Working remotely as a freelancer has never been easier. Technology now means that you can be sitting in your kitchen at home, sharing an office space with other freelancers or staying in an Airbnb in Colombia—and still have access to clients anywhere in the world. There are more options than ever before to find graphic design work online.
Here we take a look at the main options that are available, the advantages and disadvantages of each and how you can get started to find the right freelance jobs in design for you.
You can also read our annual freelance report – Design without borders to gain a fresh perspective on how freelancers like you think, feel and operate around the world.
|1. Freelancer platforms (e.g. 99designs, Upwork)||
|2. Job boards (e.g. Craigslist, Mashable)||
|3. Your own website||
|4. Social networks and forums (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn)||
Before you get started
Know your niche
Given the number of different platforms and jobs available online, you need to know what you’re specifically looking for. How do you want to work? Do you want to be able to work remotely or are you looking for local, in-person opportunities? How are you going to price your services? Do you want to take on just a handful of big projects with repeat clients or are you happy to do lots of small projects (this is more flexible but less stable in terms of regular income)? Who is your ideal client? Knowing the answers to all these questions will help you identify the right platform for you and be more targeted in your search.
Build your portfolio
Whichever platform you choose, you need to demonstrate that you are good at what you do. If you’re just starting out, and especially if you don’t have any formal qualifications, you may want to take on some cheaper gigs and even offer to do some work for free (for friends or projects that you’re personally invested in), so you can build a respectable portfolio and collective some compelling client testimonials about your work.
The biggest mistake you can make is to just put up your website, or create a profile, and then sit back and watch the jobs come in. (They won’t.) Make sure that you block a set amount of time every day to check the sites, build relationships with people and pitch for jobs. Consider setting yourself specific targets for how many pitches you’ll do every day, or every week, so that you’re taking consistent action.
How to find graphic design jobs online
1. Freelancer platforms
The most obvious place to start is to look at the platforms that are dedicated to freelancing opportunities. These sites will have a range of different jobs available and a range of different clients, offering you far greater exposure than you would have just on your own website. Maybe the biggest advantage is that most of them will take care of contracts and payment for you, making the process both easier and safer compared to handling this on your own.
You won’t be the only graphic designer on there, however, so you’ll need to do what you can to stand out. Make sure you follow all the recommended steps to optimize your profile on your chosen platform. You’ll also want to promote your portfolio across your own social networks to drive traffic to your profile.
Don’t go crazy and sign up to all of these! Choose one or two that feel right for you and then do those well. It’s better to build a strong portfolio and client base on a couple of platforms than it is to dilute your efforts across ten.
You may be suspicious of contests at first—after all, you will be putting in work without knowing if you’ll win and get paid—but this is a great way to build a portfolio of varied work when you’re just starting out and to get clients who may well continue working with you.
Rates for contests vary based on type of design and level. For 1-to-1 Projects designers set their own prices. 99designs’ cut is 5% from clients plus 5-15% from designers, depending on their level.
Upwork is a platform for a range of different freelancers, including not just design but also writing, web development and marketing. You can apply to jobs that have been posted and clients can also message you directly to ask you to pitch. As with 99designs, the platform takes care of the contract and payment process. You can also send and receive files, there’s a mobile app in addition to the site and you can track the time you spend on a project if you’re being paid by the hour. Upwork doesn’t have resources and functions specific to design. (Check out this article for a comparison between 99designs and Upwork.)
There are a wide range of opportunities available and you can filter your search to find what you’re after, from beginner to more advanced, low rates to high, one-off projects to ongoing and recurring payments. You can optimize your profile and stand out on the platform by taking tests to demonstrate your skills and by becoming ‘top rated’ or ‘rising talent’.
Upwork charges a sliding fee based on your lifetime earnings with each client: 20% for the first $500, 10% when you’ve earned between $500.01 and $10,000 with that client and 5% when you’ve exceeded $10,000. Note that the terms of service prohibit you from circumventing the site and working with Upwork clients outside of the platform.
Find out more and join: https://www.upwork.com/signup/
Unlike 99designs and Upwork, Behance does not have all the functionality associated with a true platform for freelance work. It’s more a place to showcase your work and then the next step will be for companies to contact you via email or via your own branded website. This is not just a dumping ground for all your work: it pays to be selective and only present your very best creations. In a sense, it’s a social network and you’ll need to follow and interact with other designers to build your own following.
Behance is free to join.
Sign up and create an Adobe account with your email or with Facebook/Twitter: https://www.behance.net/
Like Behance, Dribbble lacks the sophisticated functionality of sites like 99designs and Upwork when it comes to working with clients, getting paid and so on. You can use it instead to showcase your work, interact with other designers and allow potential clients to discover your creations and work with you outside of the platform.
Dribbble is free to participate in, although you’ll need to be invited to become an active designer on the site.
