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


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

What Apple copied from Microsoft

Jeffery Zeldmen’s article about the power the iPhone has had on his work life is simply outstanding.

My iPhone has made me stop using calendar, contact, and e-mail applications I’ve used day and night for over a decade, and switch to the free — and in some ways less capable — applications that come bundled with Macintosh OS X. […] Changing years of work habits is not easy. Migrating data, in some cases by hand, takes time I don’t have to spare. Yet I’m making these changes of my own will, and happily.

I think I’ll read it again tomorrow.

What Apple copied from Microsoft

How To: Fix the little legs on your PowerBook Power Supply

  1. Get some Gorilla Glue.

  2. Squeeze Gorilla glue into the hole where your power supply leg use to be.

  3. Squeeze more Gorilla glue onto the end of your broken off leg.

  4. Try not to go crazy with the Gorilla glue.

  5. Take the little broken leg and stick it back into the slot, in the “out” or “open” position.

  6. Use Scotch tape to secure the leg in position.

  7. Wait for 12 hours.

Gorilla Glue and PowerBook Power Supply

How To: Fix the little legs on your PowerBook Power Supply

Shuffle Songs

Shuffle Songs

In all the days I’ve owned my iPod I’ve never once just shuffled all songs and let it go. After Dave Caolo mentioned that’s all he ever does I decided to try yesterday at the airport; and while my flight was delayed I rediscovered my entire music collection.

I’m hooked.

Shuffle Songs

iPhone Tips & Tutorials: A semi-comprehensive link list

NOTE: If you know of a link or two (or three) that you think would fit in here, please send it my way:

Ever since June 29th, 2007 there has been so much development happening for the iPhone it’s crazy. For archive’s (and sanity’s) sake I’ve compiled a list of the iPhone web-apps, developments, tips, tutorials, helpful tid-bits, articles that stand out to me, and more.

This page is a perfect one-stop shop for two types of people:

1) Those who currently have an iPhone and want in on the discoveries and web-apps being published but don’t have time to surf the internet like crazy.

2) Those who hope to get an iPhone some day, don’t want to miss out on the developments taking place right now and are not particularly looking forward to digging through archives.


Tutorials & Tips


Hardware Accessories

Articles and Reviews


iPhone Tips & Tutorials: A semi-comprehensive link list

Thirty Months with a 12-inch PowerBook G4

In January 2005 I made the switch to Mac. I turned in my Dell Inspiron 3800 and crossed over to a 12″ PowerBook G4. It was like going from olive loaf to Kobe, American to gouda, or Kia to BMW. I was blown away.

I was given a freedom that can only be given from a machine that has been “built by people who get it–and by “it” I mean UI/VI design and industrial engineering.”* In Laymen’s terms: Apple’s hardware coupled with OS X make for a consistently enjoyable and captivating user experience.

Thirty months later I am still using my PowerBook every day. For 28 months it has been my primary machine. Seeing me through emailing, note-taking, web-surfing, graphic designing, web-site developing, AIMing and Quicksilvering.

All this time and no official review? Well, that’s all about to change. Read on, my friends. Read on.

The Specs – Numbers and Acronyms

  • 12″ PowerBook G4
  • 1.33GHz PowerPC Processor
  • 1.25 GB of RAM
  • 80 GB HDD at 4200 RPM
  • 1024 x 768 Screen Resolution
  • CD-ROM Combo Drive
  • 13 Stickers featuring an old-school Apple logo, Ableton Live, Ride Snowboards and Dakine.
  • Affectionately named Reepicheep

Why the 12″?

It was a toss up between the 15″ and the 12″ PowerBooks. I knew I needed a laptop for portability and the iBooks lacked the punch I needed. I liked the size and feel of the 12″ but also liked the extra pixels on the 15″. But ultimately it was my budget that made the decision.

There have been a few times that I have regretted not waiting a bit longer to save the money for the 15″. But for the most part, I have loved this little guy. He can go anywhere, and the custom fitted Brenthaven bag (which they don’t sell anymore) is one sweet accessory.

900 Days of Consecutive Use

I have used my PowerBook to some capacity nearly every day of the 900ish that I’ve owned it. Virtually every area of my life exists on my computer. Work, home and play. As I mentioned earlier – not only do I use it for standard daily tasks, but also for processor-intensive tasks such as print and web design.

It has held up like a champ and a faithful friend. However, I am beginning to notice some lag and general slow-down. The CPU heats up hotter and quicker than it used to, causing the fan to turn on more often. Also, after getting a Mac Pro as my main computer the G4 now seems much more sluggish than before.

What’s Next?

I plan on running my PowerBook into the ground. When Leopard comes out I’ll clean off my hard-drive and give it a nice fresh OS install, and clean app installs as well. Something I’ve only done once in all the time I’ve owned it.

Knowing that my PowerBook won’t last forever, I’ve already begun saving for another laptop. However, 5 minutes with an iPhone at the Apple store diverted the attention of that savings account. But eventually I will need to get a new laptop and when I do it will be a MacBook Pro. Since there is no such thing as a 12″ MBP, and probably never will be, I expect to get the 15″ model. But even if I had the option of a powerful sub-notebook, I think it would be a nice change to go for something with extra screen real estate.

Thirty Months with a 12-inch PowerBook G4