The newbie freelancer guide: 10 tips to start out as a freelancer

September 2, 2009 • By

Starting out as a freelancer can be quite tough, especially in these rough economic times. If you are going to take your chance anyway, you should take a look at the following advice.

1. Build yourself a solid portfolio

You are not going to convince anyone to work with you if your prospects can’t see what you are capable of. Of course if you are starting out right after design school you may not have so much real-life work to show, in that case don’t be afraid to put your school and personal projects in the portfolio. Also don’t forget that the portfolio design itself can be what convinces the client to work with you.

jason reed

Jason Reed’s website is a great example of portfolio design.

2. Get some marketing material

Start by getting some nice business cards, it’s quite cheap and still a good way to leave your contact info to someone you have just met.Having a brochure introducing your services will also help.

business cards

Photo by bargainmoose.

3. Let people know that you are freelancing

Sounds too obvious right? You’d be surprised by how many people don’t even contact their family and friends  to let them know about their newly started freelancing career. This is also a good time to start spreading your marketing material.

email pen

4. Start networking

If you don’t already have a wide network don’t worry, it’s not too late! Join some local groups and associations, attend industry-related events or the local chamber of commerce. The most important thing is to be out there and meet people in real-life when you’re a freelancer.


5. Build yourself a strong onine presence

The web as it is now makes building an online network quite easy, but it can also make it confusing so you should make sure that you are branding yourself consistently across social media sites. Start your own blog, tweet, apply to LinkedIn or be on design-related social networks, every little step will help.

social networks logos

6. Learn to stay disciplined

When freelancing, you will get periods with big pressure, thight deadlines and 15 hours working days. The rest of the time, it will be harder to motivate yourself to work, which is not as easy as it looks. The best way to handle that issue is definitly to stay disciplined, get up on time and start working without playing around. Setting regular working hours will help you to set up such a routine.

alarm clock

Photo by Szift.

7. Get a good insurance

Since this article can be read anywhere, I won’t go into details about insurance plans or companies. However you must know that you will be at risk without insurance. In case of sickness or accident, you still have to pay the bills. Being insured against theft for your working material is also a good idea.

broken computer

Photo by Miss Rogue.

8. Manage your office work on a regular basis

I’ll have to pledge guilty of not following my own advice on this one, I don’t do my accounting regularly enough and waste a lot of time on that when tax time comes around. It would be simpler to just file taxes online, but procrastination is a cruel mistress indeed. With that in mind, get yourself some good accounting software, and a good client-management and invoicing program. Office management can be quite boring and time-wasting, mastering this will hugely help your freelancing career.

freshbooks screenshot

A screenshot of Freshbook’s admin.

9. Try your best to stabilize your income

There is two ways to achieve that: getting loyal customers or building a passive income. No matter what, you should try to make your customers loyal, if you don’t do it you will spend way too much time hunting for new gigs. The simplest way to keep those clients is probably to work well and be trustworthy. On the other hand, building a passive income requires a big initial effort, but it can become very interesting on the long term. FreelanceSwitch has published a sweet little guide to achieve that.

passive income

10. Keep learning

In the early days it is quite easy to keep on learning new skills, you are new in the freelance universe and want to prove that you can innovate. When you’ve been around for a while, it becomes harder, especially if you get less time on your hands. Try to pick up the habit of setting some time aside for your self-education since your early freelancing days, it will make it easy in the future.


Photo by jm3.

About the author: Mirko Humbert is a freelance designer from Switzerland. He shares his thoughts about his passion on his design blog. To connect with Mirko, you can follow him on Twitter. Header picture by Teo.