Freelancing 101: How to Get Hired

The number one question about freelancing has got to be “how do you get jobs?”

As a matter of fact, just this morning I received an email from Phil, a bright and talented graphic designer who resides on the British accent continent, about this exact issue. So to answer the question of how to get hired, I am simply going to answer Phil’s email.

It read as thus:

Hi Shawn, I know you alluded to it in your post, but I would definitely like to see a post about how you drum up business. It would be great to see. Hope you are well Phil

I am well. Thank you. And although I cannot promise you wealth and riches, I would be delighted to ramble on and on for a while.

When first stepping into the world of freelance I think anyone and their mom would tell you that doing pro bono publico work is the best way to get your foot in the door. Why would a client pay a stranger to do a job when they could pay a friend? But, if that stranger is willing to work for free – that’s another story.

Additionally, you need to be on top of your professional game and have a network of fellow designers that you know and interact with. Here’s why…

Pro Bono and the Power of Relationships

As a graphic designer the main goal of doing pro bono work isn’t so much to build your portfolio. You could do that at home, deadline free, and under the shade of iTunes. No, the point is of pro bono is to build relationships. One great advantage of being a seasoned designer is having relationships and the repeat business – as well as new word of mouth business – those relationships bring in.

I saw a great example of the potential power of relationships in a twitter from Kyle Neath a few days ago –

Anyone know some good identity designers? I’m debating getting a revamped logo for ….

A simple suggestion from any one of the 39 other twitterers he’s following and he’s on his way to hiring a designer. Maybe.

Well here’s a hypothetical situation:

Suppose back in March when Paul had mentioned he wanted a new logo you sent him an email telling him you would love to design some concepts for free. You send some no-strings-attached proofs. Paul likes them. It’s a done deal. Then when Kyle twitters for a recommended logo designer, Paul gives a shout out to you and wa-la. You picked up a job and got your foot in the door and can continue from there.

The bottom line is that you have got to go find yourself those pro bono jobs. Be ruthless. Be obnoxious. Be outgoing. Be like someone who goes after something.

My first pro bono job was a CD packaging. I heard someone chatting about being in the recording studio, and they even talked about who they had hired to do the artwork. But I pulled them aside anyway and mentioned that I would love to do it for free. They liked that idea, hired me, and I was in.

Be On Top of Your Game

One of the first large scale jobs I did was a conference guide. I was hired out by an over-worked and under-staffed marketing team. Once I had the project well on it’s way they brought me in to meet with the marketing director and art director.

I went in with the rough proof printed out, the PDF already open on my laptop and a list of questions / issues that I needed answers to.

The senior marketing director was totally blown away by how organized and prepared I was. He liked me and wanted to work with me again because of my organizational and task-management skills. My job security with these guys was no longer resting in my talent as a designer. So I got hired again and again. And when the marketing director moved jobs, he told the incoming director that I was their number one guy.

Not all situations will be the same. But in a world full of talent you need to be sharp and cool in every area of your trade.

Networks and Friends

I have about half-a-dozen friends that are also freelance designers, artists and/or photographers. Instead of competing with them I try my hardest to work with them. I send them rough proofs of my work for feedback and let them know they can send me artwork as well.

If I ever get a job request that I can’t do I will recommend that client to one of the other guys, glad that I can send them business. And hope that they will do the same in return.

Be a Guerilla

You know I had to say it. But it’s undeniable.

Guerilla. Marketing. It. Is. For. Serious.

Get a cheap used copy of the Guerilla Marketing Handbook and go ape. There are some phenomenal ideas in there that will get those little grey cells working. It’s o.k. to invest a little money in yourself and your business and see where it leads you.

[This article is part of the Freelancing 101 Series]

Freelancing 101: How to Get Hired

Freelancing 101

The World Wide Web has opened up an entire world of opportunity for freelance designers. It doesn’t matter if you live in a big city anymore. You can live in Sundown, Texas and do business for people and companies all over the globe from your home.

Although I have a full-time job that I love, I have been doing freelance print and web work on the side for several years. Primarily because I enjoy it so much, but the extra income ain’t bad either.

This is one of the main things I get asked about by readers and friends. Questions about how I do freelance work; How I get jobs; How much do I charge? Etc…

Therefore I am starting a series called “Freelancing 101.”

I will be giving solutions and answering questions for the freelancer to help you do your job better, stronger and faster.

If you have any questions you’d like to have answered send me an email.

Freelancing 101

Be a Better Designer

As internet surfing and aimless link following will do, I ended up somewhere unexpected: Behavior Design. I was browsing through their job listings and a few things caught my eye and reminded me of one of the most invaluable design lessons I have ever learned.

What I noticed were the job requirements for their Design Lead and Visual Designer openings.

Candidates must have the following qualities:
  • Attention to detail and good people-skills
  • Self-motivation, discipline, quick-learner, organized
  • Excellent verbal, oral and written communication skills

The story goes like this…

When I stepped out of pro-bono work a few years ago my first design job was a book cover.

I was nervous, and I did some research of how to work with and bill clients as a freelance designer. But the forums I read only filled my mind with horror stories of dead-beat clients that over demanded and under paid. I started out with some horrible expectations of how the project was going to work itself out in addition to over confidence in my design ability – which led to many surprises on my end.

For instance: I was shocked when my initial design concept wasn’t approved and they wanted another. Then I was shocked when they wanted to do a custom photo shoot using people they knew instead of the stock photos I had put in.

Since I low-balled my design fee I had to ask for more money at each ‘extra step.’ By the end of the project the invoice was nearly double the original quote. And because of all the (bad) advice I had read online I was extremely pushy about their deposit and the terms of payment.

In fact, I never even had a decent conversation with the client (who – as a matter of fact – was also a friend) about his and my expectations for the work-flow, communication, payment, etc…

Once the book was printed I met up with my friend the project manager to get some swag. He asked if he could talk to me for a few minutes and give some advice. He proceeded to tell me about my obvious lack of people skills. He called out each area of ‘advice’ I had learned from those forums as something that had put a negative pressure on the project and made him feel uncomfortable, and gave me ideas of how to do things better.

That five minute conversation revolutionized the way I have done design work ever since.

If I had just been open and honest at the beginning, laid out my expectations, and allowed some room for “fudge” in my design fee then the whole project would have gone smoother and been more fun for all of us.

That was the first and last time I ever acted like a high-and-mighty graphic designer who treats his clients as if they were perpetually inconveniencing him. Now when I receive a job-request the first sentence in my email reply starts with “thank you.”

Thanks for asking me to do this job. I would love to. If I can get more details about the project and a time-frame then I’ll be able to let you know if I can do it and how much I think it will cost. Then we can move forward with the logistics if you would like to.

I want my clients to know I am honored to work for them, and I am proud to take on their job. Even if we are professionals, aren’t we still just folks?

[This article is part of the Freelancing 101 Series]

Be a Better Designer