yourself into the sea of freelancing, update your resume to reflect that you’re not so much looking for a job as looking for more work (there’s a difference). You should come across as a confident professional actively seeking to increase your clientele on a per job or long-term basis. Check out The Graphic Design Resume Guide for more information on how to stand out to potential clients. And of course: your resume is your brand. Design one that stands up to your talents. There are also tons of free templates you can use or be inspired by.

4. Take good care of your Portfolio

if you are still new in designing and don’t have a great portfolio, it’ll be awesome if you create paralel, side projects to grow it. And then: Get Your Portfolio Out There.

First, build yourself a custom website (there are also lots of free WordPress Themes better suited for Portfolios). A website is an unbeatably easy way to tell potential clients about who you are and what kind of work you do. It provides a convenient place to send people you meet as well as an easy way for clients to find you on their own.

Don’t forget to work on the SEO and do your Keyword research, so people can easily find you organically. The second way of getting your portfolio out for the world to see is to sign up for all the free portfolio sites you can find. The more content on the web about you the better and these sites can provide a great way to boost your search-ability online. Check Coroflot, Krop, Sortfolio, Carbonmade, Dribble and Behance.

5. Prepare an Invoice Model

Before you take a single job you should know how you will be billing that client. Setup an invoicing system through Curdbee, Ballpark, Freshbooks, PayPal or any number of online alternatives. These tools take the pain out of the paperwork and are either free or very affordable. Here is everything you need to know about The Anatomy of the Perfect Design Invoice. And just because we love you, here is a Free Complete Design Service Invoice Template for you to Download, customize and call yours.

6. Compose a Contract which says it all

Your contract (that will be signed by both parts) must carefully outline in details all of the projects’ deliverables, explain your work process, and be clear about the guarantees you offer (or not) in each briefed project. Don’t skip reading this: How to make sure you’ll get paid on time for your freelance designer work – where we break down the steps you need to take to ensure that you’ll be covered when it comes to paperwork.

7. Know how to fairly price Design Services

It’s already difficult for most clients to understand why is that we charge the prices we do for each piece that we develop. So i’t your job to educate them. For instance, if the product is a Website: You will list everything that was arranged that the site will contain, thus breaking down the price. If it’s a simpler product like a logo, you can either charge per hour or per project. Research how much in average does a designer charge hourly in your area. If it’s something between $25 and $60, you can start by $30 and increase your price as you get better known and grow a more complete portfolio. Still need help? Answer this 5-question questionary by the Nu School and get an estimated price range for your project! Or even better: watch their Free Pricing Class!

8. Get yourself one or some partners in crime

If you know other freelancers, there’s no need to go throught it all by yourself. Form a small cooperation system and share with them clients, contacts and resources. The nature of freelancing is such that there will probably be times that you have more work than you can handle and other times when you’re binging on Netflix all day for lack of anything better to do. Working with a few other freelancers can create a mutually beneficial trade where the involved parties help each other through these times.

Third: Where to find these so-talked-about Freelance Clients

Use these tools all together, all at the same time to ensure that something is always going to convert into a real project:

1. Freelance Gigs Sites like Fiverr, Freelancer.com and Mega job sites like Monster and Hot Jobs

These are great places to begin, but just be aware that they won’t have your ultimate dream job. Definitely give them a shot, but don’t put too much stock into them as a reliable source of income.

2. Craigslist

Seems weird, I know, and chances are that you’ll have to dodge away from dodgy adds asking girls if they “might be new in town and bored to death”, if you know what I mean. Buuuut…. I’ve already found super cool work opportunities in Craigslist, and I’ve met realy decent people through it. So, why not? Make sure you create a standard reply email that you can send out to all of the listings you’re interested in, so you won’t be the bored one here. Off course, read careful what is being proposed and adequate the ready-answer to each email.

Don’t forget to include your resume and a link to your online portfolio. Remember that each employer that puts a job out there will literally receive hundreds of replies. Try to stand out in any way that you can! And also remember not to work for free (as many people shameless will ask you to) unless it’s a project that will super add to your portfolio, or that will help feed homeless children. Really.

3. Google.

Now you’re like: “Oh, really? Google? Thanks for your awesome help!” But hear me out: are you using it properly to find work? Obviously, you already know how to search for Freelance jobs around your area or that accept remote designers. But how about Google Maps? Have you thought about it?

Open the map and do it old style: try and search for businesses in your area that could possibly use your services. Maybe marketing agencies, printers, design firms, etc. Or really, any small business that you think has a horrendous logo (don’t tell them that).

When you click on a business, go to their website and locate their contact information. Then send them a succinct but friendly email that introduces yourself and your work. Tell them you’re looking for freelance work and would be thrilled to work with them. As with Craigslist, maybe write a standard email that you can just send to all the businesses you find, and add that special thing to each one of them showing that you know what their company is about.

Spend an afternoon doing this and you could be surprised how many leads you’ll snag. Don’t expect them to pour in all at once. The goal here is to connect. It could be a while before they need a designer, but your email might put you at the top of their list of potentials. Don’t necessarily stop at emails either. Take some of your favorites, pick up the phone and make some calls. People are much more likely to hire a “real person” that they’ve actually spoken to than a mystery email person.

4. Smaller Job Boards

Small job boards may have fewer listings than the mega sites, but that can actually work to your advantage. Smaller sites will attract less traffic, meaning competition is likely to be greatly reduced. Here’s a few to check out:

Forth: Here are some bonus actions that sure won’t harm you

Open your skill range

At the beggining, freelancing won’t necessariy pay all your bills. So it’s every time more important to invest time expanding your skill set. Maybe try web design, 3D modeling, photography, writing, illustrating. Anything that speaks to your heart and that will make you a more complete professional. Try to set time every week to learn a new skill, or to get better at what you already do, by watching tutorials, reading articles, taking online courses. As your body of work expands to new areas, your potential client base will increase exponentially as you search for jobs in multiple related fields.

Take advantage of free education

Again, if you have a bit of time, learning new creative skills can be both easy and free. The internet brings an unending stream of quality tutorials for every skill you can think of having. Here’s a few sites (or lots) to get you on the path to becoming a multi-tasked super-powerful dreamy professional.

  • TutsPlus: Unmatched Photoshop, Web Design, Illustration, Photography, CG, Flash, After-Effects, and Audio Tutorials
  • Fuel Brand Network: Articles and tutorials on branding, creativity, interface design, coding, blogging, writing, photography, motionography and more.
  • Tutorialzine: Excellent web design tutorials
  • Computer Arts: Tutorials on all things digital

And as you get prepared to rocket high your client list, make sure you know how to avoid clients from hell!

Here are the actions you must start taking now to work your way up as a freelance designer. Tips to achieve clients and increase revenue margin.

Tatiana Bastos

The Content Pac-Man: Born and raised in Brasil, studied advertisement at Mackenzie University in Sao Paulo. But from a small child knew to be taken head over feet by fine arts, illustration, and photography. For that reason, attended Panamericana School of Art and Design, also in Brazil, and then ventured to learn some more at The Art Students League of New York, in Manhattan. After years spending time traveling the globe and living on an inspiring island at the center of the blue Aegean Sea, in Greece, settled to be based on electric Berlin, Germany. Still a world traveler, healthy eater, art lover, diy do-er and a words-addict.

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