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5 things I wish I knew when I started freelance designing

New to freelancing? In this guest post by freelance designer Emily Melling, get tips and advice to guide you along your new freelancing journey.

Taking the jump into freelance is a big deal! When I first started my freelance journey, I found loads of blog posts from really successful artists and designers that were useful (to some extent). However, it would have been even more helpful to hear from someone who was just a few steps ahead of me in their journey, rather than leaps and bounds in front. For example, advice on approaching clients, honing a freelance workflow, developing as a designer would have been great resources to have.

That’s why I want to share this post. It’s an honest exploration of things I would have liked to know in my early days as a freelance designer. I hope you can find it useful!

1. Getting clients is a numbers game

When I first started out, I was most concerned about getting clients. Who isn’t when you work for yourself? Messaging people who you want to work with on Instagram, LinkedIn, or email is a great technique to open up conversations—but you can’t always expect to yield results super quickly.

I’ve found that for every 20 or 30 people I got in touch with, many didn’t respond, declined, and the projects I did get rarely started immediately. There was a lot to be done—emailing, discovering what they need from a designer, providing a proposal, and finally getting the YES!

Keep opening up conversations. Down the line, those chats might organically evolve into client work.

That one “yes” makes it all worth it. And cold emailing is most definitely a numbers game. Don’t get discouraged when you only get a few replies from potential clients. Dig your heels in and keep firing them off, you will get the work!

I’ve started looking at getting in touch with people to build community, relationships, and get to know other brands. I try to keep opening up conversations even when I have project work going on because a few months down the line, those chats might organically evolve into client work which is a lush way to work!


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2. Communication over beauty

If you look at the work of successful designers you admire, it’s almost a guarantee that they prioritize visual communication over aesthetics. They find the best way to explain an idea, create a connection between the brand and the customer, and distill values into visual work for a business. They don’t set out purely to design something that looks trendy. Their awesome style is almost a by-product of wanting to communicate a message successfully.

In my opinion, this makes for incredible design work whether that’s a brand identity, piece of packaging, website design, or poster. Taking the time to talk to other designers, learn about how they work, and how they have grown has helped me develop my process and my work tremendously. I wish I had started doing this before I went freelance!

3. Actively invest in your skills & creativity

One thing I wish I’d done straight out the gate is put aside time to develop and learn. I started listening to Andy J Pizza’s Podcast Creative Pep Talk and realized he was always reading, trying out new techniques, and pushing himself to try new things. Then I looked at a whole bunch of creatives I admire and realized they were all doing the same thing.

I signed up for Skillshare, found some books from designers I love on Counter Print, started reading more design blogs, and set out to look outside the field of graphic design at areas like fine art, illustration, etc. This helped me in a few different ways:

Developed practical software skills to speed up my workflow and allow more freedom to realize creative ideas Motivated me to push myself further as a creative person Gained a better understanding of the work that makes me happy and my direction as a designer All of the above are helping to carve out a style and way of working that I can call my own Boosted my confidence in approaching clients about new projects

  • Practical software skills help speed up my workflow and give me more freedom to realize creative ideas
  • Motivates me to push myself further as a creative person
  • A better understanding of the work that makes me happy and my direction as a designer
  • All of the above are helping to carve out a style and way of working that I can call my own
  • More confidence in approaching clients about new projects

✏️ Course Recommendations

Here’s a list of online classes and courses that helped me out:

📚 Books Recommendations

Here’s a list of some of my favorite books that helped me grow as a designer:


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4. Know the value of your creative work

It’s so important to be aware of the value of creative work. Understanding the value of your skills will hopefully give you the confidence to start charging based on how your work will benefit a brand or business.

Creative work that follows a brief and successfully communicates with a client’s target audience is incredibly valuable.

Creative work that thoughtfully follows a brief and successfully communicates with a client’s target audience is incredibly valuable. It grabs the attention of the right people, helps strengthen customers’ personal connection to a brand, communicates essential information (i.e price, quality, benefits) and all of this helps a business to grow—either directly through an increase in sales or a boost to people discovering and talking about the brand on and offline.

This is hard to put into words, especially in an email. It’s also something I think most freelancers are constantly working on, including me! I’m learning that being aware of how valuable your work is can be the first step to going after those bigger budgets and clients.


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5. Lean on your creative community

Freelance design is a big job and knowing someone who has your back is a godsend! (Shout out to Fried Cactus Studio who has had mine from day one!).

If you don’t know anyone in the freelance design industry, reach out to people who you admire on Dribbble or social media. Chances are they’ll be up for a chat and sharing advice. Perhaps even message a few people who are local to you and suggest a coffee? A little advice goes a long way!

Getting in touch with people helps create a community around you. Taking advice, giving it back where you can, and helping people out is a great way to build yourself up. If you do great work, with a clear process, and are nice to work with, chances are people will share that forward and you should look to do the same for others.

“Work Hard and Be Nice To People.” I love this quote by Anthony Burrill because I think it perfectly applies to freelance work.


Emily Melling Emily is a freelance graphic designer based on the Coast in the UK who works on branding through to layout work. She enjoys focusing on the process of a project and getting to know clients, their brand story, and what they would like to communicate through creative work. Find her on Instagram and florencestudios.net.


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