A First Hand Guide On How To Start Freelancing

A First Hand Guide On How To Start Freelancing

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Freelancer - Photo Courtesy of Brent Nelson

In this guest article, Jacen Nicely goes through the first hand personal experiences of becoming a freelance designer detailing the emotions and the three phases of the process (research, planning and implementation) of going from frustrated to a full time freelancer. This article is applicable to all freelancers, not just designers.

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When Jacob first threw out the offer on Twitter (Follow Jacob On Twitter) to write a post for his website before he left on his trip around Australia I responded with“I would offer but I don’t have any examples of written work, just the last 6 months of planning & implication of starting my business.”

I mean I’m a nobody you’ve never heard of right? This is why I really didn’t expect much from that but I was shocked with how Jacob responded back which was “If you think you can get an article out of your experiences and benefit others, why not?”

I may be a nobody but I am a nobody that has been struggling with a way to escape the desk job life for almost six months now which I am sure there are many others who could relate with me in that scenario.

Over the past few months I have researched, planned and implemented my way into a new life of freelancing and what I wanted to do was show you what it was like for me to go from frustrated to the first client in six months. The article details the three main phases of the process: research, planning and implementation of becoming a freelancer.

Making The Choice To Freelance

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You could feel free to name your typical frustrated cubicle jockey situation where thoughts of meaningfulness fly around in your head on rotating shifts. Thoughts like “What am I doing” and “Is this what I am going to do for the rest of my life?” were a Monday through Friday routine. I knew the answer to the second question for sure and it was a very emphatic negative.

I had been surfing around the web and discovered entire websites dedicated freelancing and the art of how to start and I was instantly hooked. I had been working with Photoshop for around 7 years and enjoyed doing random projects for friends and family, all of which paid in meals, which was fine with me because I always got the steak. So I knew that I enjoyed doing the work but I didn’t really like not getting paid. This freelancing gig seemed like a good deal, you find work and people actually pay you for the work you do.

Doing The Research

So I began my search for how people were starting out and I found a lot of resources available out there, this site being one of them and found that it wasn’t that hard to start up. There were a lot of great ideas out there of what one needed to be aware of before taking the plunge.

Mostly articles about getting started as a freelancer, pricing ones self and independent insurance coverage cost, which if you are a family man like I am that is pretty important for the sanity of your entire household. There were many of great resources for anything that you could possibly dream up on sites like Freelance Switch, Freelance Folder and Vandelay Design.

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These along with Just Creative Design were my top four inspirations for getting started, which if words were to actually have a weight measure then these sites would have TONS of information for any eager wannabe freelancer out there.

To this day one of my favorite posts is Jacob’s “Why logo design does not cost $5.00” because it helped give me a sense of value to the work I did and erased the fear of quoting a cost to someone even if it seemed a little “expensive” in their eyes. I also found other sites like FreshBooks or Zoho Invoicing to assist with looking extremely professional when it comes to sending an estimate or letting someone know you mean business by sending a bill for services rendered.


I was stoked to say the least, here were all of these mostly free resources to utilize so that I could basically operate out of my home in my pajamas should I desire, but I needed a plan.

I couldn’t just be excited everyday and not do anything. There came a time to face quite possibly two of the most dangerous words in the entire English language, Personal Responsibility.

To be comfortable with that I wanted to make sure there would be enough funds in the bank to cover any unforeseen trouble in case one month didn’t go as well as another. I believed 6 months of my gross income saved up would be enough and I set a date one year from then to have that money saved.

I also wanted to make sure of exactly what services I was going to offer and I knew that I was most comfortable with print type projects but I knew that there was some major money to be made with website and blog designs.

I actually ended up teaming up with a friend of mine that I have known for almost 15 years that has a lot of excellent experience in developing web sites. So now I knew how much money I needed to save and what services I was going to offer now all I needed to do was to start getting my name out there. Which leads me to the next section.


I decided to get some business cards and a small brochure, make a list of local business’s that didn’t have a web site or who desperately needed a makeover and drop by for a visit. Editors note: You may like to read A Guide On How Freelancers Can Compete Against Large Design Studios.

