Starting your new career as a freelance designer is incredibly exciting but at the same time scary and intimidating. It’s tempting to dump all of your recent work into your portfolio to find clients, even if it may not be your best work or has nothing to do with your branding. Your first few steps should be dedicated to branding, working to gain experience, and starting a website.

Step 0.5: Make Your Life Easier by Using Software and Templates

We may be jumping ahead here, but plenty of freelancers get off the ground without being aware of the hundreds of free or paid help that can quickly establish your business model. For example, you don’t have to ask a lawyer to create a contract. You can easily get a graphic design contract from Bonsai that ensures your business is legally compliant and protected.

Use software like Trello for project organization, Google Calendar for date keeping, Asana for project management, and Slack for communication. These resources will make your life easier while you’re creating your company and make scaling your business a breeze.

Step 1: Branding and Portfolio

You may already have a broad portfolio with a bunch of great samples, but they may not work for the business you’re trying to create. A solid personal and professional brand can set you apart from the competition and will let clients know you mean business. Start by buying a domain and creating an email address, then move on to fonts, colors, icons, and symbols.

Once you create a brand, it will be easier to produce works that fit in with your target or niche audience. You’ll only confuse customers if you market yourself as a 3D artist but only have 2D samples. Create all of your works to revolve around your brand, and you’ll succeed.

Step 2: Have an Online Presence

While a website is a fantastic way to show off your work, it’s challenging to get traffic to your website without having a social media presence. You could go the long way and use SEO (search engine optimization) tactics, so your website ranks on search engines, but most people will find you from Instagram or Facebook, anyway. Using social media will give you credibility.

Don’t spread yourself too thin: it’s better to focus on one or two platforms than cast a wide net and potentially burn yourself out. Be sure to include “available for hire” somewhere in your description, profile picture, or header, so clients understand you’re actively looking for work.

Step 3: Create Goals and Assess Them Regularly

One of the main goals of becoming a freelancer is to make money, but you need to create a plan that will put you towards that achievement. Most freelancers start slow and build up to making thousands per month, so be realistic. It’s better to separate your goals into daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and have the daily goals as a stepping stone to the big, monthly goal.

Consider what you want your business to be in the future: do I want this to become a full-time job? A hobby? A side-hustle? Depending on your end goal, you may need to research licensing, marketing, healthcare, taxes, and hiring techniques if expansion is what you’re moving towards.

Step 4: Clients and Establishing a Network

Start taking freelance clients, preferably in your niche. As a newer freelancer, you may have to take clients that aren’t related to your expertise to get experience. You may also run into the issue of low pay or slow turnover for jobs as you learn what your client wants. Know that these are just growing pains. As you get more comfortable and experienced, you’ll start making more.

After your first successful client interaction, you can start establishing a network of clients that will refer you to people in their industry. You can also get a head start at networking by going to local meet-ups and events that include people in your niche and other business owners.

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