My first 2 months as a freelance graphic designer

My first 2 months as a freelance graphic designer

I’ve been doing freelance work – mostly editing and proofreading – for about 6 years; so I know a little something about starting a freelance business, setting up a website, and working from home. However it’s mostly been a hobby; something I do that helps keep me afloat while I focus on my own personal creative projects.

But in about November of 2011, I started to get the word out that I would be offering book cover design. I had some experience designing my own book covers, website banners, fliers and posters, and have gotten pretty good at photoshop. I sometimes offered authors free covers after editing their novels. In November, because I was working on my Nanowrimo novel, I deliberately tried not to get much work. Then in December I took my hand of the brakes.

Fast forward 2 months; I made more income in December and January than I usually do in four or five months – granted, this means I have much more work to do. I can’t afford to be a hobbyist or part-time graphic designer anymore, because important people are counting on me to provide an amazing book cover. There are some things I will have to manage better, however.

1) Keeping track of all the work – getting organized, making a list of projects…. I continuously find myself searching through emails for all the book cover instructions I’ve gotten, hoping I’m not overlooking somebody’s cover; right now I don’t have time to do everything I want to do. There are two solutions: I’m still teaching English part-time and I could quit, but that seems a little premature. I could also raise my prices, and get less work, but since I’m just starting out I hate to do that so soon.

Instead, I’m going to learn to juggle, do as much excellent quality work as I can, build up my portfolio, and try to find some sort of balance. Then, when I’m sure the work is consistent and that I can handle it (and finding out how much I can really handle) I can quit my other job and focus on freelance graphic design.

2) Advertising and promotion – fortunately I’ve had to do very little of this, which is the amazing (and unexpected!) aspect of graphic design work. When you’re a professional editor, nobody comes up and says “I saw the awesome proofreading job you did on Mrs. X’s book, can you do mine too?” And, people rarely recommend their editor – probably because everyone is a little shy about admitting to having one.

But graphic design is visual – every book cover/design you do is a business card sent out in the world; people will ask about them, which will lead to more work at an exponential rate.

However, when I raise my prices (a lot of my work now may be because my prices are so low) I will have to both increase the value of what I offer, and also increase my marketing efforts. My plan is this:

– offer some freebies with each cover; such as an ebook on book marketing, a free website banner to go with the book, etc.

-offer free covers in exchange for a certain amount of promotional work; example: authors going to big writer/book conventions can take a stack of my business cards and hand them around, or writers with a large following can share my services (this is basically why I have so much work already; I did free covers for a few people with wide reach – which resulted in lots of paid work.)

3) I started out with a 100% guaranteed refund. That doesn’t work out so well – you don’t get your time back after you’ve designed the covers.

10 year update!

I found this old post from a decade ago and decided to share it – but a lot has happened since then! I always wrestled with graphic design, despite raising my prices and keep the 100% refund guarantee – the issue is, I can make great book covers fast, but working with clients is always time consuming and even demoralizing, because it involves a conflict between what they want and your professional expertise.

Eventually I found a graphic design team to take over most of the workload; and I started focusing more on premade designs, templates and online courses (teaching about book cover design instead of doing book cover design).

Here are some quick tips on becoming a graphic designer:

  1. pick a niche. It’s so much easier to sell one type of thing to one type of person, and become THAT person for those people.
  2. think bigger. Don’t just make cheap blog headers for $10. Sell a custom branded platform and social media package for $1000.
  3. know your market. You can’t just be good at photoshop. You need to know specifically the best images and fonts to actually help your client get more success or sales. Sell yourself as someone who knows online marketing and conversions, and prove that your designs make money.
  4. Do free work. When you’re starting out, offer to make free stuff – reach out to influencers in your market or your target audience, who have a platform. If they have ugly graphics, headers or whatever, make them better ones. If they’re promoting something, make thing better looking promo graphics and share their shit with your amazing designs (they’ll be grateful and send more work your way). Not everyone appreciates it – it can be insulting for example if you tell them their book cover is ugly – so be gentle and kind.
  5. Courses and Templates. Figure out if you can give away free assets or packages; teach courses on specific skills or tools; or bundle your design services into a Productized Service.
  6. Pricing Strategies. This is tricky, but you might want to start cheap to get a lot of shares and links, and raise prices to meet demand. It’s best to have discounts (or bonuses), scarcity and urgency, and tiered-pricing (to make your cheapest offer look like a good deal). You’ll probably have trouble making a profit until your prices are hire – and if you rely on advertising or affiliates, you should have an extra 30% on top of that to keep things running smoothly.

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