I also decided that whenever I would meet someone and they would ask what I did I would make sure and tell them that I was a graphic designer who designed anything from wedding invitations to websites. This really did two things, it boosted my confidence and it opened up a lot of opportunities for some business card projects and yes even a wedding invitation.

It’s amazing what a little eye contact and decent suit will get you. Those projects gave me a lot of encouragement… it helped me to think that this could actually be done. I started letting other people know what I was doing. I sent out a letter to every friend and family member whose address I had and I got a couple of projects out of that as well until recently we got our first order for a full-on e-commerce website and logo.

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It’s hard, tedious and I am pulling some late nights but I honestly love it. Editors note: You may want to read the article Freelancers: Inspire yourself, Vary your Working Environment to help you become more productive.


  • It is completely worth putting your man/woman pants on and owning up to what you want to do in life.
  • Personal responsibility isn’t so scary once you commit to the pursuit of your dream.
  • The more action that I took towards making a freelancers life, the better I felt about the decision I made.

Can you relate to Jacen’s experience? What resources have helped you the most in your freelancing career?

77 thoughts on “A First Hand Guide On How To Start Freelancing”

  1. Great article. Kind of motivating! 🙂

    I need to stop working on pot and finish up that personal logo that I’ve been conceptualizing for a year now. :p

  2. Great article!

    For someone who has literally been given the sack today and has had the “nudge” to go into it full time this is the little reassurance i needed lol.

    Nothing like paying the bills as an incentive although the planning will be done on a adhoc basis, wink!

  3. Interesting read!

    Off topic for a second:
    As a small matter of style, bolding sentences every 3 or 4 lines reduces the value of the bolding to begin with and is a little tiring. Would be great to see the articles being a little more selective 🙂

  4. Good article, and quite inspiring. Being a student I’m considering doing a little bit of freelance work on the side to boost my income and the methods you used to obtain work are interesting.

  5. Thanks Jacob, this is really helpful. It’ll be great if you could tell us how to write a good proposal to a client. Lets say if we are designing a website, how do we write a proposal for that, explaining the details and terms. Thanks for your help.

  6. Great post. I am actually just starting on this journey at the end of the week. Good bye help desk job, hello web design.

  7. Eric,
    The logo design for myself was one of the most challenging aspects I have done as a designer so far… how to brand yourself… it is simply complicated.

    Sorry to hear about you getting the sack but good luck with your freelancing.

    Eivind, Nick, Pete, Graeme, Arthur, Dainis,
    You’re welcome and I assume Jacen is also.

    James De Angelis,
    I bold longer articles such as these as people on the net tend to scan… I bold it to try to make it easier, but I guess it is not the case? I will try to lessen the amount of bolding next time. Thanks for your feedback.

    That is an interesting topic, I may write about it, thanks for your suggestion.

    Good luck with your journey Anna.

  8. Exellent post, Jacen! Inspiring to read about how your process were from the start. You are a good writer, maybe you could make a blog of your own?

  9. Hello. I was thinking about freelancing, what you have written here. Its really nice and inspiring, but i have a question: what about legal side of all this. I mean do you need to register yourself as a sole proprietor? Is it legal to do a service, without giving % to country? Thats the one thing thats not clear for me. Thank you, good luck

  10. Very valuable and interesting information! I too recently partnered with a former co-worker, who is a web designer. Being a graphic designer with 21 years experience, I needed to get up to speed in web design. Finding a mentor was the best thing I could have done. Like you, I have extensive experience in Photoshop as well as Illustrator and advertising. I embrace my career as a freelancer.

  11. That article was right up my alley. I’m currently in the process of making a transistion out of my job (unrelated to design) and into freelance graphic design.

    It’s great to read about others’ experience.


  12. Hey guys! Thanks for all of your positive responses and constructive criticism. I wanted to respond to some of your statements/questions.

    Thank you for the compliment. I actually just started a personal blog that I am using to hold my self responsible at:

    Leigh Taylor,
    So sorry to hear about the sacking! I do agree though that it is a great kick in the pants to get you motivated. I hope you can “hope for the best and plan for the worst” in these types of situations.

