Working as a freelancer can be a great opportunity if you are passionate about design. Regardless of whether your goal is to gain valuable experience, make some money part-time, or earn a full-time income without the need to rely on an employer, freelancing could be the solution.

While opportunities definitely exist, the thought of getting started as a freelance designer can be intimidating. If you’ve never freelanced before, you might be unsure about how to convince the first client to hire you.

In reality, landing your first client usually isn’t as difficult as you think it might be. With the right approach, you can find that first client who will provide you with valuable experience while paying for your work. Here are some steps you can follow if you’re looking to get started as a freelancer.

Step 1: Define What You’re Offering

There are many different types of design and countless services that you could provide. As a first step, it’s a good idea to think about specifically what you can offer and define the services that you’ll provide. When you’re talking to potential clients, you’ll want to have specific services that you can offer so they know exactly what you can do for them, rather than an extremely general description like “design” or “graphic design”.

Some of the possibilities include:

  • Logo design
  • Web design
  • Brochure design
  • Business card design
  • Product packaging design
  • Book or ebook layouts
  • Book or ebook covers

Step 2: Compile Your Portfolio

Now that you know what types of services you’ll be offering to potential clients, it’s time to gather some samples of your work and create a portfolio that you can showcase.

  • Choose a platform. Your portfolio could be hosted at a platform like Behance or Dribbble, or you could create your own portfolio website. Having your own website is preferable, but not 100% necessary when you’re just getting started.
  • Keep your services in mind when you’re creating your portfolio. Make sure that the work samples in your portfolio correspond with the services that you’re offering. For example, if you’re offering logo design services, be sure that you have some samples of logos that you’ve designed in your portfolio.
  • Include only your best work. Don’t feel like you need to include all of your past work in your portfolio. Ideally, your portfolio should present your best work to show potential clients what you’re capable of. If there’s a project that you’re not particularly proud of, don’t include it in your portfolio.

Since you’re just getting started, it’s very possible that you’ll have some trouble coming up with samples to include in your portfolio. The items showcased in your portfolio don’t need to come from paying gigs. You can use work that you did on a volunteer basis, designs that were done for a class, or personal projects.

If you need something to include in your portfolio, simply create a personal project or design something for a fictitious business. (If you’re including personal projects or designs for fictitious businesses in your portfolio, it’s usually best to mention this within the description of the project to be completely transparent with potential clients.)

Vecteezy contributors can also utilize their Vecteezy profile as a portfolio of sorts. Be sure that you fill out the details of your profile (like your name and bio) and include links to your social profiles and your website, if you have one, so visitors have a way to get in touch with you. Sign up to become a Vecteezy contributor.

Photo by stnazkul

Step 3: Build a Social Profile

Your social profiles can be extremely important for networking and getting more visibility. While your portfolio will showcase your best work, platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn are perfect for helping you to connect with potential clients.

Be sure that you have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile that clearly mentions the services that you offer to clients. The more connections you have through your LinkedIn profile, the more likely you’ll be to have success on this platform.

Sharing your work on social platforms can also lead to comments and other engagement that helps you to build social proof, which may lead someone to hire you. As you’re on these platforms, you can also watch for status updates and posts from your friends and contacts that may have a need for a designer. If you see someone mentioning a new business that they’re starting, reach out to them to see if they could benefit from your services.

Step 4: Leverage Your Network and Get Some Experience

When you’re ready to land your first client, by far the best place to start is with the people you already know. This could include your friends, family, neighbors, professional contacts, and people in any social groups that you’re a part of. Talk to everyone you know about the services that you’re offering. See if they have any need for your service or if they know of anyone who might benefit from what you have to offer.

As a new freelance designer, small business owners will be ideal contacts, but others may work somewhere or be involved with an organization that could use your services. Take the time to reach out to everyone you know, because each person that you talk to will have their own network of contacts that you don’t know. Your friend may not have any need for your services, but he or she might know someone who is looking for a designer.

You may even want to mention that you’re just getting started and that you’re willing to offer a great price. Or offer a referral bonus to give your contacts an incentive to refer you to others who do hiring you.

When you’re first getting started, the experience that you’ll gain from client projects is more important than the money that you’ll be paid. Getting some quality work that can be added to your portfolio and getting some experience managing client projects can help you to land bigger and higher-paying jobs in the future. That’s not to say that you should work for free, but you may not be able to hit your ideal rate with your first few clients, and that’s fine. Many freelancers get started by taking some lower-paying jobs and then increase their rates once they have some experience.

Most freelancers are able to land their first client (or maybe a few clients) through their existing network. It will take some time and effort to reach out to a lot of people, but it’s usually the best way to get some momentum as a new freelancer. Once you have more work in your portfolio and more people to promote you via word-of-mouth, you should be able to land clients without needing to dedicate as much time to it.

Photo by Volodymyr Ivash

Step 5: Actively Pursue Work

If you’re unable to find your first client through your existing network, or if you’ve completed some products but now the work through your network has dried up, you can actively pursue opportunities in a few different ways.

  • Use Craigslist. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to find clients is to post an ad on Craigslist for your services. Craigslist can be highly effective for finding clients in your local area, regardless of whether you meet them face-to-face or handle everything virtually. It doesn’t take a lot of time to create an ad, and you can re-post it every now and then so it continues to get visibility.
  • Use freelancing websites. You can also use freelancing websites like Upwork and Freelancer. These sites will require you to bid on projects and you’ll be competing with a lot of other freelancers. The main benefit of these sites is that the potential clients are right there for you. There’s no need for you to find the clients, you just need to present a bid that convinces them to hire you. Ideally, you would use these sites to gain some experience and then be able to find clients on your own without the need to rely on these sites.
  • Cold outreach. Another option is to identify potential clients that would be an ideal fit for your services and reach out to them. This type of cold outreach will take more effort to land a client, but if you’re looking for a way to get started, it could be a good option.

Supplementing With Stock Image Sites

Contributing to stock image sites like Vecteezy can be a great way to earn some money outside of client work. If you have some downtime between clients, you can design resources that will allow you to earn passive income in the future.

Not only can you supplement your income this way, but contributing to stock image sites like Vecteezy will also help you to get more exposure for your work. Clients may discover you and hire you because they like your work.

See this page for more details about becoming a Vecteezy contributor.

Handling Payment

Photo by 4maksym

As a freelancer, it’s up to you to manage the financial aspects of your business. Many designers don’t enjoy dealing with this part of the business, so they simply ignore it until it inevitably causes problems. There are a few things you can do to communicate effectively with clients and avoid problems by setting policies from the start.

  • Charge a percentage of the payment upfront. Don’t work for clients without collecting part of the payment upfront.  Charging a percentage in order to get started with the project will force the client to commit and will show that you value your time.
  • Establish expectations for invoices and payments. Tell the client how quickly you expect invoices to be paid (for example, within 30 days).
  • Set a limit on revisions. When you’re pricing a design project, be sure to specify how many revisions are included in that price, and state the cost of each additional revision. This protects you from clients who keep coming back to you for changes.

Establishing these policies can feel awkward for first-time freelancers, but the truth is, clients will take you more seriously and view you as being more professional if you run your business this way.

Moving Forward

Finding your first few clients can take a lot of work, but the process of securing gigs should get easier moving forward. The more experience you have, the better quality of work that you have in your portfolio, and the more clients and contacts you have telling others about you, the less time and effort you’ll need to dedicate to finding clients. The initial work that you put into landing those first few clients is an investment in your business that can pay huge dividends in the future.

Lead image by bernardbodo