How to land your first freelance design job
You’re just starting on your journey to becoming a freelance designer. You have the design skills, you’ve been practicing, you know your craft. You just need help finding freelance jobs, where do you start?
In this article, we’ll dive into the best way to find freelance design work. But before you even search and inquire about freelance design opportunities, there are a few things you need to work on first. Follow these steps and you’ll land your first freelance design job in no time.
Decide what type of freelance design jobs you want to work on
As a designer, you have the opportunity to take on various types of freelance design jobs. Logo design, branding, and web design are just some of the options. Decide whether you want to generalize or specialize.
If you choose to generalize then you may decide to pursue multiple types of freelance design jobs. Or maybe you want to specialize and focus on web design or work for a specific industry like tech. Knowing the type of design jobs you want, will help you stay focused in the next few steps.
Curate your portfolio projects
Every designer needs to have a portfolio website. It’s the best way to show potential clients what you offer as a designer. Your portfolio site should include your best projects, an about page, a contact page, and links to social if it’s relevant and you’re sharing your work on those platforms.
It’s important to curate the projects you include in your portfolio. When you’re just starting out as a designer, it’s tempting to include every project you ever produced but that’s a huge mistake. Less is better.
Try to limit yourself your portfolio to 3–5 projects total. These should be projects you’re most proud of.
You will only be hired to do the work you show in your portfolio so only show work you want to continue doing in the future. If your portfolio doesn’t reflect the work you want to be hired for, then create your own projects or modify them so they are.
Design and develop a killer portfolio website
After you’ve gathered images, screenshots, and write a backstory for each portfolio project, it’s time to organize this content and create a killer website. You can choose to design and develop the website yourself with a tool like or you can use a website builder tool like Squarespace or Wix.
Since your goal is to land freelance design jobs, give yourself a time limit on how long you’ll spend creating your portfolio website. You can always update and redesign it later. Right now you need to get something up and running to start attracting clients and apply for freelance design jobs.
For tips on how to design your portfolio site, check out this YouTube playlist. I break down the process of how I redesigned my portfolio site from start to finish.
Create an online presence
Creating a portfolio website is only half the battle. How will clients find you? How will they discover your work? You need to become your own marketer. Fortunately, we have tools at our disposal that can help us get our work out and generate potential leads. Here are some of the best platforms to share your work on.
Instagram is one of the top ways clients can find you. It’s a mini-portfolio gallery of your design work with the power to reach millions. The key is to keep your account curated and focused on design. If your current Instagram profile is focused on selfies, meals with family and friends, or past travels, then consider creating a new Instagram profile dedicated to sharing your work only.
Use a professional photo of yourself, write a concise bio that explains the work you want to be hired for, and don’t forget to include a link to your new portfolio site. Create your first 12 posts right away. You want to have enough posts so potential clients can get a taste of your design style and give them a reason to click on your link to reach out.
The key with Instagram is to keep posting fresh content so try to remain consistent. Not every post has to be a polished design. Take photos of wireframe sketches, crop into screenshots of your designs, tell a story. Use Instagram Stories, Reels, and if you’re ambitious maybe even go live.
Research the best hashtags to use for your niche. Avoid overpopulated ones and instead, focus on ones with a range of 50,000–300,000 posts that way you have a higher chance of ranking in the top 9 posts for that tag.
Behance is a platform to share and discover creative work. A lot of clients use this site to find designers. Take the same portfolio projects you have on your website and reformat them for Behance. Use the appropriate title and tags so people can easily find you.
On Behance, your projects have the potential to be featured or show up higher in search results the more likes and comments you receive. It is a social platform so be sure to like and leave thoughtful comments on other creator’s projects, which will potentially help bring more views to your profile.
Pinterest is a massive search platform. The best way to use it is to design pinworthy images you’ll use to create new pins with links back to your portfolio site.
If you want to dive even deeper, create blog posts featuring progress work, case studies, or curate work from other designers, then design pins that point back to those webpages. Over time traffic will build and help rank your website but it is a long-term strategy.
Dribble is a platform made specifically for designers. You can search, find inspiration, and connect with other designers. But it’s also a great place for potential clients to find you.
Originally, Dribbble allowed you to post 400x300px images or shots of your work. Now they’ve expanded and you can post up to 1600x1200 pixel images and even multi-shots if you upgrade to the Pro version which also gives you a little more exposure.
Over time, these shots form a portfolio gallery on your profile page. You can choose to include a “Hire me” button on your page to show you’re open for freelance opportunities.
