12 Things I Learned As A Freelance Graphic Designer In My First Year

You’ve probably heard that “every artist has to pay their dues.” In other words, you can’t expect to be a successful artist without investing a lot of time and effort into it.

As someone who has worked as a freelance graphic designer for the past year, I can tell you that this holds for designers too. If you want to be good at what you do, then don’t expect overnight success.

If this sounds like something that applies to your situation, then read on. In the following article, we’ll cover some of the biggest lessons I learned during my first year as an independent designer:

Freelance Graphic Designer – How To Succeed Your 1st Year
Embrace Continuous Learning
Set Clear Communication Expectations with Clients
Establish a Solid Portfolio to Showcase Your Work
Time Management is Key for Meeting Deadlines
Building Relationships with Clients Enhances Repeat Business
Emphasize Quality Over Quantity in Design Work
Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Networking
Be Prepared to Handle Rejections and Constructive Criticism
Pricing Your Services Fairly Reflects Your Value
Balancing Creativity with Client Preferences is a Skill
Keep Up with Industry Trends to Stay Relevant
Self-Discipline and Motivation are Essential for Success

1. Learn To Say No To Projects

I had a hard time saying no to projects in the beginning. I wanted to do it all and thought that if I said yes, more work would come my way. But eventually, I learned that you can’t do everything, and if you try, it can be detrimental to your career as a freelancer. You need to be selective about the projects you take on so that when people ask for your help again, they want what you have to offer!

You also need to say no when something doesn’t seem right or feels like too much work—it’s better than doing something poorly or burning out before the project is done.

Making the leap into the world of freelancing requires careful consideration. In my own journey, I shared the story of how I decided to become a freelance designer and the factors that influenced this career-changing decision.

2. Give People The Benefit Of Your Expertise

If you’re a real, live graphic designer with years of experience and an impressive portfolio, people will be coming to you for advice. That’s great! But don’t feel like you have to help everyone for free just because they asked. Make sure that when you do take on a client or project, it’s something that aligns with what makes sense for both parties long-term.

Don’t be afraid to say no to projects (and clients); It’s okay if having this conversation is uncomfortable but it’s also totally worth doing. If someone approaches you about a gig and it doesn’t sound right or feel right, decline politely but firmly; there are plenty of other opportunities out there that will be better suited for what your skills are all about.

3. You Can Be Your Own Worst Enemy

Sometimes, you’ll find yourself having a bad day. Sometimes, no matter what you do or how hard you try, things just won’t go your way. Don’t be afraid to seek help from others when the day isn’t going well. Don’t beat yourself up if something doesn’t turn out as planned—it happens to even the best of us! Take a step back and look at what happened for it to be fixed properly next time around so nothing like this happens again; don’t dwell on it because that’s not productive or healthy either!

If there’s one thing I learned in my first year as a freelance graphic designer: You can never know too much about your craft and its surrounding industry. There is always something new out there waiting for us so keep learning as much as possible even if it means taking on more than one course at once (which I did).

Transitioning from a full-time job to a freelance career can be both exciting and challenging. If you’re curious about my personal journey and how I went from working full-time to being a freelance graphic designer, you’ll find valuable insights and lessons I learned along the way.

4. Take Care Of Your Health

Keep a consistent schedule and stick to it as much as possible, especially if you’re in an office setting. This will make it easier for clients to work with you and give them a sense of what to expect when working with you on projects, since they know that your work hours are 9 am-5 pm Monday-Friday (or whatever).

Plan ahead! One thing I learned from my first year of freelancing is that good planning and organization can do wonders for saving time and energy during stressful times of the year like tax season or around Christmas when lots of companies want their new products designed quickly because they want them ready by the holiday season!

5. Respect Your Work And Set Boundaries

It’s important to be able to say no, especially when it comes to the projects you choose to work on. You may be tempted to take on any job that comes your way to keep busy and earn some money, but you need to make sure that each project you take on is a good fit for your skillset and therefore worth the time and effort it takes producing it. 

If a client asks for something unreasonable or outside of your comfort zone, don’t feel bad about saying no. You’re not doing them or yourself any favors by taking on an unappealing project, even if they’re willing to pay well for it. 

