How to Build a Design Business While Working Fulltime

Being a full-time freelancer is a goal many creative professionals dream of achieving. While many employed designers take on a few freelance projects over the years, few ever make the leap from being an employee to owning a design business. The reasons for this are varied and include a lack of knowledge on how to make the transition.

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If you’ve been dreaming of being your own boss and building a prestigious design client list but aren’t sure how to make the transition, here are a few tips to help you get started. By following these tips you’ll be well on your way to becoming a self-employed designer.

Review Your Employee Handbook

If you’re currently working for a design firm, review your employee handbook before accepting freelance clients. Many firms require their designers to sign non-compete clauses which are basically policies that prevent their workers from taking freelance clients from the firm’s niche market.

If your employer required you to sign this type of document, schedule a meeting to discuss your freelance desires with your boss. A simple clarification of what the non-compete clause means can help ensure you don’t step on any toes or, worse yet, get fired because you were accepting freelance work on the side.

Even if you weren’t required to sign a non-compete document, don’t steal clients from your employer for your freelance business. This is a fast way to burn bridges, lose your job and build a bad reputation as a freelancer. Another practice to avoid while working for an employer is to work on your freelance projects during normal work hours. All freelance projects should be done outside of work hours to avoid complications and reprimands.

Create a new Schedule

Since it’s unethical to work on freelance projects in the office, you’ll need to create a new work schedule. Building a design business is no easy task and will require immense commitment. Whether you’ll need to wake early and go to bed late to finish projects for your clients, make a personal goal to succeed regardless of how hectic your schedule will become. This is the time when you’ll set the tone for your business’s future and when you’ll learn you can succeed despite any challenges you may face.

Begin Networking

To build a freelance client list, you’ll need to become a master of networking. This can be done on many fronts. First, build an online presence by creating a blog or website and by joining social networks. Next, seek out other creative professionals in your design niche and learn from them. These designers have gone through the trenches of building a design business and can offer valuable tips for how to begin and where to find clients. If you’re lucky, these designers may be searching for collaboration with a creative professional such as you.

Make the Switch

The initial leap from working for an employee to being a full-time freelance designer can be terrifying. You’ll go from receiving a reliable paycheck to wondering if your current client list will remain consistent each year. However, you can’t allow fear of the unknown to hold you back from achieving your dreams.

A solid point for making the switch is when your client list has reached a steady point and is replacing half or more of your current income. It’s at this point or soon thereafter when the demand for your services should be rising and when, in the near future, you should be able to replace or exceed your previous income with the payments from freelance projects.

However, you may face a few dry spells in the beginning full-time freelance days when you’re still learning to balance working on projects and prospecting for new clients. Therefore, it’s important to have a healthy savings built up before going full-time to carry you through any initial rocky times.

Being a full-time freelancer is a dream many designers possess. However, few are courageous enough to take the leap and, instead, continue working for an employer who may not fully value their creativity. Don’t be like those without the courage to achieve their dreams. If you have talent and a belief in the design services you provide, you should have no trouble building a great business.

About is here to help designers. Whether you are experienced and are trying to get over a hump, or are brand new to graphic design and have no idea where to start, we want to help.

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