‘How did you get into that then?’ is the question I’m most often asked when I tell people what I do for work.

The truth is there is no real set way into the design industry. I came to freelancing after several years working for various design agencies but I think that the lessons I learned through making this transition could apply to any freelance designer.

Thinking about taking that step, or just reflecting on your own journey? Read on…

1. Set your Creative Goals

What kind of design work do you want to do? This is the time to dream big – there are no set rules for a freelancer so as long as you are prepared to put the work in, there’s no reason for not going after what you want.

Think about the reasons for why you want to work as a freelancer: Is it the chance to work in a specific area? More creative freedom? Flexible work schedule? Greater earning potential? Knowing why will help you to make the right decisions as you plan and move forward on your freelance journey.

2. Targeted Portfolio Building

People will hire you for what you have already proven you can do. This may sound obvious but if your portfolio is full of packaging design and all you really want to do is poster design – then you need to make some adjustments!

If, based on this, you think your portfolio needs some beefing up – then a great way to do this is through passion projects. For instance, if you are interested in working in poster design and key art, then you can create fan posters or alternative movie posters (AMPs) and then put them in your portfolio to showcase your skills. If you are inexperienced in this area, it’s also a brilliant way to hone your style and find your niche so you can be confident when communicating with potential clients.

3. Costs and Fees

Ah, money. Working out what to charge for your work is never easy – especially when you are just starting out.

Begin by working through some simple questions: What do you need to earn to live? What are you able to reasonably charge people? What kind of hours do you need to work to make this sustainable? Bear in mind that it will probably take some time to work up to whatever you consider full-time hours – so you need to consider how to keep things financially viable in the meantime – whether through a 2nd job or savings etc.

Also remember that cashflow problems are the reason that most small businesses fail and plan accordingly. This could be through payment terms – such as taking a 50% deposit when you start on a job – or by having a buffer of savings. Having money to fall back on (something my wife calls a ‘f**k off fund’) is also important for giving you the flexibility to say no to a job you really don’t want to do (e.g. it’s creatively unsatisfying or offers insultingly low pay) when money is tight.

Don’t forget to review what you charge as you progress in your freelance career as your rates would normally grow with your experience (just as for non-freelancers). This may mean that you outgrow some of your earlier clients but as long as you are honest and unapologetic about this, it doesn’t need to be a problem (a great tip is to recommend someone else to take on the work if you can).

4. Build your Client Base

This takes time but there are ways you can be proactive in speeding the process up. Think about how to market yourself – a great website and social media presence showcasing your work is a good start – but don’t dismiss the power of word of mouth. Spread the word about your work through family and friends – you never know who will need design work doing.

You might think about offering favourable introductory rates to get your freelance business going – this can be an effective route to take but make sure you are clear that this lower fee is a one-off or you will find that people continue to expect this rate in the future.

Once you have some jobs under your belt, don’t forget to capitalise on these existing clients. They’re often happy to write you testimonials (this is so easy through linkedin), recommend you to others and may bring you repeat custom. The trick is to remind them you exist. This can be as simple as a friendly email every few months telling them about your recent work and reminding them that you’d love to work together again.

5. Stay True to Yourself

Remember those creative goals? Don’t forget to stick to your reasons for doing things. This doesn’t mean those goals can’t change but it’s crucial that you continue to examine why are you doing the work you are doing.

An ideal job would give you creative satisfaction, industry prestige and a handsome pay check but the reality is that we are often lucky to get two out of three. But that’s what you should be aiming for – and (at risk of sounding like a broken record) what those things are to you is dependent on the stage you’re at in your career.

6. Get Set, Go!

Going freelance is a leap into the unknown. You can prepare as much as possible but eventually you’ll only know if it’s for you if you, well, jump. 1, 2…..

Looking for graphic design services for film, or to find out a bit more about my work? Drop me a line at adam@strelka.co.uk or follow me on Instagram @strelkadesign