How to become a successful freelance designer in 2020

Becoming a freelance designer today is a possible reality, and if you’ve come to read this article, it means you want to deepen this story.

Whether you are an aspiring designer who is still studying, a designer in an agency or a freelance designer already established, these points in the article can be of great help to you to start or improve your career as a freelance designer!

Let's get started!

successful freelance 2020

In this guide we’ll teach you how to become a successful freelance designer in 2020, and so the first step is “start by believing in your potential”.

If you’re ready to go freelance, you’ll have to prepare for the ups and downs. There will be moments of great euphoria but also difficult moments.

If you apply the guidelines in this article correctly, you’re sure to have all the credentials to become a successful freelancer right away!

Being a successful freelancer means:

  • Being able to work on projects that you love
  • Manage your work and schedules independently
  • Manage your customers independently
  • Be your own boss

But, at first, you may also run into what problem:

  • Not having a constant revenue stream
  • Not to receive payments in a constant manner
  • Take care of your own marketing
  • Work much more than an employee does

This all depends on you, how organized and diligent you are in your work and how you set your Personal Branding and the sale of your design services.

Yes, because in this beautiful career of freelance designer, you take care of all the individual parts, from the initial acquisition of the customer to the development of the project, through to customer care.

Let’s see how we can help you to create a successful career that can give you so much satisfaction!

Grab pen and paper, it's time to start!


start by believing in your potential

1. Start by believing in your potential

In this guide we’ll teach you how to become a successful freelance designer in 2020, and so  the first step is to “start by believing in your potential”.

It may seem trivial, but believing in one’s own potential is the first secret to taking a freelance path (and that applies to all sectors).

Only by believing in one’s own abilities can one make a difference.

Every time you browse the Instagram feed, or visit websites like Dribbble and Behance, you will come across pages of designers who are definitely “better than you”, this will almost certainly be your first thought. 

But in reality this should not worry you, nothing should undermine the consideration you have of yourself.

One job you can do right away to improve yourself is to plan your personal goals.

The goals you plan must be SMART, that is:

  • S = Specific
  • M = Measurable
  • A = Achievable
  • R = Realistic
  • T = Time-Based

Starting from this simple concept, you can try to identify your goals for this freelance career. 

You’ll see that with this simple exercise you can start by setting goals that are quite easily reached, and then create new and more challenging ones.

The important thing is never to give up.

Never give up until you’ve achieved all your goals.

"A goal without a plan is just a wish".

successful freelance designer

2. Find your first customer

This is probably the most important point.

You’ve probably browsed through hundreds of online guides and blog posts to find a solution on how to find your first customer.

The truth is that first-time freelance designers don’t have many ideas on how to find your first customer, but there are so many!

Many designers focus on creating an exceptional portfolio to impress customers, to be chosen from among all (and there are so many!) and so they spend a lot of time building a portfolio, instead of committing to finding a customer.

The fact is: if you don’t have a customer, you don’t have a business.

Among the various ideas on how to find your first customer, I suggest three:

  • search for a new project in freelance job-sites
  • go down in your personal network
  • try some online contest platform

These may sound like trivial methods, but I assure you that all freelance designers have started from one of these 3 points to get their first customer.

I would like to focus in particular on the point “go deep into your personal network“, which I will explain in detail in the next point.

Network of a freelance designer

3. Take advantage of your personal network

This is a point that many people underestimate. Everyone has a personal network, but there are few who know how to make the most of it. 

Many times we find it difficult because we can’t find new customers for our business and we look for magic formulas on how to attract them.

But are you sure that you have fully exploited your personal network?

Try to think about it for a moment: all the people you know know know know what you do? Does everyone you know know know that you are a designer?

And above all, how many of them know that you are a freelancer available for new projects?

Everyone has a friend, family member or acquaintance who can potentially become your new customer, and maybe they don’t know that you can offer exactly what they are looking for. 

You can start right away by stopping using social networks to watch meaningless videos, and using them instead to network with people you know. 

Let yourself be heard, be noticed.

