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Becoming a Full-Time Freelance Designer: What You Need to Know

Quitting your day job and becoming a full-time freelance designer seems like a dream, but it can be scary. Here's what you need to know to be successful.
Becoming a Full-Time Freelance Designer: What You Need to Know

by MVS Staff

July 01, 2019

43% of the US workforce will be working as freelancers by 2020. As a designer hoping to go freelance full-time, this is both good and bad news.

Why? It means that the market is quickly opening up to offer more and more freelance design jobs. However, it also means that you’re going to have a little more competition when it comes to snagging jobs.

If you’re looking to quit your day job to become a full-time freelance designer, here’s what you need to know in order to stay ahead of the game and be successful.

Understand the Administrative Side of Freelancing

Sure, you’ll need to build a high-quality portfolio and learn how to network with clients in order to be a successful freelance designer, but you’ll also need to understand how the administrative side of freelancing works too.

First, you’ll need to think about whether or not it benefits you to register yourself as a business, or if you’re going to just work as an independent contractor.

Then, you’ll need to research your local laws regarding work permits. Certain states require you to register for a work permit if you’re working out of your home and selling certain products or services.

Finally, it’s a good idea to look into some sort of freelance bookkeeping software. On top of that, it’s a smart idea to go ahead and purchase a filing system where you can keep physical copies of invoices and contracts.

As a freelance designer, you’re probably also going to want to invest in a lot of external hard drives up front. This will help you organize your work.

Never Work for Free

Now that you’ve got your freelance working life structured, it’s important to think about the specifics of contracts, rates, and payment terms.

This is where many freelance designers face a bit of trouble. When you’re just getting started out, it’s tempting to work for free in exchange for the promise of a long-term working relationship with a big client.

The fact is, though, that no high-quality freelancer should work for free as they know the value of their design work. And, no high-quality client should ever ask you to do so.

Remember that, even though you might not feel like you’re working a “real” job full-time at first simply because you’re not going to an office, you are! Design is your job, and you deserve to be paid for it.

When you’re getting paid, it’s also important to sign a contract. You can find numerous freelance design contract templates online that will lay out the terms and obligations of each party.

Edit these according to your needs and be as specific as

Agree to specific payment terms, such as whether or not they’re going to pay a 50% deposit up-front or if the entire amount is due at the end of the project.

Define clear dates for each stage of the project. This ensures you’ll get paid on time but it also shows the client that you’re organized and that you’re professional enough to adhere to deadlines.

Be Smart With Your Income

Freelance taxes are no joke. One of the biggest traps that freelancers fall into is thinking that they can spend 100% of the money they earn.

When you work as a full-time contracted designer for a company, they’re taking care of certain taxes like Social Security and Medicare. 

For example, working at a traditional job means that you pay 6.2% of Social Security tax and the company pays the other 6.2%.

Full-time freelancing, however, means that you’ll be in charge of all of that tax. This is why financial experts recommend being extra diligent about your income and savings when you decide to go freelance full-time.

In general, experts suggest putting away 25-30% of your monthly income towards taxes.

If you want to really make a freelance design career work for you, it’s also a good idea to invest about 10-20% of your leftover income in your career.

This can mean investing in certifications, equipment, or software that will help you stand out in your design career.

Organize and Diversify Your Skills to Compete

Becoming a full-time freelance designer means you’re going to save a lot of time and energy on tasks you have to perform in a traditional job.

Instead of spending two to three hours in traffic each day getting to and from the office, you can use that time more wisely.

This could mean using it to:

  • Organize your daily or weekly schedule in order to stay on top of top orders
  • Read up on industry trends
  • Respond to emails
  • Workout in order to keep your mind and body healthy and alert
  • Learn new skills that will set you apart from other freelance designers

The last one is particularly important, as you’ll need to constantly be adding to your portfolio and diversifying your skills to succeed. In fact, 61% of freelancers specialize in 2 to 3 talents.

This means that if you currently specialize in monochrome designs, try learning how to apply color theory. It will help you add to your services and show clients that you’re diverse.

While you’re learning new skills, it’s also best to research the current going rate for each skill. Ensure that you know what you’re worth and that you’re charging clients according to that rate.

Getting Started as a Full-Time Freelance Designer

When you’re just getting started as a full-time freelance designer, it might seem a little overwhelming. 

You’re taking all of your design skills and past projects and using your own self-marketing skills to essentially run your own one-person design agency. However, this is exciting!

If you’re able to organize the administrative work up front, learn how to manage contracts and payment, and stay on top of your skills, it will be a fruitful pursuit.

Looking for other resources as a freelance creative? Head over to our design blog in order to access helpful content that will help you on your journey to design success.




Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

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