Planning for Success

As a freelance graphic designer, you’re considered self-employed and have to take up the challenges of working for yourself. It also means you’re basically exchanging your time for money. In other words, you only get paid when a client decides to hire your services — which is a scary prospect, especially if you’re used to the steady paycheck from a nine to five job.

But you don’t have to be plagued by such worries if you plan ahead. Having a plan allows you to define and keep track of your goals, assess risks and opportunities, and respond to challenges rather than reacting to them. Here are some factors to consider when planning for success as a freelance graphic designer.

Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree long ago.

Warren Buffett


KNOW YOUR GOALS AND OBJECTIVES

Oftentimes, many freelancers don’t think beyond getting more clients. As a result, they don’t have plans moving forward and aren’t able to bring their careers to the next level. It’s important to set goals and objectives so you can give your career a sense of purpose and direction.

Goal-setting is a powerful process that encourages you to think of your ideal future as a freelancer, and motivates you to turn that vision into reality. What are your goals? Is it to maximize earnings? Or do you prefer to challenge your creativity by taking up interesting projects?

Whatever it is, the objectives you set should guide you towards achieving your goals — and to success. Start with the big picture and get more specific as you go further into the planning process.

Also, circumstances can and will change. As such, you should reevaluate and update your plan after a period of time, so as to make sure that your career is still heading in the right direction.

Goals and objectives are often used interchangeably, but they usually mean different things. Goals represent your aspirations as a freelancer and the direction you will take. Objectives are the steps you will take to reach your goals, and are typically measurable and quantifiable.

If you’re starting out, your goal should to improve your knowledge in graphic design and marketing. Learn everything you can about freelancing, while picking up effective ways to reach out to potential clients.


FIND YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE

Clients come in all shapes and sizes, from individuals to CEOs of notable corporations. The question is, just how wide of a net should you cast?

As a suggestion, it might be wise to cater to a wider demographic when you’re starting out. Understand that high-profile clients are probably out of your reach, since they usually work with high-end design studios. Conversely, do your best to avoid low-balling clients trying to hire for cheap.

Consider a target audience that is somewhere in between. On one end, you have a small business owner willing to invest in rebranding. On the other, an individual ready to pay well to develop a personal brand.

The bottom line is that you should define your target audience based on the value you attach to your services — but try not to make it too narrow. Instead, have a range of clients so you have experience working with people from different industries. Doing so also helps to develop your design and customer service skills, while adding diversity to your portfolio.


WHAT SERVICES ARE YOU PROVIDING?

Once you identify your target audience, it’s time to start thinking about the types of services you will be offering. As the saying goes, never put all your eggs in one basket. For instance, if you’re just a web designer, there will be times when your services are less in demand — and such ‘dry spells’ might result in financial trouble.

Diversification is definitely beneficial to a freelance graphic designer. Specializing in at least 2 services helps expand your client base and reduces the risks of freelancing. If a service isn’t doing well, you at least have something else to rely on for income. In addition, for diversification to be effective, you should offer services that are unrelated to one another so that your clients don’t overlap.

In the end, sustainability is the name of the game, so the services you offer have to ensure your long-term success.


FOCUS ON ADDING VALUE

Graphic design is getting more competitive, especially with online marketplaces such as 99designs and Upwork. Clients are spoiled for choice, and it is difficult to stand out from the crowd. Competing on price is a race to the bottom — and you’re guaranteed to lose.

Instead, focus on adding value to your services. When first communicating with clients, get to know them more intimately and identify areas where you can offer added value to them. If you can go above and beyond to meet their needs, then you will be one step ahead of the competition.

There are different ways to make your services more attractive to clients. It can be as simple as being very good at what you do; or even providing a few more concepts for the client to choose from. In short, do the best work you can while offering good customer service, and clients will come your way.


DEVELOP A WORK ROUTINE

You’re likely to be working from home as a freelance graphic designer. While you’re free to plan your time, it’s still good practice to develop some sort of routine. Having good time management skills lets you to work and play hard. You will also be more productive and procrastinate less.

Start with setting your daily routine around the time you’re most creative so you can do your best work. You should also create a to-do list and prioritize your tasks, especially when handling multiple projects. Of course, don’t forget to take time off to destress and reward yourself, since all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.


