The 5 Struggles I Faced When I Became a Freelance Designer

Now is a great time to get into freelance work. In a report on freelancers, it was discovered that about 32 percent of U.S. freelancers have had an increase in revenue in the past year. More and more businesses are taking on freelancers as a supplement to their full-time staff. Freelancers can bring unique skills to the table and create one-off products that full-time staff simply doesn’t have time to focus on.

Starting out in freelance design work is far from easy, but is well worth the effort involved. However, there are a lot of pitfalls new freelancers can experience if they aren’t prepared. Fortunately, I’ve been where you are, so I can help. Here are the five struggles I faced in going from ground zero to a thriving freelance business in less than two years. Hopefully, you can avoid some of these pitfalls and find success even sooner.

1. Choose a Niche

One of the best ways to become highly competitive in your field is to figure out what you like to do, what people will pay you for and what you uniquely bring to the table. Then, you need to mesh these together into a specified niche you can offer to your clients.

Perhaps you come from a background where you know a lot about small businesses and how they need to operate to reach the most consumers and convert them into buying customers. You can apply this knowledge and offer websites and print ads for small businesses, thus creating a niche for yourself. Other freelancers create a niche in the type of work they do. Consider creating beautiful standing ads for trade shows or window decals for brick-and-mortar businesses.

Don’t worry, you can expand to other areas later. The key is to start with a narrow niche, develop a great reputation and start building a very specific client base.

2. Create a Plan

If you start freelancing without a plan, the business will take off down rabbit trails. One way to create a plan is to sit down and figure out how much money you need per year to get by, how many clients you need to reach that goal and how you will get there.

One thing I do is to create a virtual shopping mall on paper. I write out what my anchor stores are — my big clients I can count on month after month to send me a check — and which clients are the regular stores. I then figure out my kiosks — one-time clients who hire me for a single job, but might one day become a regular store.

Once you’ve figured out how many of each of these you need to survive, you then need to figure out how you’re going to get there. Set some firm goals for how many clients you’ll have and specific dates to reach those goals.

3. Find a Printing Company

Whether you need to print a few mockups for your clients to go over, create a proof of an ad or actually print out postcards to mail out for a client, having a printing company you can trust and that is affordable is a must. It’s a good idea to line up your printing company and your relationship with them as early in your freelance design career as possible.

You’ll want to test this company to be sure they send your prints in a timely manner and that there aren’t any hidden costs you aren’t expecting. Some of the things you should look for when choosing this printing company include the quality of the finished product, a company that is experienced and established, and if it uses updated technology and printing devices.

4. Learn to Network Effectively

Once you have your first few clients and you are doing excellent work for them, you should mention you are seeking additional clients. Ask them to refer you to other business owners they know. I have often gained new clients by reaching out to clients I already have. Most are more than willing to help you by referring you or throwing more of their work your way.

You should also join networking groups in your local community. Join the local chamber of commerce. Connect with local business owners and see if they are in need of your services. Essentially, any edge you can get will give you an advantage over your competition. Personal referrals are an age-old way to seek out new business.

5. Learn to Weed Out Difficult Clients

One of the biggest struggles I faced when I first started freelancing was juggling difficult clients. Difficult can cover many different definitions. It can be the level of work, the number of required edits, a client who doesn’t pay on time or a client who speaks to you in a nasty and unprofessional way.

When you get a client that is particularly difficult, plan an exit strategy. The minute you have another client to fill the slot, let the difficult client know you no longer have time to work on their projects. This will free you up to work with clients who are not difficult, who don’t eat up all your time, appreciate your work and will pay you in a timely manner.


Avoiding the basic pitfalls of starting a freelance business can help springboard you into success sooner than if you don’t know what to avoid. Learn from the struggles I faced when I first started freelancing. Now you know what to avoid in your own freelance career.

Written by lexie

Lexie is a designer, writer, and coffee lover. She writes about trends in the web and graphic design industry. She writes weekly on Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.

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