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