    James De Angelis,

    That is totally understandable and I really appreciate the critique! There are a few less emboldened sentences here http://blogs.falith.com/jacen/?p=4


    That sounds great! In fact I think Jacob started out in a similar way. I think its really important to just try. Putting forth the effort is the other half of the battle. (remember knowing is the first 😉

    Rene Bellis,

    Brilliant! More power to you!

    Dainis Graveris,

    Glad I could help!




    Thanks and I hope all goes well for you! Nice site btw, I really like your articles.


    That is an awesome question and really depends on the country you live in. I think a great place to start would be here http://outlawdesignblog.com/2008/free-and-cheap-legal-support-for-designers/ where Danny Outlaw of Outlaw Design give a few suggestions where legal advice could be gained. Hope that helps 🙂

    Alissa Jones,

    I do definitely have contracts, they are absolutely necessary to do business. I usually have clients pay half of the bill up front and the other half when the job is done. Aside from making me feel like a hitman, it helps with your client having a vested interest in the project. If, for whatever reason they dont pay then it is good to have a good lawyer.

    Rosanna Soriano,

    A good place to start with e commerce is http://www.magentocommerce.com/. It’s a free e commerce CMS and its what I use for start up business’s that don’t have a lot of start up capital.

    Greg Daniels,

    That’s awesome to hear! I hope it works out. If you like you can check out http://blogs.falith.com/jacen/?p=4 where I talk about what I did to get myself started with a fixed 4 week schedule.

    Sorry for the gargantuan comment but I hope this helps with some of your questions. If you like you are welcome to e mail me at jacen[dot]nicely[at]falith[dot]com .

    Thanks again!

  13. Yes, many of us do scan, and bolding does give emphasis to slow down the eye to read it… So continue doing it, except the bold in this article isn’t really on the important points. It just seems to be there for the sake of it.

    Apart from that, congratulations on your article, I think that it will help a lot of people out looking to make the transition. People need to know it’s hard, but can be done, and will make you happier in the end.


    Jimi Ninja.

  14. Thanks for the answer. Im quite new to this, so i was wondering: Do you have your own printing equipment at home, or when client orders, for example, 200 business cards, you go to some other company to print your design out. And is it even worth to start something with no printing gear? Thankyou

  15. It’s nice to see others taking the often-feared first step, reading about it is slowly convincing me to do the same (give up the totally unrelated desk job that is, and move into web design).

    Thanks for the read!

  16. Been thinking on this for awhile. A very good and very informative article. Its very inspirational to me, since at my current job while I am technically a Lead Web Designer / Developer and am supposed to have a lot of creative freedom, I am constantly having to compromise my vision for the preconceived notions of Directors that don’t know a thing about design, development, usability, or the web in general that pretty much ask for clones of crummy templates or dated, poorly laid out sites.

    The only issue is seeing if I can make the same amount or more at freelancing than I am now.

    That and building up 6 months worth of my gross pay.

  17. Interesting read, good luck for the future – those late nights ease up after a while you’ll be pleased to know 🙂

    Do you have a website up with your portfolio? This is how I get all (and I mean ALL), of my clients.

  18. Rosanna Soriano,

    No problemo!


    I checked out your site and I think you definitely have what it takes to do the work of a freelancer. It looks like you just need to get out there an start marketing yourself. http://www.ittybiz.com has been a great resource for learning how to market ones self and has many useful tips.


    No I don’t have my own printing equipment, not the professional variety anyway. I do work with a local printing company for the majority of my needs or when I am feeling cheap I resort to an online services like http://www.visaprint.com or even http://www.uprinting.com.
    I would say that it is definitely worth starting some freelancery if you don’t have your own printing gear to start out with. I personally don’t plan on having my own printing equipment for a while if ever.

    Thanks for the questions guys!

