What It Takes to Make It as a Freelance Graphic Designer: Pt. 1

Updated By Staff Writer on March 31, 2020

Despite what you might think, the word “freelance” is not a harbinger of doom. Every day in the real world, freelance graphic designers find work, create amazing designs, and get paid enough to survive and thrive. It’s a real, viable option for those with the gumption to go it alone. For advice on how to make freelance designing a reality, we interviewed two graphic designers. This two-part guide is written primarily from their answers to our questions. Let’s start with the pros and cons of becoming a freelance graphic designer.

The Benefits

There are good reasons why some designers choose freelance work, which offers certain advantages over working a normal 9-to-5 job. First, you get to be your own boss, and this entails a lot of things. You can’t be fired, at least in the traditional sense. Even if one of your clients decides you’re not good for them, you have other clients, so you can still do tomorrow what you did the day before. You have control of your own hours. If you’re rolling out of bed a little late, want to start work early, need to run errands in the middle of the day, or want to take time off for your birthday, it’s all up to you. You set your own wage, determine what you’re worth, and then charge what you think is fair. You don’t have to convince your boss that you deserve a raise. You get to pick your own jobs, and you don’t have to take any work you don’t want. This also means you have the freedom to work on the kinds of projects you want—you can cover as wide a variety as you desire in the work you accept, and if you don’t like a project or a client, you can always turn them down. Perhaps best of all, you get to pick where you work. Home is the obvious choice, but many graphic designers take their laptops with them on their travels.

The Challenges

Many of the benefits of freelance work also carry some drawbacks. Sure, you can’t be fired, but you’re always job hunting. There’s probably not a convenient stream of work coming directly to you daily. “It’s a lot harder than most people realize,” says Angie Billy, senior graphic designer at Independence University. “Keeping a steady stream of work means you’re constantly selling yourself and looking for your next job.” You pick your hours, but that doesn’t always mean picking the hours you want. “Many clients expect you to work on their project when they want you to, on their time, on their terms,” says Rod Christensen, senior graphic designer at Independence University. Since your hours aren’t set, you’ll sometimes find yourself working longer, harder hours as the client requires. While you don’t have a real boss, clients frequently fill that role, providing the same irritating difficulty and micromanaging that you might experience at a traditional job. Sometimes their demands are even less reasonable than a supervisor’s would be, and they certainly won’t throw an office party for your birthday. And, according to Christensen, “There are no paid holidays for freelancers.” When you don’t work, you don’t get paid. In other words, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. But for those who can keep themselves motivated working alone, it can be very rewarding. Now, if the challenges haven’t scared you off yet, then you’re ready for part 2, in which we talk about how to become a successful freelance graphic designer. Click here for more information on earning a degree in Graphic Arts from Independence University.

For graduation rates, the median debt of graduates, and other data, see The college does not guarantee a job. Gaining employment is the graduate’s responsibility.