How to be a Freelance Graphic Designer
By Rob Williams
Getting fired hit me like a ton of bricks. I still remember the copy machine going off in the background moments after my boss told me he was letting me go. In fact, that buzzing sound is etched in my memory. Why? It was a wake-up call. I realized on that day that full-time employees have no control.
A lot has changed since becoming self-employed but one thing hasn’t. My desire to gain more control over my future. The point of this post is to help you get more control of yours right now.
But I’ll tell you upfront: it’s going to require action.
See despite the fire in my belly, I soon became dependent again. This time it wasn’t to a boss or coworker. It was to my sales pipeline. I needed clients. Feeding my family depended on it and the stress was getting to me.
“But I’m too busy to look for work.”
I’d gone through dry spells before but this one was bad. Each day the stress mounted. The importance of every new potential client meeting ballooned greater and greater. I was desperate, and clients could smell it from a mile away. I went into every meeting thinking the same thing: “I need this job.”
Not exactly a position of strength.
It was weeks before I found my next client. It felt horrible. But something good came out of it. A desire to understand dry spells. A desire that led me to conducting a survey of over 500+ freelancers where I asked two questions:
“what do you do when you run out of work?” and “how much do you make?”
Their answers were a big surprise but probably not for the reason you’d guess.
40% of freelancers said they use social media when in a dry spell, 24% said they sit and wait, and 12% said they email prospects.
This seemed reasonable until I correlated each of these to their income. I found one group made way more than the others.
The freelancers who emailed prospects made 2.5x more money than those who did nothing.
It seemed obvious and yet almost everyone (close to 90%) overlooked it. For me, it meant I had the power to change my fortune. So I started to experiment. I cold emailed one new client every day for weeks and soon my income tripled.
“I feel like I’ve put all of my eggs in one basket.”
Eventually I got busy with client work again and stopped emailing clients. I told myself it was okay because I’d “pick things back up if it calmed down”. But the truth was, in the back of my head I knew I was making the same mistake again.
I was relying too much on the work I had. At any moment my current batch of clients could pull the rug from underneath me. And the worst part was despite realizing this — and even expecting it — I wasn’t doing anything to prepare.
Projects seemed to end in bunches. One second I would be juggling multiple gigs and the next I’d be scrambling to find anything. By the time things “calmed down” it was too late. Something needed to change.
Now, I know what you’re saying. This sounds exactly like you. I know because this cycle is an epidemic amongst freelancers. We’re so busy doing great work for our clients that we “forget” to maintain a healthy pipeline for ourselves.
There’s even a term for it: the feast or famine cycle. It keeps thousands of freelancers up at night — and afraid to look at their bank account at any particular moment. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
“I don’t have time to find leads by hand.”
As a high-value freelancer, I was losing over $2,000+ in billable hours each month by looking for leads myself. Losing that much time was unsustainable for my business — especially when I was already up to my nose in client work.
That’s when I started experimenting with different options.
First, I “hired” my girlfriend (now wife, Hi Kieranne!) to do it for me. That lasted about a minute. Next, I considered a sales person. But after asking around I realized how expensive that would be… about 50% of my total sales. (So if I landed a $10,000 contract, they might ask for $5,000!). It was just too much.
Lastly, I ended up paying a VA over $600 to look for leads. But it didn’t produce a single quality opportunity for me, plus I was wasting almost as much time training them as I would just finding leads myself.
I wished another option existed. I wanted to hire someone like me, not a VA. Then I had an idea. If I wanted this maybe other freelancers did too? That’s how I created Folyo, with a simple offer: I’ll find great projects daily and email them to you.
“I just want a steady stream of clients coming to me”
I’ve now helped freelancers all over the world find over $1 million USD in client work. It took a while to nail down the process — so I’d like to share it with you now in hopes you skip years of testing different methods.
That way, even if you don’t end up buying this service from me you can still have the same success yourself. Here’s how I’ve found over 10,000 great clients in just a few years:
- I finally discovered the best job board for high-value freelancers.
And it turns out the best job board for high-value freelancers is ALL the job boards. The reason? Great clients are all over the web not on any one site. If you monitor 300+ job boards daily, you WILL find projects that are a match for you.
- I know where the RFPs are.
On top of job boards I find additional opportunities on Google (filetype: pdf), Linkedin, Twitter, and even the FB (occasionally). I do custom searches for projects that aren’t listed on job sites.
- I screen each one by hand.
Background research is key to finding great clients. I get more information about every lead I find before I send it out. That means all of my leads have a name, email, photo, and my deep contemplating / beard-rubbing stamp of approval before they get sent out. A real human looks them over. I know because that human is me.
- I make referrals happen.
This is the newest thing that I’ve added to my system. (I’ll be writing about this more soon.) I now do outreach for every lead I find, myself. I email each lead and get additional information about the project, and refer it to someone in Workshop. Simple — but amazing results.
“My pipeline is burning bright, even when I’m swamped.”
This exact process has resulted in over $1 million dollars of paid client work since 2013. It’s not proprietary in any way so you could probably do it yourself in about 40–60 hours a month (even after refining this process, it still takes me about 4 man-hours.)
But I think that’d be a shame. Instead I think you should skip years of trial and error and just get the system right now. You deserve to have a steady stream of clients coming to you. You should be able to focus more time on what you love to do.
Where would you invest that time?
Who would you spend it with?
Those answers are the reason I’ve run this service for 3+ years. They are why you should sign up today. So, if you’re serious about taking control of your freelance business, you need to make sure you’re doing it right.
Fortunately, I can help you get your lead pipeline across the finish line. This is the smallest investment you can make that still provides solid results — and you get it for just $39 a month, less than your Starbucks budget.
These leads are exclusive to Folyo subscribers — and once an email is sent, you don’t get another chance at seeing it again. Sign up today and don’t miss another lead.
About Rob Williams...
I run Folyo which helps freelance designers find the work they were meant to do. I also host Freelance a podcast about how to be more effective at independent work featuring remote companies like Disney, Basecamp, YNAB, ConvertKit and more.