The financial struggles of being a freelance graphic designer

In 2011 I left my part-time job to freelance full-time. I was fresh out of college, still living with my parents, and could barely keep over $500 in my bank account. I had yet to find my voice or really establish myself as a freelancer.

I continued to struggle with finding client work. I had no idea where to start looking, who to reach out to, or even how to reach out to someone and ask for work in the first place. When it comes to money it’s a scary thing – especially if the odds aren’t in your favor (e.g. you’re already out living on your own or have a family to provide for.)

As you can see, I’m still here freelancing full-time – three years later. I stuck with it.

When all odds were against me I persevered through the struggles. I’ve jumped many hurdles, made many mistakes, yet I never gave up. Why? Because I enjoy doing what I do so much and would never want to go back to working a dead-end job.

Starting with the essentials

When I left my part-time job in 2011 to freelance full-time, I had nothing but a computer that I received as a graduation present. I didn’t have any money (I had to buy new car tires with my graduation money), I didn’t have an established brand or client base, I didn’t have any fancy tools, and the education I paid for was useless – but that’s a whole different story.

The point is you don’t need the latest and greatest to get started or to become successful. All you need is a computer, an internet connection, and yourself. With that you take it one step at a time. You plan out what you’re looking to do, set your goals, then do whatever needs done to reach those goals.

If you’re looking for the information on where to start, here are some useful posts I’ve written:

Investing in yourself

I had little to no money when I started freelancing, and with the small amount I did have I had to spend sparingly.

Unfortunately like they say, “It takes money to make money.” However, luckily it takes very little to no money for you to start your freelance career. Aside from the essentials (i.e. computer, software, and internet connection) you may also want to invest in web hosting, a domain name, and some essential office supplies/equipment.

However, none of that is required to get started!

You can easily set up a free portfolio on Behance or Carbonmade, and a Twitter account and Facebook page is free to set up. If your work is great then you can also get a (free) invite to Dribbble, which is great for showcasing what you’re working on. Lastly, you can manage clients and invoice for free on Freshbook or with Square.

What’s important to understand here is there will most likely be small business expenses along the way, so prepare and understand that. However, there is usually a free alternative to whatever it is you’re looking to do. Simply use Google to your advantage, or don’t be afraid to ask your peers for advice. I’m an open book, so you’re always welcome to reach out to me on Twitter or email.

Feast or famine cycle

Ideally the goal is to have more money coming in than going out. However, freelancing does not guarantee a steady income, and I hope you’re already aware of this. Even to this day I worry about where my next client project will come from.

Some weeks you’ll be earning more than you’d ever make working elsewhere, and other weeks you’ll be running dry waiting for payments, or worse, not having any paying projects at all. Also known as the feast or famine cycle. I share this from experience.

From my few years of experience with working solely for myself, I recommend you plan your cash flow for these ups and downs. Record your income and expenses, whether it be in a journal, private blog post, accounting application, or simply in a spreadsheet. Itemize and reflect your earnings and expenses every month. Doing this will give you awareness of where your money is coming and going. Then look where you’re making and losing the most, then adjust.

You’re not perfect and mistakes will be made

Everyone’s situation is unique, so there’s no one path to follow. You may not know everything you’d like, you may not have the ideal amount of money saved for emergencies, and/or you might be too worried that you’ll fail.

Just know – you’re not alone! I knew absolutely nothing when it came to running an actual business back in 2011. No one in my family ran a business, I had no friends that were attempting the same thing, and to top it off I can be quite the introvert, so everything I did was a step outside of my comfort zone.

You’ll make mistakes, but it won’t be the end of the world. The mistakes you make will only be lessons learned.

My whole goal with starting Your Freelance Career was for it to become an advocate to the freelance community, so no one feels alone in venturing off the beaten path. If you need advice, all you need to do is reach out.

So… What’s holding you back?

Share your story in the comments below, and let’s chat! Whatever you’re struggling with, leave a comment below. Myself and many other freelancers are here to help.