Guide to Become a Freelance Graphic Designer in 2024

Written by Xolo
on March 13, 2024 12 minute read

The idea of going freelance always sounds like a dream to graphic designers. Being a freelancer can give you the freedom to set your own hours and work from anywhere in the world. You'll be your own boss and have the potential to grow your business until you reach your desired income. With all these advantages, starting as a freelancer also poses lots of challenges and struggles to deal with.


TL;DR: Starting Your Freelance Graphic Design Business

Diving into freelance graphic design is a rewarding journey, blending creativity with entrepreneurship. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Getting started: Equip yourself with solid design fundamentals, understand your niche, and decide on the services you'll offer.
  2. Branding and portfolio: Create a strong personal brand and a compelling portfolio to showcase your work effectively.
  3. Skill enhancement: Stay updated with the latest design software and continually refine your skills.
  4. Specializing: Whether it's general graphic design, illustration, or web design, find your specialty.
    1. How to Become a Freelance Graphic Designer
    2. How to Become a Freelance Illustrator
    3. How to Become a Freelance Web Designer
  5. Finding clients: Leverage job platforms, social media, and networking to secure your first clients.
  6. Pricing your work: Understand how to set rates that reflect your skill level and market demand.
  7. Financial management: Use tools like Xolo Go for hassle-free invoicing, expense tracking, and getting paid on time.

In summary, becoming a freelance graphic designer means embracing both the creative and business sides of the craft. With dedication, continuous learning, and the right tools, you can turn your passion into a thriving freelance career.

This guide will teach you everything you need to know to start a freelance graphic design business. You already know how to be a fantastic graphic designer, but with the right knowledge, you can turn your talent into a profitable business.


How to Become a Freelance Graphic Designer

In 2021, the graphic design industry was worth $45.8 billion. What’s more, 90% of the industry is made up of freelancers. This means that clients are used to working with freelance designers. However, you’ll need to dedicate yourself to these steps to become a graphic designer to be competitive.

1. Learn Fundamentals of Graphic Design

Learning basic principles of graphic design like contrast, proportion, pattern, white space, etc. and how to use color or visuals in a masterful way will help you save a lot of time in the long run and apply theories into graphic design more effectively. Many people start by learning how to use tools but the underlying principles in design are the most crucial things for any beginner. Build a solid understanding in those basics first before moving onto other practical steps of working as a freelance graphic designer.

2. Decide on the Services That You’ll Offer

Your clients will want to know what you can do for them. Identify the services that you will provide so that you can list them on your resume, website and marketing materials.

Some of the most popular types of graphic design services include:

  • Advertising design
  • Branding and visual identity
  • Product design and packaging
  • Digital design
  • Typography and fonts

3. Create a Brand as a Freelance Graphic Designer

Branding is especially important in graphic design. If you want to become a brand design freelancer or other designer that generates company images, you’ll need top-notch branding materials. Fortunately, you likely have the tools to create a logo and marketing materials.

Your business name should reflect what you do by incorporating terms such as:

  • Creative
  • Designs
  • Graphics
  • Color
  • Branding

4. Put Together a Graphic Design Portfolio

If you have never worked with clients, create a spec portfolio. This is an excellent way to explore your ideal niche and craft the message that you’ll use to secure clients when the time comes.

If you want to know how to create a killer portfolio as a freelance designer without experience, try the following options:

  • Identify your ideal client.
  • Give existing companies in your niche a mock rebrand.
  • Volunteer to perform graphic design services for non-profit organizations or local groups.
  • Offer discounted or free services to friends and family members.
  • Create an imaginary profile for your dream client, and build their brand from the ground up.
  • Participate in a graphic design contest.
  • Collaborate with other freelance graphic designers.
  • Offer your services to influencers, and showcase your work on social media.
  • Offer services in exchange for feedback.

You can use a free website builder to publish your portfolio. However, you may benefit from paying for premium accounts with websites such as Wix and Squarespace. Monthly plans include extra storage, ad removal and dedicated URLs. These make your portfolio look more professional.

5. Solidify Your Graphic Design Skills

Depending on your specialty, you’ll need experience with software, art tools, and techniques to enhance your process and results. Learning how to use the tools shouldn't be the last step but more of ongoing practice to advance and sharpen your skills.

