A visual communicator aspiring to create playful and dynamic design solutions.

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Thanks to the Internet, there are more opportunities today for artists and designers to earn a living doing what they love. In this post, I'll share how to get started as a freelancer, promoting and selling your work, and managing the ebb and flow of success.

Download the FREELANCER WORKBOOK to help guide you in starting your freelance career in any creative field! This printable PDF guide includes 7 pages of checklists and prompts including setting up your business, project management, brand identity, sketching, marketing, and selling.

Find more information, inspiration, and connect with the art & design community through my blog post 87 ART & DESIGN BUSINESS RESOURCES FOR VISUAL ARTISTS

What's Your Style?

Every artist and designer has a unique message, style and technique that helps them to stand out from others, and finding it can be a continual process of discovery and reinvention. The process and methods you have learned through training or school lays a great foundation, but it shouldn't define what your style is no matter if your a graphic designer, or into the fine arts. Even though graphic designers create work that visually communicates a solution through research of a problem, the designer still has a distinct style or technique that is different from other designers. Designer Paula Scher's style is completely different from that of Stephen Sagmeister or David Carson. 

If you're still trying to find your style try taking some risks, even if they're small, to push your work in a new direction such as using a different medium or trying a new subject matter. Find what inspires you and keep a visual or written journal so when you're feeling stuck you have something to reference and spark some inspiration. Don't always go to the Internet either. Try to take a break from the computer and go places.

I love to look at other work by both artists and designers whether it's on the Internet, book store, or anywhere else, but sometimes its nice to detach yourself from other artist's work because it can occasionally feel intimidating. Since art and design is so competitive, it can become overwhelming or bring on insecurities in your own work. So sometimes it's good to step away and find inspiration in other ways.


Don't Forget to Find Time For Projects

Life can be hectic whether you already have a full time job or are raising a family. So if you're trying to start your freelance business, finding time to work on new art or design projects might seem overwhelming. Here is a short list of ways to help you incorporate time into your work:

Schedule a block of time in your day or week to work. Even if it's just a couple hours a week at first, over time it will add up.

Turn some social time into an activity or event related around your project. If you're an illustrator or painter, turn some family time into family art time and create artwork together. If you're a photographer, take your friends or family to do a photo session. Or if you're a graphic designer, turn a social group into a brainstorming group event.

Instead of the time you might spend lounging and watching tv or surfing the Internet, use that time to work on a project.

Bring a blank journal with you everywhere you go so if you have a spark of inspiration, you can quickly sketch, draw, or brainstorm ideas. 

Personally for me, the creative space I use for projects helps me to dedicate time to creative processes. It helps to remove other distractions, potential excuses and procrastination for not starting or working on a project. Everything needs to be organized and clean when not working on the project to keep from feeling overwhelmed or distracted. 


Business Basics: Becoming A Successful Entrepreneur


There are so many different paths you can take for income. You can take one path such as selling your work at craft shows, or you can add diversity and sell your work online through shops like Etsy. Diversifying your income helps to not rely on one source of revenue if one becomes temporarily slow. Or for example, if the craft shows are seasonal, you can put more focus into selling your work on Etsy year-round. Taking on too many different paths of income can become overwhelming, so focus on starting out with one or two to until you find the right path that works for you. Try not to get discouraged if one of those paths don't work, and learn through trial and error what works best for you.

setting goals

One of the most important things to do when starting up is to set goals and make sure they are attainable and align with your values. 

Dream big!
Think boldly and imagine where you want your business to be in 3-5 years. Start with creating a mind map with your name as the center, and extend out with each goal you would like to see happen in the future. My favorite app to use for mind mapping is called SimpleMind+ and it's free and easy to use. After you've finished creating your mind map, print it out and hang it up where you will see it as a reminder of what you're working towards. As other goals become more important to you over time, you can revise or add to it. 

