20 Tips for Freelancers starting out

20 Tips for Freelancers starting out

20 Tips for Freelancers starting out. Great for web designers, graphic designers, photographers, writers, It’s great to be a freelancer. You are your own boss, you work from home. But with all that freedom, comes the challenge of finding your own projects. Here are 20 things I’ve learned in my 20+ years of experience as a web/print designer.

Have a goal and target audience in mind. My goal is to work with a small number of clients and service them in as many ways as possible – website design, email and social media marketing, print, etc. Other designers may focus on one service – i.e. business card design, and may try to reach many clients. Some designers focus on one type of client, like healthcare, or authors. Who will you target? What is your overall goal?

Check in periodically with past clients to see if they need anything. They are the most likely to hire you again.

Show people what you do. Social media is a great place for this. People don’t always understand what you do. By posting your projects, you’re letting them know. And a blog is great way for people to get to know, not just your projects, but you.

Practice – and post your projects. Work on your dream type projects. You never know if posting a [book cover, logo, website, etc.] will lead to someone seeing it and saying, “I need that.”

Learn – There is so much free information out there – youtube, udacity (html coding), the library – ebooks and audiobooks, blog posts, webinars, podcasts. Soak it all up!

Ask – Don’t wait for people to ask to work with you. Ask them. Understand that hearing “no” is part of the process. Don’t let a “no” get you down. A “no” brings you closer to a “yes.”

Follow up! People get busy and forget. Make it easy for them, by following up and putting your name and contact info in front of them. 

Practice your “elevator pitch” – how you can describe what you do to someone you meet for 2 minutes.

Network – Take friends/acquaintances for coffee and ask for advice on how to grow your freelance business, types of companies you can target, etc. Asking for advice is easier than asking someone you know for business, but you may end up with a new project. 

Networking Groups – Join one – either local or online. There are mentoring and mastermind groups too. All of these groups expand your network.

Try not to do stuff for free! If you do something for a reduced rate, have the client pay the difference by bartering, or by promoting you on their social media. Make sure you quantify it in your estimate (x # of posts). Working cheap will come back to haunt you when someone else quotes that discounted price.

Expand your services. Be willing to do other, related things, for clients – manage social media, load products to their e-commerce site, etc.

Keep a list of potential clients and continually add to it. Send them an email, cold call (gulp), mail a postcard, or send a FB message. Follow up a few weeks later.

Don’t forget the “other” stuff. When you are freelancing all the other stuff is your job too – supplies, vendors, invoicing, following up with people who owe you money, marketing, etc. You won’t be just designing. All the overhead costs are yours too.

Have a website with your portfolio and services. Include links in your email to your website and social media. Update your website to include new work.

Talk to everyone, and learn what they do. Ask if they could use your services, or suggest they start “emailing clients” (or any service that you can “help” them with – for a fee of course).

Estimate – Always give an estimate before you start a job (hard copy or email not just verbal). Ask for approval on the estimate before you start the work. Sometimes my estimates are ranges because I don’t know exactly what it will cost. I also include my hourly rate for changes “beyond the scope of the job” or ongoing work. When estimating a project remember – it’s not just about “the time it takes but the value of what you are doing.” This bit of advice is from a book I recommend – “Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer: The Evolution of a $1m Web Designer.”

Mark up printing costs or anything from a vendor. I think standard is (or was) 30%, but I it also depends on the size of the job. If you don’t want to cover the vendor costs you can charge your “production” time and the client can pay the vendor directly. 

Work for others – even if it’s just part time. You can learn different skills about organizing a business, dealing with clients, etc. from different bosses, even within different industries.

Seek out clients who can afford to pay you, that have the budget for the projects you can do for them. Although it’s kind of obvious, it took me a while to learn this lesson. You know the saying you can’t get blood from a stone? Plenty of people could use a website, or logo, or whatever, but if they don’t have the resources to pay you what you are worth, they aren’t your target audience and aren’t worth pursuing.

