How & Where To Get Paid Freelance Work While You’re Still A Design Student

How & Where To Get Paid Freelance Work While You’re Still A Design Student

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As some of you may know I am a third year graphic design student and an active freelancer so I am going to share my tips on how and where to get freelance design jobs while you are still a graphic design student.

For most 1st, 2nd or 3rd year students, finding a part time or even casual job in the design industry is quite frustrating and nearly impossible and most resort to working at their local store, however, there is hope – I am living proof that a design student can get a job in design while still studying, here are my tips…

The Problems

The problems most design students will face is they do not yet have the skills needed to be a professional designer (1) as they are still trying to figure out the ins and outs of the software (2) and to top off this they still are yet to have a reputable portfolio (3) or (4) any knowledge about dealing with clients, budgeting or time management. Let’s have a look at these problems and their solutions.

1. No Basic Design Skills

No Design Skills

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This of course, is the reason you are at University or College: to learn these skills. However, do not be a static learner at University, you must propel yourself forward to learn more and be the leader of the pack. You should be active in graphic design forums, read design and freelancing blogs like you are now, borrow/buy books, ask questions and get out there.

Go to your local design studio and ask for work experience – I did this and I worked on all their pro bono jobs, it was a great experience and I learned more about clients and time management while I was doing it. These few things will help your basic design skills get up to scratch.




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2. No Computer Skills

No Computer Skills

You need computer skills to be a successful graphic designer and a great way to acquire these skills is by reading tutorials, books and of course, practice. I repeat again: tutorials, books and practice. By reading tutorials and books you gain more knowledge of the software and get better as a graphic designer.

Try to get first hand experience off another professional designer – a great way to do this is ask for work experience at your local design studio, they are usually more than happy to help. Another thing I did was get free stock items and deconstruct them to see how they were made, this opened a whole new world for me.

Last of all: practice, practice, practice and hopefully you don’t turn out like this guy.

Tutorial Websites

3. Do not have a reputable portfolio


Every designer had to start somewhere and every designer started with nothing so you are not alone. Building your portfolio is probably the most important thing you do at University as this is how you will get a full time job once you leave.

Portfolios are another topic in itself, however you can build it up by making up your own fictional graphic design briefs. Studios do not mind if your portfolio items are fictional as long as they are quality.

Portfolio Tips

Find Jobs: To build your portfolio up you can get some small paying jobs, see here for places to find freelance work.

More Sites To Find Graphic Design Jobs:

4. No Knowledge About Clients Or Time-Management

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Nearly all graphic design graduates lack client and time management skills: This is where experience is the key and there is no way to get better experience than to gain work experience at your local design/print store –   just drop in and ask – you will be surprised how happy they are to hear from you.   Just mention you’re a graphic design student and you’re wishing to learn some new things. By working there you will learn all about dealing with clients, time management and the design industry… the big picture.

This was an actual reply I received from a reader – it does work!

Hi Jacob. You’re a legend. I followed your advice about just asking a local studio and was shocked when they said I could go in one day a week! I always thought they’d be miserable or ‘have no time for silly young students’, but true, THEY had to start somewhere as well! It maybe be ‘pro bono work’ but its vital experience that will set me apart from other students when applying for a full time job.

5. Getting The Clients Or Jobs

Tieing into point three is that of getting clients. After you feel confident enough to go out freelancing or working at a design studio during University, you should start looking for clients. I wrote an article on how to get your first job which will also help you out. Also get your profile out there, on such places as HubStaff Talent, Upwork, Guru or Freelancer.

Are you a student doing freelance work or wanting to? Please share your stories.

88 thoughts on “How & Where To Get Paid Freelance Work While You’re Still A Design Student”

  1. Nice tips, this is basically how I survived the past 2 years before I got a job.

    There’s quite a lot of work out there, it’s just a case of remembering that you’re just trying to build a portfolio, so the money isn’t always going to be a lot to begin with.

    However I strongly believe that its important to get working with clients, money and finding work as thats what makes you a good Web Designer, it’s not simply about just designing websites. Gaining experience with clients and finding work are skills that you can only really pick up the ways you’ve mentioned when you’re a student, so make the most of it!

    Just my thoughts 🙂

  2. What were you actually doing to survive Liam… I did mention a lot of things 😛

    A little niche that I have been getting a lot of work in lately is Yellow Pages ads… I am sure student designers could do these things and get some cash on the side.


