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The Business of a Freelance Designer

by Andrea Shemeley | A Creative Mind for Hire

It Takes More Than Creativity

Throughout my 15-year career as a graphic designer, I've learned there's much more to this gig than being creative, and well-versed in Adobe's Creative Suite. I hope this blog gives you a few tips on how to enhance your creativity, work smarter and protect yourself in the ever-changing, competitive, exciting world of freelance graphic design.

Designers Are Wearing Many More Hats These Days

The graphic design industry has changed immensely over the course of my career. Upon entering my freshman year of college at Clemson University (Go Tigers!), the first test administered in my Fundamentals of Computer Science class was to successfully send an email to the professor. Needless to say, we've come a long way.

With the emergence of graphic design software aka the Adobe Creative Suite, designers now find themselves accountable for certain responsibilities that were once taken care of by entirely different careers, sometimes entire businesses. At my first job out of college, as a production assistant, my job was to preflight the various projects that came in before handing off to the graphic designers. This is now automated by the click of a button.

Today, freelance designers must maintain a vast portfolio of skills including: illustration, email marketing, website design, project management, video production, video editing, animation, print production, sales, administration, accounting (getting paid), presentation skills, typography, photo editing and retouching, branding (re-branding), digital promotion, social media marketing, and the list goes on and on.

I Thought I Would Be Designing 100% of the Time

Shortly after entering the world of 9-to-5, I saw an invoice attached to one of the project folders that crossed my desk. It was a bill from a freelance designer who had worked up the concept and preliminary designs for the project. That was my dream job, to do the creative part and then hand off all my brilliantly creative concepts to the production team and go on to the next creative challenge. I would be my own boss! No more commuting into the NYC office. I would work from my "home studio" and make my own hours, it all sounded so glamorous.

I thought I would be designing 100% of the time. My days would be filled with brainstorming sessions and concept meetings, creating thought-provoking campaigns and beautiful magazine layouts. When in reality, I was being creative about 50% of the time, while the other 50% was spent on administration, invoicing, budgeting, networking, researching, proposals, webinars, and the dreaded sales. Selling was not something I had originally recognized as part of the freelance design equation... but in many ways, it is one of the most important factors of a successful business. Getting (and keeping) clients.

Things I've Learned Along the Way

In the world of freelance design, we designers often stand alone, working from our home, without any colleagues to bounce ideas off of, or to ask advice from those who have shared similar experiences. I would like to share some lessons I've learned, certain practices that could save you some blood, sweat and tears along the way. I hope it helps make you a stronger designer and a more savvy entrepreneur.

Keep moving forward.

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