How to Become a Freelance Graphic Designer

From business filing to gaining clients, here are 8 steps to get started.

Are you thinking about starting your own Graphic Design or Website Design business? First of all, congratulations! Second of all, it might all seem so daunting and scary. So let’s talk about it and walk through the first 8 steps you should take when starting your own freelance Graphic Design business.

Step One: File an LLC

Filing an LLC will get you what is called an EIN number. I used LegalZoom for mine since it was so easy! I did not sign up for an extra services other than filing an LLC. I have what is called a “single member LLC”. Unless you’re planning to make over $75,000 in your first year, a single-member LLC is probably what you want! You can always expand later on as needed.

You will need an EIN number for a bank account and to file taxes. I also recommend an LLC because your company filings will be separate from your personal identity.

Step Two: Bank Account

Once you have your EIN number, you can set up a business bank account. You want to keep all business expenses and income in one bank account in order to easily file taxes. It will make expense reports simpler and ensure you have saved enough for taxes.

I love Novo banking and if you sign up with my code linked here, we will both get $40 for free! They have an awesome feature called “reserves”. You can automatically allocate a percentage of all deposits to be set aside. For example, I set aside between 20-30% of all income for federal taxes.

At this point you will also want to fund your account. You’ll need some money in there to pay for set-up expenses. I would start with $500 not including any finances to pay yourself.

Step Three: Research

To most this is the most confusing step of all of it- and that’s because the government doesn’t make it very easy. With 50 states, each one has its own laws. Let’s quickly go through sales and use tax, state tax, and federal taxes. Please consult a tax professional.

For sales and use tax, you may need to charge sales tax to your clients. In certain states, services are taxable, my home state of Connecticut being one of them. Research the states that you do work in (including where your clients are located) and research their sales tax laws. If you do need to file sales tax, you will need to register for a sales tax license for each state. In Connecticut it was $100. I go in each month and pay sales tax from the previous pay period. They also send me email reminders.

For state tax- this is typically paid when you file a tax return at the beginning of the year. I put away a small percent of all income to pay state taxes.

For federal taxes- there are estimated or sometimes called “quarterly” tax payments. Here is a chart I found online for when 2024 quarterly tax payments are due:

Payment PeriodDue Date
January 1 – March 31, 2024April 15, 2024
April 1 – May 31, 2024June 17, 2024
June 1 – August 31, 2024September 16, 2024
September 1 – December 31, 2024January 15, 2025*

All you need to do is on the due dates log into the website, choose “make a payment” and “quarterly tax payment” then pay your estimated amount. There are forms to fill out to estimate that amount or you can contact a tax professional to help you. If you don’t pay quarterly tax payments, you will have an additional fee charged when you file taxes at the beginning of the next year.

Step Four: Client Management Software

You will need to create and send contracts and invoices once those sales start rolling in. The smoother the process is for your client, the more you’ll be able to charge. I love Honeybook and you can use my code linked here for 25% off. I use Honeybook for 4 things: invoices, contracts, scheduling, and lead collecting.

Honeybook already has many templates that you can go in and customize. I usually use their basic invoice and change it as needed for each client. You can set one-time or even recurring payments. They take 2.9%-3.3% for a processing fee, which is typical from credit card processors, so charge your clients accordingly. When a payment is late, you can add a late fee and Honeybook automatically sends reminders to clients.

They make contracts super easy, too! Once created, you can send it to your client and all they have to do is click and sign. The contract is then in their Honeybook portal, so you can easily find it and reference it at anytime. You can attach invoices to contracts to collect any deposits as well.

There are many scheduling tools like Calendly, but I think Honeybook’s is better. You can make it work with your Zoom so a Zoom link is created with each meeting automatically. It also sends reminders as often as you’d like to you and the client about the meeting, making it super easy to find the link even on the busiest of days.

Lastly, I love Honeybook for their lead collection. My website contact form is an embed created in Honeybook. Once it is filled out, the information is automatically input into Honeybook and my leads are sent a link to book a discovery call with me. This keeps things so simple for me and saves hours each week. It also ensures that warm leads have a great onboarding experience.

Step Five: Flesh out Services and Notion

Now you’re onto the fun part! Creating your services and breaking them down in detail.

Decide who you want to work with and what their problems are. This is your “target audience”. You can take on any clients, but these are the ones you are actively trying to attract. Then, identify their problems and services you can create to help solve those problems.

Once you know the services you would like to offer, you can use a system like Notion to create to-dos and onboard a client into. I love Wayfarer Design Studio’s Notion template. Your clients can easily come to one page to see what is due, what you’re currently working on, upload any files, and chat with you outside of email.

The more professional your process is, the more you can charge since you have a luxury client experience.

Step Six: Design

Once you have your services set, you can finally create your own branding, website, and start your social media account.

Treat yourself like a client. Perform strategy and research. Stand out in your niche. Make sure your website is responsive and optimized to make sales. I redid my branding and website- no joke- 4 TIMES! This hurt me. It was a waste of so much time, money, and made my first 5 months of business not very profitable. If you get it right the first time, you will thank yourself later.

The sooner you can start showing up and showing your face on social media- the better! Have a grid theme that matches your branding and post content that people will care about. It takes time. It took me 8 months to hit 1,000 followers. Be patient and just keep posting.

Step Seven: Portfolio

How you will make sales and really stand out is with a phenomenal portfolio. This is the process that took me the longest time to nail down when I started by business.

If you don’t have a lot of past projects that you love- create fake ones geared to attract your target audience! For example, I somehow found myself working with contractors. And don’t get me wrong- I’m happy for any work- but this wasn’t my dream clientele. I started creating fake projects for creative women-owned businesses and that’s when I started hearing from them! I also followed them on social media.

Remember, too, that it isn’t only about the project- it’s sooo important how it is presented. I love Moyo Mockups. You can use the code LAURENBEE for a discount! Using mockups and textures and patterns and mocking up the work will make it 100x more presentable and engaging.

Step Eight: Make Sales

Making sales doesn’t need to be “salesy”. The most important thing to remember is that you never know who people know. I go to local networking groups, joined networking Facebook groups, and talk about my business with family and friends all the time. I’m always posting on social media: at least once a day on Instagram, TikTok, and twice a week on LinkedIn. Then Youtube at least once a week! Get yourself out there, put your face out there, optimize your website, and don’t give up!

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