How to Go Freelance: The Ultimate Plan for Designers

by Danielle Bravaco on 02/12/2016 | 5 Minute Read

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We lay out the ultimate plan for going freelance

How can I go freelance, and do it strategically?

It’s a complex question, with many variables that need to be aligned for success as well as longevity. Before you embark on this journey you’ll need to do a few things, starting with protection. Protection means, having to separate your work from your assets. Establish yourself as an LLC, or another legal entity that limits your personal liability. Next, you’ll set a rate, fine tune your resume, edit a focused portfolio, sell your worth, and last but not least, make it rain.

There are three scenarios that can apply to going freelance as a designer.

  • Graduates going into the industry and wanting to try out different environments.
  • Tenured creatives looking for flexibility and a “free agent” lifestyle.
  • Senior executives searching for a new area of focus and or a priority shift.

The one common denominator in any of these scenarios is positioning. Whether you are new to the market, deciding to test the waters of a new lifestyle, or ready to be your own boss, a properly positioned resume will ultimately spark the right conversation. So let’s start there.

How to Position Your Resume:

Here are some quick ways to be sure you are communicating in a way that carries weight.

  • List out your employment history

  • Bullet Points should communicate how you added value to the bottom line

  • Also include concisely if you took part in any innovation initiatives

  • Include if your work went to market as opposed to just a blue sky project

  • Your most tenured position should have the most bullet points attributing to these key successes.

  • Clients you have serviced for each employer can be grouped underneath in paragraph format. This can help you capitalize on space and free up real estate on the page. I would say focus on your household name clients. Turner Duckworth, for instance, holds a lot of weight. A small name employer may not have the impact unless established in your industry. In regards to freelance roles, it is an area to be mindful to tailor.

  • Your skills are so very important as a freelancer. You should play with the formatting of them and try making them a “call out” to get the attention of anyone skimming your resume. Speed, diligence, efficiency, listening skills and the ability to work with a limited amount of direction are all vital to survive the freelance landscape. Of course your specific software skills are just as integral.

  • Responsibilities as well are important always. And always keep them in, whether a freelance position or not is what you are after. However you may want to consider how you format them.

How to Edit Your Portfolio:

You’ve landed an interview, great! Now understand that you have a short window to convey why they should hire you. Your time with the decision maker should consist of a concise and efficient demonstration of your assets.

  • A clean presentation - whether digital, motion, or print

  • Organization - select the best. Start with a jaw dropper, have a wild card in the middle, and end with a great story. Leave out the schlock. We all have it, dated or less than great, don’t feel you need to include it. One bad piece can kill an opportunity, especially for a freelance position. The key focus areas are: client, deliverable, role in the project and success. Keep it concise.

  • Additionally, the consistency of the portfolio is vital.



“Inconsistency is perceived as lack of taste or lack of focus.”


The Interview Sell:

Five ways to sell your worth and your work to a decision maker.

  • Show them, don’t tell them what experience you bring to the table.

  • Never assume they love you or your work.

  • Always be mindful of time, theirs.

  • Walk them, don’t run them through your work.

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Be ready to think on your feet. Have a few questions that are authentic to you and that can engage conversation relating to the position you are interviewing for and their vision/mission.



“Understand your audience – their motivations, beliefs, desires – then build the portfolio as you would a presentation,” he explains. “Leave them in no doubt what your strengths are, why you are relevant and where you can add value. It’s equally important to edit too… Remember, this is a sales tool not a document of your working history.”


How to Determine Your Rate:

A quick way to figure out your freelance quote is to double the hourly rate to estimate the annual equivalent. In other words $40hr equates to roughly $80,000 annual gross pay, give or take. I recommend that you figure out your monthly overhead expenses, your experience in the industry, as well as your value that differentiates you and go from there. Production, design, industrial and data/UX all vary quite a bit in terms of market rates. Flexibility is always a good thing with a new client, even a few dollars will earn you upfront admiration. If you are looking at project rates or day rates, you should account for the project management piece of tending to your hours worked. This may or not include research, edits, and number of rounds. Understand that going over the client’s predetermined budget can jeopardize the relationship. One last thing, never forget that your time is valuable.

Where to Start with Health Benefits:

The burning question with most creatives is around acquiring benefits and declaring taxes.

Benefits can be acquired through a few resources depending on your freelance relationships. If you are utilizing a staffing or recruitment agency, most include benefits through their company after a certain amount of hours worked. If you are working independently, you can look at  the Freelancers Union or individual plans are offered as well. I have found eHealthInsurance to be a great resource. They act as a broker, allowing you to compare multiple plans at once, and offer dental and vision plans as well.


In regards to taxes you can either do a W2 or a 1099. There are quite a few things to consider with this lifestyle, you may want to start with Freelancers Union to familiarize yourself with taxes. I also recommend finding a trustworthy CPA to give you a rundown of what to expect in your first year. Especially if you are dividing your income into a W2 and 1099. This is manageable but can be complicated at first.

Getting Called:

Now that you’ve established a plan, no one is going to call you if they don’t know you. You will need to capitalize on your personal and professional network to promote yourself. Keep abreast of the latest trades such as; Adweek, Brandweek, Communication Arts, HOW, Wired, and TheDieline. Establish yourself through recommendations on Linkedin, AIGA, local design groups on Facebook, and other social media platforms.

The creative freelance lifestyle can be a lot of fun and be very rewarding and lucrative, it is also a lot of work. Get out, have fun, network, meet people, and join one of the many online freelance marketplaces like Working Not Working, Behance, or Upwork.  

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