  3. All of the above!

    I took time to learn Photoshop myself, then ended up on a 2 year Multimedia course.

    I read through a lot of tutorial sites, just so I could get a feel of the capabilities of Photoshop, even looking at tutorials I couldn’t actually see myself using again, just to get experience.

    I spent a lot of time doing jobs from forums etc, just taking on whatever work I could, just so I had something to show in my portfolio. But it also provided me with enough money to enjoy myself over the 2 years.

    I got experience working with some local companies just through friends & family, but it really opened my eyes. Meeting a client face to face is completely different to talking to them online, but a vital thing to get experience in.

    And it all payed off, by the time I had finished my course I had learnt so much on my own (out of the class) that they couldn’t teach me in school and every step that I took (and youv’e mentioned above)helped me get the job im in right now.

    My portfolio was full of work, all work which I had done for people online from forums etc. I had references, experience with face-to-face client relations, and ofcourse had the technical know-how and qualifications.

    I think the things you mention are perfect for a student, and there’s no better time to do these things then when you are a student.

    * Yellow pages ads, thats a great idea! I like that

  4. Ah Liam, that sounds really great, sounds like we are on the same track (except I am not really working on forums) . It is always good to hear other peoples feedback to how they got where they are. How old are you now?

    Thanks Jim for the info.

  5. Great site. I’m co-founder of Brightegg. We offer designers the ability to sell their web themes on our site for a high commission. We also just rolled out our Private Label solution, which is a 100% brandable CMS for interactive design firms that want to sell a full solution, including CMS, hosting and email. Oh, yeah, you can make money! Learn more:

  6. When I was in college, over 30 years ago, I got plenty of “real world” design work right on campus. I got a job as the advertising designer for the daily college newspaper and got a great deal of project work from academic department offices and student campus organizations. I ended up doing a lot of poster, flyer and invitation design for many fraternities and sororities, as well. The projects and jobs are there if you seek them out.

  7. Thank you for very useful information…even in Russia all your recomendation are very close to life…
    I m a student studing graphic design.Iasolutelly agree with many things you ve mention, espessially connected with portfolio…so now I will try to do my best findind a good work)))

  8. I almost read this article twice (even sometimes I do). It’s a good one. In fact, it is very useful 😀 Thanks a lot! Should charity work be included to improve your communication and design skills?

    Rafie’s last blog post..What Do You See?

  9. Jacob,

    Love this post. Blending and Comic sans do not count had me LOL.

    A long time ago when the Earth was green and I was in college (not that long ago, I went twice cuz I’m nuts that way)… anyway, about ten years ago I took most of my graphics work and one thing a prof said to me has always stuck out: “Don’t get hung up on the tools, because now they move too fast to worry. If you’re really good, it’s the ideas people will pay you for, and they’ll pay enough that you can hire somebody to do the execution work for you.”

    You mentioned that you’ve got to have computer skills, etc. I’m not arguing that at all, but would add:

    1. Idea skills will carry you farther, in the long run;
    2. If you’ve got those skills, find an idea person who’s sick of struggling, as I sometimes am on Friday afternoons. While you’re doing that execution work for them, watch. Learn to develop your idea skills.

    Having gone to school as a young’un and later, as an adult, I can tell you that the big difference was that people had forgotten how to put the keyboard away for a while, when I was the “returning” student. Sit with no computer, every day. The tools do not make you a designer; being a designer makes it worth knowing the tools.

    Love the links here, too!



    Kelly’s last blog post..What’s Hot Now: 39 Inspirations With Sticking Power

  10. Jeff,

    “I got a job as the advertising designer for the daily college newspaper”

    I did that too, only for the school magazine. Ugh what a job, plus they thought I should sell ads, too. Yuck.

    In high school (that was the stone age) I even did calligraphy for teachers to keep near the smell of ink and make a buck or two.




    Kelly’s last blog post..Leonardo DiCaprio Sent Me a Letter Today

  11. You make a good point about not being a static learner. I see some graphic design students that don’t go beyond what they have to do in class for homework and spend most of their time just goofing off playing odd flash games.

    And then there are some people who do a lot outside of their homework, but they have tunnel vision and focus only on the area they are good at, ie focusing on the programming side only. Great article.

    I’m a psychology major and I work in the systems department designing blogs for the university’s library. Oh yeah, I finished that list I been meaning to work on. Tell me what you think of it. Is it social media worthy?

