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Time to try and get some work - where do I start?

davewilliams000davewilliams000 Posts: 137 All Star

So, I've been working towards trying to become a graphic designer since august 2018. I've spent a lot of time learning software tools, and design principles and done lots of practice work during that time. I made a portfolio website earlier this month (using adobe portfolio).

I've allowed myself to become distracted with other things this past month or so which has led to a lot of wasted time and ultimately ended up going nowhere, but I've learned a few lessons from it at least of how not to do some things. I've called time on that now and am back ready to focus on making a go of this career change.

Whilst I am far from done learning (there will always be something to learn of course), the time has come to start trying to get some work doing this. I know it's not going to be easy and not be exciting work to begin with but I need to start somewhere.

However, I don't really think I have a clue what I'm doing with regards to this area, marketing myself, etc!

The only idea I had so far (a pretty obvious one) is that I go around local businesses and let them know I exist and what I can do for them. Is this an old fashioned way of doing things and/or are there any other suggestions of how I can let people know I actually exist and can provide them with a good service?

The thought of actually going to people and trying to promote myself is pretty terrifying, but I realise it's something I need to do if I want to get anywhere. My expectations are fully managed - I know it's not going to be anything big at first, or likely to be for a long time, but I need to start somewhere and start making some progress.

Any thoughts/suggestions much appreciated.


  • JemJem Posts: 938 Champion

    This is a good question, and not one I can really help with because I'm not freelance. I suspect @Tom Ross might have some good suggestions for you though!

    Photographer | Graphic Designer | Cat Mum | Film Watcher | Music Listener | Yorkshire Lass

    Instagram: @shutterjunkie | Twitter: @photographerjem

  • davewilliams000davewilliams000 Posts: 137 All Star

    @jem no probs - thanks. I've asked Tom after this was posted :smile:

  • Richard LyallRichard Lyall Posts: 1,212 mod
    edited April 9

    Hi @davewilliams000 Just a few thoughts to toss into the ring, in no particular order:

    I'm not naturally a great entrepreneur, cold caller, social media guru etc, and I've walked quite a different path to people like Tom who are naturally a lot better at putting themselves out there, but in almost 10 years of freelancing I've picked up a few things:

    Generate as many leads as you can. You don't need to convert them all, and you won't convert them all, but you will eventually convert some. But be strategic. Over time you'll get a feel for where your sweet spot is (the kind of design you enjoy most and do best) and that helps in targetting your efforts to find work.

    Be patient. It takes quite a while to build up a clientelle.

    Be ready to give people your details in a flash. I keep business cards in my wallet. Keep your portfolio up to date, with your best work. A referred client recently asked if he could see my portfolio

    Work your contacts. If you've done work for someone, contact them again some time later to see if they have more work going. I did this yesterday, and it led to two new book design projects today. Doesn't always happen like that, but nice when it does.

    You might need to do a few freebies for people to convince them to give you paid work. I offered to rework a book for someone I wanted to work with. He agreed, and even offered to pay a bit for it as a test project. He loved it, and became my best client. I've now done about 10 projects with him, and one of these was with a well known UK charity he was working with, and having that on my CV nearly landed me a design job recently! So you don't know where something will lead.

    Maybe offer services to a charity or voluntary organisation, something close to your heart. In that case, even if it doesn't lead to paid work, you've helped an important cause.

    Most freelance work comes from repeats and referrals, so aim as high as you can in terms of services offered, and customer service (which means biting your tongue very hard sometimes). Be excellent to work with, and people will recommend you. I just completed a motion graphics project for a UK publisher on the back of a referral. I recently completed a project for a 3rd generation referral ... A recommended me to B who recommended me to C. Offer such a great service that people will come back.

    When you find a good customer, keep them sweet. So my biggest client (who outsources all his design work to me) pays a really good rate, and every so often I throw in a freebie, or a turn something round quickly if he's in a hurry. Client gratitude goes a long way to more work.

    Be realistic about how much you can earn from different clients. I have some full commercial rate clients, but most are charity\non-profit, with smaller budgets and many people are needing to be careful with their money, so I've had to learn to work more efficiently to make these gigs worthwhile. Be prepared to do more small jobs to bring money in, especially at the start.

    It helps if you have some other income source to begin with until things build up.

    Hope there's something useful in there :)

  • RonHRonH Posts: 35 Enthusiast

    THIS ^^^... brilliant advice.

    Another thought: Out here in The Middle, we have a company that lists open positions for creatives; usually they're gig or project centric, but some turn into permanent work. Look for such a service near you, and get registered with them if that's what they do, or at least give them a resume and a call.