BRANDING YOURSELF

Branding yourself well is what gets you noticed as a freelance graphic designer. Good branding leaves a lasting impression, and encourages clients to remember who you are and what you do.

The first step in developing a brand is to choose a name. Essentially, it comes down to using your own name or a business name. Making a decision can be hard, but it depends on your long-term goals and the message you’re looking to convey.

Using your own name gives a more personal touch to your brand. However, it might not work as well if you’re ever planning to expand as a business. Having a business name can make you look more legitimate, but it makes your clients feel like they’re dealing with an agency — along with higher costs.

In any case, once you have decided on a name, you should do your research before setting up an online presence. Oftentimes, a Google search will reveal a name to already be taken, which means having to compete with an already established brand.

Perhaps you’re a logo designer who loves illustration. Or maybe a web designer specializing in responsive web designs. Ideally, your online presence should reflect the services you offer and include what makes you unique as a freelance graphic designer.

The value of branding shouldn’t be underestimated. However, I find that most clients aren’t very particular about names. Instead, they will choose to work with you if they’re impressed by your portfolio. In the end, if you do good work, that itself is the best form of branding.


LEARN TO MARKET YOUR SERVICES

You can have the best designs — and still won’t earn money if you aren’t good at marketing your services. Having a sound marketing strategy gives you more opportunities for your business grow over time.

As a freelance graphic designer, you have to base your strategy around your online portfolio, where you showcase your best and most recent designs. From there, it’s a matter of finding clients and effectively getting the word out there.

Nowadays, most clients are active on social media. As such, consider investing in social media marketing. You will be able to increase your reach by publishing quality content and actively participating in discussions on platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn.


HANDLING PAYMENTS

Receiving payments is probably the number one source of stress among freelancers. Even worse, you will sometimes run into problems such as nonpayment and credit card chargebacks. In order to reduce risks, you should ensure that payments are handled as smoothly and securely as possible.

Since you’re working online, you will be dealing with international clients, which means you can’t rely on payment methods such as wire transfer. In fact, PayPal is likely your best option. Some might complain that PayPal charges a fee for every transaction which reduces your earnings by quite a margin.

However, you will find that the cost is usually worth it. Almost everyone has a PayPal account, and funds are usually processed instantly. Furthermore, PayPal is a well-trusted service, and has many security systems in place to protect you and the client.

If you’re using PayPal, make sure to have a contract detailing the payable items and payment terms. PayPal has strict policies, and chargebacks do happen from time to time. In such situations, the burden of proof lies with you, and you have to prove without a doubt that the buyer received what they paid for as stated in the agreement.

Besides PayPal, there are a few options available, such as Escrow, Google Wallet and Western Union. Some of them are country-specific, so you might want to do your research before signing up for such services.


COMMUNICATING WITH THE CLIENT

A big part of the design process is talking to clients. In fact, you will often spend most of your day discussing project details, getting feedback, and reaching out to clients. As such, you should take time to learn about the different communication tools out there. I would categorize them into 3 types: instant messaging, email and video call.

A client will usually have a few preferences when it comes to communication. Having them readily available allows you to be responsive and connect with the client as soon as possible — so he or she doesn’t go to the next designer.

Email is straightforward, with Gmail being a popular choice. Similarly, Skype is great for making video calls. For instant messaging, consider Slack or HipChat. You’re spoiled for choice, and it might be difficult to manage so many services. At the very least, you should have Google and Microsoft accounts, since they give you access to most of the communication tools you need.

See also: Tools of the Trade (Business)


ALWAYS HAVE A CONTRACT

As an individual, you might not see the significance of having a contract. However, one of the drawbacks of freelancing is that payment isn’t guaranteed.

As such, it’s never a bad idea to have a contract. Having a valid agreement not only protects you and the client in case of contingencies, but also keeps the project on track. Furthermore, stating the terms and conditions deters those who’re looking to exploit your services, thus reducing issues of nonpayment.

On the flipside, contracts can’t protect anything unless enforced. You need money, patience and most importantly, evidence to disprove payment claims. It’s almost always not worth it — especially when dealing with international clients.

As a freelancer, it’s up to you to be proactive and foresee problems before they occur. After all, you are the party that usually stands to lose everything.

See also: Avoiding Bad Clients


In freelancing, you don’t have to go so far as to come up with a formal business plan. However, planning ahead to reduce risks and reach your goals will allow you to stay on the path to success.

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