Managing your freelance design business

Bookkeeping. Taxes. Juggling clients. Freelancing comes with a lot of challenges—but nothing you can't overcome.
Running your own business sounds exciting. You’ll make your own schedule and have complete creative autonomy! But managing it successfully is quite another story. 
 
You’ll find many challenges along the way as you strive to expand your client base and reach your financial goals. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to make the bumps, well, less bumpy.  
 
Here are our top tips for running—and growing—your freelance business.
 

1. Set up the right workspace

Creating the ultimate workspace for your business is about more than ergonomics and natural light. While a comfortable chair may enhance productivity, you’ll also need to learn how you work best if you’re going to run a sustainable business. 
 
This means you’ll have to explore your limits (a 12-hour day may really be too much) and understand what truly motivates you (profits, creative expression, the collaborative process and so on).
 
Check our handy guide to organizing your freelance work life here.
 

2. Craft a tight elevator pitch

Marketing yourself well to clients is an integral part of your freelance design business. Developing a succinct “elevator pitch” will help you capture what it is that you can offer clients in a quick, bite-sized chunk of information. Nobody has time for a lengthy presentation so make sure your pitch is short, succinct and attractive from the get-go. 
 
Download our elevator pitch template here.
 

3. Establish your online presence

Create a lasting impression with a unique personal website that showcases your work to date. Then support your online presence with a consistent social media campaign. Regularly update Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with engaging and useful content such as current design-related articles.

4. Stay in touch with clients

Out of sight, out of mind. When something is no longer in front of us we tend to forget about it. This is why it pays to keep in touch with your clients after you have completed their projects so they know you are still actively in business and have you at top of mind when their next project begins. 
 
A simple “Hello, how are you?” email is enough to get the conversation started. Remember that staying in touch can be the single most important source of repeat business for you.
 
Not sure how to start the conversation? Check out our cheat sheet on improving client communication.

5. Learn to upsell

Think like the wait staff at a fast food restaurant: "Would you like fries with that?" Always remember to offer smaller, related products that clients may also need. Don't be pushy, but remind clients about products or services that may enhance their business.
 
Use our 1-to-1 Projects platform to start that next project with your client.

6. Dig into side projects

Got some spare time? Offer design support to your friends and family. You’ll be helping out those you care about, and it may result in paid projects for you if they recommend your work to their social media communities. Plus, the work will help to beef up your portfolio.

7. Merge with a partner

As your business grows, you’ll find that the type of clients you attract diversifies as well. You may have initially provided logo designs and then found that your clients began requesting website designs, too. Before you worry about expanding your skill set, consider collaborating with a fellow designer who has different areas of expertise.
 
If you do team up with another designer, remember that only one of you should lead a project at any given time. Work seamlessly with your partner behind the scenes so you don’t bog your clients down with minute, administrative details.

8. Overcome common obstacles

You will undoubtedly hit obstacles throughout your freelance career. Preparation can help you move through them with greater ease.  
 
Here are the three main challenges a freelance designer may face:

Unpredictable finances

Sporadic, inconsistent income is an obvious—and uncomfortable—aspect of a freelancer career, especially in the early years. But there are steps you can take to manage your finances and give yourself the freedom to grow your business.

Start with savings

It’s always a good idea to put some money away before jumping into your freelance career. This will give you a safe foundation while you build your client base and bring in your first round of revenue. You will also need funding to purchase the building blocks of any business: software programs, marketing collateral and office supplies. But proceed with caution; don’t spend money you don’t have.

Project your cash flow

While you won’t be able to lock down a set date, come up with a rough goal for when you expect to start earning money and roughly how much that will be. Try to predict how many projects you may land and how much money each project will bring you each month and factor in your monthly overhead for your office space, supplies and so on.

Don't stress!

That said, don’t worry too much about your finances! Worry and anxiety don't pay the bills, so try to enjoy the ride and have faith that things will work out when you put in the hard work.

9. Creative rut

Every creative person hits a block sometimes. When you feel a rut coming on, nip it in the bud with a shot of inspiration:

Check out designs from other categories

If you’re an illustrator, take a different approach and check out examples of interesting website designs. If you’re a package designer, dig into book cover design or logo design. These different approaches will refresh your palette and help you to break out of your usual routine.

If you’re an illustrator, take a different approach and check out examples of interesting website designs. If you’re a package designer, dig into book cover design or logo design. These different approaches will refresh your palette and help you to break out of your usual routine.

Get inspired by leaders of the industry

There’s a reason why certain designers and agencies are truly the best in the industry. Check out the work of these superstars the next time you’re feeling creatively stagnant.

Practice free flow creativity

Dedicate some time each day to freeform doodling. Sometimes you need to dump out all the ideas in your head to discover the gem hidden within.

10. Become a seasoned time manager

As a freelancer, you long for the work to come and when it does you're often not quite sure how to manage it. It helps to work smarter by investing in the right gear like a better keyboard or intuitive mouse to help you design faster. You can also lean on apps that take care of menial, administrative tasks freeing you up for more creative work. 
 
Check out our list of design resources to support you during your next projects.

11. Invest in yourself

Part of growing as a business is growing creatively and intellectually as an individual. Keep evolving by learning new skills and staying up to date on the latest developments in your chosen field. 
 
For example, if your niche market is book cover design, then consider upskilling in photography. Or if website design is your thing, then learning how to code will make you twice as desirable as a designer.

Find a mentor

Sometimes doing it alone won’t be enough. You’ll need a sounding board to help you navigate the freelance landscape. Enter the mentor. Finding someone who has been in the field longer than you can help to answer some of your burning questions.

Mentors won’t be able to tell you exactly what to do because everyone’s path is different, but by hearing what they’ve learned from their own experiences you may find some wisdom that will help you grow your own business.
 
 

Now that your business is running smoothly, learn how to better organize your work