Good luck! I’d love to hear from you! Have additional advice? Find this post helpful? Let me know.

This post contains affiliate links to products I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!

20 Tips for Freelancers starting out. For graphic designers, web designers, illustrators, writers, etc.

10 Design Principles from the “How Posters Work” Exhibit


This past winter I went to the Cooper Hewitt museum in NYC and saw the exhibit How Posters Work.”

“The exhibition dissects the designers’ creative uses of design principles and visual expression to underscore the significance of a designer’s and the viewer’s eye to the design process.

How Posters Work uses the medium of the poster to explore principles of visual thinking that extend to many forms of design, including branding, packaging, book covers, websites, and motion graphics.”

Design Principles covered in the exhibit:

  • Focus the eye
  • Overwhelm the eye
  • Use text as image
  • Overlap
  • Cut and paste
  • Assault the surface
  • Simplify
  • Tell a story
  • Amplify
  • Double the meaning

Explore the exhibition online here.

My Year in Review

It’s a great time to reflect on past accomplishments, and set goals for the New Year. I think it’s important to take stock of how far you’ve come, and where you’re headed.

This year, I’ve had the pleasure of developing several new relationships. I offer different services, so I’m always interested in what specific areas I worked in throughout the year.

As the graphic below shows, web design was the largest part of my business, followed by print, then logo design. Social media and email marketing were tied. Illustration was the smalllest part of my business.

I know web design will continue to be a large part of my business in 2016. New businesses need an online presence, and for many existing businesses it’s time to update their sites, especially if they aren’t mobile friendly. I predict that social media and email marketing will continue to grow, as they are important elements to any marketing strategy.

What are your marketing goals for 2016? I’d love to connect with you in the new year and help you achieve your goals.

Happy New Year!

Have you seen my portfolio? Web, Print, Logo, Email, Social MediaIllustration

How mobile friendly is your site?

How much of your internet browsing is done on your mobile device, not your desktop? Isn’t it frustrating when you find a site, but it isn’t readable? The text is too small, or when you try to select a menu item with your finger, you accidentally hit the wrong one, because the items are so close together. Frustrating right? How is the mobile user experience on your own site?

Google is using “mobile-friendliness” as a stronger ranking signal than ever before. It is no wonder Google places value on a mobile-friendly website. 67% of users in the U.S. access the Internet every day on their smartphone.*

At the beginning of the year, Google announced:
“We’re boosting the ranking of mobile-friendly pages on mobile search results. Now searchers can more easily find high-quality and relevant results where:

  • text is readable without tapping or zooming,
  • tap targets are spaced appropriately,
  • the page avoids unplayable content or horizontal scrolling.”**

Not sure if your site is mobile-friendly? Take Google’s Mobile-Friendly test.

I’d be so thankful if you signed up for my newsletter here.
Happy Thanksgiving!

*Google Makes Mobile Optimization SEO Ranking Factor
**Google: Rolling out the mobile-friendly update
What Google’s New Mobile-Friendly Changes Mean for You

Take advantage of the new school year and fresh start by improving your productivity!


Wow, before we know it, school will be starting and Summer ending! As much as I love Summer, I love the start of the school year. For me, it feels like a fresh start and a time for resolutions, more so than New Year’s. This year I want to be more productive and make every second count!

As an avid list maker, the article, “The Daily Routine Experts Recommend for Peak Productivity,” on Entrepreneur.com, really spoke to me. It includes the The Ivy Lee Method:

  • “At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow.
  • Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  • When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on.
  • Move any unfinished items to a new list for the next day.
  • Repeat this process every working day.”

The post, “3 Small Discipline Habits You Can Train,” on zenhabits.net, also resonated with me, especially this quote,
“Instead of having a long to-do list of things you want to do today, have just one thing you want to do right now.”
I realized that sometimes, instead of writing another list, I could accomplish a “to-do” item!