Some of the most popular software for graphic designers includes:

The best practice to get yourself acquainted with the tools is to get your hands dirty and work directly with the tools, ideally work on your personal projects with each of them and demonstrate your experience and learnings by visual works.

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How to Become a Freelance Illustrator

Freelance illustrators create images for books, magazines, advertisements, packaging and products. The art is the main focus, although it often has to pull together graphic design elements, marketing and branding messages. Freelance illustrators might collaborate with other types of designers or work alone. Learn what to do to become a freelance illustrator.

1. Consider the Type of Work that You’ll Be Doing

Freelance illustrators have a great deal of flexibility in their jobs. Because each client may not provide steady work, freelance illustrators often have multiple income streams. Identifying possible income streams and offerings will help you refine your strategy for launching your business and getting clients.

Some of the most common freelance illustration projects include:

  • Book and editorial projects
  • Private commissions
  • Entertainment art
  • Animation
  • Concept art
  • Character art
  • Textile design


Popular side hustles for freelance illustrators are:

  • Selling prints on Etsy and similar sites
  • Patreon and fan site subscriptions
  • Local vendor shows
  • Event decoration
  • Technical illustrations
  • Stationery design
  • PowerPoint creator

2. Build a Portfolio as a Freelance Illustrator

A portfolio for freelance illustration will focus on single pieces of art while showing congruence and consistency. Be selective when choosing the best work for your portfolio. You don’t have to share every piece that you have created. Reserve those for your social media content.

The examples in your portfolio should be compelling to your ideal clients. If you’re looking to illustrate children’s books, include plenty of youthful drawings that bring stories to life. If you create artwork for packaging, include samples that demonstrate your versatility.

Illustrators that work with 3D products should include images of the item from different angles. Two-dimensional art can be represented with a single image in the portfolio.

3. Show Your Work as a Freelance Illustrator

Most illustrators have several ways for audiences to view their art. Showcasing your work in the following places increase your exposure and helps you stay competitive:

How to Become a Freelance Web Designer

Web designers need enough creative dexterity to build visually appealing layouts. However, they also need enough technical knowledge to understand what a website needs to be as functional as it is attractive. These steps to become a freelance web designer will help you succeed in this career.

1. Brush Up on Graphic Software

Although a freelance web designer may outsource tasks to a graphic designer, they need an understanding of what’s possible in the aesthetic space. Understanding graphic design software as well as popular website builders and platforms will give you a well-rounded basis for offering your expertise.

Most graphic designers are proficient in the following software and platforms:

2. Keep Your Technical Skills Up to Date

The web design industry evolves quickly with advances in technology. It’s important to maintain and grow your technical skills throughout your freelance career. Being one of the first to learn a new technology sets you apart from the competition.

Continue to expand your knowledge of the following elements of web design:

  • Programming languages like HTML/CSS, Javascript, PHP
  • Search engine optimization
  • Web design theory
  • Historical and current trends
  • Web hosting platforms
  • Analytics and reporting skills

3. Get Appropriate Certifications and Ongoing Training

Earning a web design certification and taking classes help you stay competitive in the ever-changing tech world and increase your earning potential.The following programs expand your knowledge and improve your efficiency. They help you stay competitive and give you the opportunity to earn a higher salary.

4. Decide your Web Design Specialties 

It’s tough to pinpoint how many web designers there are globally. In 2020, there were almost 180,000 web designers and developers in the U.S. Focusing on a niche will help you stand out, demonstrate your in-depth knowledge and encourage clients to use your services.

Some of the most popular niches for web designers are:

  • E-commerce sites
  • Mobile apps
  • Landing pages
  • Online courses

5. Create a Website Portfolio as a Freelance Web Designer

Seventy-five percent of a website’s credibility is influenced by its design. When you’re a freelance web designer, your website is your portfolio. It should offer a stellar experience, reflecting your knowledge and skills.

Here are some tips for creating a killer web design portfolio:

  • Focus on the type of work that you want to do.
  • Add case studies to each project.
  • Ensure that it’s pristine across all browsers.
  • Update it regularly to reflect your current body of services.


How to Get Your First Clients as a Freelance Designer

Narrowing your niche and identifying your target client helps you take appropriate action to secure your first jobs. The following steps are specific to each type of freelance design career.