Create an account here (but you’ll still need an invitation to get ‘drafted’): https://dribbble.com/signup/new
Fiverr: It sounds like a terrible business idea to do work for just $5 but it is a good way to get a varied portfolio when you’re starting out. There’s also the possibility to put high-quality, premium-priced gigs on there once you are more established (up to $995). It’s free to join and they take 20% fee per transaction.
Freelancer: A bit like Upwork, this is a general platform for different kinds of freelancing services. They take a fee of 10% or $5.00 (whichever is greater) for a fixed-price project and 10% per payment on hourly projects. There’s also a 10% or $5.00 fee if you win a contest and an additional 20% fee if you are subsequently hired to perform a service. You can have these fees lowered in the Preferred Freelancer program or if you refer a new employer to the platform.
Guru: Similar to Freelancer, Guru encompasses a range of different freelancer services. You pay a transaction fee of 4.95%-8.95% depending on your membership level.
2. Job boards
Job boards are the old-school approach to finding work, although they’ve moved online from the old physical format of notice boards and newspapers. The process is pretty much as you’d expect: search for relevant jobs, apply and then start working with the client if you’re selected. Most sites will have filters that you can use to be as targeted as possible in your search.
Given the amount of traffic on these sites, you’ll be competing with many other freelancers from all around the world. Speed is of the essence here, as is writing a tailored application to show that you’re the ideal candidate for the project, ahead of all the other applicants.
Block some time in your calendar to login every day and check your category for the latest job posts, then apply right away to be among the first applications for a chance to be considered.
Craiglist is the most direct translation of an old-fashioned job board, with classified-style listings in different categories. It’s not exactly the most sophisticated interface but it’s simple enough when you get the hang of it. Look under ‘jobs’ (part-time / contract) and ‘gigs’ and search by keywords to find relevant job postings for your skillset. You can work worldwide so make sure you check the different locations, although it may also be an advantage to be in a particular city when working with local businesses.
The main downside of Craigslist is that it’s mostly a case of high quantity, low quality. You also want to make sure that you watch out for scams, which unfortunately have been not uncommon on the platform. There’s no payment functionality or legal protection—it really is just a very basic platform where you can find job postings and then arrange the details and do the work offline.
Other job boards
3. Your own website
The one platform where you are 100% in control of how you’re presented is, of course, your website. It’s definitely something that you’ll want to create sooner rather than later, as well as regularly updating it as you gain more experience. This is where you can allow people to get to know you and your experience better, you can showcase your portfolio and offer specific services and packages.
As you design your site, consider who the audience is, what you want to communicate and what is the main call to action—is the next step for them to book a call with you or perhaps contact you for a quote?
Remember: putting up a website that just sits there is not going to get you any clients! Your website is just one part of the ecosystem that will move your business forward and you need to be actively driving people to the site.
4. Social networks
Leveraging social networks is something that you’ll want to do regardless of which platforms you choose for showcasing your work. At a minimum, you should share your work on specific platforms—posting work (with client permission) on Instagram, for example. You can also use social networks to proactively reach out to clients and build relationships. This is a long-term strategy, however, and not a quick fix. Block some time in your calendar every day to connect with potential clients, comment and share relevant content every day.
As a designer, by definition, you’ll have a lot of visual content that lends itself to a platform like Instagram. Share your finished projects, tagging clients or other designers you’ve partnered with, and give a glimpse ‘behind the scenes’ as you share sketches and even lifestyle shots to tell a rich story of who you are and where you get your inspiration from. You can also search for specific hashtags and profiles and comment and engage with potential clients who fit your ideal profile.
LinkedIn is the biggest professional social network. Search for your ideal client, add them as connections and then comment on and share relevant content so that you appear on their radar For example, you can share your finished projects, but you can also write an article or record a short video on a topic like ‘how to find the best designers’, ‘how to get a designer to deliver what you want’ and so on, to establish yourself as a credible player in the industry.
You can create your own business page on Facebook but the best way to use the platform is to find and join existing groups. Look for groups where members are your ideal clients—new entrepreneurs and small business owners, for example—and then spend a few minutes in there every day. This isn’t about the hard sell but long-term relationship building so just try to offer value, answer design-related questions and share your perspective when people ask for advice.
Offline / in-person networking
For all our talk of online platforms, we mustn’t forget offline. Every conversation with a stranger (or a friend!) has the potential to lead to a new opportunity so keep your eyes open, be ready to tell people exactly what you do when they ask and don’t be afraid to enquire if they know someone who might be looking for graphic design support.
Of course, there’s no one magical platform here that will work perfectly for everyone and, in any case, you’ll want to use more than one. Most likely, the best approach will be a combination of creating a profile on a couple of freelancer platforms, designing your own beautiful website and engaging on social media every day.