Maybe you’ve just graduated from your design school, or have worked at an agency for a while and have been thinking about working as a freelance designer or filmmaker. Either way, you probably have a lot of questions on how to actually start. I’ve had my own little design company for 2 years now and there’s a lot I’ve learned which I want to share with all you (starting) designers out there. In this article we’ll discuss 5 simple tips that will help to improve your business and yourself.
If you don’t feel like reading the full article, you can also watch the video below.
How to get assignments?
This is always a difficult topic and a question every starting designer asks. I feel like everyone is different and you should find a way that suits you well. For example, some people like to talk and brag a lot, go to network meetings all the time and don’t really have the actual skills to make great designs. However, they do know a lot of people who do have these skills and can do it for them, so they end up getting enough work, and just pass these assignments around, getting a commission for their effort.
These people can be seen as connectors (and are more of an account manager rather than a designer). This is absolutely fine and if you’re that super-social guy or girl, go for it! But maybe you have a different personality and just want to spend your time making beautiful things, without telling other people what to do. In that case it’s important to get your name out there and let everyone know you’re a great designer.
Needless to say, you need to start with a nice (online) portfolio that’s easy to share and send around. Make sure it shows your best work and different skills. For other designers it might be obvious you can also develop concepts or animations, but for potential clients it can be hard to tell. I’ve heard it tons of times: “ah, I didn’t know you could also design banners!”
Anyway, the trick during your first few months is to say yes, to everything. Fill up your agenda and give a 110% for each assignment. If you’re at a BBQ and the lady next to you starts talking about how she wants to start a hair salon, see it as an opportunity. She probably won’t have a big budget for a visual identity, but it doesn’t matter, you probably have enough (free) time so go for it.
That way, after around 10 assignments or so, you will quickly find out new and bigger projects keep on coming in because everyone had a positive experience. They will start talking about you to their friends, family and other people who might just need a new website. After a while you can of course start to be more selective and maybe just work for bigger companies. It’s all about supply and demand really.
At that point you will also realize that new clients will approach you after they’ve heard a positive story about you. Most potential clients want a confirmation like this and often won’t just give you a project after they’ve seen your online portfolio.
In some cases, as a freelancer, you won’t have teammates telling you you did an awesome job, so it’s important to look back at what you’ve achieved and to feel proud.
Celebrate once you’ve finished a project.
Having to deal with projects and deadlines can be very stressful. It can be hard and feel like a personal thing when you get negative feedback after you’ve put everything in to a project. No matter what it is, a logo, website or storyboard, when you present something you’re proud of and get back negative feedback, it simply sucks. Remember it’s not always your fault, but try to give it a place and see how you can fix things.
After you’ve finished a project, you tend to quickly switch to the next one and just keep on working and working to get your name out there and of course to earn some money. But you need to stop right there! Before continuing, it is very important to just stop for a minute and review the project you’ve just finished. In some cases, as a freelancer, you won’t have teammates telling you you did an awesome job, so it’s important to look back at what you’ve achieved and to feel proud. Go out with your friends and loved ones and have fun.
Share a space with like-minded creatives.
If you share a space with other designers you can ask them for feedback, have a laugh in between work and most important, that you can literally close the door after a long day of work. This gives you time to relax and gives you time to work on yourself. It can be hard to let go of your projects when you always work from home.
Pick up the phone.
I know, we live in a time where a lot of communication goes via e-mail and social media. Especially the younger generation out there hardly ever make phones calls. Of course this easy communication is awesome and works well for a lot of things, but it can also lead to misscommunication.
If you just give your client a call and ask your questions, you will often hear about other problems or side-projects they would like to share with you. Things you wouldn’t have heard about if you just e-mail them all the time. This increases the amount of projects you will receive, and will also gain some more respect. Again, this might sound very obvious, but just do it and stop e-mailing stuff with more than 150 words, because it will look like an essay.
Don’t always think about money.
This excludes cases where companies contact you saying:“We don’t have any money, but it’s a great opportunity for exposure”. Most of them are full of crap and just want you to work for free.
I’m talking about situations where you can make that call. You should be the one saying you will do it for free. For example, you find out a non-profit organization needs some cool illustrations or a promo video for an event. When you’re starting out, this can be a great project where you have all the freedom to do what you want and to build up a nice portfolio. It’s for a good cause and mostly these projects are the most fun to do. They often lead to some new projects, so make sure to do a few of these every year, especially when you’ve just started.
For all other paid assignments, I would like to end this article by referring to Mike Monteiro’s video called “Fuck you pay me“. He talks about some great tips on why a contract is important and shows different sketchy situations every designer will have to deal with during their carreer.
That’s it! Five simple tips that will help you start off right as a freelance designer or videomaker.