Know your values.
Create a list of values before moving on to setting your shorter term goals. Examples of values could be:

I deserve to be paid well for my work
A percentage of my sales should go to charity
My work should create change in people's lives
Some of my work should be affordable
I should try to not use materials that could harm the environment

Creating a list of values will make sure that you work towards your goals with more purpose and clarity, and will help you to make business decisions based on your values and beliefs.

Create intermediate goals.
Using the mind map you created for the larger goals, come up with three goals for each one that you can complete within a few weeks or months. These intermediate goals should be more attainable and concrete. If one of your larger goals was to own your own studio, then some of your intermediate goals might be to set up a financial plan, business plan, and marketing plan.

Develop smaller tasks.
The final step for outlining your goals is to create smaller tasks of you intermediate goals. These are smaller and more detailed to help you accomplish the intermediate goal. Try to include smaller tasks that can be completed each day within a short period of time to help you feel more accomplished and closer to your goal. 

branding your business

You might assume that you don't need to think about logo design and brand identity since you are doing freelance work, but since you are conducting a business you need to look professional.


the legalities

The most common business freelancers operate under is a sole proprietorship (yourself), or a partnership (two or more freelancers on a joint business venture). There is no additional paperwork that needs to be filed and income or loss is reported on personal income taxes. If your work has increased in liability such as opening a studio, you will need to file as an LLC, limited liability company which requires paperwork. Check with an accountant if you are unsure about which legacl structure will work best for you.

business licensing and zoning

Contact your city or county clerk to find out if you need to apply for a business license to legally run your business in your city. The license might require a flat fee and need to be renewed yearly. The cities also having zoning requirements such as residential use. So if you want to work from home, but want customers to be able to visit regularly, you might need to find a place outside of your home where it would be allowed. 

seller's permit

If you plan to sell tangible goods to the public such as stationary, art prints, or paintings, then you will most likely need a seller's permit from your state. If your state has sales tax, then you will be required to add it to your products unless the customer is from a different state. If you are to travel to a different state to sell goods at a craft show, then you might need to also apply for a temporary seller's permit in that state and file a tax return on the sales you made within that state. 

health insurance

If you need to purchase your own health insurance, research freelancers guilds and unions such as the Freelancers Union which provides healthcare for freelancers. 

business checking account

Having a separate account for business income and expenses will help to limit any confusion with personal or family finances. Although, you don't necessarily need one if your business is operating under your own name. Using an account such as PayPal for business also makes accounting and recieving payment from your customers easier.


Even though the Internet provides artists and designers with more opportunities to do what they love for a living, it also comes with the cost of having your work copied or reproduced without permission. In the United States, once a an intellectual work is created it becomes your property and is protected by copyright. You can also register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office for extra protection before being able to file a lawsuit for infringement.


A contract is a business tool to help everyone stay on track and agrees to the terms of a project. Make sure to have one any time you enter into a business agreement, even if it's just a letter stating the terms of the project with signatures by both parties. The contract serves to protect the valuable assets of your intellectual property, and the client's money in exchange for your services. The contract also helps to avoid misunderstanding and confusion within a project by defining the working relationship of the artist and client, use of finished work, Most contracts for include;

A description of the service(s)
Deadlines for work to be completed
Your fee
Payment received to the artist if the project is canceled
Payment due before beginning the project
Ownership of completed work

There are several books that contain more information with sample contracts and legal forms you can use such as;

Legal Guide for the Visual Artist by Tad Crawford
Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators by Tad Crawford
Graphic Artists Guild Handbook Pricing and Ethical Guidelines

managing income and expenses

Using Excel spreadsheets or bookkeeping software like QuickBooks or Sage will be important in keeping track of your income and expenses. If you are uncomfortable with tracking your income and expenses on your own, you might want to consider hiring a bookkeeper or accountant to help. Be sure to keep money set aside for taxes, and any unexpected business expenses to help you during the slower income periods.  It's normal to have some income loss in the first year or two as your business starts up, and keeping track of your income and expenses will help keep you from too much loss.

