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Freelance Success Story
Profile of a Freelance
Graphic Designer
by Colleen Gratzer

Webmaster Note: See our complete schedule for this series here.

I graduated college in 1997. My degree is in Foreign Languages, and I had four classes left to finish my BFA in Graphic Design, but I took the job for the experience instead of finishing this second degree.

I'm glad I did. Just two days later, I started a graphic design job that I had found, all because a temp agency's name had been listed incorrectly in the Internet. The name had included graphics in it when in fact they never got design jobs, but then found me one shortly after!

I left this first out-of-college job after two years and did freelance work for them for several years after, at which time the work was given to a friend of the new executive director. Though that client was then gone, my former boss had moved on, and to this day, I still do work for her and her employer.

I worked full-time at a couple publishing companies and a design firm until 2004. Meanwhile, every time I switched jobs, I continued to do freelance work for them. My customer base was growing.

In 2003, I got a very steady and well-paying freelance job from a person I had worked with at a full-time job. I was still at that company, but they were not. They offered the job to another former coworker, and it was not his type of work, so he suggested me. I was given the job. It was quite time-consuming, and it took up a lot of my lunch break at my full-time job to get done. It was a full-time job in itself. But I loved it. 

At that time, I decided then to become an LLC business. Then I got a free fax number. I set up my website. My company had "officially" begun. But I still worked a regular full-time job. Although I had thought about it for a year already, I debated even more leaving my full-time salaried position. I'm very conservative. I was afraid to take the risk. Would I make enough? What if I didn't find more work? Working for myself was something I had always pictured myself doing. I had gotten bored at my "job," and I had grown tired of feeling like a lower man on the totem pole at the job, with no room to move up.

I mean, I had been freelancing "on the side" since 1999, and full-time jobs were no longer meeting my expectations. I was handling a lot more responsibility and getting more satisfaction once I was home doing work for my clients, putting in another eight hours in my day, every day of the week. In September 2004, I left my job. I had to do it, or else I never would have.

I knew I was made for this, and when you know that and you find yourself, you will excel. I have been through a lot of headaches, sleepless nights, with other asking me why I was putting myself through this. I had to use sick time from my full-time jobs to sleep sometimes. I had some problem clients that kept me up all night sick with worry.

I have had continuous work, and it seems the more time I have, the more work I get. I can't complain. I love being busy. I would suggest to others who are trying to do the same thing to:

1. Educate yourself. Constantly read business and design books, books about dealing with clients and certain types of personalities, software books, etc. Subscribe to industry magazines. If you are a designer, get design magazines (HOW, Graphic Design USA, PRINT, and a lot of them are free!).

If you are a woman, get business magazines related to women. If you are a Mac user, get Macworld. As an entrepreneur, you might read Fast Company.

2. Market yourself. Sign up with a free web directory. Ask for testimonials from current clients. Join associations not only to learn and to have as a resource but to network. You never know when you will meet a potential client or a fellow designer who will need someone to contract extra work.

3. Ask for feedback from your client once a job is complete.

4. Interact with others who do the same thing, as much as you can. Sign up for email lists. You can learn a lot from other people, even if you find they are asking you for help most of the time. You can learn from each other's mistakes and experiences, and get vendor recommendations. You never know when you might need to hire them as contractors when you are too busy.

Or when you have a client who might want to see design comps of different styles.

5. Look at yourself as a partner, not a vendor, to your clients. There is a problem with a solution to be found, and the one who can find it will get the jobs. Put yourself on the same side of the fence with the client.

6. Never underprice your work just to get a job. It sets the tone for clients thinking they can talk you down in more than price. They will not respect you or your principles. You will go to bed at night not feeling good about yourself (and one reason you are doing this is to feel better about yourself, isn't it?). They will be the type of client to look at the bottom line only and never at the quality.

Only do work for people who see the value of your work, not for you being the cheapest guy in town. You won't make money that way, and you will find yourself wasting so much time (which is money) babysitting those types of clients. Someone once told me that clients who are willing to pay more, value you and your work more. It's true. Just be reasonable.

7. Offer your clients an incentive to refer you to others. And be sure to always ask for referrals; don't assume you will get them. I put little blurbs in a box on invoices. It's free advertising!

I know there is more I could say, but this should be the bulk of what I want to say based on my experiences. I am open to receiving feedback and questions. 

Live, eat and breathe what you do, and others will see that what you do you do well

About the Author: COLLEEN GRATZER  
**** Award-winning design ****
Member: ::  National Association of Photoshop Professionals
        ::  Art Directors Club of Metropolitan Washington
        ::  National Women's Business Center
        ::  Editorial Freelancers Association
phone: 301.503.1834  ::  fax: 815.572.5721
[ graphic design ][ web design ]
[ database design ][ Mac support ]

2005 Colleen Gratzer. This article may not be reproduced in any manner whatsoever, in any form, for any reason, without the express, written consent of the author. Violators will be prosecuted.

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