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Freelance Design: How to Establish Your Own Firm


A freelance design business is ideal for any entreprenuer with artistic talent and experience with computer graphics programs. Freelancing allows you to work whenever you want on a pay-per-job basis, so you set your own hours and get frequent paydays. Of course, the downside of freelancing is that you're never totally assured of work or pay. In order to be successful as the owner of a freelance design firm, you will need two things: a wide client base and experienced designers.

Step 1: Get Proper Licenses

In order to start a business, you will need to acquire the proper licenses and tax forms. You might need a Doing Business As (DBA) license depending on the intended name of your firm (read this article for tips on choosing a great name). You will need to have W9 forms sent to each of the designers you hire. For more specific information, which is accurate for your area and business, contact your local small business office.

Step 2: Make a Website

The vast majority of the time, freelance design work is acquired online and all communication is made through the Internet. Therefore, it's very important to build some sort of web presence. As a designer, you should be able to create your own website (or at least make the graphics for it and have someone else code it). Websites should be easy and intuitive for visitors to navigate. At the same time, it should show off your firm's skill with design. The website should minimally have the following:

  • a page with a list of the services your firm offers and approximate prices
  • a page for a portfolio and samples of previous work
  • an "about" statement and contact information.

Step 3: Establish Policies

You should have a plan in place as far as what cut of the pay you will be receiving. Somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the entire price is usually considered fair--for example, if an employee designed a logo and the client paid $200, you would take between $20 and $40 of it and pay the rest to the employee.

You will also need to have a policy about how revisions will be handled and what will happen if a client outright rejects the work after it has already been completed. Having predetermined policies in place to handle a number of different circumstances will help you cope with problems later.

Step 4: Hire Designers

Talented freelance web designers are everywhere, so it shouldn't be too much trouble to recruit new hires online. Using sites like Craigslist or iFreelance, advertise that you're looking for new hires. Get bids for approximate pay, and carefully go through each applicant's portfolio and references. As a designer yourself, you should recognize artistic talent and be able to pick out designers who suit your tastes and needs.

Step 5: Promote Your Firm

Establishing your firm means becoming known as a respected presence in the freelance graphic design industry. This means optimizing your website and looking everywhere you can for freelance jobs. Again, sites like iFreelance and Craigslist will help you in your search. You can go to local businesses with special offers, or purchase pay-per-click advertising on Google. There are all kinds of ways to promote your firm and find clients. Make sure you treat everyone exceptionally well and emphasize customer service--it will pay off in returning customers and positive word of mouth.

Establishing any business is a lot of work, but it can pay off in the end. Owning a freelance design firm is an exciting (if difficult) experience that WAHMs can appreciate.

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