Freelance Graphic Design: 17 Mistakes Every Freelancer Makes

When I first started freelancing, I made nearly every mistake in the book. Overcharging, undercharging, overworking, underdelivering. You name it and I’ve done it. It was a hard road to travel (and more than once my freelance career took me out of the design world altogether). 

Luckily for you (and me), being able to learn from others’ mistakes is one of the best parts of working for yourself. So without further ado, here are 19 common missteps freelancers make when starting their careers plus some tips on how to avoid them!

5 Freelance Design Business Mistakes + How to Avoid Them
1. Learn from Mistakes: Mistakes are part of growth; acknowledge and learn from them.
2. Effective Communication: Clear communication with clients prevents misunderstandings.
3. Time Management: Proper time allocation boosts productivity and meets deadlines.
4. Portfolio Quality: A strong portfolio showcases skills and attracts potential clients.
5. Pricing Strategies: Set competitive rates that reflect your expertise and market value.
6. Legalities: Understand contracts, rights, and legal aspects to protect your work.
7. Self-Care: Prioritize mental and physical health for sustained creativity.
8. Client Relationships: Nurture positive relationships for repeat business and referrals.
9. Research & Trends: Stay updated on industry trends and research for innovation.
10. Networking: Build a strong professional network to gain exposure and opportunities.

1. Choosing The Wrong Clients

When you are just starting, it can be hard to know who is the right client for you. Sometimes a bad fit will result in an unhappy customer and lost money, which is why choosing the right client is so important.

As a graphic designer, there are certain things you should look for when choosing clients:

Don’t take on too many clients at once. It’s better to have fewer customers who pay well than more customers who don’t respect your time or value what you do.

Don’t take on difficult clients unless they come with highly valuable projects (like ones that require extensive research). They’ll bog down your schedule while draining your energy and resources as they try to micromanage every detail.

When delving into the world of marketing research, it’s crucial to understand how to ask questions that truly unveil valuable insights. Learn more about the art of crafting effective questions in our guide on how to ask questions that will help you market.

2. Not Setting Your Boundaries

You’re not setting boundaries for your clients. It’s important to set boundaries for yourself and your clients, as well as the other people in your life. Boundaries allow you to feel comfortable with what you’re working on and can help prevent burnout. 

If a project is too large or too small, it might be time to turn down work or charge more money so that you can work on projects that are right for the time (and energy) you have available.*

You’re not setting boundaries when it comes to social media.* Social media has become an integral part of freelancing, but it’s important not to get swept up by all of its distractions! 

Setting realistic expectations about how much time per day/week/month should be dedicated to social media will ensure that content continues being posted consistently without becoming overwhelming.*

3. Working All The Time

You’re going to be working a lot, so you mustn’t go crazy. Remember that working all the time will only get in your way when you need to be creative and productive.

To ensure that you’re hitting your deadlines, you’ll have to work hard. But if you work too hard or don’t take breaks, then it can lead to burnout and low productivity and this is something no business wants! 

If your clients see how little time they’ve wasted on projects because of their lack of organization or communication skills (or anything else), they’ll remember that just as much as how well their project turned out in the end.

Exploring the nuances of working as a freelance graphic designer often comes with debunking myths. Discover the top misconceptions about freelancing in the design industry in our article about common misconceptions about working for a design agency.

4. Not Having A Backup Plan

You’ll be spending a lot of time on your own, so it’s important to make sure you have a backup plan. Have a backup plan for your backup plan and then another one for that. And then another one after that.

You should consider how the job could go wrong at each stage of the design process and what steps you need to take to avoid or recover from those outcomes. 

For example, if a client suddenly decides they want something completely different than what they’ve originally bought, do you know how much time will be required to rework your designs? 

Do you have any idea how much money this might cost? Will it be possible at all? It might seem like overkill but having this information is essential when working as a freelancer.

5. Backing Out Of Projects You’ve Already Agreed To

When you’re offered a project, be sure to carefully consider your schedule and the scope of work required. If it sounds like something you can do in the time frame allotted, say yes! You don’t want to lose out on a potentially valuable client because they have a tight deadline and need someone who’s able to start working immediately.

On the flip side of this scenario, if a new project comes along but there’s not enough time in your schedule for it (or if other projects are going to suffer), feel free to say no or ask for more money. 

While being able and willing to take on all kinds of projects is good for business and will help build trust with clients freelancers must keep their sanity intact by prioritizing their workloads and their relationships with current clients.

