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7 Steps to Becoming a Freelance
Graphic Designer in 6 Weeks

By Doug Farrick

With the advent of open source software and low-cost hardware It has never been easier to start and operate your own successful freelance Graphic Design business. Here's what you need to know:

1. You will need the necessary software and a computer - without any computer or graphic software you certainly will not get far :-) that being said, you do not need a brand new Mac Pro or new Dell to get started. Use what is available with an eye toward upgrading when you have the means.

Keep in mind the system your are working on DOES need an adequate amount of RAM (Minimum 1 Gb) in order to work efficiently with your larger memory intensive graphic files..

The other large expense you will run into is software. The standard is the Adobe Creative Suite ( link) but the basic package will cost about $900. The alternative to this is no cost open source software that you can immediately download.

These include the Photoshop equivalent, Gimp (www.gimp.org), the page layout equivalent to InDesign/Quark which is Scribus (www.scribus.net) and the Illustrator (or vector) program Inkscape (www.inkscape.org) Some of the programs do have there own idiosyncrasies but are well worth investigating.

2. You will need a place to work - finding a relatively quiet place to work is important. Some people I know have actually started out doing design in their local libraries. Set up a space that is conducive to your style and way of working.

For example, some designers like complete quiet, others like loud music. Some people like "creative clutter" and others prefer a "zen-like" sparseness. The important thing is make it your own. You will need basic office supplies and a filing and storage cabinet would be best.

3. You will need a way to market your design services - Initially, be certain you have a business card designed and take some with you wherever you go. You never know when you might find a new customer. Make sure your business card has your name, company name, web site address, email address and a brief description of the kinds of products and/or services you offer.

Additionally, join a few networking clubs like: BNI (Business Network International), your local Ad Club, AIGA, Chamber of Commerce or Business Association. This is the place to introduce yourself and hand out your cards. Shoot to attend 2-6 networking meetings per month.

4. You will need to schedule your time - I am beginning to think *most* problems can be solved through proper preparation. This includes creating a schedule for your month/week. When starting you will want to devote at least have of your time to marketing. Schedule these times and be adamant about keeping these appointments with yourself.

Purchase a notebook, a weekly calendar book, an electronic organizer or schedule via a software program. You may need to experiment a bit but find what works for you. And use it. I like to do my weekly planning on Sunday evenings as you can plan in peace and "oversee" the important goals and activities you would like to accomplish.

5. You will need a to show previous work/experience or an online portfolio - Even if most of your work is local and you can bring your design samples with you, it is in your best interest to have a website where potential clients can see your work.

To start, it can be nothing more than a single nicely designed web page with some basic intro text, contact info and a link to a PDF file where people can see your samples.

6. You will need some basic forms - these include forms like a creative brief, invoice, proposal/contract, terms and conditions. A signed contract is a necessity and will protect both you and the client. Of course, you can enter into a verbal agreement but you look that much more professional by outlining the project responsibilities so both parties are clear on expectations.

7. You will need a basic idea of how to price your work - so what should I charge for my work? Ah, the question everyone wants to know. Hmmmm, wish I could tell you *exactly* what to charge (and pricing strategies and models would take a month of seminars to explore fully), but . . .

Typically you can price per project or by the hour. I have found most clients like a per project fee as it is easier psychologically to handle than per hour. But to give at least a guideline for getting started I would charge somewhere in the range of $20-50 for production work and $50-125 for design/creative. This varies based on your geographic location.

Bonus - pick a memorable name - you have a few options here. You can go the standard route and use your name (or a variation of it) ie; Fred Jones Design, Jones Design, Jones Design Associates, etc. Or you can hint at what you do, ie; Jones 3D Design, Jones Light and Animation, Jones Direct Mail Design or a "non sequitor" type of name like: Tizzy, Razor Fish, Modern Dog, Sapient.

Ultimately it is a personal decision and the name needs to "fit" with your market and must (to a degree) fit your personal style. Keep in mind you ideally want the same company name as you web site (address) name - so you will need to do some research. Take your time and have fun with the process.

Bonus #2 - you will need to set up a type of entity - at some point you will need to set up a business entity so as to keep your business and personal accounts separate. You will also need to do this so potential clients can write out checks to your business name.

Entities include an LLC, corporation, DBA (doing business as) . A DBA is probably the easiest to begin (and least expensive), just inquire at your local county clerk's office for information. All states can be different so do your research and consult with an attorney if needed.

Final thoughts: you can use almost any excuse not to get started on any project but just begin, moving and doing despite contrary thoughts goes a long way toward getting things done.

Bit of wisdom: really, just begin. Buy a pad of paper, then jot down a few notes. You will be on your way to becoming a graphic designer in just a few short weeks!