    Vinh Le’s last blog post..25 Must Buy, Borrow, or Steal Books for Web Designers

  12. Rafie
    Twice eh? Sometimes I do that too, but not too often. Yes I forgot to add charity work in there, I will add that now. Thanks!

    Thanks for stopping by again and for the add on Facebook. That’s a great idea about getting a job at the actual campus. We have a similar thing going so I might do that… the poster and flyer design sounds inviting however I do not think they would pay for that but who knows… I guess I’ll have to seek em out.

    Glad to be of help. All the best.

    Haha well I am glad I could bring a smile to some 🙂

    The head of my design school said a very similar thing. It is not about the design, it is about the ideas. Usually people with the good ideas are in advertising… but graphic design is a form of advertising but in saying this if you do not have the computer skills to back it up, that is a short coming for you in the long run.

    Too bad about the college newspaper… making me having second thoughts about doing a bit of work for my uni.

    Vinh Le
    Tell me about it… I just think to myself how much money they are wasting just by sitting there.

    I had a look at your post actually before reading about it here, some ones I hadn’t seen before. I will put it in my best of March post coming up soon 🙂

    Thank you all for your feedback.

  13. Yellow pages ads and local flyers are an easy way to make cash. I have even contacted the people who put out those local ad booklets and they have referred me to potentials who want an ad but have no way to create them. I make from $100- $200 bucks for something that takes an hour or 2.

    modemlooper’s last blog post..Kuwaii Styled Food

  14. Thanks for this.
    I’m a confused sociology undergrad who spends her spare time playing with graphic design and dreaming about going to art school.
    The links are great. I’ve been half trying to find design forums and this was the little kick in the ass I needed.

  15. jacob, great web site. thanks for all the great info.

    while in college i was able to find a few web site clients by word of mouth and just telling people what i was studying. i charged like $20/hour and it gave me great experience dealing with clients.

    after i graduated i was able to land a job doing web design with an e-commerce company full time and i found the job on craigslist.


  16. Hi Dennis,
    You are welcome. Yeah word of mouth is the way most freelancers get clients. Even in the freelance report from Freelance Switch it said that references accounted for 80% of clients. All the best!

  17. In answer to the question you asked 2 months ago that for some reason I didn’t see I’m now 18. Most of my experience started when I was 15-16 so I had a good few years learning and freelancing before landing my full time job.

  18. Hi Irina,
    Thanks for your enquiry and of course you will get a reply, I reply to all comments on this blog!

    To get free work unpaid the best way is to ring up local charity organisations and to just ask! Also try ringing local studios around your area and asking them. Ask and you shall receive as they say.

    And I do not know anyone from NY… but now I do 🙂

    All the best Irina.

  19. Hello thank you for your article. I will use it. However, I need to get some free work, not paid. How to get that? Great blog. I am a student myself in New York studying graphic design. You know anyone here bloging from sva? Hoping for a reply from you.

  20. Thanks anyway for your reply. How do you know so much? I know this is not taught in colleges, so how you not it? I guess from books. Another question. In a portfolio, presentation counts? You see I think it is not the presentation that counts, but the work that counts. Let me explain where my question is coming from. In my school, at the end of the year we have a portfolio review that features work we did during the school year. I brought my work in a sleaves. The responds from teachers was badly. They said that the work was badly presented and my work was poor. Now I am still confused. Why is this condsidered bad?

  21. hi i am a commercial artist from india.plz let me know how di i find freelance jobs online and make money.

  22. Hi Sandie,

    Thanks and well done on making the website for your students, a great idea. Also well done for volunteering your work for a good cause, people like you make the world a better place.

    Thanks for commenting Sandie and all the best with your career.

  23. I wolounteered to do some work for the schools studentcouncil. I’m a student in medie-graphics=web and print in Denmark, and it hit me, that the students didn’t have their own place on the schools webpage to talk or showcase or whatever. So currently I’m ending my education in a firm, and on the site I’m making a “kick ass” website for my fellow-students. A website I hope will look good in my portefolio when it’s done.

    My collegues at work (where i’m a trainee) are all so impressed by my work, that they happily recomend me by word og mouth to anyone in their network who needs graphic work done. And I alway ask if I can showcase the work on my own homepage (which is still under construcktion). Often they say yes.

