Graphic Design
September 23, 2008 7:30 AM   Subscribe

How do you freelance graphic designers find work?

I'm starting out as a freelance graphic designer.
How do you guys find projects?

Any tips?
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
You will find more work by gaining a reputation among a small group of people who will then mention your name anytime one of their colleagues needs work done. Start by going around to business and letting them know you're available, what you do, what you charge, leave a packet (create some sort of small portfolio packet with examples of your work). If you know some non-profits that could use a facelift offer to do it extremely cheap/free to build portfolio work and start building that reputation. The more work you perform (and perform well) the more people who will become advocates for what you do and be willing to recommend you to others as well as call on you for future services.
posted by genial at 7:40 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also when you're creating those example materials to hand to the owner of the stores, use their logo, talk about their business, give them example business cards with their name on it. That kind of personal touch will blow them away and be harder to ignore then just sending an email or handing them a pre-generated packet of stuff. Even better, take small things like their logo and tweak it to look a little better and use that in the brochures and business cards you hand them. Give them every reason to call you back and make it look like you actually care about how they look.
posted by genial at 7:47 AM on September 23, 2008

As alluded to above: specialize in one industry. Your reputation will spread faster, and the focus will make you the "expert" in that field. You should promote yourself as "I do graphic design for [non-profits / home-based businesses / small retailers]" or whatever.

The beautiful part of this is that it doesn't mean you refuse other work. In fact, you may find that your image as an expert in one area spills over into other areas.

"I do graphic design for real estate agents"
"Can you do a poster for my day-care center?"

Other random marketing tips:
Make calls.
Leave samples at the targeted businesses.
Ask your friends and family for leads.
Ask clients for leads.
Ask, ask, ask. The vast majority of work does not just show up at yout door. You have to ask for it.
If you LOOK for opportunites, they will jump out at you. If you don't, you'll never see them.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:12 AM on September 23, 2008

This may be not answering the question but I do need a graphic designer...If i end up working with you is because you've posted on Metafilter....since you cannot advertise here you can try advertising on social networking sites, facebook, craigslist, myspace....

and ummm send me a message with your portfolio!
posted by The1andonly at 8:44 AM on September 23, 2008

Word of mouth has been my main tool. I have a website, but it hasn't been responsible for much in the way of paying work.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:11 AM on September 23, 2008

100% word of mouth in my case (designer/web developer). I never advertise, cold call, go through job boards; in all cases the jobs come to me. (I constantly expect the stream to dry up at any time, but it's been enough years now that it seems to be self-sustaining...)

I would never have succeeded as a freelancer if I hadn't spent a few years working for other people first; I'd guess about two thirds of my business comes either directly or indirectly from people I met while doing corporate work. Part of this has to do with meeting people (I wasn't consciously "networking," in fact I'm terrible at that sort of thing -- the networkers kept track of me, not the other way around) but that's only part of it. More importantly, working the other side for a while is how I learned what the client needs, how to talk to them, how to set my prices, etc. If I'd started freelancing straight off the bat, I'd have been totally lost at all of that, even if I'd been able to find the jobs.

My best advice, honestly, if you're just starting out as a freelancer, is to start out as something else for a couple years. Think of it as research time.
posted by ook at 10:21 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Word of mouth has been my main tool. I have a website, but it hasn't been responsible for much in the way of paying work.

Exactly the same here. It's good to have a website, though. You can send potential clients to it to view your portfolio. But as far as actually getting work because someone found the site... very rare in my case.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 10:49 AM on September 23, 2008

Word of mouth and family and friends are what have helped me. Also check out the Creative Gigs on, not necessarily high paying or steady jobs but they get our name out there. I also found that once I moved away from the city to a small town there was more work because people didn't know any graphic designers, so when I introduce myself and tell them what I do they say "Oh I know that company is looking for a new brochure ect." and that has helped me out a lot.
posted by lilkeith07 at 11:08 AM on September 23, 2008

I've found that most of my work has come from other designer friends that have more established reputations but are too busy to take on everything--they pass extra work on to me.
posted by timoni at 12:34 PM on September 23, 2008

Yup, word of mouth has it. Network. Keep in contact with the people you used to work / go to school with. Update your facebook page daily with design-related messages. Get your name and face out there. If you have a knack at teaching, start a how to web blog. (Or maybe not, maintaining a regular blog of quality takes a lot of work, but it gets you exposure and will show people you really know your shit.)

I can trace 90% of my clients back to the last 2 jobs I had. And I had those jobs in the 90's.

Starting out is hard, but if you have a passable portfolio (it doesn't need to knock socks off, just show competence.) hit the streets and talk to everyone you know, even slightly. Once you get a network of people who know you and have worked with you, you may not have to look for work ever again.

Once a long time ago during a dry spell I did get some work off Craigslist of all places, but it was the complete definition of Bad Client. I've found a couple people from that I've worked with again later and referred to others. You won't make a lot of money (hardly any at all) though a service like that since you're bidding against an international labor pool, but you might find some contact you can exploit.

Cold calls are mostly useless, but you might try the design agencies in your area and get your name on thier list for overflow work.

Try your design schools job placement department, they might be able to give you some leads.

And as everyone else said a web site is for a portfolio and having a professional (non-google) email address. It is not going to generate any leads.
posted by Ookseer at 12:44 PM on September 23, 2008

As an alternative to "word of mouth" you might want to stop by a few printers in your area. Some of them offer graphic design services and there may be periods when they have overflow work that they could send your way. They ones that don't offer graphics may give you good lip service for print clients looking for this type of work. I don't do graphics work myself but I do employ a few graphic designers, own an ad agency and a print shop.

In my opinion, you are going to need a website no matter how you decide to do this- it is a good point of reference after you leave the door.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:57 PM on September 23, 2008

When I started consulting, I did it the new-fashioned way: trolling the internet for jobs. Try the 37signals gig board or authentic jobs. Honestly, it was a lot easier than I expected. I sat down one day, went through every job listing I could find, ordered them by how good they sounded to me, and applied like crazy. Within a week, I had more work than I could handle and I have ever since.

Also, though The1andonly's comment leads me to believe this possibly isn't kosher, I do have need of a graphic artist from time to time (I only do application development). If you dig web graphics, send me your stuff and I'll keep you in mind.
posted by systematic at 10:10 PM on September 23, 2008

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