How to start a Freelance Web/Graphic Design Business by Andrew Shim
It's hard to imagine life without images. Images are used to convey messages, enhance life's dull facades and more importantly, images are used to sell products. It's amazing how advanced graphic design software have become, evolving from the simple shape and line utility to the complex 3D rendering, effects-heavy and mind-blowing manipulation tools of today. With the advent of such software, practically everyone thinks they qualify as a desktop publisher.
What a Web/Graphic Designer does
A desktop graphic designer designs collateral for businesses like letterheads, envelopes, business cards and marketing materials. This includes brochures, postcards, self-mailers and newsletters. If you have a background in computer graphics, you should already be aware of what you can offer as a desktop publisher.
Using computer software, desktop publishers format and combine text, numerical data, photographs, charts, and other visual graphic elements to produce publication-ready material.
Skills and requirements to be a Freelance Web/ Graphic Designer.
With the advent of the Internet, home grown, self taught graphic designers compete on the same playing field with professional graphic designers for a slice of what seems to be like an ever growing graphic design business pie.
While many sources might have you believe that all it takes to start a Freelance Web/Graphic Design business is a cool software, printer and fancy paper, the truth is that this is a business that banks on creative and artistic skill before business savvy. More often than not, any lack of skill or attention to detail comes across glaringly in your finished artwork
The good news is that if you don't have the necessary level of skill, there are abundant resources online and offline to help you.
Graphic Designers need to have an eye for detail, creative and artistic ability to transform an idea into an image, good color co-ordination and be able to produce clean work often under tight deadlines.
Web Designers need the same skills as a Graphic Designer and then some. They need to know a bit of HTML, how to use and optimize graphics for websites and the technical aspects of building, then uploading a website.
Start with your portfolio
Starting a freelance Web/Graphic Design business is like opening a shop. Your shop window is your portfolio - the work you present to clients in pitching meetings. So your first task is dress your shop windowby creating an impressive portfolio.
Compile all your art work. This includes anything and everything you have done for past clients or at college. Provide brief descriptions about each piece of work and be sure to add any good feedback you received from your clients.
Buy a sturdy stand-up presentation folder and add your work to it. Devote one sleeve to one project. Add samples of your work for each project and reinforce them with captions. This gives your prospective clients something to read - and you have prompts to help you explain your work whilst pitching.
If you dont have enough work to show in a portfolio (i.e. under ten projects), you'll need to consider working on some simulated briefsthat is, make up a brief and produce visuals that respond to it. Prospective clients wont care if the briefs genuine. The bottom line is, they want to see how good your artwork is.
Set up a company
Even though you intend to freelance, it's good to consider setting up an official sole proprietorship company. In most countries, this is easily done by applying and registering for a company name. You might also want to consider creating a logo for your business. Why do all this when you can easily get paid online? Many companies have rigid internal guideline that restrict who they can give contracts to. Having a registered company gives you a professional image and may help sway things your way when clients are deciding who to give their design contracts to. If you do deal with such companies, make sure you use your company stationary for official correspondence, invoicing and billing. Having a registered company will also be advantageous if you intend to expand and start applying for a loan. All things considered, registering a sole proprietorship company can only help you in the long run.
Build a website
Your website will be your online portfolio. The great thing about having a website is that it works 24 hours a day 365 days a year. You can be sleeping and your website will still be showing a potential client how good you are. A website is also great for clients who have already short listed you for a job and just want to check out your work in detail to make sure they've made the right choice.
A website can be set up with minimal cost. To save time you could even buy a website template for around $50. Then, it's just a matter of inserting your content within the page templates and uploading them to a web server.
Be sure to list your contact details prominently and remember to always keep your website updated. There's nothing worse than a website that's not updated.
Your Operations Base
The main advantage of being a freelancer is that you get to work at home. As a Freelance Web/Graphics Designer your tools would include :
A computer with enough resources to handle heavy graphic design projects. This may include lots of hard disk space, memory, graphics card, high-performance CPU and disk burner to transfer your files to CDs or DVDs.
High performance scanner and printer. These days, you can get a combination scanner/printer/fax machine. It's good to invest in a good machine because there's not much sense in working hours to produce amazing visuals only to have your printer let you down in the end.
Web/Graphic Design software. Investing in industry standard software like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Macromedia Fireworks and Dreamweaver may be necessary - more so if you are required to work with other team members or pass source files to printers and publishers.
The basic office set-up - telephone, fax and email.
Set up a payment gateway
One of the most basic requirements every freelancer working from home needs is a way for clients to make payment once they've completed the job. There are may FREE online services that allow you to receive payments like PayPal and StormPay, but you these services do have some limitations, especially if you operate in a country that these services do not make cash transfers to.
A better, long term solution would be to set up an account with a credit card processor like 2CheckOut. This service allows you to create customized billing for each project and also receive recurring payments. Your clients will make payment by credit card to this payment processor who then takes a small cut (approximately 5%) and the rest is creditted to your account. When the funds accrued in your account exceeds a specific level, it will be transferred to your personal bank account or a check can be issued to you.
