How to Survive Your First 12 Months as a  Freelance Graphic Designer

2013.08.18 - medic

I started Problem Solved in September 2012, so it seems that I have survived my first twelve months, and certainly at times it felt like more luck than judgement. However, a quick retrospective shows me that I have actually come quite far. So what got me through it?

Make-do and Mend

My studio space is somewhat haphazard. I would love to make one of those inspirational workspace posts that make us all envious, but the fact is that my ramshackle collection of mis-matched furniture and equiptment doesn't quite cut it. However, most of it was acquired for next to nothing. Online sources such as Gumtree, Freecycle, or even eBay (as a last resort), can have some great finds to help you organise your workspace. The extra pennies saved here allow you to allocate them to more important things.

Charge More

For the first few months my rates were dirt cheap, and I was lowering prices and offering discounts all over the place. Why? Primarily because I wasn't confident enough to charge for more. This resulted in some poor client relationships, and spending too much time doing work that just wasn't paying well enough to be sustainable. Now do bear in mind that there is a difference between charging more and having ridiculously high rates. 

  1. Work out how much you expect to spend in a year, both on business expenses, and your personal salary (remember to include tax and National Insurance!)
  2. Count the number of working hours in the year. Remember to include time for both holidays and illness. You will also need to spend time on admin and internal house-keeping.
  3. Divide your total expenditure, by the number of working hours, and you will have your hourly rate.

Whilst solid facts are scarce, this Creative Review article has some great number break-downs for you stat-lovers out there looking for more information on Design and earnings.

Take Risks

It is far too easy for us to fall into a never ending cycle of research and risk-assessment, and the worst thing about this is that it feels productive. It became apparent to me that sometimes you've just got to stop thinking about it and just do it. Calculate your risks, and then if it feels right - go for it.

Learn from your Mistakes

Taking risks is great! Except for when they fail. And some risks, by definition, will undoubtedly leave you feeling a little worse for wear. However, this does not mean that you leave with nothing. Ask yourself, why did I fail? Using this information you can usually avoid similar mistakes in the future, and make better decisions on what risks to take.

Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

Don't Take ALL Advice

The first year has had it's up's and down's. However there is one thing that has always been in abundace: people offering their words of wisdom about how you should run your business. Too often in the early months was I hearing advice and immediately think Oh no! My business doesn't have that! and immediately start worrying about how I could implement the latest plan or process that someone insisted was vital to my survival.

But now I've learned that there is no set of vital business tips & tricks, you need to trust your intuition and be more confident in your own abilities. So my somewhat ironic advice here is to listen to all free advice, but only use what fits with how you want to work. And I suppose that you've learned not to listen to advice, that I can end this article!


How did you survive your first twelve months? Or are you thinking about freelancing, but have yet to take the plunge? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Designed by Jason Phillips. Based on Hydrogen by Behind the Rabbit for Sandvox.