    Don't assume you can't take a job somewhere else. So many people out there are telecommuting (or whatever they call that now), working on projects in other parts of the country.

    Lastly: don't assume the only jobs are fun and creative projects like menu redesigns, greeting cards, wedding invites, book covers. Check out positions with engineering firms, industrial clients, etc. They all have to advertise and need business collateral (brochures, catalogs, etc.) designed. Some use agencies, but many have in-house marketing communication teams. Some of these hire outside talent on projects, some actually have illustrators and P'shop gurus on staff. It may not be the most exciting and fun, but it often pays very well. (I did this for nearly 20 years, in the industrial air pollution control industry. Dust collection wasn't fun, but now I get a pension from General Electric.) You might look for a position as a Marketing Assistant that has an opportunity to do some creative work as well. I see companies all the time who think a $10/hr marketing assistant is going to be expert Creative Cloud user who can code websites as well. They always end up hiring someone who knows a bit of Ps and Ai, but it gives paid experience to put on a resume for the next opportunity.

    Get on LinkedIn and network. There may be Adobe user groups in your area (we have several)... those are good places to meet folks with like interests and who may know about upcoming positions or projects.

    All the best to you!

    @Richard Lyall said:
    Hi @davewilliams000 Just a few thoughts to toss into the ring, in no particular order:


    Hope there's something useful in there :)

  • Richard LyallRichard Lyall Posts: 1,212 mod

    @RonH said:

    Likewise, some great advice here. Given me some ideas, as I need to generate more work at the moment :)

  • Richard LyallRichard Lyall Posts: 1,212 mod
    edited April 10

    Following some of @RonH’s helpful thoughts and a few more ramblings of my own ...

    Sometimes it’s about what you need to do to earn money rather than always what you want to do. Hopefully there is some of both. So a boring design project might be a bit yawnsome but it can help steady the income.

    Also, don’t overlook more routine work, because it can actually give your creative energies a rest e.g. Updating flyers, or preparing artwork for an online store gives you a rest from idea generation.

    I had to process 360 carpet swatches for one website, which was dull as ditchwater, but it put food in the table, but I developed some techniques for mass production (e.g. macros and keyboard shortcuts) which are serving me well even now.

    In another case, processing 100 photos of fire extinguishers was a bit of a snooze fest but I got lots of Photoshop masking and colour correction practice. I’d rather be bored and well fed than searching for the perfect gig while living off berries from the local park and sleeping under a bush.

    Every project you undertake will help you refine your processes, expose your growth areas, and help you streamline your operation, and sharpen your skills.

    Also, make use of your side hustle. I do a bit of podcast sound engineering that pays for my Adobe CC sub every month. I had built up some skill in this area after years of being a bedroom music producer, enough to land a bit of work. So if you can monetise your hobbies, great, even if it’s 5% of your income.

    Also, learn complementary skills e.g. bit of HTML/CSS or Wordpress is useful for designers, esp if you at doing website artwork or ePub design. I also studied a bit of cinematography to make better motion graphics, and some marketing knowhow is of great value too.

    Also, and this comes with experience, avoid clients who have high expectations and low budgets, or who are high demand/low respect. If you get into negotiation with someone who is turning out to be a nightmare, just price it too high and ask for a deposit upfront and you’ll never see them again :)

    if you’re not sure how serious a client is about their project, put a small obstacle in the path e.g. ask them to provide more information, or dig out examples of other work they’ve had done, and see if they respond. If they’re not forthcoming at this early stage then things probably won’t improve with time.

  • davewilliams000davewilliams000 Posts: 137 All Star

    @Richard Lyall @RonH Thanks for all the excellent advice above! Certainly given me some things to think about.

    I did attempt to make a start last weekend and went around (independent) shops/businesses in the local town centre and gave out some business cards. That was quite a terrifying prospect, but I'm glad I did it, even if nothing comes of it, as it boosted my confidence a little. There was one cafe owner who seemed genuinely interested so fingers crossed.

    LinkedIn is something I definitely need to look at as I'm on just about every other platform, and that one is likely more important from a business point of view.

    I'm certainly willing to do the less exciting jobs anyway as it's way more important to get going just now than be picky.

    I will perhaps need to look at learning HTML/CSS and/or wordpress, etc. I wasn't planning on doing websites to begin with, purely just to reduce the amount of things I need to learn, but as you say more services gives a greater chance of getting work.

  • Richard LyallRichard Lyall Posts: 1,212 mod

    HTML/CSS etc is just an example of something related that can be useful to know on the side, it doesn’t have to be that.

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