Similarly, if a client requests something completely out of the left-field (e.g., their logo changes color once every hour), try explaining why this isn’t possible in an upfront manner without compromising any artistic integrity (or making them look like idiots). 

Your business will benefit from more satisfied clients who are impressed by how professional you are at all times; plus nobody likes working with someone who seems difficult or impossible!

6. Keep Telling Yourself It Will Get Better

It’s easy to get discouraged in your first year as a freelancer, but I promise you, it will get better. There have been times when I’ve felt like giving up and going back to a full-time job, but then something great happens that makes me realize how much more rewarding working for myself can be.

I know it sounds corny, but one of my favorite mantras is “this too shall pass.” During the low points of freelancing, remind yourself that these are just temporary obstacles and there’s always something positive waiting down the road.

7. Know That You Can Make It Through Tough Times

My first year of freelancing was tough. I had to learn a lot of things quickly, and many of them weren’t easy. But I learned that if you can get through the difficult times, the good times will follow. 

You just need to keep on working hard and doing what needs doing, even when it feels like no one is paying attention or caring about your work. It’s not always easy, but sometimes all it takes is some persistence and perseverance and maybe a little help from friends along the way (thanks again!).

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8. Document Everything And Then Write It Down In An Organized Way

  • Document everything.
  • Write down your ideas, drawings, and sketches.
  • Write down what you learned from the last project and any mistakes made on that project.
  • Keep track of client feedback, along with how many hours are spent on each project (this will help you estimate how much time it takes to complete a project).

9. Trust Yourself And Do What’s Best For You, Not Your Clients

Don’t be afraid to say no, or yes. It’s your work, so do what works for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help you’re a designer, not an island. There is no shame in asking questions of other designers if something confuses you and asking others if there might be a better way to approach a problem (this can also apply when working with clients).

10. Do More Research On Clients Up Front.

Know what the client’s goals are and how to best meet them. Understand the project and its purpose, as well as how it fits into your overall portfolio. Research the industry you’re working in, including trends, shifts, and other factors that may affect your work. Think about what makes this industry unique compared to others where you could be working, or other industries that have similar needs/functions/goals that might also benefit from a graphic design solution like yours (if applicable).

11. Be Honest With Yourself About How Many Projects You Can Take On At One Time

You will get a lot of offers for work when you start freelancing. Some of them may be from people who have no idea what they want, or from people who don’t know how to say “no.” You’ll also find that you can take on more projects than you think. This is both good and bad: good because it means more money for you, but bad because the last thing you want is to get overextended.

You don’t have time to do everything that people ask of you not only would it be impossible, but it would also burn out all your creative energy within weeks. So, what’s left? How do we figure out when we’re ready to say yes or no? Here are some things I learned:

When someone asks me if I’m available at this moment (which often happens), my first instinct is always yes. But then I have to stop myself and consider whether there’s anything else going on in my life right now that might make me unavailable later on down the road a vacation scheduled far in advance; a family event coming up; etc. and whether my availability for this job could cause any problems with those plans.

If none of those considerations apply (and even if they do), then I think through exactly what’s involved with this particular job offer: how long does it take for me just to complete all the tasks required by them? How many hours does each task take? 

Are there any other requirements not included here which must be done in order before final delivery can occur (such as mockups or revisions)? What kind of rates am I being offered per hour/project depending on what type(s) of services they need design versus illustration vs photography & retouching.

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12. Get Contracts Upfront, And Make Sure They Address Issues You’ve Had Before

When you start, there are a lot of things that can go wrong. You might feel like you’re being taken advantage of, or your client might. Contracts are a great way to protect both sides and help you avoid some common pitfalls.

Contracts are important because they protect both the client and the designer, but they also serve as a way for both parties to communicate their needs and expectations upfront. When asking your client for their contract in advance, make sure it addresses issues that have come up with past clients (e.g., payment terms) so that there is no confusion later on!

The path of a freelance graphic designer is full of unique lessons and experiences. Curious to know more about these insights? Check out my article on 11 things you learn as a freelance graphic designer to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and growth opportunities in this creative career.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the first year of freelancing was an eye-opening experience for me. I learned a lot during that time and I hope this article has helped you in some way as well.

