What it’s like being a freelance graphic designer

What it’s like being a freelance graphic designer – the positives and negatives

Hello and welcome back to my blog. Todays post is all about what it’s like being a freelance graphic designer. I am a freelance branding, packaging, social media and in-house designer based in Cornwall, UK. I also offer photography and blogging services. Click here to see my portfolio or email contact@melissacarne.co.uk to get in contact with me.

I have been running my own design business since March 2019. In this blog post I wanted to cover the positives and negatives of being a freelance graphic designer to help those of you who want to know if it is the right career path for them and give clients an insight into my life.

How I came to be a freelance designer

So my journey to becoming a freelance graphic designer since graduating has been a little all over the place. I graduated from Falmouth University in 2017 with a first class degree in graphic design and at the time I thought that my path in life was to become a designer in a branding and packaging studio in London.
melissa carne black and white image used for her design website
now and then logo design by melissa carne
not.corn packaging design by freelance graphic designer

After interning in London at different studios for a few months I realised that this career path wasn’t for me. I have a few blog posts on my experience as graphic design intern which I will link here:  What it is like being a graphic design intern and Absolute graphic design internship experience. Hopefully they will allow you to grasp a better understanding of what the design industry is like. However, in short why that career path wasn’t right for me was because I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice my whole life for my job.

I then went on to get a junior designer role in Cornwall however, this was rather short lived and ultimately propelled me into the world of freelancing. So the path may have not been my first choice from what I thought I wanted at university however, now I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Positives of being a freelancer

 

1. Freedom

One of the biggest positives of being a freelance graphic designer is the freedom. Freedom to work wherever and whenever you like. Freedom to say no to projects that you don’t want to do or don’t excite you. Freedom over your own life and the projection of your career. 

I think one of the biggest things I struggled with while in employment was feeling trapped. Having little to no say on the projects that came in and I worked on. Having no say on the hours I had to work and having quite frankly an unhealthy work life balance.

2. Control

Almost sounds contradictory to freedom but, another positive to being a freelance graphic designer is control. You can control how much you earn and how much you work. You can go away on holiday when you like (bear in mind you let your clients know in advance) and you can choose how long for. 

The thought of only having 28 days holiday a year makes me feel sick. Sometime life happens, in good and bad ways and to be able to take time off when you need too is a complete blessing.

You are also in control over your own finances. What you work on you take the profit for. I worked in a studio where I did all the work for a website on my own and I got paid my hourly rate from them. Yet, when I saw the invoice they took a 4 x profit of what I had earned! That is insane. I obviously understand it is their connections that got them the work in the first place and that was my job. But, honestly it made me feel like why can’t I do that?

3. Learning and growing

I feel like now I am a freelance designer I am learning and growing at a much faster and wider rate that I ever would have if I had stayed in the traditional employment route. 

My skills have had to become more varied and not just in terms of design but in life skills. I have to market and manage my own business on a daily basis. This has allowed me to gain much more valuable life knowledge, I am learning constantly. I can also branch out into other areas of business if I feel like it and mould myself more into an entrepreneur. I have control over my time and how I choose to spend it.

dog ice cream packaging by graphic designer melissa carne in cornwall
alcoholic packaging for hubbox in cornwall
french bull dog in a graphic design studio

I was finding that in my previous  junior designer role I was starting to become complacent. I wasn’t particularly being challenged and every day was merging into the next. Being a freelancer for me means that every day is different and I love that. I don’t want to feel as if my life is flashing before my eyes.

4. Meeting new people

As a freelancer I actually end up meeting more people than I did being in a studio. You wouldn’t think that as most of the time I am working from home. However, this is because I also offer in-house design support to studios around Cornwall and I love it. I get to meet new people, widen my network and work in different environments on different projects. 

Also as a freelancer you have to network more. Unfortunately it is who you know and not what you know. However, while networking I get to meet a wide range of people from different industries, I am not just connecting with other designers. However that does lead me onto… I get to work with other freelancers. If a project comes in that is bigger than my own abilities I can call on other freelancers to help. Whether that is website design or art working a project I have done, whatever it may be I get to still work with other creative people. This means we can also pass on each other’s details and give each other work which is great.

NEGATIVES OF BEING A FREELANCER

 

1. RESPONSIBILITY

All the responsibility for everything falls on your shoulders. You have to make sure you get enough clients each month to pay your bills. The work you produce is yours solely, so no help from other designers. And you have to deal with everything, time management, money management, the design work and the correspondence with clients. For some this may be a lot but, for me I like wearing multiple hats as it varies up my day.

2. Self discipline

To be a freelancer you have to be self disciplined. Like mentioned above you’re in charge of your own time. Taking away the structure of being in a certain place at a certain time to do your job can wreak havoc on your productivity. To combat this you have to have a certain level of self discipline and to create your own structure for the day.

3. Hard work

Being a freelancer is hard work. You can spend hours marketing yourself, improving your SEO, networking etc. Meaning that your actual amount of time designing can be outweighed by all these other hats you have to wear. As mentioned I enjoy this part whereas other people may not. If all they want to do is design and that is fair enough but, a studio career path may be better suited to you.

4. NO INSTANT SUCCESS

Success takes time. Building a business with a reliable income can take years of work. You won’t be an overnight hit. I personally go through really busy spells where I can be working up to 6 days a week to then almost nothing. That is just the way freelancing can be. You have to be  smart with your money as you never know when it could go quiet. Luckily for me I am living at home still so, this is the perfect time to take the freelancing leap. I don’t have to worry about bills or people to care for. I hope that when one day when I do have to worry about those things my freelancing business will have become more reliable as I would have built it up over the years to become successful.

bear snack packaging design by melissa carne graphic designer in cornwall
prs members fund logo and branding
insane grain social media posts by melissa carne
behaviour change cornwall logo by graphic designer melissa carne

Summary

I honestly believe that it depends on what type person you are to whether you will thrive or not as a freelance graphic designer or a freelancer in general. It depends on what your life values are and the type of lifestyle you want to lead. 

For me personally if it is a lovely day and I want to go out an enjoy the beach I can. Having that type of freedom outweighs any negatives for me. That is what I need to be able to thrive in life. However, if you like routine and stability this may not be the best route for you. 

It takes quite a lot of reflection and trail and error to figure this out so, there is no need to rush anything. If you are a new graduate, go with the flow, try loads of new things and as time goes on hopefully it will start to become clearer for you.

Get in contact

I hope you enjoyed this blog post about what it’s like being a freelance graphic designer and it gave you an idea whether this is the right career path for you. I know a lot more people will be considering freelancing now due to the current circumstances. 

If you are an existing client hi, or a new potential client I would love to hear from you! Please email contact@melisscarne.co.uk so I can discuss your ideas with your further. Alternatively you can have a browse of my portfolio site to see more of my work and the services I offer.

Lots of love, Melissa x

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