If you’re considering a freelance graphic design career, you might be wondering what that actually looks like.
I have been working as a graphic design professional for more than a decade, both as a freelance designer and as a traditional, salaried employee.
Below, I’ll show you exactly what a typical workday looks like for me as a full-time freelancer.
A graphic designer works with digital images, text and layout to create visually pleasing logos, books, posters, flyers, billboards, brochures, product packaging, business cards and other marketing materials. They are usually keenly familiar with industry-standard design software products and services, like the Adobe Creative Suite. Experienced graphic designers also know that staying on top of graphic design trends is key as this allows them to keep their finger on the pulse of trending styles.
An in-house designer can work full-time for a single company, whereas a freelance designer can work with a wide range of businesses at once.
Just about every business will need a graphic designer at some point. Some companies may find themselves needing a graphic designer more often than others.
A graphic designer may have specific creative skills. For example, a graphic designer may specialize as a logo designer or a website designer.
When my friends ask me specifics about what I do, I simply look around and point out real-life examples of design around us. No matter where you are right now, you probably can find a logo, a pamphlet or a package nearby.
Basically, everything in this world utilizes some type of design or branding. My job is to make that branding eye-catching, cohesive and easy to read and understand.
What is a typical day for a graphic designer?
Here’s a look at my work day, a day in the life of a graphic designer:
9:30 am: Wake up
I’ve never been much of a morning person, and now, I don’t have to be. But even though I’m rolling out of bed later than the average employee and working from home, I still like to put on some makeup and wear “normal” clothes.
My outfit might still consist of yoga pants or gym clothes most of the time, but I try to make sure I could at least run out to lunch or go to the grocery store with what I’m wearing. In other words, don’t work in your pajamas just because you can. I think it creates an unhealthy mindset.
I spend about 20 minutes getting ready and then make some coffee and put together some yogurt with fruit for breakfast. Then, it’s time to start the day.
10:00 am: Begin work, check emails
I start my day by checking emails, Upwork messages, Slack messages, and/or my Trello board. Sometimes I begin the day and know exactly what I need to work on. But sometimes, I need to decide which project has priority.
10:30 am: Light design work and edits
After I am caught up on my messages and notifications, the actual work begins. I usually like to start with edits, because they are faster than starting a whole new design project. Plus, my clients expect that edits will have less turnaround time.
I like to begin the day with something easier and less creative since I’m not a morning person. This might be my time to proof content or finish up the previous day’s work.
12:00 pm: Meeting
On Mondays, I meet with my team about our blog content.
I should note here that I am a hybrid blogger and designer, so meeting about blog content may not apply to you. However, meetings will likely be in your future regardless.
Clients frequently request meetings. You may be making discovery calls or going over project details. Even though emails are usually preferred, you will likely end up talking to your clients at least occasionally over Zoom.
At any rate, it’s a good idea to set aside a meeting time that works for you. I like setting a time before lunch because it encourages you to keep a reasonable endpoint.
That sets me up for a clean afternoon so I can concentrate.
It’s important not to let yourself get too bogged down with meetings. You’ll need a healthy amount of time to get actual work done.
If you’re a new designer, this time might be reserved for looking for new jobs and clients instead.
2 pm: Lunch
For lunch, I like to keep it simple.
I might grab some fast food or heat up some leftovers. I might make something easy, like homemade pizza with wheat naan bread or dress up some ramen noodles with veggies and chicken.
If I’m on a tight deadline, sometimes I will have lunch delivered to my doorstep and eat it at my desk.
A couple of times per week, as time allows, I might head to the gym for a quick workout during my lunch break. On days I do not go to the gym, I like to at least take a quick walk around my neighborhood.
Making your health a priority is very important, but this is sometimes easier said than done. Work-from-home life can be very sedentary. But finding a routine that works for you is key.
3 pm: Workflow
The hours between 3-7 pm are usually when I get most of my work done. Traditional workers are usually starting to wind down. For me, that means I can have a productive block of work with little to no distractions.
This block is when I like to dive into a new design job, write a new blog post or begin a new design project.
7 pm: Wrapup and dinner
Most of the time, I try to wrap up my work day by about 7 pm. If I went to the gym at lunch, that may mean I took a longer lunch break, in which case I may work until about 7:30 or 8 pm.