Find Clients as a Freelance Graphic Designer

Use Freelance Job Sites

Looking for work on freelance job sites gives you some flexibility and versatility when you’re starting out. You can search for low-commitment projects or long-term contracts and explore the types of work that suit you.

Submit Work to Crowdsourcing Platforms

Graphic design crowdsourcing platforms allow multiple artists to submit proposals to meet client requests. The client chooses their favorite from the submissions. You can use this method to get your first clients as a freelance graphic designer and build your early portfolio.

Alternative Portfolio Sites

Depending on your industry, you might want to publish your designs on an alternative portfolio. like Dribble, Behance, Crevado, etc. These function as communities for artists and often provide opportunities for networking and securing your first client as a freelance graphic designer.

Find Clients as a Freelance Illustrator

Use Freelance Work Platforms for Illustrators

Most of the popular freelance work platforms, such as Xolo, Upwork and Fiverr, include categories for illustrators. However, the following work platforms are specific to freelance illustrators who want to work remotely:

Sell Your Work on Print-on-Demand Sites

As a freelance illustrator, you don’t have to work with contracted clients or work on commissions. You can build up an inventory of work and sell it in a variety of places, including print-on-demand websites. These let you upload illustrations and add them to a broad range of products, such as T-shirts, mugs and framed canvases. When visitors purchase products with your designs, you get a percentage of the sale.

The benefit of using sites like this is that you don’t have to deal with web hosting, inventory or payment processing. You can focus on being creative and getting your work out there. The main downside is that the profit margins are low.

First Clients as a Freelance Web Designer

Expand Your Professional Network

Professional networking is especially important for freelance web designers because it opens opportunities for referrals and collaborations. It also allows you to access resources to grow your business, such as marketing specialists and small business mentors.

The following organizations and platforms are popular for web designers:

Use Social Media to Reach Potential Clients

About 70% of consumers use social media to research purchasing decisions. Find new web design clients by:

  • Sharing valuable information for your target audience on social media
  • Showcasing your best work
  • Sharing progress and behind-the-scenes posts
  • Explaining how you transform websites and see results

How to Set the Right Rates as a Freelance Designer

Graphic design salaries can vary widely based on skill level and talent. However, a few averages from different countries in the EU can give you an idea of how much you can expect to make.

In Germany, the average salary for a freelance graphic designer is €35 per hour. Freelance graphic designers in the Netherlands make an average of €78 hourly. The average freelance graphic designer in Italy makes €19 per hour.

The outlook for freelance graphic designers is good. In the past few years, there's been more demand for digital design and skilled designers can charge higher prices. While a degree is helpful, it's not as necessary as it was in the past.

Although it helps to understand what other freelance designers in your industry charge, your fees need to make sense for your lifestyle. Set the right rates by evaluating your long-term and regular expenses and monetizing your time appropriately.

First, itemize the expenses for your business, which typically include:

  • Business start-up fees
  • Continuing education and training costs
  • Space rental, including the portion of your home that you use for an office
  • Equipment and tools, such as software, computers, cameras, lighting, office supplies and video recorders
  • Travel costs
  • Personal living expenses
  • Taxes
  • Retirement

Let’s say that you add up these costs, which come to $2,500 per month. Your fees will need to cover your expenses and include a buffer for peace of mind.

Assuming there are four weeks in each month, divide your monthly expenses by 4 to determine your necessary weekly base pay. In this case, $2,500/4=$625.

Next, decide how many hours you’re available to work. Divide the weekly base pay by that number. If you want to work 30 hours per week, $625/30=$20.83. You’d need to earn this much per hour just to get by. Perhaps you would be more comfortable extending that to $25 or $30 per hour.

Packages or Individual Services? Which one should you provide as a freelance designer?

When you price your work using an hourly rate, your clients can nickel and dime you. Instead, determine how long it takes you to complete a group of services, and package them accordingly.

For example, if it takes you two hours to compile existing footage into a one-minute video, you can price that package at $60. A longer project that requires you to record clips as well as compile them with music and text overlays might take 15 hours. In that case, you’d want to set the package price at $450.