    Besides I’ve also made some brochures for Amnesty International (local). But they liked the brochures so much, that Amnesty International Copenhagen contacted me for more work. I think that pro bono work like that gives you an unpricable image, that is well worth the time spend on the job. Besides the non-profitted work can polish your selfasteem- and it is easy to take these jobs because the expectations are easily met when they don’t pay you to do it…

    (Pardon my french…)

  24. Great list.
    Do you have a list of where to avoid looking for freelance design jobs? I scour CraigsList often but the % of replies I get is incredibly low, especially since my initial reply is more often than not a link to website (which I think is reply worthy), and an simple request for additional information regarding their project.
    Where do you avoid looking for work?

  25. Hi,
    I actually don’t have a list of where to avoid looking because everyone has different needs… ie. some people work for $5 for a logo.

    I actually don’t look for work at all personally, it comes through the blog which is handy my case however not for everyone, that is why I compiled this post. Good luck Jordan.

  26. I started “freelancing” my senior year of high school, though I had been making web toons since my sophomore year and designing local show flyers since my junior year. I made my target market “bands with myspace accounts” and started advertising with a nifty poster I made that had a link to my design “website” ( I charged something like $30 for a shirt design and $10 for a banner. This gave me a lot of experience and taught me how to deal with bands. I got screwed in the pooch a few times, of course, and the request for free design was kind of disturbing. This all gave me a sense for the market, in a weird way. It’s funny to think that bands full of 16 year olds treat graphic designers the way so called “professional business people” do.

    I still do Aetoric Design (of course) and now it has matured a lot. I try to work out contracts with clients now and try not to do any heavy work for free (though I will toss younger starting bands a web banner every now and then).

    I really agree with the whole “do not just be a static learner at University” statement. Going to a community college (my family is far too poor to afford to send me to anything prestigious), I see way to many people doing the minimum and not really grasping the concepts. A lot of kids go in to college with what I like to call the “Pepsi Logo Mentality.” They think, “It’s so simple! Any idiot can do that!” without realize the time and effort that actually goes into a logo (you probably feel this more than most).

    Anyways, great article! Would love to get a response! *geeks out*

  27. Aeotoric,
    Great that you got experience at such a young age. You really should consider setting up a 50% deposit before you start working as that works as a safety net and lets you know that they are committed. Good luck!

  28. I started experimenting on the web about 7 years ago, I was 12 years old at that time (if hard to imagine, it was the age of Dreamweaver 4) and I have been self-teaching ever since, buying books from Amazon every once in a while.

    I certainly agree to the fact that meeting with a client face to face, or even worse, getting hold of a phone number and being able to make the catch is very hard at first.

    I also agree that reference is the best way to get hold of new work as a freelancer, since you as a service are somehow credited with trust because of the client who referred you. I think that the best way to make sure someone will refer you is to provide excellent customer service. And that starts with fast availability = fast reply to e-mails, verbose and frequent updates on your work etc.

  29. I would start by learning the basics, a good book would do for starters. I would recommend Robin Williams ‘The Non Designers Design Book’. I would also do tutorials online and practice, read & practice! All the best.

  30. Hi,
    I’m looking for some freelance designing work.
    My core area is print production.

    Sanjay Malhotra

  31. It’s a bit of a hard press for me to get started. I’m only 16, so I’m limited on money to buy stuff like Photoshop (seems immoral to pirate it) so I’m stuck using open source stuff on Linux.

    Dunno how it’s gonna work out, but hopefully it should make some interesting results.

  32. Again, thanks for the article Jacob.

    A cheaper alternative to the regular version of Photoshop is Photoshop Elements. Or like Jacob said, student editions might be a way to go. I got my CS3 Design Premium through school for less than $200.

  33. I have read most of your articles and i agree with lots of things that you are saying.

    you are just too good to be true.

    Thanks alot for sharing your wisdom.

  34. You are a true life saver. I just got the first so called design-jobs. These sites are going to save me. I just got some logos to design to my friend’s friend’s bands and some CD-covers to do. This really made my life easier, I probably would not have found those tutorial sites or forums.

    For now I work for free, just to gain experience, I’m only 16, so people almost expect that I can’t do a thing. But after I have build on my online portfolio sites, I will start to ask some money. Now I don’t have anything good enough to show, so I won’t charge. I’m only exited to get something else than just own things to do.

    Once more.
    Thank you.

  35. Thanks for taking the time to write this article! I found it very helpful. I am a design student, and I have been doing some pro bono jobs for my church as well as for the small business that my dad works at. I’ve been exploring different ways to start working more, and I found your tips to be extremely helpful. My biggest problem is compiling a portfolio, but thanks to my high-school art teacher, I’ve been tackling that problem. Thanks again!