 Recently our team was the guest of an official Facebook event, called “Boost with Facebook”, where they told some very interesting facts about their social networks, and the most exciting thing is:

80% of Instagram users are looking for new services directly on the platform.

This data can make you understand the importance of making networks (in this case social) to be able to make themselves known and sell their services.

If you don’t have a strong social presence yet, don’t worry, we’ll go into this later. In the meantime, try to make the most of your personal network and talk to your friends and acquaintances, list your potential and ask if they can help you find some new customers.

Personal Branding Designer

4. Work on your Personal Branding as a freelance designer

"Designers are meant to be loved, not to be understood."

Does that happen to you, too? 

Many designers are very happy with this statement by Margaret Oscar, which means that many times they are not understood. But, as she says, our goal is to make ourselves loved, not to be understood.

On the basis of this statement, we continue with another fundamental point for a designer, Personal Branding.

In order to learn how to become a successful freelance designer in 2020, you need to work on your Personal Branding. Have you already developed your Personal Brand?

If you started with some good referrals through your personal network, now you have some project on the fire and some customer that pays. Well, this is a great start!

However, you are still in the word-of-mouth phase. Surely the contacts of your personal network have entrusted you with a project based on the trust they place in you or your friend who referred you.

But the time has come to take a step forward and structure your freelance business with a Brand Identity.

So now it’s time to create a real Brand, composed of logo, business name, website, services offered and content to be published.

Here we are talking about Personal Branding, because the aim of this article is to help you start a career as a freelance designer. This means associating your work with your natural person, in a one-person business. 

However, this does not mean that you can also develop a real Brand, to create a business that becomes larger, composed of a team of people, and in this case you can also opt for the creation of a logo and a name for your business different from your personal name.

The aim is to take a next step, create a brand that allows you to be recognized as a freelancer, and this is the real first step to become a successful freelancer.

Do something great to become a successful freelance

5. Create your portfolio with Case Histories of your freelance works

As mentioned before, many designers worry too much about preparing an impeccable portfolio even before they start earning money.

Result? We get stuck. 

We get stuck because our portfolio never seems perfect enough to us: we visit sites like Dribbble and Behance and notice how some designers are monsters compared to us. This makes us lose self-esteem and time. 

If you’ve followed the previous steps, you may have realized that creating a portfolio is not the first step to take, but there comes a time when it is necessary for a freelance designer to have a good portfolio.

In this regard, we have also written a chapter in our article The ultimate guide for designers 2020 edition where we explain in detail the essential elements to build a successful portfolio.

What I want to focus on is: don’t put it all in! 

A good portfolio consists only of the best works, and many times it takes 3 or 4, no more. But that’s not all.

In a good portfolio it is not enough to insert a gallery of mockups of your recent work, you have to tell a story and show the results of your work.

This means that you have to create real Case Histories (or Case Studies), where to tell:

  • What's the story behind the project?
  • who is the customer, what are his needs?
  • What are the solutions to the customer's problems?
  • How did you develop these solutions?
  • What are the results obtained by the customer thanks to your work?

Once again, I recommend that you consult our article The ultimate guide for designers 2020 edition for more information on how to build a successful portfolio.

Workflow of a freelance designer

6. Study how to set up your workflow, proposals, contracts and invoices

For a freelance designer, the workflow and organisation are very important foundations and are often not taken seriously enough. 

You’ve decided to take on this challenge to learn how to become a successful freelance designer in 2020, you’ve set yourself in motion and you’ve finally gotten customers, you’ve prepared a good website where you show your best work.

But, as you know, you are your only boss, and you have to cover all the tasks, from the initial contact with the customer until the final delivery of the project. To do all this, you need a good organization.

