5 things you should do before you become a freelance designer

Remember a while ago when I wrote 5 ugly truths about being a freelance designer?

Well, today's email follows on from that. If you read those truths and thought "I can take that! I can push through those!" then HURRAY- freelancing is the right path for you. (I'm so excited for you!!)

You now know you're cut out to do this freelancing thing. But where do you go from here? How do you get started?

A lot of creatives who want to become freelance designers ask me:

What should be the first thing I do to kickstart my freelance journey?

What should I do before I start freelancing full-time?

How can I prepare to freelance full-time?

How can I give myself the best chance of succeeding at running my own business?

These are the kind of questions I love because it shows me that (A) you're serious about freelancing, and (B) you're SO serious, you want to make sure you have the best possible start.

According to stats published by Small Business Assosciation (SBA), only half of all new small businesses actually last up to five years. Only a third survive ten years or more.

One strong reason why so many small businesses fail is because of a lack of preparation. You can't just quit your day job and start a wildly successful business at the drop of a hat. There are specific things you need to do before starting your business. If you do them, your business will have a better chance of surviving and thriving!

If you'd rather listen to me explain what you should do before you becoming a freelance designer, watch the video below! If you're not into video just scroll down to continue reading. 

5 things you should do before becoming a freelance designer

01. Do a test-run

Before jumping into the freelance design world, dip your toes in. 

You may love the idea of freelancing, but you could go on to find out that it's not as good as you'd hoped. (Working solo isn't for everyone.)

Before quitting your day job, try finding a client (even if they aren't paying you) and see what it’s like to work one-on-one with them. See what’s it’s like to not only be in charge of design, but also billing the client, communicating, sorting problems, handling negative feedback, setting your own deadlines, and motivating yourself. 

It may turn out that you LOVE being a freelance designer and you LOVE doing all these things yourself. But you could also find out that you’re not very good at it.

If that’s the case, that’s okay. Write down what went wrong. You can continue working your day job while you improve your freelance skills until you reach a point where you're confident enough to start freelancing full-time. 

02. Save money

You should ideally save at least 6 months worth of wages because you might find it difficult to find work when you first start freelancing, especially if you don't have much experience. 

Save money so that...

  • You don’t stress out and panic if you can’t find clients when you start full-time freelancing. 
  • You can continue living the same comfortable lifestyle you were accustomed to when you had a steady job.
  • You're safe even if you're flooded with clients when you start freelancing. This isn't likely for most freelancers, but if you're overwhelmed with work then you keep your savings aside for something else (like a new car, or a slow business time in the future!) 

Having savings in the bank never hinders anyone, but a lack of them can send your life in a completely different direction. 

03. Build up your portfolio

No one wants to hire an unexperienced designer. If you want to build a portfolio but you're worried about taking on real clients, there's a way around it:

You can build a portfolio by creating work for yourself!

It’s not illegal. In fact, a lot of designers do this to build a portfolio of work that will attract the kind of clients they're after. 

For example, a designer who has been designing for sports brands her whole life may decide she wants to design for wedding businesses. Since her portfolio is all sports-related, no wedding businesses are going to want to hire her! So guess what she'd need to do? Make up wedding business projects and add them to her portfolio!

There's nothing wrong with doing this. Just be sure to state in your portfolio that you made up the client. Don't go faking testimonials etc- that would be very uncool. 

04. Create a business plan

This is the most important of all the things I’m listing today.


Because for the first two years of my business, I didn’t have a plan. Then when I did create one, my profits went up to £25k. JUST from following a business plan. 

And guess what? My business plan wasn’t what you may be thinking. It wasn't a long, boring, 50-page document outlining my target market and financial predications for the next ten years. 

It was a simple, one-page spreadsheet that I could easily follow. 

Want a copy of my business plan template? It's available in The Shelancers Club, a club I founded to help female freelancers grow their businesses. Click here to learn more!

05. Make friends with other designers

One of the best ways to find clients is through referrals from other designers, but you won’t get them unless you put yourself out there and start making friends.

You can do this by following & talking with other designers on Twitter, joining Facebook groups for designers, or even forming a mastermind group of designers that are at a similar level to you.

I recommended one of my coaching clients do this, and this month she reported that she found four great designer friends in Facebook groups, and they've decided to form a mastermind group! Not only do they now have their own private Facebook group where they provide each other with feedback and advice and help each other find clients, they also hop on Skype every few weeks to catch up face-to-face.

Building tight relationships like these with others in your niche helps you:

  • Not feel alone even if you're working from home all the time.
  • Get work from others who have a similar target market to you.

If you’re looking for a Facebook group of designers, come and join The Shelancers Club!

The club is made up of two parts:

  1. A library of podcast lessons (by me!) on running a profitable, sustainable freelance business. 
  2. A community of freelance designers, developers and writers. We’ve had LOTS of freelancers form collaborations and partnerships from this group, so come along if you're in need of company!

If you have any questions about what you need to do before becoming a full-time freelance designer, ask away in the comments section on this blog post!

Nesha Woolery

I build beautiful brands & websites for passionate entrepreneurs!