It's recommended that money for taxes are paid quarterly based on the estimated income for that year. The estimated tax is normally based on the previous year's income, but should be adjusted to reflect the current year. Each month you should set aside between 20 and 40 percent of your income each month into a savings account for future taxes. An accountant would be able to help you adjust the right amount you should be saving each month. 

time organization

As nice as it is to be your own boss, you will still need to develop a work schedule to keep your business on track towards meeting your goals. Make sure to assign yourself consistent works hours with breaks and stick with them. Create a schedule that's divided into different task categories such as administrative and creative. Create a list of priorities for each day to help you focus and take action. 

Project organization

As your projects grow, so does the space you need to store them physically and digitally. Even if your work is by hand such as painting, you need to keep a digital record of it especially if it becomes published or if you decide to sell online. Make sure to store all of your original work in a cool dry place to reduce the possibility of damage from light, heat, or moisture. 

Organization and maintenance of digital files is just as important. Once you finish a project, scan or photograph your work to be kept as a digital record of your project. Be sure to back up all of your files with an external hard drive or cloud system. Create categories of your projects and use a file naming system that includes the type of project, name of project, and the date. Be sure to stay consistent so it's easier to find your work when you need to locate it. 

Marketing Your Projects

Again, thanks to the Internet along with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, promoting your projects and work is easier than before. Below is a list of tools you can use to market and promote your project:

Create a website
Craft a bio to use on website and social media
Start a blog
Use social media
Create newsletters and email blasts
Promotional materials such as business cards, postcards, and leave-behind portfolios
Word of mouth through friends and acquaintances or networking
Press mentions through blogs and magazines
Online advertisements
Create a marketing plan for each quarter of the year

Selling Your Projects

There are several ways to sell your projects such as online sales, through commissions, art/craft shows, gallery representations, or exhibitions. The following is a list of ways to sell your projects:

Digital print reproductions
Prints of original work
Applying your artwork to products such as Society6, Zazzle, RedBubble and CafePress
Selling wholesale
Online marketplaces such as Creative Market and Etsy
Stand-alone store solutions such as Big Cartel or Shopify
E-commerce on your own website
Taking commissions
Creating your own exhibition

Managing The Ups And Downs Of Success

As a freelancer, business can be unpredictable. You might find yourself with more opportunities than you can handle, and then hit a slower period where money is tight and sales are down. Either direction can be challenging but both hold opportunities for you to grow, build, and change.

managing the downtime

It's important to keep to your work schedule and continue to stay engaged with your business. One way is to build your portfolio by creating personal projects. You can also do volunteer work for a company that shares your interests and network with other people. For example, if you're a graphic designer, try volunteering some of your design services. It would be a way for you to promote your work, network, and build your portfolio and resume. Another way to stay engaged with your business is to review your marketing plan and see if there is anything new you can try. 

As you experience new opportunities as an artist or designer, your confidence and experience grows with you. Consider becoming an instructor in your field which would establish you as a leader and give you the opportunity to share your knowledge and experience with others. You can choose to teach local classes, or on-line through e-courses from your own website or through on-line schools. 

managing a busy workload

Keeping a calendar up-to-date and staying organized will help reduce the stress of a busy schedule. There are online task managers like Todoist or Google Task to help you manage projects. They allow you to group smaller tasks under larger projects to help you stay organized. If you get to a point where your work is in high demand, but you don't have enough time or the job isn't the right fit, don't feel obligated to say yes because you're worried you might not have this opportunity again. You don't want to burn out, and not be able to provide your highest quality work. It might just open up the door for a better opportunity to come along in the future. 

Hiring help even if it's part-time or seasonal can also help to reduce stress, and help give you more time to focus on the actual projects. You will want to hire someone who is enthusiastic about your work, and the process of your business. Finding someone with experience is helpful, but not as important as finding someone who will bring positivity into your creative space.

achieving balance

Try to create balance in your life by scheduling time for breaks, family time, and social activities. It's easy to become overworked, but stepping back from your work can help you to regain focus and perspective. 

Do you have insights to add on working as a freelancer? Comment below and thanks for reading!