Let’s see what you need to be well organized:

  • Personal Branding to get you recognized
  • Marketing to make you known
  • Networking to have a network of contacts to exploit
  • Website with portfolio section to show your best work
  • Skills and software to practice your work as a designer

To all this must be added some fundamental points, which are precisely their skills for the complete management of the processes and the customer:

  • customer management, phone calls, messages and emails
  • process management and tasks
  • setting of delivery times and compliance with deadlines
  • time management (you can use time-tracking)
  • presentation of one's work to the client
  • management of issues and revisions
  • management of contracts, invoices, legal notes, taxes
  • after-sales, customer management to sell other services
  • After-sales marketing (e.g. referral programme management)

As you can see, your duties are many and that’s because you’re a freelancer, so you work alone. At first you will probably have to hurry to do everything independently, and then take advantage of some employee to get rid of the most demanding tasks.

For this reason it is essential to have a good organization of your work. Know your time and organise your working week accordingly, so that you are not overloaded with work.

Here at Desircle we have a solution for everything that can really help you: our APP!

With our app you can:

  • create new projects
  • Get detailed briefs with a simple click
  • create and manage your tasks
  • measure the time spent on a single project
  • create your contract
  • take note of everything you have in mind for a project
  • create a moodboard where you can save all your ideas

And much more! You can access our app now for free here, and directly test the potential. An app designed by designers like you to have everything under control in a single platform!

become a successful freelance designer in 2020 - Start by believing in your potential

7. Develop and expand your network as a freelance designer

The network is important. I’m not talking about social networks, we’ll see in detail at the next point. Here we still talk about offline networks. 

Go to events and create real connections with people.

Fortunately we are in a golden age for design (and marketing in general) because there are so many events dedicated to the digital sector. 

Just find an event near your area and sign up! 

You’ll have to prepare properly for the event. If you’ve followed the above points to the letter, you’ll already have everything you need, such as your website with your best Case Study portfolio.

You’re a designer, so it would also be a good idea to design an impact paper business card to impress the people you’ll be contacting at the event. Write down your details and print copies, so you’ll be prepared to leave a business card for each person you connect with.

This is where other soft skills come in, which you’d better train for good networking:

  • be nice and smiling
  • be passionate and pass on your passion
  • be prepared for dialogue with other people
  • be willing to put themselves to the test

And so on. Networking is necessary to broaden your knowledge base. You’ll see how many new opportunities are knocking on your door thanks to the simple presence and interaction with people at industry events! 

Of course you don’t just have to attend industry events, you can also attend events in other industries, where there are potential customers.

An example? A cooking event in a food fair, where you can present yourself as a designer who develops branding for restaurants.

social media for designers

8. Use social networks to make yourself known in the freelance designer's world

Start with a little research.  

How do you present the designers you value most? Where do you follow them?

You will surely notice that they have a strong presence on social networks. Some just publish their work on Instagram, Dribbble and Behance.  

They are established and well-known designers, so they will probably be contacted by potential customers directly thanks to their presence and sharing of works on these platforms. 

But the truth is that this is not enough anymore!

As you may have noticed, on Instagram more and more designers are not just sharing their best works, but creating informative contents (such as carousels) to be noticed. 

This is not only to make themselves known, but also to present themselves as experts in a particular design niche.

My advice, therefore, is to start publishing content on a daily basis on your social channels. The social network is a very powerful weapon to make yourself known and reach new potential customers to sell your services.

Start by asking yourself what are your best skills and what niche you can become an expert in. Focus on creating content related to a particular niche.

Use an editorial calendar. Working on social media is a commitment that must be constant, publish every day a post allows you to get more and more follow up. You can alternate content, such as:

  • a carousel
  • your favorites design quotes
  • one of your last works
  • a case history
  • a video
  • a podcast

And much more! The possibilities are endless. My advice is to start with a topic, create an extended content of this topic, and then divide it into different pieces and types. 

Always follow your editorial calendar and prepare your content in advance! 

By doing this, you can overcome the problem of “burnout” and be constant, and also you can schedule all your content and focus on managing the community, responding to comments and private messages.

Get paid in time and ask for the right compensation

9. Get paid in time and ask for the right compensation

“Change how you're paid, change your life.”

Pricing is another topic much discussed among designers, and it is difficult to find a solution. In order to learn how to become a successful freelance designer in 2020, this is an hot topic.