6. Not Knowing How To Word Things In Your Contracts

The most common mistake freelancers make with their contracts is not knowing how to word things. Here are some tips for you:

  • Know what to include in your contract. You should always have several important items in your contract, including:
  • The name of the client, or if it’s an agency, the name of the project manager
  • A description of the work you will be doing (this can be a very short paragraph or a more detailed outline)
  • The timeline for completing that work (if applicable)
  • How much you will be paid for each stage of completion (if applicable)

Differentiating between various types of marketing research is essential for making informed decisions in both design and business. Dive into the world of marketing research and its importance through our comprehensive guide on 16 types of marketing research and why you need them.

7. Ripping Off Other Designers

  • Don’t copy other designers’ work. Don’t rip off other designers.
  • Don’t pass off someone else’s work as your own. That’s not cool, and it won’t earn you loyal clients who trust you to create something original for them.

You should also avoid:

  • Copycatting the style of another designer (even if it’s unintentional)
  • Claiming that your mistake was intentional

8. Being Unprofessional

Being unprofessional is a slippery slope, and it’s easy to slip up and let your guard down. It’s also one of the quickest ways to lose clients and more importantly, damage your reputation as a freelancer.

Being unprofessional can mean any number of things from being late to not responding to emails and phone calls promptly (or at all), not doing the work you’ve been hired for promptly, or not meeting deadlines.

Unprofessional behavior can also include:

  • not showing up on time for meetings
  • giving off bad vibes through body language or facial expressions (e.g., rolling eyes) when talking with clients

9. Not Promoting Yourself Enough

You’re not promoting yourself enough.

It’s important to build your brand and create a portfolio website that showcases your design work. You should also use social media, write a blog, get a domain name for the site, get a logo for it, and create business cards and even a business email address. 

In addition to these items, you can also get a business phone number or even set up an actual office space for clients to visit when they want to meet with you in person, and if all else fails get yourself some friends who will refer clients your way (or at least be polite when they ask if they can give their friends your information).

Making effective decisions is a shared principle between marketing and graphic design. Learn how to harness the power of marketing research in your decision-making process with insights from our article on how to make a good decision using marketing research.

10. Comparing Yourself To Others Too Much

You know what I’m talking about. You’re a freelancer, and you spend a lot of time on social media. 

Sometimes you see an advertisement for someone else’s services, or you check out their website to see how they present themselves professionally and then you feel like crap. They do more work than I do! Why did they get that job? What have I done wrong?

They’ve probably done nothing wrong at all; it’s just that we’re all different people with different skills and talents, so there will always be someone who does something better than us in some way (or at least appears to). 

Comparing yourself to others only brings negative emotions into your life, which wastes energy and makes it harder for you to focus on the things that matter: creating great work for clients who need your help!

11. Letting Clients Take Advantage Of You

One of the most common mistakes freelancers make is letting clients take advantage of their time and effort. They do this by not setting boundaries and having a clear understanding of what they can and cannot do, especially when it comes to deadlines.

One way to avoid this is by making sure you have a clear idea of everything that needs to be done at each stage in order or project. If you know ahead of time how much time something will take, then it’s easier for you to set boundaries on how long it should take (so long as your client agrees).

If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation where you’re feeling pressured into doing more work than agreed upon or being asked for things not initially discussed, don’t be afraid to speak up! Make sure that if something isn’t working out, both parties are aware so there aren’t any surprises later down the road when payments are due again.

12. Overpromising And Underdelivering

Overestimating your abilities is a common mistake that many freelancers make. As a new designer, you are probably not as skilled as you think. If you set unrealistic expectations for yourself, then it’s likely that your client will be disappointed with the final product.

Setting realistic expectations is essential if you want to build a good reputation and grow your business. You should also set realistic expectations for clients by being honest about what you can and cannot do at each stage of the project.

13. Having Terrible Client Communication Or Not Communicating Enough At All

You should be communicating with your clients. You need to be explicit about the project’s goals, deliverables and timeline so that everyone is on the same page from the get-go. If you’re not careful, this can lead to problems later on in the process.

The problem is that most freelancers are afraid of being perceived as pushy or bossy, so they choose not to communicate effectively when they should be communicating more.

To communicate effectively with your clients:

  • Be clear about what you want out of a project before it starts;
  • Keep them updated on how things are going throughout; and
  • Be honest if something isn’t working out as planned (but do so respectfully).

14. Being Ungrateful About Work Opportunities

It’s easy to get complacent and take things for granted. It’s also easy to look at other freelancers who have more work than you, more money than you, more clients than you, and think: “I deserve that. I am better at this than them.”

But don’t forget the people who are helping make your dreams come true. Your client may have signed off on a project because they like the way your designs look, but it was their idea in the first place! 

