Kickstarting Your Design Process as a Freelance Graphic Designer

A client has checked out your portfolio and is interested in hiring your services. What’s next? Here are some steps to kickstarting your design process as a freelance graphic designer.

4 Steps to Kickstarting Your Design Process

KNOW YOUR CLIENT

Try to find out more from the client before taking on a project and kickstarting your design process as a freelance graphic designer. You can roughly tell what the client wants and what the project entails from a text exchange. Be polite and ask for as much information as possible. You want to leave a good first impression to increase the chances of building a long-term relationship with the client.

DESCRIBE YOUR PROCESS

Describe your design workflow so the client has a better idea of how you work. A typical workflow involves research, conceptualization, and execution. Let the client know you will work closely with them so changes can be made as soon as possible. If you show the client that you know what you are doing and not a scammer looking to run away with their deposit, they will be more likely to hire your services. 

As a logo designer, I usually start my design process by coming up with a few initial concepts based on the information provided in the design brief. I will then present them and wait for feedback from the client. A lot of communication is involved at this stage so it’s best for both parties to be as responsive as possible. Once the client approves the concept, I will vectorize the design and work out details such as fonts and color schemes.

Every graphic designer has a different way of doing things, so experiment and find a process that works for you.

AGREE ON PRICE

Now it’s time to discuss probably the most important aspect of a project — price. If you are offering fixed price packages, feel free to skip this step. If not, ask for the client’s budget first. Having a number to work with allows you to customize your services to their budget and provide a quote that is satisfactory to both parties.

However, some clients don’t have experience working with graphic designers and aren’t sure how much a design usually costs. In such cases, give them a rough estimate of your rates.

Once a price agreement is reached, you can move on to pen the contract.

PENNING THE CONTRACT

Having a contract is very important, especially for a freelance graphic designer. It provides both parties with a legal document stating the expectations for the project, and how problems can be resolved in a fair manner. With an agreement in black and white, you can refuse any demands that are not in the contract. In short, contracts protect you by filtering out bad clients looking to exploit your services.

A design contract should include job scope, payment terms, project timeline, copyright usage, and deliverables. In addition, try to make the wording and terms as straightforward and easily understandable as possible. You want to set clear expectations for all parties involved, so there is no need to confuse everyone by filling the contract with all kinds of legal jargon.

It can be daunting to create a contract from scratch. As such, consider using a template that can be customized to the project — the AIGA Standard Form of Agreement for Design Services is a good starting point. Its focus on modularity allows you to create customized terms and conditions for different types of projects.

Contrary to popular belief, email can be legally binding as an agreement. It’s enforceable as long as both parties consent to the agreement made. For that, clearly state the terms and conditions in your email for the client to look over. The client will have to reply clearly and concisely that they accept the ‘contract’ to set everything in stone.

Let’s discuss the items you should include in the contract.

JOB SCOPE

The job scope is basically a reiteration of your design process, but in more formal terms. Here’s an example:

The designer agrees to perform the following responsibilities:
Take the design brief to record requirements and needs of the project
Think creatively and develop (3 or more) design concepts based on the information provided
Prepare rough drafts and present the ideas to the client
Conceptualize and execute designs as per feedback
Amend final designs to specifications and gain full approval

TIMELINE

Moving on, the client will usually want to have a timeline for the project. It’s better to come up with a looser timeline that takes into consideration things like weekends, communication gaps, and unforeseen changes. Some clients may take a long time to respond to messages, effectively messing up the timeline. If that happens, you have to be proactive and remind them to get back to you as soon as possible.

If a project has a tight deadline, do your best to make it a priority, even if it means having to work a few hours longer than usual. By going the extra mile you become the freelance graphic designer that clients love, and will always be first in line for future projects.

PAYMENT TERMS

By now you should know how to set up payment terms and reduce the risks of nonpayment. A good practice is to divide the project into milestones and collect a percentage of the full payment once a milestone is reached. Always get a deposit before you begin so you at least have some form of monetary assurance in case the client bails out at the last minute.

DELIVERABLES

For a project, deliverables usually include the source files and visual copies of the design. Be sure to discuss with the client beforehand so you know what file formats to prepare once the project is finalized. Common ones include PSD and AI for source files, and PNG for visual copies.

IN CONCLUSION

You have laid the groundwork and got the technicalities out of the way. Now it’s time to send the client your design brief and begin kickstarting your design process as a freelance graphic designer.

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