  36. Wow! First …I love this blog! its really helpful to me!
    Well im in my first year in college and i found a job! its to help poor children so i won’t ask for money yet, but thank you for this survival-guide haha THANKS!

  37. Can anyone advice me on the kind of graphics and nature(whether professional or personal, mature or childish, abstract etc) to put in a portfolio? I’m yet to put my portfolio online coz I don’t know what to include… and vice versa.


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  39. Working with a student is seriously the best thing ever. I tried 99 Designs once, and all I got was crap. All the “designers” just seem to be making a quick buck.

    The next time around, I tried posting on to get my logo designed since its just for student designers. Within a few days, I had half a dozen students apply to design my logo. Since its only college students, the cost is low like 99 Designs/CrowdSpring but the quality is much better. I was able to work with one girl for over a week with several iterations (she was quite patient with me).

    I’m all for supporting students starting their careers, and since they are looking to build their portfolios, they’ll bend over backwards for your design.

  40. It’s really hard for students to line up quality freelance gigs without deep experience / contacts, which makes it especially important for them to leverage as many tools as possible to get at least their personal work seen by people who might be potential clients.

    One thing I’m trying to work on is a way to incorporate very personalized video that can be embedded onto new freelancers’ personal websites, shared on Facebook / Twitter, e-mailed to friends and potential clients, etc — a way to promote a freelancer’s portfolio and personal brand through documentary-style video.

    If that is something that anyone here might find useful, why don’t you check it out at: and let us know what you think? 🙂

  41. Hey jacob,
    Awesome tips here. Actually I am new in this field, earlier I used to design my local client in my locality. Now I just entered to this online world and I just rock. I got 20 logo clients in just month. Now gonna try your awesome tips to get more clients.

    Ifham khan

  42. Great tips! Loving all the other articles as well!

    I am currently a student, and experienced that clients don’t treat students the same way as they do with professionals. It’s frustrating, but I guess I have to go through it for experience.


  43. Great List Jacob!
    1. No Basic Design Skills
    2. No Computer Skills
    3. Do not have a reputable portfolio
    4. No Knowledge About Clients Or Time-Management
    5. Getting The Clients Or Jobs

    Finding and effectively using a website with tools to assist in mentoring students as well as allowing for them to hone their skills on real world projects is definitely a need. As far as a portfolio is concerned there are many sites that allow for this, but it is also up to the student to do their part to build and maintain an up-to-date portfolio of projects. This type of information is not only great for their portfolio but also their resume. As projects are completed…having a repository of those clients can begin to turn into networking list. Sometimes having pro-bono projects posted by non-profits specifically for students to work on to build experience is a great opportunity and also creates that bridge of trust between college students and businesses which is key to the overall success of such an initiative. Time management is a big one…since often student have a significant course load of which their parents may be footing the bill so finding an even keel between course work and freelancing/entrepreneurship is a must. Possibly joining a group project lead by a mentor can lead to a better introduction to completing projects as well as assisting those that are unsure of how to get started. Students will definitely want to cut down on the extra-curricular activities.

    I’d like to recommend which has set up many features to assist student with getting those real world skills while still in college. A lot of hard work, but it pays off in the end.

    Student Freelance:

    A cool yearly contest called the March Madness “Claim UR College” Challenge is also available…but this years contest is coming to an end!


    Have a Great Day!

  44. I am a law student at NYU and I do as much freelance work on as I can to help offset my rediculously large student loan debt. There are a ton of programming jobs on that site but I (unfortunately) cannot take them since I don’t know how to program. I do, however, know how to write, and there is plenty of writing work to be done!

  45. Thank for your advice. It’s so usful for me – a begin designer who just love design and learn by myself

  46. I have been working online for sometime but just last year started making real money. It seems that you are burying new designers instead of helping them. I don’t think you really understand what you are talking about one persons experience may not be anothers. When I graduated from Westwood College last year I had all the skills I would ever need and then some. The computer experience is something I have been building for way more than a few years try fifteen years.

  47. Hi… I am new about being a web designer and I wondered if someone can tell me how can you actually make money with yellow pages ads? I mean, where do I go. Is there something like a website for that? I would appreciate the help. By the way, I loved this article. It made me open my eyes to the many job opportunities out there, in the real world.

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