The Digital Lizard Blog

How to Start a Great Freelance Graphic Design Business

Posted by Janice O'Driscoll on July 26, 2017 at 12:22 PM

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Let’s face it. Working for “the man” can get tiresome. But going full-time freelance can be tough too. While sites like elance, freelancer, craigslist, and fiverr offer opportunity, they’re too saturated to make any real money. How long can you live on ramen, really?

If you’re looking to start a great graphic design business, you need a great plan. Here are 5 tips from successful freelancers.

1. Have (or Find) a Niche — Think of any great company in any industry, and consider what makes them so popular. It could be a style, an attitude, a product, or an approach. For graphic designers, too, it’s important to stand out. Offer something amazing — or simply different — and carve out your competitive edge. Find a specialization in software, a combination of print and web skills, aptitude in both design and copy, or something else. And don’t forget to use any vertical market expertise. Industry-specific insights or know-how can be incredibly advantageous. Promotions for healthcare, insurance, financial services, and non-profit marketing for example, must comply with various (and changing) regulations. Knowing these ahead of time can be a foot in the door, and a key to higher rates. 

2. Be Flexible — As you build your clientele, flexibility is key. People often win work because they are available after-hours, willing to learn a new skill, or adaptable to new circumstances. Trying to keep a 9-5 schedule as a new freelancer is noble, but it can dismiss a lot of work. Individuals by nature have more flexibility than groups, so companies often expect it. This is not to say that you should take on every last-minute project or commit to 80-hour weeks, but try to be accommodating. You’ll land more work — and more referrals.

3. Leverage Your Network — A great network is critical to your success. First, you’ll want to build connections with former bosses, colleagues, teachers, and family who can be lead-ins to new clients. Let everyone know what you do and why they should hire you, and keep them updated as things change. Second, think through people/resources who might help you get work done. Forge inroads with great writers, proofreaders, web programmers, and other creatives who can fill any gaps you don’t offer. Connect with great print companies like Creel that can support you with marketing, digital and offset printing, mobile and web tools, and mailing expertise. The more skilled your resource network, the better prepared you’ll be when that big project hits.

4. Utilize Small Business Resources — There are tons of entities dedicated to supporting the entrepreneur. It may be good to check these out in advance. Start with the Small Business Administration (, National Federation of Independent Business, and your local chamber of commerce. Next, look at the American Institute of Graphic Arts (, regional design clubs, and your area “printing industries” group. See publications like HOW and GDUSA, or talk with your printer and paper company for other possibilities.

5. Create Your Image — Finally, you’ll want to start with a great image. The first thing new connections will see is your business card and promotional materials. Don’t skimp! This is the time to show that you’re polished and professional — and that you do great design even on small spaces. Creel’s Digital Division (Digital Lizard) has tons of novel stocks, as well as in-house diecutting, foil stamping, embossing, and other specialty techniques to help you make an affordable and lasting first impression.

Ready to create startup materials for your great new freelance business? Need samples or ideas of creative business cards and promotional materials? Call your Creel or Digital Lizard rep today or click below.

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Topics: Self-promotion