The following excerpt is from Shelby Larson’s book Moonlighting on the Internet. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes
Shelby Larson presents the most reliable and proven ways you can create an extra paycheck for the short term and establish a continual revenue stream for the long term with your own website. In this edited excerpt, Larson discusses two key elements of starting an online graphic design business.
When you’re first staring out as a freelance graphic designer, you won’t have the valuable resource of referrals. So let’s talk about how to get your foot in the door and start building a client base who can refer you to others.
There are many ways to drum up business online, but here are some that have been proven effective over time.
Compete for Work Sites
One of my favorites is 99designs. I had logos for both my companies done here. Here’s a great article 99designs wrote about how to find the right projects for you using their site, build client relationships, and have fun.
Other sites I haven’t used but that get good reviews are:
- crowdSPRING. crowdSPRING is a traditional crowdsource site for graphic design. It’s similar to 99designs with a slightly different model.
- LogoGarden. LogoGarden’s unique spin is that they cater exclusively to entrepreneurs. They provide standard graphic designs that budding entrepreneurs will need, like logos and business cards.
- Design Observer. This website is primarily graphic design, but there are other jobs requested as well. One major benefit of this platform is that the job postings are instantly listed across other popular graphic design job websites.
- Coroflot. This one also heavily caters to people looking for more traditional employment, as opposed to freelancers. You can view and search more than 2,000 creative company profiles and job listings.
- Behance. This isn’t exclusively graphic design jobs, but I listed it here because that appears to be the primary focus.
While compete-for-work sites are great resources for finding jobs, especially when you’re first starting out, don’t underestimate your ability to put yourself out there and get work through networking with other professionals. While this may be out of your comfort zone, there’s no better way to make connections and gain leads than attending functions. People like knowing who they’re working with and like being able to put a face to the name. Going to these places alone will ensure you talk to others and meet new people. The next day, send a quick follow-up email saying it was nice meeting them, but don’t solicit any business. Do be sure to add them to your LinkedIn profile. Graphic designers have an edge in networking situations because most people understand what a graphic designer is. You don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining what you do the way that, say, virtual assistants do.
You can also sell your art online. Etsy, Squarespace, and Pinterest are perfect for artists selling their work. Create several pieces for sale to stretch your abilities and promote your services.
Pricing a job
Determining how to create your pricing structure can be complicated and scary when you first start out. You want to keep yourself priced competitively and still make a profit. As a freelancer, the sky’s the limit as to how you structure your business, but in general, there are just two different ways to structure your fees: hourly billing or flat rates.
Charging hourly has the benefit of getting you paid for the time you actually work. This works great for those who aren’t good at estimating how long it will take to finish a project and for when unexpected problems come up. When you charge hourly, you get paid for the exact time you work and will need some sort of tracking system to determine billable hours.
When you’re billing by the hour, you still have to calculate the hours the project will take in advance and succinctly present them in a way that makes sense to the client. If you run into problems and it takes longer, you’ll need to be able to talk your client through that or eat the extra hours. On the flip side, when you get the job done under the estimate, that’s always a nice horn to toot for your clients.
When you’re working on a fixed rate, you’re still ultimately basing the project fee on the hourly rate. Ultimately, you’re figuring out how much work the project is going to be and how much you want to get paid for it. Even when you’re charging a flat fee, clients want to know how you’re calculating the fees anyway. Instead of giving specific line-by-line details, here are a couple of things to help justify your fixed pricing:
- Approximate hour window of time (example: six to eight hours of labor).
- How many rounds of feedback and revisions will be included?
The danger of a fixed rate is that if you run into a snag and the project goes way over what you expected, you could eat a lot of expenses on a project. However, you’ll get much better at estimating as you go. Obviously, when the job takes way less time, you get to pocket the difference.
Many designers use a hybrid pricing metric where they charge a flat fee for the initial part of the project, which could include a consultation, research, pre-approvals, etc. Then they charge an hourly rate for the project from that point on. You also have the freedom to ebb and flow between the different pricing options depending on the project and the client. It’s common to charge a “high maintenance tax” for clients who you know are frankly going to be a pain in the neck.
Establishing Your Rates
It’s not uncommon for designers to charge different rates for different types of work. For instance, consulting may bill out at $50 per hour while your design rate may be $100 per hour; more sophisticated types of design like animation may bill out even higher than that. You’re definitely going to want to do your own research and find out what the competitive rates are for the type of work you want to do in the area you want to do it.
That said, I think a safe average from what I’m seeing is anywhere from $75 to $150 per hour. That probably means there are a lot of jobs at $25 to $50 per hour and then some at $300-plus per hour. What’s important is that you figure out what’s competitive for you and make sure your policy is very clear from the outset. Finally, always take a deposit upfront; a 50 percent deposit is very common.