Negotiate your Rates With Clients as a Freelance Designer

Offer a higher opening bid than you’re willing to accept. This gives your clients a chance to negotiate down and feel as though they received a deal.

You can also create packages at different price points to appease different clients. Don’t shortchange yourself, though. Discounted or lower-priced packages should require less hourly work than premium options.

If you’re a brand design freelancer or graphic designer, you can offer a complete branding package that includes color palettes, fonts, logos, style guide, business cards and web design. If your client can’t afford the price, break down the services into individual options at lower price points. Your client will feel like they’re getting a deal, and you’ll be paid what you’re worth.

As you gain experience, raise your rates. If you do this consistently and gradually, you can increase your income over time without losing clients.

Related: Tips to negotiate freelance rates with a new client.

Getting Paid as a Freelance Designer

Freelance designers often prefer to work on the creative side of things rather than on administrative tasks. You can streamline your accounting and admin duties in the following ways.

Establish a Legal Company as a Freelance Designer

If you’re a freelancer, you can work remotely from any location. However, you still need to follow business regulations in the country in which you reside. E-residency programs allow you to establish service-based businesses that you can operate from virtually anywhere. Xolo Leap sets you up within minutes and help you manage boring tasks so that you can focus on your creative work.

Create Proposal Templates for Each Design Service

This puts the initial negotiations at your fingertips and streamlines your workload. You can personalize the templates for each potential client and project, but you won’t have to calculate pricing and details every time.

Establish a Hub for Administrative Tasks

Managing your clients and finances in one place simplifies your organizational duties. Xolo Go provides a user-friendly platform for tracking income, expenses and invoices. It allows you to invoice clients in any currency and from any location. You can receive payments on the platform so that you can quickly transfer them to your personal or business bank account. Your invoices will be stored as templates so that you don’t have to calculate pricing on the fly.

Kick-start Your Brilliant Freelance Graphic Design Career with Xolo

There's no time like now to get started on your freelance graphic design business. The sooner you start, the sooner you can start earning and growing your business. Xolo Go can help you manage your finances and help you send professional, VAT-compliant invoices without having a company. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do I determine my niche within the graphic design industry, and why is it important to specialize?

To determine your niche, reflect on your passions, strengths, and the market demand. Specializing allows you to focus your learning and marketing efforts, making it easier to become an expert in a specific area of graphic design. This expertise not only makes your services more valuable but also attracts clients looking for specialists, leading to higher job satisfaction and potentially better rates. Start by identifying what you enjoy designing the most, research the market to see where there's a need, and consider how you can blend your interests with market opportunities.

What are the essential tools and software I need to start my freelance graphic design business?

Essential tools for a freelance graphic designer include a reliable computer, graphic design software (Adobe Creative Cloud—Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign are staples), and a graphics tablet for digital drawing. Additionally, project management tools like Trello or Asana can help keep track of projects, and accounting software like Xolo Go can streamline invoicing and financial management. As you grow, investing in specialized software that caters to your niche can further enhance your efficiency and service quality.

How can I create a graphic design portfolio if I don’t have any client work yet?

You can build a portfolio by working on personal projects that showcase your style and skills, redesigning existing brands as a creative exercise, or volunteering your design services to non-profits or small businesses. These projects provide tangible examples of your work and demonstrate your initiative and passion for design. Additionally, participating in design challenges or competitions can offer briefs to work from and add reputable work to your portfolio.

What strategies can I use to find my first clients and build a steady client base?

Networking, both online and offline, is crucial. Join design communities on social media, attend industry meetups, and connect with other freelancers who might share leads. Creating content on platforms like LinkedIn or Instagram can also attract potential clients by showcasing your expertise and style. Additionally, freelancing platforms like Upwork or Fiverr can be good starting points, though building a personal brand and direct client relationships often leads to more sustainable business growth.

How do I set my rates as a freelance graphic designer, and when should I consider raising them?

Research what other freelancers in your niche and region are charging to get a sense of market rates. Consider your costs, the value you provide, and your experience level to set competitive yet fair rates. Be transparent with clients about what your rates include and be prepared to negotiate. As for raising your rates, consider doing so annually or as you gain significant experience, improve your portfolio, or expand your service offerings. Inform existing clients of rate increases with advance notice, highlighting the continued value and quality you bring to their projects.