Santoro Design, LLC
Branding & Design For Small Business and Start-Ups

The Process Book


5 Tips For Your First Freelance Gig


Let’s face it: freelancing is becoming a more popular and attractive career move. With the faltering economy and cut-throat creative industry standards, more entrepreneurs are making their own moves by either freelancing or starting their own agencies. 

It can be a little intimidating getting into the freelancing swing. You’ll be 100% accountable for anything that happens during the project, successes and failures alike, but most importantly, you’ll be responsible for cultivating a trusting work relationship with each client.

As a freelancer, the keys to a successful project are to make sure you’re compensated for your services and that your client is as credible as possible. With that said, I have five tips that will help you not only get the gig, but also knock it out of the park!

  1. Preliminary Client Research: This is huge. Doing preliminary research pretty much tells your client that you’re a thorough professional who cares about the project. You should always research your clients regardless of whether they come to you or if you go to them. A big part of the freelance life is creating and cultivating client/designer relationships. At the same time, you also have the power to choose whether or not you’d want to do work for this company. Who knows, maybe you’ll go on their site and they just look sketchy. Regardless, client research is a big part of prepping for your first freelance gig.
  2. Knock Out Your Proposal: For those who don’t know, a proposal is basically a step by step preview of how you’re going to complete any given project. This is a chance to really show your expertise, your unique process, and to also sell clients on your intended direction. For instance, many clients want logo designs but don’t realize that they lack a brand identity (usually because they don’t know what a brand identity is). As a designer, your job is to educate them. If you’re doing a website design for them, tell them why a CMS system like Wordpress is the better way to go. Be honest and professional while drafting this up to show what your services are worth. Other helpful items to include are any additional info, such as expenses and outsourced services. Ultimately, clients will receive a bunch of these so you’ll want yours to really stand out!
  3. Have Paperwork (and then have it signed): This is by far one of the biggest pitfalls for many young freelancers. You’ll take on a project without signing anything, and then the following happens: you complete the project and don’t get paid, the project is terminated and you don’t get paid, or the client works with another designer simultaneously. Understand that a contract, or statement of work, protects both you and the client. You want to basically lay out everything like you did in the proposal, but also include terms such as payment, cancellation, releases, and rights.  A well thought out contract ensures that the project goes as smoothly as possible and that everybody gets what they want. If a client presents you with a contract, make sure you read that with caution, or if possible, contact a lawyer.
  4. Print and Development Resources: Building strategic relationships with printers and developers will make your life infinitely easier. Do some research about nearby printing places in your area and get quotes (and paper samples if possible!) for your various projects beforehand. Online, websites such as and have high quality capabilities on a budget. However, there’s nothing like having a connection with a local printing company that will be willing to work with you to create a beautiful piece. With web development, it’s the same principle except you’ll most likely want to start off with collaborating with a colleague or friend. A second option is to practice your own development and coding skills. A site like CodeAcademy ( can guide you through different web-design exercises to help build up your chops for free!
  5. The Ability To Let Go: As designers, what we do is inherently commercial. We create for our clients, for their unique brand, and for their specific target audiences. That being said, it’s important to understand from the get-go that your designs will be critiqued and revisions will be requested (sometimes more than what you feel is needed), and you’ll need to be able to step back and let it happen. At the same time, I want to clarify that this doesn’t mean the client is 100% right all the time and you, as a designer, have the right to guide your client in your intended direction. If they refuse, be strong enough to let it go and just deliver.

Being your own creative director can be a blessing and a curse, but with the right moves and the right people, you can definitely make it happen. If you’re still looking to research more into the freelance life, I would highly recommend reading “A Graphic Design Student’s Guide To Freelance” by Ben Hannam and “Freelance Design In Practice: Don’t Start Work Without It” by Cathy Fischel. Also look into your chapter of AIGA as they’ll most likely have solid resources for you.