If there’s one thing I want to leave you with, it’s this: be prepared to fail a lot! We’re all human and we’re going to make mistakes no matter how hard we try not to do so. Don’t let that discourage you though; instead, take it as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and grow stronger because of them.

If your business is still in its infancy stages, now might be the perfect time to find out if being self-employed is right for you by giving yourself some freelance work before taking the plunge completely into independent life (and business). 

The best way for anyone who’s considering solo work is by starting small so they can get their feet wet without taking too big of a risk along the way which means working with people who need help on various projects might be most ideal early on for someone who hasn’t yet earned credibility through previous professional accomplishments or built up enough contacts over time from networking events or conferences.”

Further Reading

5 Lessons I Learned from Starting a Freelance Design Business Discover valuable insights from the journey of starting a freelance design business and the key lessons that can help you navigate the challenges ahead.

6 Things I Learned as a Freelance Graphic Designer Dive into the experiences of a freelance graphic designer and gain insights into the six important lessons learned throughout their career.

10 Things I Have Learned in My Ten Years as a Freelance Designer Gain a decade’s worth of wisdom from a seasoned freelance designer as they share their top ten learnings and experiences.

People Also Ask

How Does Freelancing Work?

You’ll have clients who need your help, and they’ll give you the job if they like what they see from your portfolio or website. You’ll have to put together proposals for each client that shows them how much time it will take and what other expenses might come up (like materials). Then, after getting paid, you’ll get started on the project!

How Do I Pick Which Jobs Are Right For Me?

First of all, make sure that any potential clients are reputable you don’t want to risk losing money on someone who doesn’t pay their bills! Second of all, look at their portfolio and assess whether or not their style would align with yours. If so, go for it!

What Is A Graphic Designer?

A graphic designer is someone who creates visual art to communicate ideas, messages, and information. The mediums used can include print material such as brochures, posters, and business cards or digital media such as websites, mobile apps, and social media graphics. Graphic designers may use a combination of both traditional arts (photography, painting) and digital tools (illustrator software) to create their designs.

How Do I Get Started As A Freelancer?

Start by filling out your profile on a site like Fiverr or Upwork and put together a portfolio of your best work. Then, look for jobs that match what you’re offering. These sites have an array of different freelance jobs available, from graphic design to copywriting to social media management you can even find work as an Instagram influencer!

How Do I Find Clients?

Once you have some clips in place, it’s time to start pitching yourself and getting clients! Start with those who are searching for someone like you (i.e., “freelance graphic designer”), but feel free to reach out to any companies whose products inspire you or whose services could benefit from your expertise (for example: if you’re really into cooking and love eating at restaurants, try pitching yourself as the next Food Network star).

How Much Do You Charge?

That depends on the project, but generally, my price point is between $50-$200 per hour (depending on the complexity of the project). My hourly rate has gone down over the time I started out charging $100/hour but now charge less than half of this rate because so many clients are looking for talented freelancers who won’t break their budgets (and who are willing to wait until they find one).

What Are The Best Ways To Get Started As A Freelancer?

I recommend starting with a simple website, like SquareSpace or Squarespace. I’ve always used Squarespace it’s great, and even offers email hosting. If you haven’t been designing for very long, though, I wouldn’t worry about purchasing something like GoDaddy or Bluehost (which also offer email hosting).

Those services can be tempting because they sound easy-peasy just choose from their many different packages! But if you don’t know what exactly you need as a web designer (and unless you work with clients regularly enough to know their needs), then chances are that the site builder won’t be able to answer all of your questions in real-time. 

You’ll end up wasting time trying to figure out how everything works rather than just getting down to business creating websites for paying customers.

What Are The Benefits Of Being A Freelancer?  How Does This Compare To Working In An Office Setting? 

The main benefit of being a freelancer is that you get to choose what projects you want to work on and when those projects start or end. You also get to work with different clients every day, which is exciting because you always have new challenges awaiting you.

When working at an office job, there are set hours that everyone adheres to during the day but as a freelancer, if something comes up during the day (like an emergency client call) then you can take care of that before heading back home or going out with friends/family members at night.

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