If I’m in a solid workflow, it sometimes can be difficult to quit. That’s why getting some physical activity earlier in the day works well for me.
I usually eat dinner between 7:30-8:30 pm and then spend some time with my husband, either playing games or watching some TV. Of course, occasionally we may see friends or watch movies.
9 pm: Side projects and wind down
If I’m feeling inspired, I might work on a side project after dinner. But I try to not be at my desk later than 10 pm.
Most of the time, I start winding down and getting ready for bed around midnight or 1 am.
I’ve always been a night owl. And being a freelance graphic designer gives me the flexibility to choose my own schedule.
What skills should a graphic designer know?
A good graphic designer should be familiar with the Adobe Creative Suite design software. The big three include Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Indesign and Adobe Illustrator.
A good graphic designer should also understand basic design principles. This involves utilizing things like hierarchy, contrast, white space, alignment, repetition, proximity and balance.
Of course, your skills may be honed differently depending on whether or not you specialize in your design field. If you’re a web designer, it’s a good idea to be at least somewhat familiar with basic CSS and HTML.
If you want to specialize in social media graphics, you’ll need to know some technical best practices, like what size to make a Twitter graphic versus a Facebook graphic.
You also want to be familiar with typography. A good designer will understand leading, kerning and justification.
On a less technical level, you also want to have good time management skills. This is especially true if you want to be a freelancer because your livelihood will depend on it.
Finally, a good designer should also have good communication skills. If you’re working with a company, you may be working with a whole team of advertising professionals.
Good communication skills are especially important if you’re going to be self-employed. I sometimes joke that being a graphic designer feels similar to working in customer service.
Most days, I do not see myself as a creative professional. Rather, I am often a customer service representative. I listen to what my client wants and I find a way to solve their problems.
How do beginner freelancers start graphic design?
If you’re just getting started, you’ll want to find ways to practice your skills. Look for entry-level internships. Ask your friends if they know of anyone looking for a graphic designer.
Start building your portfolio of work as you find projects. It can be hard to get started because often you need a portfolio of work to find work. So what if you don’t have any work to do? Make some!
Show some creativity and take up projects for yourself. Make up a company and then design a logo and branding for it.
Then, when you have a decent portfolio, start looking for freelance work. Upwork is a great platform to get started and find new clients.
Finding your first job and your first client is the hardest part, but consistency is key.
Can you make a living off freelance graphic design?
Absolutely! I think that is evidenced in this blog. Morgan Overholt, the owner of this blog, has made more than $600,000 on the Upwork platform alone.
I, essentially her “right-hand woman”, haven’t quite hit that milestone. But I did more than double my income by becoming a freelance graphic designer.
When I left my last salaried job, I was about 5 years post-college and making about $35,000 a year.
Today, I make about $85,000 per year while working 40 hours per week, with the goal of earning six figures and working only 30 hours per week within the next couple of years.
How much do freelancer graphic designers make?
A freelance graphic designer can earn between $15-$150 per hour, depending on experience and expertise.
The designer’s union says the average is about $40 for beginners and $100 for expert-level skilled designers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that the average salary of a graphic designer is about $59,900 per year or about $29 per hour.
As you’re starting out, you may need to start low and work your way up. To calculate how much you need to make, you can start out with this very basic formula:
(My Salary) / Annual Desired Hours = Hourly Rate
Do graphic designers work on weekends?
Some do, but I’d say usually, no. But there are different types of graphic design jobs out there and each may have its own requirements.
While I was working my very first traditional job after college, I worked in the pagination department of a newspaper, and I did have to work the occasional weekend. At my next job, I did not work any weekends.
It may depend on deadlines set by yourself or your client(s).
But if you’re freelancing, I want you to remember that weekends are not meant for catching up. They are for relaxing, recovering and taking care of your mental health. A healthy work-life balance is important.
As a freelance graphic designer, I rarely work weekends anymore, unless I am working on one of my own projects, like my blog. If I have a client who is willing to pay a premium for my weekend work, it may become worth my time.
A freelancer who is finding new clients, or transitioning into graphic design, may choose to work weekends in addition to working a more traditional job.
Are you a freelance graphic designer? What does your typical day look like? Let me know in the comments below.