How to market yourself frugally
In the world of freelance, you don't have to be the greatest artist who ever lived to get jobs. There are lots of ways to market your Web/Graphic Design business.
Freelance web sites like eLance.com bring together clients offering projects and designers looking for them. A word of caution though, you need to apply some common sense when bidding for and selecting such jobs. It's always good to be open with potential clients prior to accepting their assignments. Many times, what they list as requirements and what they actually want are NOT the same. Be clear about what your client wants and make sure they understand what you are offering.
Look out for companies that advertise in you local newspapers and magazines. Check out the ones where you know you can do better and contact them. Fax them an introduction of yourself. Better still, try to set up an appointment to meet with their marketing and promotions manager. Get your details in front of their eyeballs.
Network with people in general and business owners specifically. Attend design related exhibitions and expos and network and get to know people who work in marketing and promotions. They're the ones who come up with advertising and promotion campaigns and they're the ones who will be looking for talent.
Check the classifieds and look out for companies that need Graphic Designers. Contact them and propose that they consider out-sourcing to Freelancers instead. Many companies don't really consider the possibility that out-sourcing work to freelance Graphic Designers frees them from a fixed monthly salary.
Give your business card to anyone and everyone you meet. They can be printed cheaply if you order them in large quantities, so factor this into your startup costs. Sure, your business cards could end up in someone's trash, but it could also end up in the contact file of a potential big budget client! Keep your business card smart, clean and easy to read and be sure to have ALL your details clearly visible including your website's URL. Give you cards to friends and ask them to pass them to people they know. Leave a few in company reception areas, at sports clubs and anywhere you think prospective clients are likely to gather. Get your business cards in people's hands!
Print mailer-postcards and greeting cards. Showcase your best visuals on side one, then marketing copy to sell your services on the other side (and remember to include your full contact details). Your copy should focus on the benefits your clients will get from using you. This is a novel and memorable twist that sure to get executives' attention - especially when they're often "blindly" deleting spam emails.
Start to build a list of contacts and email addresses from day-one. If you add a minimum of one contact to your database a day, you will have a database of 365 names in a year and nearly 2000 in 5 years! A note of caution when sending promotional material via email - don't send blind bulk email. They will surely end up deleted or worse, get you reported for spam, which might result in your website getting banned and your reputation tarnished. Send emails individually, addressing each recipient personally. Make your email, short and polite. Set up an auto signature so that every email you send out will contain a personal sign-off and contact details.
The underlying principle of frugal marketing is the law of averages. The more people you contact, the higher your chances of forming some sort of relationship and getting a design job.
Stay focussed on your client's needs whilst pitching
The secret to a successful pitching meeting is to do your homework, be prepared and to stay focussed on your clients' needs. Find out as much about the background of your client's business or company and try to plan your presentation around your work that is most relevant to their company's product or marketing needs.
Make sure your pitch is relevant to what your client is looking to achieve. Ask to see the companys existing publicity, then talk about your most similar graphic design assignments.
Provide enough information to your client to help them see what you can do for them. With each piece of work you present, summarize the original brief, say how you creatively interpreted the brief, and give a sense of how effective the project was.
At the end of your meeting, ask if you can meet colleagues in the same department, ask for contacts in other departments, and hand out plenty of business cards. When you get home, remember to send a thank-you email to your contact, reminding them to keep you in mind, and update your activities in your database so you know when to contact them next.
Pricing your graphic design services
Publicity designers can earn between $40 and $75 per hour but this can depend on your location and many other factors. If youre good you should think about charging $50 per hour, then look to increase by $5 each year depending on your situation. If you're starting out and bidding on a freelance project online, then you might want have to work within your potential client's budget.
Clients will often ask you to quote on a project. Estimate the total number of hours youll need to work on the first proof, add an extra hour or so per page for artwork corrections, then add another two hours for likely time-additions such as downloading large files for print. Remember to charge for any time you spend working on the project, including time spent on downloading and burning any disks required.
Its important to remain visible. People in charge of marketing and promotions are more likely to outsource work to people they've met personally. Pretend that you will be in the area one day and ask to pop in for a brief visit - you may have more luck arranging informal ad-hoc meetings than formal put-it-in-your-diary meetings. When you visit a company, remember to take your portfolio and plenty of business cards. You never know who you might meet.
Youll find that prospective clients often say things like There are no projects at the moment, but we'll keep you in mind when something comes up. Dont get frustrated, and even if you're desperate, dont beg for work on the phone. Just make a note in your database to keep track of responses, then send reminder emails to contacts every month, just so they really do keep you in mind. Give them a phone call every couple of months; sooner or later they will give you work.
While waiting for your next freelance job, you can always build your website and your online portfolio. Remember that your Web/Graphic Design skills open up many, many opportunities offline and online.