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First 5 steps to becoming a freelance designer


December 2020
We at Turtlewig are building the future of design freelancing — a place to handle all your design assets, their handoff and manage the entire review process

Freelancing has always been one of the most natural and sought after careers choices for creative individuals. Even historically, India was where kings and queens were known to be the biggest patrons of arts, and artists used to travel from kingdom to kingdom pleasing the rulers and getting rewarded for their skills.

For better or worse, we don’t quite live in those times anymore. But ironically enough, even in the era of COVID, the situation isn’t all that different. Clients all over the world are still kings and queens, and we freelancers still have to prove to these clients that we are worth their patronage a.k.a Money.

Analogies aside, let’s get to the stuff you’re really here for — The 5 steps to becoming a design freelancer

1. Learn and practice your craft

No artist becomes great overnight. In fact, if you don’t fail enough, your work will never be good enough to get paid for. Everyone goes through the initial learning phase. The earlier you accept that there’s no skipping that, and get to work, the better! Regardless of what sort of freelancer you are, if your skills are not up to the mark, no one will ever pay you. Also, your taste will evolve as you do more work and you can’t put a price on developing good taste.

2. Build a portfolio

Freelancers always need some sample work to show when pitching to clients. Especially in design where your portfolio dictates pretty much all the opportunities you land, freelance or not, a portfolio should be fairly obvious.

There are tons of ways of building a portfolio — Your own website, Behance, Dribble… Someday we’ll write an entire post covering how to build a portfolio. For now, here’s a great resource.

3. Find your first client

This step is always hard but even as a beginner your best bet is to find someone within your network. Most likely it will not be a first-degree connection, but reach out to your best-networked friend and they might know someone with a project requirement. Marketplaces also work for a lot of people, but believe me, the earlier you move away from them, the earlier you get to set your own rates and build your brand. If you’re just not able to find a client, shoot us an email, and we’ll do our best to hook you up with someone who needs some work done. (We’re not building a marketplace, so we won’t be charging any fees for facilitating this.)

Another practical tip here is to list your services on LinkedIn. This way when someone searches for, let’s say a “graphic designer”, you will appear in the search results if you listed graphic design as a service you provide. Here’s a guide for this —

For the next part of the story, let’s assume you have landed your first client.

4. Handle the paperwork professionally

Wait a sec, there needs to be paperwork? Of course, dummy, just because you’re a freelancer doesn’t mean you don’t have to deal with the boring stuff. Thankfully, there are lots of tools that help with this. When it comes to paperwork, all you need is the following

A proposal (Optional) — Legally, this amounts for nothing, but it’s always a good client experience when you start with a well-defined proposal that lists down the payment milestones and what your deliverables would be at each stage.

A contract (recommended) — A lot of freelancers don’t follow this, but that can come back to bite you in the a*$. We recommend you to get a standard contract that you will modify slightly at the beginning of each project.

Invoices (highly recommended) for every payment milestone. Invoices are easy to create but you can use online tools for this as well.

Bonsai is a tool that allows you to do both — contracts and invoicing

5. Make your first client happy

Ok, this is a lie. Sort of. Because you will need to make every client happy. But pleasing one client is no less than pleasing a dozen and we all have to start somewhere. Anyway, the best way to do this is to overdeliver and go the extra mile to serve a client; anything from accommodating your schedule to work better for your client to doing as many revisions as the client asks for. Remember, a good referral from your first few clients can go a long, long way.

We at Turtlewig are building the future of design freelancing — a place to handle all your design assets, their handoff and manage the entire review process. We also allow you to manage your client payments in multiple milestones. If you want to give it a look, sign up for our private beta at

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