Updated: Aug 9, 2021

Over the years I've learnt some pretty valuable lessons that have shaped my career and helped me grow my business. I wanted to share a few of these lessons because, let's be real, freelancing is a beast, and these tips would have helped me so much when I first started out.


I started my freelance business in my second year of university. I did it because one of my lecturers told me that I should get as much experience as possible before graduating. His exact words were

‘it doesn’t matter how great your portfolio is, if you don’t have any experience to back it up, you won’t even get a look in.’ And sadly, he wasn't wrong. Back then Instagram wasn’t really a thing, so trying to drum up your own business required taking your portfolio around on foot and sending hundreds of emails. It was a very gruelling process, especially when I didn’t really have a whole lot of substance to my portfolio. So I learnt very early on one of the keys to having a successful freelance career – use your connections. Still to this day a large portion of my business comes from word of mouth or people I am connected to in some way. What it meant for me back then was a way to start building my portfolio. We all have that one friend who is an aspiring musician, so ask to create some flyers for his next gig or the album artwork for his EP. Or that person in the apartment down the hall who sells her handmade who-really-knows-what-they-are at the local markets, ask to create some business cards for her. One of my biggest clients who I currently work with came from a meeting my roommate set me up for me. And if your friends are utterly talentless and you can’t squeeze any good projects out of them, create your own. This leads me to my next piece of advice...


Passion projects are some of the best projects you’ll work on as you get to do things your way and create something that fits your style. Think up all of the dream clients you'd love to work with and start creating brands, packaging etc. in those fields. This will not only help you to build your portfolio, but it will also help to attract the type of clients you actually want to work with.


When you're first starting out in your career, say yes to everything. here will be projects and job opportunities that come your way that may sound super boring or require little to no creative touch, but they all help to establish connections and build your brand. I worked for a year and a half for a cleaning company and let me tell you, it is very hard to make cleaning look appealing. And even though this job was definitely not where I wanted to be, it did make me realise I wanted to be my own boss someday, and I forged some great connections there that lead me to some really amazing opportunities.


I say that freelance is all about the side hustle because unless you're made of money, it really is. For years I worked 40-hour weeks at my full-time design job and would come home at night or spend my weekends working on my freelance business. It was a lot to juggle, but it was a labour of love for me because I was working on projects I was passionate about and enjoyed doing. It also afforded me the freedom to be choosey about the projects I took on. The early years of me saying yes to absolutely everything meant I was able to establish early on in my career what style of design I liked and what I was passionate about. It also planted the seed for my love of branding and made me realise I wanted to work with other entrepreneurs and small businesses. One day you will be ready to take the leap and even though it will most definitely scare you, but you will have all the right tools and connections to make it work.


Creating a strong personal brand that shows your potential clients exactly what they can expect from your services will go a long way towards establishing yourself as a freelancer. Just like your clients, you also need a brand that reflects who you are and what you're trying to achieve. If you're anything like me, this will be one of the hardest projects you will work on, but it is so worth spend the time to get it right. Remember, you're a business too, so don't be afraid to evolve your brand as you grow.


Choosing the correct clients is also key. While I explained before how important saying yes was in the early years was for me, saying no has become just as important. I know where my strengths lie and I don't want to do a disservice to myself, or my client, by saying yes to a job that doesn't suit my style of design. I've worked hard to create a strong brand for myself and my clientele really reflects this.


I've seen the world of design change rapidly over the years I've been working in the industry. When I first started the best way to reach potential clients was via email or in person. These days, it's all about the gram. Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook are the easiest, cheapest and most effective marketing tools we have and they're right at our fingertips. I can't stress this enough - put some time and energy in to your online presence. Social media (and word of mouth) are the only ways I have ever marketed myself and I've never spent a single cent on advertising. I've taken the time to research how Instagram's algorithm works, paid close attention to trends and I've created a marketing strategy that works for me.


Investing in a website is a must. Whether it be Wix, Squarespace or Wordpress, there are so many easy to use templates that are completely customisable and don't require much of an investment. I use Wix and love it.

Every path as a freelancer is different which is half the appeal. The way my journey has shaped will be totally different to yours, but I hope these couple of lessons I have learnt along the way will help to form your career.

Do you have any more questions? Comments below and I’ll answer them for you.

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