Considering that content is still “king” and that creative drives advertising, graphic designers play a vital role in a brand’s marketing strategy. Among their many responsibilities, graphic designers are primarily responsible for developing images and visual content to help businesses communicate with customers and clients. While a career in this industry can be incredibly rewarding on a creative level, prospective graphic designers should recognize that 29% of individuals in this field are self-employed. So before leaving your day job to pursue a freelance design career, you may want to take the time to shore up your skills and ensure that you have what it takes to thrive in this field. Here is a checklist to review before becoming a full-time freelance designer. 

Create a Financial Plan 

It can be difficult to adapt to the sporadic income of freelancing when you’re accustomed to receiving a steady paycheck. Before embarking on a freelance design career, you should take into account the money you’ll need to survive in case you don’t instantly start landing jobs; take the time to build up your savings enough to support yourself for a few months of no income. Create a budget, and set aside extra cash for unforeseen emergencies. Whatever you do, don’t blindly jump into freelancing without having a plan in place. Becoming a designer might make you an artist, which feels carefree and exciting, but it also makes you a business owner, which is very serious and requires discipline. Put aside enough money for rent and other major expenses in case you encounter some lean times. 

Improve Your Design Skills 

Successful designers typically hold a bachelor’s degree in graphic design or a related field, but before transitioning to freelance design work, you may want to take a few courses to build up your resume and improve your skills. If college courses are unfeasible, Lynda.com, Udemy and other online sources can be great way to polish your skills and learn new techniques and software. Make sure your talents are truly exceptional to give your freelance design business the best shot at success. 

Know Your Availability 

If you’re accustomed to holding down a 9-to-5, you may not be prepared for the work schedule of a freelance designer. While it’s true that freelancers create their own schedules, you will likely find yourself working long hours in the beginning to grow your business. Before quitting your day job, evaluate your existing and ongoing responsibilities to friends and family in order to determine if you have the time to make this kind of commitment.

Effectively Manage Your Time 

Without a manager helping them delegate their time, it can be easy for new freelance designers to become overwhelmed and fall behind on important tasks. Fortunately, tools like Basecamp help freelancers manage their time and stay organized while providing a location to upload logos and other essential documents. Try out different time management tools, and find one that works for you before leaving your day job. 

Create a Portfolio 

In the freelance design world, a strong portfolio is your most important asset. Before becoming a freelancer, take the time to build up a great portfolio that showcases your best design work, and post it online for easy access by prospective employers. Displaying your design content online also advertises your internet savvy, so make sure that your work is presented in a way that makes it pop. 

Build Your Collection of Stock Assets 

Besides your own work, make sure that you have stock resources lined up to quickly pull images, illustrations, fonts, etc. You never know when a client will want something done fast, and having the ability to quickly satisfy that demand will put you above other designers. We have a thorough list of sites for most stock needs. Start to build a collection from these sites, and incorporate pieces into your own design work as needed. As your collection grows, so will your versatility. 

Network With Professionals 

Of course, a good portfolio only takes designers so far. Professional contacts are also crucial to succeeding as a graphic designer. In fact, this can be the litmus test to determine whether jumping into freelance design work full-time is a viable option. If you have enough contacts to acquire the necessary amount of work, then you have a great chance of succeeding. If not, it’s a sign that you need to work harder at building your network. Start by reaching out to your professional network. This will include former employers, colleagues and even professors. Even if your contacts don’t have work available at this time, they may be willing to refer you to others who are currently looking for designers. 

Prepare yourself to be a salesperson before you drum up interest from prospective clients. It may not seem like a big deal, but when you are working for yourself, good salesmanship may determine whether you sink or swim. This does not mean being overly aggressive like a used-car salesman. It simply means knowing how to confidently communicate and maximize your value, whether it’s through words, actions or appearance. 

Get Thicker Skin 

Freelance designers enjoy the opportunity to pursue their passions while running their own businesses. However, successful freelancers must also be able to deal with clients without the buffer of a supervisor or account manager. Before pursuing a full-time freelance career, make sure your skin is thick enough to handle criticism and even occasional abuse. Designers who can keep their cool when clients are difficult have the best chance of succeeding in the freelance space. To go one step further, learn how to seek out constructive criticism, allowing your clients or contacts a chance to be open and honest to your benefit, not detriment. 

A freelance design career is not without its share of challenges. However, according to a 2012 report from Elance, 90% of all freelancers are happy in their fields. Build up your skillset and portfolio before embarking on a freelance design career, and enjoy the many rewards of running your own creative business.