Home Freelancer How I built a successful freelance business from literally nothing

How I built a successful freelance business from literally nothing

How I built a successful freelance business from literally nothing


With the new year approaching this is the perfect time to start something new.

Something about a fresh start really motivates us to dig into the work we’ve been putting off and take on some new challenges.

There’s no better time than now to start your freelance business. However, if you’re starting a business from scratch, there’s a lot to do. Understanding the broader landscape of small business success can be crucial at this stage. For instance, only 34.4% of small companies survive for at least 10 years, which emphasizes the need to be well-prepared for the challenges ahead.

Building a successful graphic design business is a lot of work. Just the thought of it can be overwhelming. Where should you even start? Looking at this as one massive undertaking can make it seem impossible.

I actually went through this process not so long ago, and although it seemed like a ton of work at the time, it went faster and better then I could have imagined.

I found it extremely helpful to break the work up into tasks. This made my progress easier to track, and gave me things to celebrate along the way to help stay motivated.

Here’s the basic list of steps I took to go from absolute zero, to having a successful design business. I will also include some tips I learned along the way.

Whether you want to start freelancing full time, or maybe start transitioning to freelancing by doing it part time, this is a great way to get the ball rolling.

Evaluate Yourself.

A great way to start any project, especially potentially life-changing ones is to take some time and evaluate yourself. This is a good way to gauge how ready you are, and make any changes that might better prepare you for success.

Some really good, freelance specific, questions would be:

  • do you have the time? (Are you willing to work some long hours?)
  • are you self motivated? (There is no one else to hold you accountable when you are working for yourself.)
  • do you have the resources? (Work space, software, some financial stability)
  • do you have a passion for freelancing and design work? (This might be the most important one)
  • can you handle an inconsistent income? Freelancing by nature is not as steady as working for another company. This can be a plus (you get the reward when you land big contracts, instead of your boss) and it can be bad (when things are slow you will take a pay cut.)

Build A Brand.

Your brand is the face of your company.

It’s what people will recognize, how they will pick you out of the crowd, and it’s the thing that will give people comfort in its familiarity.


A blind Coke / Pepsi taste test published in 2004 proved this point perfectly, showing that people’s taste preference actually changed considerably when the branding was present vs. when it was hidden.

The process of branding yourself is a lot more then just slapping you name on a card in your favorite color.

Pick out the core values you consider most important to you in business and in life and think about how those translate into a brand image.

I found that creating a “logo use and brand guide” (example) for myself was a really great way to insure I stayed super consistent with the look and feel of my personal brand. Consistency increases brand recognition like crazy!

Once you have your brand settled, you can work from this guide while you start to build your business assets (website, business cards, letter head, invoices, social media profiles, etc.)

This will result in a perfectly consistent brand on all levels.

Decide on your focus.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to do it all, but putting a focus on one area will help you improve faster and attract a clientele.

Here’s a couple of the obvious ones:

  • web design
  • web development
  • graphic design
  • branding
  • logo design

For more, Preston put together the best list of “design niches” I’ve ever seen here.

Get to work!

The only way people can tell if you’ve got what they are looking for is by looking at your past work. If you haven’t got any, that’s a problem!

Do as many projects as you possibly can to start building your portfolio.

Focus on projects that will look good in a portfolio as a start. Those amazing looking portfolio pieces are what’s going to attract more work.

There is no denying that there is power in a name. Work with well known, or important people whenever you can.

Getting to work with big names can be easier than you think!

One great way is to keep an eye out for established professionals who are launching new startups. They will often be looking for new people to bring on board and they are more likely to succeed than your average startup.

There is a lot less people trying to work with a company when it is a startup then once it is wildly successful, so reserve your seat early.

Do your 100% best work, even when you think no one is watching. You never know when a project, that you consider low profile, might catch the eyes of a potential high profile client.

Keep looking forward.

Throughout this entire process it’s important to keep an eye to the future.

Set rates that are sustainable for a professional, even if you aren’t one yet. If you charge an unrealistically low amount while you are just starting you could get stuck with clients that expect those rates to continue and it will be a lot harder to change once you are more established.

www.yourrate.co is a great website for calculating your hourly rate if you need some help deciding where to start.

Never burn bridges, even ones you don’t have any more interest in right now.

Even if you can’t work with a client, or fellow designer anymore, be pleasant. You never know when someone is going to tell another potential client what it was like to work with you (good or bad!)

Word of mouth is your most honest advertising.

Now over to you!

What concerns do you have as you get ready to take the challenge? If you’re already a freelancer; what tips did you find helpful in building your brand?

Comments here.

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