Learning the freelance business

Hello. Attempting to start a freelance business. Have so many questions. But for now… hello everyone.

Welcome to the forum DatPug. It’s nice to have you here. Maybe you can supply us with a few answers as well. :grinning:

Start with your experience level. Most successful freelancers have actually worked in the field for some time before striking out on their own

Hey DP,

I just joined this forum myself. I’m a complete newbie. I have experience in many things unrelated to graphic design, but negligible experience in graphic design. I can use gimp, but not particularly well. I’ve designed a few tees and been involved in the design process of a few low level small business logos. I like to think I’m a quick learner, but someone else would have to confirm…

I do also have a natural interest in business, so I’d be interested in things said here!

Thanks and hello all!


I’ve spent nearly 20 years as an in-house graphic designer for a large corporate. I’ve been a designer and senior manager of a large studio.
But being shelter by a corp you don’t really know the Administrative part of the graphic design business as much. I’m hoping to find some answers here.

Yeah, but does that come with health insurance and matching contributions to a 401k? :wink:

I say that tongue-in-check since I’ve been self employed essentially my whole career, I’ve had to pay for my own health insurance and fund my own retirement.

Certainly does.
Not complaining about it. The corporate gig has offered me some really cool projects. But I feel I’m missing a huge portion of the business.

Welcome Aboard! :slight_smile:

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Sounds like you have the chops. So many come here expecting to start freelancing from ground zero.
What part of the field are you looking at moving into? Print? Web? or expanding into some of the more insane aspects of graphic design like experiential environments or entertainment?

All duties have revolved around print. Very little web/digital, but I’ve dabbled. I’m hoping to start a small freelance operation that focuses on print. Publication design will be the primary focus. But other services will be offered.
I’m navigating through LLC, insurance, contracts, proposals, invoices, etc now. It’s overwhelming.

Find a good lawyer/accountant familiar with your state laws and taxes to set you up.
You might find one through your state SBA website. Usually lots of info to be had there.

Would you say all of that is necessary for side business that i plan to spend no more than 6 hours a week on?

The business part is what I’m looking to learn about freelance graphic design.

Making the assumption that you’re in the U.S. and not some other part of the world…

It’s easy to get all caught up in details to the point of it being overwhelming. It’s all important, but familiarizing oneself with it doesn’t need to be intimidating. Lot’s depends on common sense and learning as one goes. The more you can pick up ahead of time, the better.

Insurance is about mitigating risks. If you’re only freelancing part-time for smaller clients, maybe there’s no compelling reason for business insurance that might be required when doing work for, say, a government agency.

Taxes and recording keeping, though, are important (the government has a habit of forcibly collecting what they see as their money).

Most of the legal requirements, one can learn on one’s own with a little research while saving the attorney (and your money) for the big problems. If you’re so inclined, you can also skip the accountant and do it all electronically with, for example, TurboTax.

An LLC can be obtained online and, if you’re a sole-proprietor, tax preparation for that is merged directly into your personal income taxes.

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All income is taxed. Even hobby income.
You want to be an LLC or your state’s equivalent for a sole proprietor freelancer to protect your personal assets from sue-happy clients. Being sued, and suing others is a sad part of business these days. It isn’t always antagonistic either. But you seriously do not want your personal stuff available for a settlement. NOLO has some good information and forms to do it yourself if you want.

Insurance? Depends on what you do. Some of our clients require the certificate that we are bondable and insured for on site work. Even measuring a wall in a client’s office for a sign requires me to be covered under company insurance.

Health insurance? Do you have coverage elsewhere?

Contracts are a given. Come up with a boilerplate, have it checked for legal, and amend as needed.

Quickbooks or similar is good for your accounting.

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I plan to establish some need-to-have items such as LLC, professional liability ins, contracts, proposal temps, invoice temps and operating agreements before i actually launch. Anything I’m missing?

I’ve read about a variety of contract types. Which would you suggest I focus on? Letter of agreement? Boilerplate? Working contract?
I’ve also seen graphic design contract templates that can be purchased from various sites. Thoughts on those? The one I’m looking at is over $300. Worth that investment?

I plan to use Quickbooks for record keeping.

Which leads me to another, almost idiotic, question… how to do freelance designers typically get paid?

Have you thought through and written out a business plan? This is mostly just for yourself (or the bank in case of a loan). It’s not a legal requirement, but from the standpoint of whether or not you succeed, you should have thought through exactly what your business is, what it sells, where the clients will come from, how much your expenses will be, how much your income will need to be to create a positive cash flow and, well, just about everything else.

Now whether or not that’s necessary for a 6-hour per week gig that augments a regular job, I don’t know. it’s probably not necessary, but thinking everything through and planning it will maximize your chances of succeeding.

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I’ve developed a brand. A niche. Studied the market and potential competitors. Studied possible clients and how to get repeat business. I’ve research and determined an hourly rate and the idea of value-based pricing (plenty more to figure out there). Any and all startup expenses including which I can hold off on until I begin to generate revenue. And marketing approaches as well as my USP.

In terms of contracts, there are options to purchase graphic design contract templates. But they are pricey. $300 + for one option. Is that worth the investment?