How to become a successful freelance designer — just work

There are tons of online guides that show you magic tricks that will get you more clients, more money and you and your business will be 10 times more successful in just a few days. But the truth is brutal — getting to the place you want to be requires hard work. There’s no other way (most of the times).

We all love to design. Unfortunately, after leaving your job to become a full-time freelancer you will have to deal with a lot of things that are far, far away from designing beautiful User Interfaces. It is very different from working in an agency.

So where should you start? How can you get more clients? How to get bigger deals? Let’s go, follow me.

Create your portfolio and keep it up to date

It’s obvious, but I don’t get why many of designers use just Dribbble or Behance (they are great tho) without having their own website. It’s more flexible, you can show off your skills and its yours, not anyone else’s. Upload few of your best works there and it will do, just add some newer stuff from time to time. Dribbble is a great place to upload quick shots of projects you are currently working without putting much effort into creating beautiful presentation, so put there your beautiful designs on a regular basis!

But I don’t have any works that I can show to the world…

Well, that is a problem (but not really). Don’t try to impress somebody by doing next Facebook redesign. Get real clients and real cases with real data. Ask your friends if they need a new website or a new branding for their company. Just do what you are good at. Local businesses need new websites (just look it up in Google and you will know what I’m talking about), offer them help for free and they will really appreciate it (and maybe become your client in the near future, who knows). Also, you can help some charity. Just do it well, so you can put it online and make a good use of it. That’s it.

And I have to do it all for free?

Why not? I made so much profit out of doing stuff for free — for example designing homepage for some companies that were not 100% sure that should work with me (not the best approach, I know). It worked (well, sometimes…) and now I don’t have to do this.

Also it’s a way to gather your followers or build your email list — write, design, make podcasts or interviews, it’s up to you. When you write new blog post you do research and you learn. Same with designing some “Startup Landing Page” and making it available for download for designers around world. It’s a win-win situation and it’s so simple to do. Look at The Futur or Flux. They put a lot of great stuff online and for free! I don’t doubt it helped them.

Ok, so now we start the real deal…

So you have your portfolio with the best works that any other designer could dream of. The world is yours…

…but beginnings can be hard. Getting clients is a snowball effect. Treat your every client like the most important one. Deliver the best product that you can, make them satisfied and soon out of nowhere you will see other people coming to you. The market is really big, so don’t waste your time at websites like freelancer.com. Send your works to Digital Agencies in your country, they always need some help and probably will be interested in some kind of cooperation. Mail or call your local companies and offer your work. If they will be happy about working with you friends of your friends will come to you. It’s really simple — if you are good enough and do what you love to do the money will come.

Online marketing is another story and requires a lot more than one article.

Why did you write this stupid article?

I just want to talk about my perspective for being a freelancer. There’s enough bullshit guides over the internet. There are no magic tricks, no shortcuts, no talent. Just hard work. Keep grinding and love the process — it will take you to the place you want to be.