Before you actually start offering your design services, it’s important to decide what type of design you want to specialize in. It’s never a good idea to just offer “design”. You’ll scare clients off if they don’t see a solid portfolio of experience in the type of design they’re looking for.
Take a look at some different graphic design portfolios. You’ll see that nearly every designer specializes in something.
- Ecover and minisite design for internet marketing
- Kindle book cover design
- Logo creation
- Banners and other marketing materials
- Print designs (brochures, business cards, flyers, menus, etc.)
- Social media designs
You can always offer additional services along with whatever you specialize in, but it’s important to make your name in a specific genre of design. Let’s say you specialize in designing logos. You could offer other services such as banner design and print design, but you will make your name specifically as a logo designer.
This is important, because if someone is looking for a logo designer, they want to go to someone who has a lot of experience specifically in logo design. If they come to your site and see a mishmash of different types of graphics, they will probably look elsewhere.
They’ll assume you don’t have enough experience designing logos. The same thing goes for someone looking for banners, or print, or anything else. They’ll just assume you don’t have enough experience specifically in what they are looking for, even if you do.
It’s the same reason most people don’t order a hamburger in a Mexican restaurant, or a pizza at a burger joint. They just assume it won’t be as good there as the cuisine that restaurant specializes in. For this reason, pick one specific area of design you’d like to focus in.
Ideally, this will be an area you do have experience in, one you enjoy working in, and one that has some way to easily find clients. For example, print is often difficult to find work in, because clients are often spread out. They don’t hang out in specific places.
However, it’s relatively easy to find work designing book covers, because you can just go to various websites, forums, and blogs that authors visit.
The single most important element of getting work as a designer is having a good portfolio of design examples to show potential clients. In the beginning, especially if you don’t actually have a lot of design experience, you won’t have a large portfolio.
Fortunately, you don’t need a huge portfolio—you just need a good one. Your work probably won’t be on par with the best of the best at first, and that’s fine, too. There’s demand for inexpensive design just as there’s a demand for high-end, professional design. You can always raise prices as your skill improves.
The easiest way to create a portfolio is using WordPress. You’ll need your own hosting to really make it stunning, because you can’t use all the really great custom themes and plugins on WordPress.com.
If you need inexpensive hosting, you can try options like:
Be sure to look for coupons before you sign up, as many hosting companies provide discounts for new customers to bring in business. These types of hosts generally cost from $5 to $15 per month, and may offer bigger discounts if you pay for 6-12 months in advance.
If you need to build a portfolio when you’re just starting out, you might want to offer free, or at least heavily discounted, designs to a few clients. This way, you can get testimonials in addition to building your portfolio. You might also make a little money by offering these heavy discounts.
The theme you choose for your portfolio should be one that is relatively simple and showcases your designs, NOT the design of the site itself. Unless you want to specialize in building websites, choose a theme that looks neat and clean and shows off your designs—not one that distracts from them.
Some great places to find themes include:
If you need ideas for what a great portfolio should look like, you can visit some of the top designers in your field and get some ideas from their websites, but you obviously don’t want to copy. Just use them for inspiration.
You’ll also want to include prices on your site, as well as a contact form or some other way to get in touch with you. Make it as easy as possible for prospective clients to contact you for quotes, or with questions.
Perhaps the hardest part of being a freelancer is finding work. In fact, you may spend more time looking for work in the beginning than you do actually creating graphics. This is normal, and eventually you’ll develop a base of regular clients and you won’t have to spend as much time looking for work. But in the beginning, you should be prepared to spend a lot of time beating the bushes, so to speak.
The best way to find work will depend on the type of work you’ve decided to specialize in, because different types of clients visit different types of websites when looking for designers. Let’s take a look at some of the different places you can go to find work, and which places are best for which types of design.
Forums can be a great place to find work, but you have to visit the right forums for whatever type of work you’re doing. For example, if you’re designing book covers, you’ll want to visit forums that specifically target authors. If you’re designing advertising material or other items for marketers, you’ll want to visit webmaster forums.
If you’re designing for print, you may have trouble finding work on forums, but you can find work on forums for most other types of design.
Freelance sites are a necessary evil in the world of design. They can consume crazy amounts of time, because you will probably spend countless hours wading through thousands of jobs and submitting proposals only to hear nothing back.
The main reason for this is simply the fact that there are far, far more freelancers than there are potential clients, and most of those clients know this, so they expect rock-bottom pricing. You’ll eventually learn to spot the jobs posted by clients who are looking for quality and who are willing to pay a decent price for it, but at first, you’ll spend a lot of time searching.
Here are some of the most popular freelance sites as of this writing:
Pretty much everyone on the internet is familiar with gig sites like Fiverr. There are thousands of them these days, but Fiverr is still the reigning king. You’ll find the most clients with the least hassle, but you may also realize there’s a lot of competition. You’ll have to set yourself apart from all the other designers by offering great, fast service and quality designs.
Remember, despite the name (Fiverr), you can actually sell at prices higher than $5. For example, you can offer a basic book cover design for $5 using only a single photo that is not manipulated in any way with basic text, and offer higher-priced “upgrades” that include more photos, more manipulation, and stylized text.
Classified sites are a great place to find work. Despite sites like Craigslist having millions of users, there usually aren’t all that many applicants to job postings. This means you have a lot less competition for the jobs posted than you might on a freelance site.
Now, it’s not particularly easy to find jobs on sites like Craigslist, because most of these sites separate their sites into cities. That means you have to search each city separately in order to find jobs. Also, many jobs, especially full-time jobs, only want people who have college degrees and live locally. But don’t get discouraged! You can still find a good number of jobs that allow you to work at home. You just need to search for things like “freelance” and “telecommute”.
If you want to improve your skill in between paying jobs, contests are a great way to do so while also offering you the potential of making some money. The odds of winning a particular contest are never great, because you’ll be up against some stiff competition. However, you’ll be able to practice your skill while still having at least a small chance of getting paid for it.
The most popular design contest website is:
Once you win a few contests and they show up in your 99 Designs account, you may have people contacting you privately for designs.