Their idea led them to hire a designer (you) to create something from scratch and it was also their decision about how much they were willing to pay for it once created. This means that every project is an opportunity for both parties involved not just one party taking advantage of another party’s hard work and creativity!

So if there’s anything we should all be grateful for…it’s those opportunities presented by our clients’ ideas, which lead us down paths we never imagined taking before this moment arrived!

Understanding misconceptions and gaining insights from marketing research can parallel the journey of a freelance graphic designer. Delve into decision-making and market insights through our guide on how to use marketing research to make informed decisions.

15. Being Too Hard On Yourself When Things Don’t Go As Planned

It’s a common misconception that freelancers are in control of every aspect of their work, but even the most experienced freelancer can be blindsided by circumstances beyond their control. 

If you’re feeling frustrated or disappointed because something didn’t go according to plan, it’s important to remember that this isn’t your fault, and taking it out on yourself won’t do any good. Take some time off if you need it; there will always be another project waiting to take shape after this one has been completed.

16. Avoid Asking For Help When You Need It Most

There’s nothing wrong with asking for help! Whether you’re confused about how best to execute a design request or want someone else’s opinion on an idea, don’t hesitate before reaching out; other designers may be able to offer valuable insight into solving your problem or making an idea better than what was originally proposed by clients (or vice versa).

17. Don’t Make These Mistakes

  • Don’t compare yourself to other people.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself.
  • Don’t be ungrateful for what you have, and don’t forget to give back when others are less fortunate than you.
  • Don’t be unprofessional when dealing with clients or colleagues by any means, especially when using social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter.
  • Don’t be unkind to others it doesn’t matter if they’re your coworkers or your clients; kindness is always important when communicating with people from different backgrounds who have different perspectives than yours!


You’ve made it through our list of common mistakes that freelancers make. We hope you’re feeling optimistic about your journey as a freelancer and being able to avoid these mistakes on your path by having learned from our advice. 

Now, if you find yourself needing some extra help with your freelance career, remember that we’re here for you! Feel free to reach out to us for more tips and tricks on how to become the best designer possible and remember: happy designing!

Further Reading

5 Mistakes Every Freelancer Makes at the Beginning – Must Avoid: Explore common pitfalls encountered by freelancers at the start of their journey and gain insights on how to steer clear of them.

A List of My Mistakes as a Freelance Graphic Designer: Delve into the personal experiences of a freelance graphic designer as they share a comprehensive list of mistakes made and lessons learned.

8 Mistakes Every Freelancer Makes: Discover eight widespread mistakes that freelancers often encounter, along with strategies to overcome and prevent them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Best Way To Market A Freelance Graphic Design Business?

There’s no one answer, but I’ve seen many freelancers start blogs or email lists, or work with the marketing department at their company. Other designers have created their books and portfolios using fancy software like InDesign, which gives them a professional look that they can send out when they’re looking for new clients.

How Do I Know If I Am Ready To Work As A Freelance Graphic Designer?

You should be able to speak comfortably about your skills as a designer and articulate what makes you different from other designers in town. Most importantly, though, you need to feel confident that you can do this job well! If not if there’s some doubt in your mind then perhaps it would be best to try something else first (like working at an agency).

What Do You Do When You Get Stuck?

I try to work around the issue instead of over it. It can be difficult to see the forest for the trees sometimes, so I like to step away from my computer and take some time to think about what’s going on with a project instead of focusing on how it’s currently looking or behaving. 

If that fails, then I go back through all the research I did at the beginning of each project and look for inspiration there. There are usually things that were discovered during research that weren’t relevant enough at first glance but could become useful later on when working through design issues. 

The same goes for general knowledge sometimes I find myself looking up random facts about something related to what I’m working on just because they’re interesting or helpful!

How Do You Stay Motivated?

The best way is by having deadlines! Deadlines keep me focused and aware that everything needs its time slot if it’s going into my portfolio or getting paid for by someone else (i.e., not just sitting in an inbox while we wait). 

When working on personal projects without deadlines, finding motivation can be more difficult have found that setting smaller goals within larger ones helps keep me interested longer-term rather than trying.

What Is The Best Way To Find Clients?

The best way to find clients is through referrals. This can be a friend or colleague who knows someone looking for a designer, or maybe you’ve worked on projects with other companies in the past and they’ve had such a great experience that they keep coming back. It’s always good to try reaching out directly and submitting your portfolio. 

However, it’s not always easy because people are often hesitant about getting into contact with strangers online or over email (and rightly so). If all else fails, I recommend using sites like Upwork or Fiverr as one last resort. You have no reason not to try these platforms the worst thing that could happen is they don’t pay you!

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