Many people may tell you that it’s not a good idea to start freelancing as a graphic designer without a good deal of experience behind you.
This is good advice.
But it’s also quite misleading.
It’s entirely possible to be successful as a student freelancer, so long as you follow a few simple guidelines.
1. Start small
Obviously, if you’re lacking in experience, you simply aren’t equipped to take on the sort of projects that large agencies tackle.
Don’t go after big jobs straight away.
Start with smaller projects to build experience (and your portfolio).
Flyers for local businesses or wedding invitations may not win you any D&AD pencils, but they pay the bills.
2. Don’t be afraid to say no
If a client comes to you with a job you know you won’t be able to do, don’t take it on.
It’s better to turn a client away because you’re busy or lack experience than to let them down half way through a project.
This won’t do your reputation any good, and you’ll probably never hear from them (or any of their contacts) again.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you need help or advice, ask for it.
Ask your friends. Ask your family. Ask your classmates and your tutors. Join a graphic design forum and ask on there.
It’s surprising how many people are willing to give you advice.
4. Don’t work for free
You may be a student, but you probably know a hell of a lot more about design than you think.
Clients will be looking for a designer because they require that knowledge. Therefore they should be prepared to pay for that knowledge.
Beware of clients who are just looking for a free ride.
Claims of “future work”, “exposure” or “it will look great in your portfolio” should all be ignored.
5. Avoid design contests
Design contest sites may seem like a good way to make money.
You submit designs based on a loose brief, and if the client likes the design more than the other submissions, you ‘win’ the prize money.
But this is speculative (spec) work. It doesn’t guarantee you payment for your time and is a major problem for the creative industry.
The ‘client’ can simply claim they didn’t like any of the designs and cancel the contest to avoid paying anyone. Yet they still have the designs and ideas to take to someone else to draw up cheaply.
Stay away from them.
6. Be professional
If you want to be taken seriously as a professional, you have to act like a professional.
Get work done on time and reply to emails and phone calls in a professional manner.
Social networks such as Twitter or Facebook are valuable marketing tools. But remember, unless you’ve changed your privacy settings, everything you write is public.
Never complain about a client over social networks. Try to keep swearing to a minimum. And consider how voicing your opinions publicly could put potential clients off working with you.
7. Have confidence
This is probably the most important key to success, and also the hardest to maintain.
Saying “yes” to a new challenge or opportunity is terrifying!
But this is how you will grow as a designer and learn new skills, and it gets easier with time (though only slightly).
Remember to know your limitations. Don’t take on a web design project if you have no experience designing and developing a fully functioning website.
But also don’t turn down a design job because you’ve never designed ‘XYZ’ before.
The beauty of graphic design is that your basic design skills are transferable.
Designing a book jacket for example, has different challenges and considerations that designing a poster.
But the fundamentals of good design, which you already know, are still the main foundations of that design. Build on them!