You might think LinkedIn is only for those who work for large corporate companies or looking for a new full-time position but you can actually use it to find clients and allow them to discover you.
First, update your LinkedIn profile with accurate past work experience, upload a professional photo, write a short bio, include your portfolio link, and best contact email address. Once your profile is ready, you can apply for freelance design jobs in the job section or reach out to business owners directly (more on this later).
Spread the word to everyone you know
Especially in the beginning, you want to take any design job that comes your way. You need the experience. With every small job, you’ll get better as a designer and you’ll potentially have a new project to share in your portfolio.
Try reaching out to business owners on LinkedIn. Take a look at their website (if they have one) and identify opportunities for improvement. Try not to be too forceful with your outreach, not everyone needs design help at this time. If you contact the same person multiple times with no answer, take it as a hint and move on.
Don’t spam a bunch of random people with generic message requests. Instead, take the time to target your leads. Write thoughtful messages that show you understand the work their business does and offer specific ways you can help. The more details you give, the more likely you will receive a response.
Don’t forget about all the business owners you personally interact with on a daily basis. Whether it’s your dentist, a real estate agent, or a restaurant owner, there’s someone who needs the design skills you have to offer.
YouTubers, bloggers, and social media influencers often need design help. Whether it’s designing YouTube thumbnails, eBook layouts, Instagram and Pinterest posts, or personal websites, there’s no end to the design services you can offer content creators.
It helps if you’re already a fan of their work. Reach out with a friendly email and offer to help for free (they may be hesitant to hire) or a low fee to start. The key is to get your foot in the door. Once you deliver high-quality design and help make their job easier, they’ll want to hire you for more on an ongoing basis. You’re also creating connections. They may refer you to other content creators they know who are looking for help.
Search design job board sites
Not all job postings are for full-time opportunities. In fact, many small and large businesses post freelance and contract positions.
Where can you find design jobs?
- LinkedIn — Use it to find and apply for full-time and freelance jobs. It’s one of the largest job search sites, companies large and small use it to find top talent.
- Indeed — Another well-known job board site, they used to specialize in tech-related jobs such as Software Engineers and UX Designers but they’ve since expanded.
- Behance — Use it to post your portfolio projects so potential clients can find you. They also have a job list section.
- Dribbble — Not just for sharing your fancy UI design work, there’s also a creative job section.
- Coroflot — A job board site specifically for designers.
- Krop — Helps you build a portfolio site and search for creative jobs.
- AngelList — Focuses on jobs for startup companies.
- AIGA — This isn’t free to the general public but if you’re already an AIGA member or decide to become one, you can access their job board section.
- Craigslist — This one is last for a reason. Be careful of scams and those who just want free work but sometimes you can find a hidden gem.
Try freelance marketplaces
Post a gig on Fiverr
Fiverr is an online marketplace for freelance services. It’s geared toward the business owner looking for freelance services ranging from logo design, social media, web design, app design, and so much more.
Originally, Fiverr only allowed you to charge $5 for a gig so that clients could take a chance with little financial risk. Over time the company expanded and now allows tier pricing with add ons. However, if you’re just starting out on the platform it’s expected you keep your rates low until you build up enough reviews when you can charge more. If you ask for a high rate and have zero reviews, you’re not likely to get any sales.
While Fiverr is not the best place to earn the most as there is a profit limit with a steep 25% fee, it’s a good option for landing freelance design jobs in a quick and easy way.
99design includes access to a variety of designers working in marketing, branding, advertising, illustration, merchandising, and more, this is one of the most popular freelance graphic design websites with a global reach.
Clients upload a brief for a specific project to 99design’s global freelancer network. But with such a wide net of freelancers, be prepared for competition.
Upwork is another popular and easy-to-use site for freelancers at any level in their career. They focus on hiring “proven pros with confidence using the world’s largest, remote talent platform.”
It’s not just for designers. Clients can find remote workers for web and mobile software development, writing, sales and marketing, admin support, customer support, analytics, engineering, and more.
Upwork allows you to create a highly detailed freelancing profile and gives you the ability to chat with clients before accepting work to ensure you’re pursuing the right freelance design job that’s relevant and valuable to you and your skillset.
One step toward a successful freelance business
From curating portfolio projects, creating a killer website, to the best ways to market yourself, now you have a better understanding of how to find and land your first freelance design job.
For design tutorials, inspiration, and more check out my YouTube channel Monica’s Design Process.
Take action today
Choose one of the tips above and get started. When you combine these tips while you continue to craft your online presence on your website and with social media, eventually clients will reach out to you. Design, share, repeat.