Cheerful casual businesswoman using computer and digitizer

How to Start a Career as a Freelance Graphic Designer

Updated By Shelby on March 30, 2020

In 2001, Erin Gipford’s life was perfect. She was married and had two beautiful children. She had worked full-time as a graphic designer and even owned her own photography business on the side. Her life was going exactly the way she’d planned. But that dream life didn’t last. In 2006, she and her husband got divorced. Working full-time became more and more consuming, and Erin found herself working 10 hours of mandatory overtime every week. Her children and her side business were neglected. The frustration left her constantly exhausted--until she ran into some graphic design blogs. There were people who made their entire livings from doing freelance graphic design! Becoming a freelance graphic designer was the perfect career, combining her interest in graphic design with the freedom she’d enjoyed from her entrepreneurial photography business. Erin started small and started her own graphic design blog. When she first started her website, she only had three portfolio pieces in it. Slowly but surely, her network grew and grew. By 2016, she was ready to begin her career as a full-time freelancer. Erin’s story is empowering--and very doable. Especially since the freelance workforce is predicted to rise to 43% by 2020, you’d do well to dip into the gig economy. If you’re considering starting a career as a freelance graphic designer, you can start by taking some of the same steps Erin did. Whether you’re just looking for a side gig or you want to do this full-time, here are the steps you need to take to reach your goal.

Gather a portfolio.

A portfolio is essential because it gives future clients an idea of what you can do. Because a portfolio is a customer’s first impression of you, you’ll want to set up your website carefully to display your work. If you don’t have any display pieces yet, start small--if you have a project from a graphic design class, polish it and add that to your portfolio. Find ways to trade skills in order to create more pieces--offer to help a classmate with graphic design if he or she will help you with another task.

Learn more technical skills.

In today’s world of tech, you’ve got to be able to use the latest graphic design software to stay competitive. One of the best ways to do this is to take a college course. If you want to be prepared for class or you haven’t kept up with the programs that you learned in class, there are a lot of other options to keep your skills sharp. Rebecca Lutz recommends Udemy, Skillshare, and Treehouse as good places to start.

Network, network, network.

Networking is essential if you want your business to survive. The connections you make in networking will be invaluable. For starters, try joining social media groups of other freelance graphic designers. There, you can ask others for their tips and advice. As you get to know others, you can recommend work to each other and give feedback on where you can improve. You can also network by going to conferences, being a guest author on someone else’s well-established blog, or organizing your own workshop. As you network, be sure to sell yourself well. Have a business card ready. Create accounts for your business on multiple social media platforms and follow up with any leads that you get from people visiting your pages.

Get creative.

If you find yourself struggling to get clients, try a different approach. Create a blog or a vlog to talk about your experiences and give advice to other new freelancers. If you’re particularly talented with a certain graphic design program, you can create tutorials to help others learn how to use it. Brent Galloway, a freelance graphic designer, started creating tutorials and blogging to launch his own business. Not only was he helping others with these videos, but it helped him identify his strong points and promote his brand.

Be smart with money.

Freelancing is a great way to earn money--but it’s not always a consistent income. When you do earn money from your freelance work, be sure to save some in case you experience a dry spell of gigs.


While it’s important to have a broad range of skills, you’ll be much more successful if you specialize in a certain type of graphic design. Maybe you love designing websites, or perhaps you’ve got a knack for creating logos. If you have a background in a certain industry, you can focus on developing skills that would be useful to that particular field. Specializing will set you apart from other freelancers and will make you more valuable as you become more skilled in your area.   These tips are a great place to start freelancing as a graphic designer, and Independence University’s graphic arts programs can be your foundation for your dream career. IU’s programs offers specialties in print, web, and information design so that you can specialize and develop your skills. Our cutting-edge tools make sure you enter the industry with the most up-to-date programs. Additionally, our career-oriented degree gets you started with portfolio pieces to launch your own business. To learn more about what IU can do for your future, get a free consultation today.