Getting started as a freelance designer

You’ve finally decided to leave your design job and go freelance. Where do you start?

First, the basics. There are four fundamental elements to a successful freelance marketing strategy. It’s useful to think of these elements as four central pillars that will hold up all the marketing you do later on.

These pillars are your business offer, your portfolio, your website, and your business cards.

If you are still at college or in full-time employment, you are best advised to concentrate on building your four pillars before starting up.

If you are already freelancing and don’t have a strong business offer, a well-considered portfolio, an informed website, and clearly branded business cards, you should focus your energies here before contacting prospects.

Don’t rush in.
Prospecting freelancers who make a bad impression on first contact find it difficult to find favor on the next call.

That’s why it’s vital you are well-prepared before you start contacting the most influential companies in your area.

A lot of designers make a good living from just a handful of clients. It’s likely that the bread and butter of your business will come from the work you do for just three or four people.

Since the next person you call could be your next big client, it’s essential you have a plan before you pick up the phone.

Your plan should be based around your four pillars:

  1. Devise a persuasive business offer so new clients remember you and recommend you.
  2. Have a selection of work in your portfolio that clearly demonstrates your business offer.
  3. Have a well-structured website that reinforces your business offer.
  4. Have a stash of business cards that remind prospects of your business offer after you have met them.

Do your research.
You wouldn’t release a new product without first identifying a clear target market. Likewise, you don’t want to start contacting new prospects without first understanding the business environment they work in.

Why? Because the type of people you target will affect how you present yourself as a business.

Research your most lucrative clients, then work out how you can package your talents in a way that will appeal to your chosen market.

This will help you formulate a concrete business offer, informing the way you present your work in your portfolio, the way you structure your website, and the key message in your self-promotion.

Adapted from the introduction to the ‘Getting started’ chapter in The Freelance Designer’s Self-Marketing Handbook