What It’s Like to be a Freelance Graphic Designer
June 29th, 2016 | Natasha Englehardt
Life of a Freelance Designer
For many creatives, the appeal of freelance work is strong; which of us hasn’t sat through hour two of a meeting and dreamed of working at home in pajamas in between yoga sessions? Even so, most of us can’t image what it’s really like to be a freelance graphic designer. That’s why we reached out to some professionals in the field who know in order to find out the details.
Freelance graphic design day-to-day
Freelance graphic designers can offer a huge range of services, especially since they’re not constrained by the goals of an agency. Some basic services most designers provide from time to time include layout design, logo design, infographic design, and packaging design. Some freelancers specialize, but many keep their options open, maximizing their client lists and diversifying their portfolios.
For freelance graphic designers like Emily Brown (who also works for Doxy.me), the process and routine of her day-to-day is just as important as the specific project
“I find I need time to focus on my work, but I also want to be available to my clients. After I’ve checked email and caught up on issues, I’ll shut down all my social programs and my email (yes, even my work email) and set a timer for 2 hours. After it goes off, I’m free to check in with the world. Otherwise, I wasted a lot of time and didn’t get as much done as I could have.”
On the other hand, Michelle Bufton of Purveyor of Geekery tried freelancing while she was pregnant with her son and ended up focusing and specializing her work product to make it a success:
“The normal client project routine wasn’t really fitting into my schedule as a new mom really well: I only had so many hours in a day that I could invest in my designs and I quickly had to start turning projects down because I couldn’t keep up with everything. Instead of raising prices, I decided to lower them and remove myself from the equation by creating templates that my clients could customize themselves.”
The tools of the freelance graphic designer
Of course not all freelance graphic designers use the same tools, but there are many standbys that most designers rely upon. Eric Bowen comments on the technical tools he needs:
“As a freelance graphic designer, I work from home by making sure I’m doing what it takes to get the job done. Like most graphic designers, I use Adobe applications such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Dreamweaver. I also use spreadsheets such as Google Sheets and project management applications such as Asana or Trello to keep track of my day-to-day obligations as well as any other important information.”
Lidia Varesco Racoma of Lidia Varesco Design opts for tools that help her collaborate with others, such as Evernote and Team Viewer.
“I have an office but also work from home … Evernote allows me to sync up my spreadsheets (project tracking, time sheets, etc.) between home and office, as well as store project details. Team Viewer allows me to connect remotely and share files between my office computer and laptop.”
Freelancing up- and downsides
For many graphic designers who freelance, the constant struggle just isn’t worth it. Former freelance graphic designer Sam Williamson of Aims Media Glasgow found that working freelance stifled his ability to produce the varied work he was hoping to create:
“Before joining the agency, I relied on Photoshop for all of my projects. Even though I’m still using Photoshop, it’s the little things that have really changed the way that I work, like having access to stock images from Shutterbox, and even having an in-house photographer to supply original imagery. The work that I do at the agency is very varied, which is exactly what I was looking for.”
In contrast, many freelance graphic designers feel that their lifestyle is ideal. Marni Prince of Marni Prince Design and Stepmom Gifts says:
“I love the flexibility working remotely provides as I get more sleep and exercise with my flexible schedule. As a freelancer I no longer worry about climbing the corporate ladder and all the negative energy and competition that ensues. I can work unfettered from the comfort of my home. Overall, I love the flexibility and freedom freelancing provides. As long as you are good at what you do and are proactive about getting work, it is a great lifestyle.”
Striking a balance as a freelancer
One of the most common traits of longtime, successful freelance graphic designers is that they have learned how to compromise. They know what matters most to them and how to achieve their goals. This sometimes means experimenting until you strike the right balance between your professional and personal needs.
Dennis Michael of Wake Creative explains this tension and how he resolved it as a freelancer:
“I was really struggling with meeting clients at coffee shops and finding private spaces to talk about their branding, so I got a desk at a co-working space. My professionalism has increased and I am at ease knowing I can have clients speak to me intimately without prying ears. When I began freelancing, I was doing my own bookkeeping and accounting, and that was the dumbest thing I did. I missed out on tax saving measures and wasted a ton of time on tasks that I hated. So I hired a bookkeeper and accountant.”
There are probably as many freelancing philosophies on graphic design as there are designers using them, and that means there’s no right or wrong way to be a freelance graphic designer. The freelance graphic designers we heard from described day to day routines that varied widely, some very focused and specific, and others that changed significantly depending on the type of work they were doing. Many of the graphic designers we spoke to used the same tools such as Photoshop and Dreamweaver, but they also emphasized organizational tools like Evernote and Trello to keep them on top of freelancing.
The freelance graphic designers we spoke to were very candid about the upsides and downsides to working freelance. For at least one of them the pressure, lack of variety in the work, and money just wasn’t worth it; however, for others the flexibility and freedom proves well worth the sacrifices. Finally, striking a balance as a freelancer was an important concept for the graphic designers we spoke to and they offered tips about making choices and mastering the trade-off between personal and professional needs. Think you’re ready to become a graphic designer? Enroll in Platt College San Diego’s graphic design courses.