When a designer is at his first experiences, he will probably ask little as a reward to get some work and build a reputation and a portfolio.

Obviously our goal is to earn a lot of money, but to do this you have to start by following all the advice seen above, so for the theme Pricing at the beginning you can ask for a lower price to ensure that we have customers to work with.

On the one hand, asking for a low price means not earning a lot of money and risking a lot of work, but on the other hand asking for a high price from a customer can lead him to reject the offer. 

As you can see, this issue of how to make the price is not easy, especially for those who are new to the business.

What we can advise you is to start with an affordable price (for those who are new to the business) and slowly rise with the next customers.

In any case, it is difficult to establish a fixed price for your services, especially if you are a freelance designer and do not have a structured agency. You can hardly create a standard package (although in some cases it is possible) because each customer has different needs. 

Start by understanding what the customer’s real needs are. A good designer always starts from this: what problem do I have to solve?

From here you can understand what services you can offer to solve this problem to the customer in question, and then make a reasonable price for these services.

Another option is to measure your hourly rate.

This can be a good start to understanding what the right price is for a project. With a well-defined hourly rate, you can calculate how many hours of work you will have to spend on a project and, consequently, what the price of the project will be. 

Always remember to get paid on time!

Don’t let the customer pay you when he wants, because you risk undermining your cash flow. Always ask for payment in advance (for example you could ask for 50% before starting the project, and the rest before the delivery of the final file).

For smaller projects you can even ask 100% now!

study a career of freelance designer

10. Always study to improve your skills as a freelance designer

You never stop learning.

To be always on the piece, you have to be always up to date. Never stop being curious, learning new things and studying.

The world of design, like all other sectors, is constantly evolving. 

You can start by following the best design pages and designers on Instagram, read their posts and watch their videos. Many are very inspiring and always share valuable tips.

You can start a course online or simply search for videos on YouTube based on the theme you are most interested in.

We have a beautiful community on Telegram where we share useful links every day to update ourselves. The community is made up of many designers and is a place where you can make new acquaintances and be constantly updated in the field of design.

This is the link to enter our community for free: t.me/communitydesirlce

find new customers as a designer

11. Be prepared to always find new customers

Another problem you might have as a freelancer is to have a good number of active jobs for this month, and then no jobs for the next month.

Don’t worry, it’s a common problem among freelancers.

You can overcome this problem if you understand that your job is not only to produce, but also to constantly seek new customers.

You can do it with all the methods described in this article, from marketing to social. But you never have to stop. If you don’t continue to search for new customers, sooner or later you will find yourself without them.

It doesn’t matter if it takes even more time, and if you have to work a lot more than the hours you set out to do. This is part of your freelance work.

Try to schedule a few hours during the week to update your portfolio, contact potential new customers, create content for your social channel and blog.

Go up and never stop

12. Use references to find new customers for your freelance designer job

Some of the best designers have word of mouth as their main channel for customer acquisition.

Simply, when they finish a project for a customer (and he is very satisfied with the work done) they ask to put a good word to his friends or acquaintances.

Many times the satisfied customer is very inclined to recommend you to his friends, so you will have new customers simply by word of mouth.

Although sometimes the customer can proceed with this system alone, it is good that you prepare a referral program so as to encourage the customer to recommend you to new potential customers.

Whenever you’ve finished a great job with a client and he’s very happy with your work, don’t hesitate to ask if he has any friends to whom you can present your services.

Once you have started this journey and you have obtained a good number of customers, you will see that even the referrals will start to arrive in an organic way!

You are on the right path to becoming a successful freelance designer!

Very well, now you know how to become a successful freelance designer in 2020! 

That’s all for today, now it’s your turn!

Are you ready to launch yourself into this fantastic world? All you have to do is believe in yourself and your potential and have a lot of confidence. 

Being organized and prepared is essential, and with a little practice and commitment you will surely become the next successful freelance designer!

Many designers like you continue to share their experiences, their projects and their knowledge within our community, and now we want to see you too! Join us now!

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