Any new and improved habits or systems you’re planning on for the Fall? I’d love to hear! Let’s connect! – Eileen

Have you read these “time saving tips” on my blog?
“You Don’t Need to Reinvent the Wheel with your Social Media Content” and “7 tips to keep your Social Media time in check.”

Interesting Links: These 3 women all provide so much great content and interesting links. I highly recommend them: Abby Glassenberg, Meighan O’Toole, and Crystal Moody.

BTW – Back in 2013 I made a “creative” resolution and I’ve been painting and drawing regularly every since! You can follow along on Instagram
to see my artwork, or for a more indepth view, read my blog by clicking here.It really is possible to incorporate new habits into your life, whatever they may be, and keep them!

If you’d like more info on my services, please visit my website: eileenmckenna.com
Please follow me on twitter.
Thank you!


If you are interested in reading about my artistic side, visit my blog mycreativeresolution.com


Copyright 2015 Eileen McKenna. All Rights Reserved.

Email Marketing…it really works!


This link from Mail Chimp, a web-based email marketing service, is invaluable advice on the content and design of an email marketing campaign. Thank you to Abby Glassenberg for sharing this link!

Abby is an entrepreneur, whose weekly email/newsletter I look forward to! It is chock full of business and marketing advice and other interesting links. I keep it in my inbox for weeks, constantly going back to read another part or follow another link.

I’ve worked with email marketing for over five years. Just this year, I started using email campaigns for my graphic design and marketing business. I am interested in working with authors, so I’ve been slowly adding authors to my list, and strategizing as to how to set myself apart.


My main goal is to email my “Author” list once a month and start establishing my brand – who I am and what I do. I wasn’t expecting to send the first campaign and have an author email me asking about website design. My objective was to plant the “Eileen McKenna Graphic Design/Marketing” seed, continue to water it with monthly emails, encourage visits to my website and blog, foster a conversation (like with a collaboration on a blog post), and hope to eventually get business or referrals from it. Worst case scenario, I would have more examples of my work.

The other day, I was telling someone about my recent project and they said, “No one reads emails from people they don’t know and they don’t click links.” I beg to differ. My list has a 44-70% open rate. One person clicked a link to my website on the second email they received, AND [here is the surprising and exciting part] one person emailed me asking if I designed websites! It was the first email they received from me.

Email Marketing…it really works!

If you’d like more info on my services, please visit my website eileenmckenna.com
Thank you!


If you are interested in reading about my artistic side, visit my blog mycreativeresolution.com


Copyright 2015 Eileen McKenna. All Rights Reserved.

How things have changed.


As I thought about how to best start this blog, I thought about my start in Graphic Design and what things were like before the millennium. I was working in New York City, at a small graphic design agency.

Our creative process would go through these steps:
Client phone call, design project on the computer, print proof to show internally, make changes. Once approved internally, print, trim and spray mount, to create a comp that looked as close to the final product (brochure, etc.) as possible. Then, call a bike messenger. Messenger would arrive within an hour and bike the comp to the client for their approval or changes. This process (design on computer, print a comp, bike messenger) would repeat until the client approved the project for printing. Then the files would be made print ready, put on a disc, and overnighted to the printer. The printer would check the files, and overnight us a color proof or blue line. Upon our approval, a date would be set for a press check, where we would go “on press” and make sure the colors were correct before the whole job was printed.

Wow. Things did not happen fast! I think it took longer to get pricing from the printer than it takes today, to complete the entire job!

Today, here are my steps:
Client email, design on computer, email a pdf proof to the client, get comments back via email, make changes, email another proof, get final approval, prepare files for printing, upload files to the printer. Within minutes check proof online. If necessary upload revised art or click “Send to Press.” Wait for delivery. 🙂

Today, you and your clients can be anywhere!

If you’d like more info on my services, please visit my website eileenmckenna.com
Thank you!


If you are interested in reading about my artistic side visit my blog mycreativeresolution.com