Grow your Freelance Graphic Design Business in 12 Steps
Once you’ve taken the plunge into freelance graphic design, you need to start thinking about turning those tentative first steps into longer strides to build the momentum of your business. Maybe you’re dipping your toes into the freelance world whilst in employment and have decided it’s time to go full time, or you’ve just got your eyes fixed on longer term and stable contracts. Whatever your reasons for wanting to grow, here’s our advice on how to get started.
1) Research the Clients
If you’re aiming to bag a larger or long term client, it’s imperative to research the company. Find out if they’ve hired freelancers before, and if so how they were treated. Go back and see if the company has had any brand refreshes in the past and get a deeper understanding of their culture and audience. Like going for any job, an acute understanding of the business will always give you an edge to securing the contract.
2) Raise your Rates
Larger companies will expect much more than your local small businesses did, therefore the rates are often higher to compensate for the complexity. See if you can find out what the ‘going rate’ is for freelancers to make sure you’re not being completely underpaid or taken advantage of. With this in mind, consider increasing your rates to match the going rate (without overpricing). The notion that price reflects quality leaks often into all areas of trade, so to be taken seriously don’t be afraid to raise your prices!
3) Find a problem with the company’s branding or design…and solve it.
When you’re put in contact with the client, whether from word of mouth or direct approach, outline what you could do to improve their branding and how your experience will warrants their needs. Don’t give away all your ideas or submit a completed project for free, but identifying a problem which you can solve and providing rough ideas on how to do this will showcase your dedication and capabilities. Show examples of your previous work from smaller projects to prove you can deliver results.
4) Fine Tune your Professionalism.
One of the draws of freelancing is a more relaxed approach to working life, and smaller clients are more likely to accept this and can take a laidback stance. To build sustainable relationships with larger clients you need to be organised; simple things like picking up calls instead of letting them go to voicemail or answering emails promptly will rub off the right way and allow clients to trust you further.
5) Strengthen current relationships
Word of mouth still accounts for over 75% of freelance work according to the latest Harvard Business Review, so as useful as social media is, this form of networking is vital for growing your freelance career. Make sure you keep communications up with current clients, and always follow up into the weeks and months after your contract has ended. Sending an email checking how everything is will keep you at the forefront of their mind, and they will be way more likely to recommend you when the occasion calls for it.
6) Ask other Freelancers
There’s no shame in sending fellow successful freelancers an email asking how they approached clients and grew their business. Freelancing can be a tough game, and fellow designers are usually more than happy to give a helping hand to those starting out and growing.
7) Develop Your Brand
When starting out your freelance career, a ‘Jack of All Trades’ approach can sometimes be the only way to get it off the ground, taking any job on offer. However as your business develops so should your speciality, so figure out what makes you different from other graphic designers. Are you a more experienced corporate designer than other freelancer’s in the community, or do you have a flair for a certain industry? Refining a strong brand will help pull in those larger clients and distinguish you from the rest.
Make sure your website is completely polished and professional. If you’ve already got a well set out site, then start to enhance your branding; let it reflect into your emails, business cards, invoices and social pages to keep everything uniform. Your client will probably have a coherent brand that they care enough about to hire you to help design it, so show you care enough about your own.
8) Expand out of your local area
The beauty of freelancing is that you’re not constrained to one location. A meeting somewhere else in the country is only one train ride away, so don’t be afraid to look nationally for clients. Take advantage of the fact you can take your laptop anywhere and open yourself up to the hundreds of businesses presenting opportunities up and down the country.
9) Use business theory
Freelancing needs to be run like any small business; once your design business gain momentum, this becomes even more acutely important. Approach your work with the question: “What does the market need, and how can I provide a solution?”. Look at the clients you’re already serving and judge what they’re asking for, which companies they’re recommending you to and why.
Another tactic is to keep on the lookout for markets that are growing, and those in decline. Thriving industries will have a larger creative budget than those cutting down because of poor sales; especially those who are growing fast and don’t yet have a dedicated in house team.
10) Outsource administrative tasks
If time spent on business administrative tasks is keeping you from actual designing and stunting your growth, consider outsourcing it to free up your time and increase your working potential. You don’t have to hire expensive agencies; virtual assistants and bookkeepers can take control of tasks you find tedious and instead seek out new business whilst completing your current projects.
11) Learn a new marketable skill
Your bread and butter may have carried you this far, however the key to growth is to learn a new marketable skill. Take online courses or develop an area of design you’ve not tapped into before. You can still specialise, but larger clients will want a more comprehensive service, and they will be able to invest more trust in you.
12) Update your portfolio to show off all your recent work.
This probably goes without saying, but it doesn’t make it any less vital. Make sure your most impressive work is at the forefront of your portfolio – online and in print. If you’re looking to grow, you should constantly be on the lookout for new opportunities, and have an impressive backlog of work to show off in order to grasp those opportunities head on.