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Graphic Design Freelancing Tips


Most graphic students have a fear that they will not find work after graduation. There is so much need out there for your expertise, so don't fret the work is out there! I would like to share a graphic design work process with you and cover a few points that I think are valuable for new professionals to keep in mind as they enter the world of freelance.

First of all, track your time.

If you haven't already started keeping a log of how long it takes you to complete a project at every stage of its production, you should.

For most of us creatives... we love what we do. It is our passion and because we are artists it is our nature to spend hours and hours in front of the screen on just one design because we want it to be perfect. This is all fine and great when you are in school or working on a personal project. However, as you start to transition into getting paid for your time and as your time becomes more valuable to you it is extremely important to know how much time things take you to do on any given project.

If you don't know the time it takes you to produce a project or an asset you could be cheating yourself out of making a profit for the work you do.

In the initial meetings and before you start any work, it is important to define with your client what the budget is for the work they need done. It's a good idea to have a form that you can fill out for your client in your first meetings that will get them to answer the questions you have before you can start to design.

Before you can determine a budget it important that you define the scope of the work you will be responsible for.

This can be difficult at first and may take some trial and error through experience to get a good feel for defining the scope of work. Meaning that you and your client both understand what you as the graphic designer, music producer, or content creator is responsible for delivering to them. No more and no less.

The best way to communicate and come to a mutual agreement with your client about scope and budget is through a written contract.

Once the scope of work is defined for you as the producer you can then begin to estimate how long it will take you to complete the work. I like to break work up into how many hours I think it will take me to complete it. I use my hourly rate to then be able to give the client a flat rate for the scope of work agreed upon. If the scope of the work starts to creep beyond its initial boundaries defined by our contract, which happens all the time, I can easily use the hourly rate to then start billing the extra time, if it comes to that. Just remember to keep your client in the loop as you start sensing scope creep. In other words, let them know, before you start doing billable work outside of the agreed project scope. This is when you will be glad you have a written contract that you can reference with your client to show them they have come to the end of their budget and any new work will need to be billed beyond the set agreement.

It wasn't until I started tracking my time on every step of my design projects that I started to be able to make smart workflow decisions that resulted in profit.

Let me give you an example of how I managed my time so that it would be profitable for a book cover design project with a rather small budget.

Book Cover Design by Milena Jackson 2020 ©

After meeting with the client and learning about what they wanted for the cover design of this book. It was defined that they wanted a camo design with a soldier kneeling in prayer and the title Fight On The Battle for Courage. Their budget allotted for this job was $150, which is an extremely tight budget for the work requested, but it was a friend and I loved the content of the book and wanted to help. So, I decided to take the job.

So, I knew that to make it work for me I couldn't spend any more than 3 hours on this project in total.

In order to stay within that time limit I had to cut some corners. I knew I wasn't going to be able to create the camo and soldier illustration myself with that time restraint.

So I bought these stock elements from the Creative Market

As a graphic designer we are trained in higher education to NEVER use stock, but in the real world budgets restraints exist and if you want to make a profit on a tight budget you have to guard your time.

Searching and acquiring these assets took a way less time than it would have taken me to create them from scratch.

Knowing when and how to use stock is important to the success of a freelance professional.

After the purchase of the stock it left me with plenty of time to put my design efforts into the typography design of the title which included sketch time and illustrator work.

So, the result was I finished the job in 3 hours and 15 minutes.

After the $25 I spent on the stock and taxes set aside, I made $87. So, it averaged about $29 p/h. Which is way under my freelance hourly rate. But, it was for a good cause and I knew that going in, but, all the reason more I had to stick to that 3 hour time schedule I set for myself to make it worth it.

Project scope knowledge, contracts, time tracking, gives the freelancer the leverage to make workflow decisions and ultimately make a profit.

There are a lot of time tracking apps out there, but I just used a google numbers doc for this one.

As soon as you learn how to market yourself as a professional graphic designer (usually this starts with those closest to you) you will be surprised how many "jobs" start coming your way. Start tracking your time to begin to understand how long things take. Or even while you are in school, track your time on your school projects. Not only does it help you understand what it takes to get a job done, but it also enables you to meet your deadline more confidently.


WRITTEN BY: Milena Jackson


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