Going it alone: freelancing for beginners

So when I graduated from Wolverhampton University in 2006, I guess I kind of thought I would just "drop" in to a fully fledged, super polished graphic design role. Four years of studying, plus two at college and I was all Photoshopped up and raring to go — one problem — there weren’t any jobs! Every single graphic design job I came across wanted at least two years’ experience. Two years’ experience — does my six years of graphical education not count? Nope. On the job, real experience. But how was I supposed to get this experience if nobody was willing to give me the chance?

Completely deflated about my wondrous graphical career being demolished before it even began (and the fact I had spent thousands on tuition fees and beer in the SU bar), I fell in to a few jobs — my first being cold calling. It was absolutely horrendous. After about three months of using a power dialler, which made up to 100 calls for you each day, being told to impolitely go away and shove my mobile phone contracts up my bottom and being monitored on the amount of time spent in the toilet I decided enough was enough — onwards and upwards — now I will get the sparkly graphic design job.

There were still no jobs! I tried everything; applying to companies for work experience, applying to companies of which I had family members working in, even asking the company I now worked for if I could no longer be an "appointment maker" (cold caller) and become their in-house graphic designer. Still nothing. It seemed that for every graphic design vacancy there were 300 hungry applicants, all older and with more experience than me.

For the next few years I drifted from job to job, finally landing a job for a company in Shrewsbury selling websites (if nothing all that cold calling had given me great sales experience and a tough skin). Slowly but surely, I managed to persuade the MD of the company to give me a chance at designing some of the websites, which included liaising with the clients, sending initial designs over and working towards a design sign-off.

Success! Soon I had achieved three design sign-offs and was beginning to feel like a fully-fledged designer; there was even talk of me becoming a full time member of the design department. Sadly changes within the company meant that was no longer to be, and I ended up leaving and going to another company also based in Shrewsbury — selling website systems over the phone.

Luckily for me, this company was a lot more creative and design based — not only selling and designing websites but also stationery, logos, banners and more. I rubbed my hands together as I eyed up the design department…there was so much I wanted to do.

After getting a few freelance jobs from the director, including designing a few menus, web banners and eShots, I really thought I was getting somewhere. My husband and I had just set a date for our wedding and after looking at the prices of wedding invitations online, I believed I could go ahead and design my own — after all — only I knew what I really wanted.

The design was a success and after I took delivery of them having had them professionally printed, I wondered why I had to work for someone else— surely I can do this myself?

During the stage of pondering how to go about starting up my own business I hit gold. I applied for a graphic design job for a company just around the corner and got an interview. An interview! I had never had an interview for an actual graphic design job before.

I dusted off my portfolio and headed off to the interview. "We will be in touch" the director said. "Yeah sure" I thought, "I wonder how many others they are interviewing." Two days later I received an email: I had got the job! I wasn't quite sure they had emailed the right person to start with so phoned up to confirm, but yes, they wanted me!

I started work for the company and have been with them to this day, working as their in-house graphic designer, creating things like catalogues, flyers, stationery, posters etc. I have also recently started learning HTML and CSS as I am to start looking after the company website and also websites we are currently building for our clients. I'm pretty sure it was the freelance stuff I did in my other jobs that landed me the role; if I hadn't got a portfolio to show they would have laughed me out the door.

About a year ago I thought back to my wedding invitation and thought again about setting up my own business. I didn't need to do it full time because I already had my glitzy graphic design job, so I set up a Facebook page, designed a logo, put on a few pieces of work and waited to see what would happen.

I have been working as Toms Design for around a year now and although I have just over 100 likes on my Facebook page, I have had great fun working on some fantastic freelance projects. I have spent a little on advertising, but mainly advertised on Facebook and in local business Facebook groups. Word of mouth and recommendations have meant my work load is slowly starting to grow. I am currently working on redesigning a breakfast cereal logo, of which currently sells in numerous retailers including Selfridges.

Because I work in my own time and it is just me and my computer, I don't charge the earth for my designs — I'm not greedy — I have no expensive overheads and my main job pays my bills and fun money. I do it because it's what I love to do, and who knows, maybe Toms Design will become huge in the future and I can afford to run it as a full time business. But for now I am just enjoying designing!



04 Mar 2014 14:02
Love this post, keep plugging people and you will get there :)
04 Mar 2014 15:47
Good for you, keep it up :)
David Brookes
04 Mar 2014 18:30
Good for you :-)
Jenna Gold
07 Mar 2014 11:09
I agree! Its nice just designing because you love it and not constantly worrying about how much income you can make from it. Its great to hear from someone else doing the same thing too! x
07 Mar 2014 16:37
Very inspiring!
Alex Wilkie
11 Mar 2014 10:24
Perfect timing for me
Thank you
Lou Harber
11 Mar 2014 21:53
Great post! Really inspiring, and shows dedication and perseverance does pay off!

Thanks you :)
don poole
25 Jun 2016 23:59
Chole, really appreciate you providing the details. I'm at the other end of a freelance career. 34 years in a small market. Keep after it. Your longtime clients become friends.

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