  19. Nice and Motivated Article, I am a student and want to start freelancing. I read so many articles and surf around the net to get motivated but at the end of the day I get scared off and then I back off.. I dont know if it will work or not..So cOnfused.. I mean there are so many professionals out there and I am the beginner..~`

  20. Great post. I have been freelancing on and off for over 10 years. My only suggestion is to diversify income streams with stock sites. This allows you a bit of room and not freak out so much on that next client. Vector art, logos, blog templates etc can bring in the cash.

  21. intresting article. Your the first artisit that keeps and speaks about the marketing part in the graphic design /web design world.Myself beeing a final year student in marketing (in february I’ll get my licens… uhuuuu!)and a freack about web design/development/graphic design and everything that is connected to the web, so keep the ideas comeing so I can lern some more:D.

    o, GREAT JOB!

  22. Great article.
    I know exactly how you initially felt, like a puppet in a cubicle changing colours then changing them back because a clients ‘daughter’ or ‘friend’ thought it would look better.

  23. Great inspiration an motivator.
    Another tip for futute freelancers :

    Yesterday I had a (minor) setback on a webdesign project I was working on. Had to make a website and had a few meetings with the client. Eager as I was, I started to design and scripting the site and forgot all about sending the estimate.
    Yesterday I remembered that I still had to send the estimate and now my client wants to stop the project because he thinks it’s too expensive. All my hard work for nothing. Still trying to convince my client to keep the project going.

    So my advice to the future freelancers : have a meeting with your client, be very specific in what they want and send your estimate BEFORE you start the project. Have them sign the estimate for approval. Convince them that good (web-) designs can’t be made for scratch (e.g. in this article = €5 logo design)

    I wont forget sending another estimate ever again 🙁

    Anyway thx for this great article.
    After I eot over this little incident I will make some work of the tips in this article.


  24. Hey Guys!

    modemlooper & iVANSKI You’re welcome and thanks for the advice and comment!

    serj Marketing is something that I am treading water in at the moment. If you are about to get your license then you probably know more than I do but I do know the key for any marketing stratagem is knowing who your audience is. Again you probably know this but if you want to keep in touch more then you are always welcome to e mail me at jacen[dot]nicely[at]falith[dot]com


    I am not really sure what you are talking about but your comment is awesome!

    Cheers Guys!

  25. Great article! I just recently started full-time freelancing after realizing that working for a design studio or in-house just didn’t fit me. I hated the politics. Freelance Switch has been a great resource for me, as well as other freelance designers I’ve met in Nashville.

  26. Thanks for posting this. It’s inspiring. Every designer’s blog I come across speaks of confidence. I just appreciate people like you helping out others. It’s cool. Thanks.

  27. One thing they don’t teach in art school is how to act in business. It’s almost an act of cruelty. I read a book on amazon called Talent is not Enough. It’s OK. But the best lessons are the hard ones. After ten years in the field I have some real battle scars. You learn how to speak up for yourself.

  28. Thanks for taking the time to write this article. I am thinking about moving into this line of work and this was very insperational!

  29. I would like to thank you for the information provided on your website. I found it to be very helpful and inspiring.

  30. Thank you for sharing your story. I can say that every bit was worth it. I have recently started a free lance business too. Hoping it to be a great success…all the best to you.

    Also would like to congragulate Jacob for the progress in his blog and useful links 🙂

  31. Jacob, its very true and really motivating. We all need to start somewhere and take action.

    It took me some months to get started and some more months to quit the day job completely. Truly a great feeling to be your own boss and do what you really love.

    There are ups and downs in life and probably that’s just part of life. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst, it works for me.

    Nice post, loved the motivation and positive vibes.

  32. a questiom for you all. I know most of you are experienced in your industries, and having several years of experience is huge hand up no doubt.

    But what if you have one year of experience? Is taking the plunge a bad idea if I’ve only been in the industry for a short while?

    Great read by the way, VERY informative.

  33. planning and implementation) of going from frustrated to a full time freelancer. This article is applicable to all freelancers, not just designers.

  34. You have given very good information ,I was unable to get projects from freelancing websites after reading this i am thinking to start it back .

  35. I really like it. Thanks for the motivation. 😀
    I’m also in this situation where I don’t know from where to start my career as freelancer.

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