Whether you’re a freelance graphic designer for hire, or an established LLC, staying relevant and competitive in a gig economy is more than a full-time job. It’s a lifestyle.
Anyone who thrives as a creative influencer will tell you that it takes an ongoing commitment to learning new skills, staying flexible, and improving your own brand’s marketing, as much as you would for a client’s.
So, how can you keep up with new demands, technologies, and market fluctuations? You need a strategy that keeps you on a path toward career success.
How to become a professional graphic designer
Before we can define success, first let's define what it means to be a graphic designer.
A graphic designer is someone who knows how to implement typography into a design, including:
This individual should further possess a solid understanding of color theory and have the skills to create an effective color palette, including:
- Digital Ads
Finally, a graphic designer should know the history of graphic design. This means knowing those who helped transform this art form into a professional career. This might include Paul Rand and Massimo Vignelli. It can also include current influential designers, such as Mackey Saturday and Tobias Van Schneider.
Need a little brush up on graphic design history? Here is a short list of inspiring books we’d recommend:
- Logo Modernism (Design) by Jens Müller & Julius Wiedemann
- The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier
- The Designer’s Dictionary of Color by Sean Adams
- Grid Systems In Graphic Design by Josef Mülller-Brockmann
- American Modernism: Graphic Design, 1920 to 1960 by R. Roger Remington
Graphic Design vs. Brand Design
Because graphic design is a very broad term, it often gets used interchangeably with other marketing buzzwords, such as brand design. But there are key differences between the pair.
A brand designer understands the who, what, where, when, and why of a brand (i.e., its mission statement), in addition to all the graphic design elements we’ve already discussed.
To define what a brand designer is, think of brand strategy and brand style guides, specifically user personas, customer touch points, and logo specifications. These all require a heavy layer of strategy, not just design. A brand designer knows how to pair all visual elements, messaging, and advertising platforms together to successfully connect with more audiences while keeping everything on brand.
A graphic designer may not be able to create an effective strategy for a brand, but may specialize in specific styles, such as illustration, typography, or symbolism.
This is not to say that graphic designers are limited in their capabilities. In fact, you may be thinking…wait…I do both (strategy and implementation). If so, hats off to you! Just make sure your expertise is reflected in your contract rate and advertising. The worst thing you can do is short-change your services (being paid to do one thing when in actuality, you’re doing EVERYTHING).
5 Ways to Become a Better Graphic Designer
Now that we have a solid understanding of what a graphic designer is, let’s discuss how one can achieve success.
Share your work online. Whether it’s your website or a social media platform, such as Dribbble or Behance, get your work out there so that people can see it! I remember the days when I would post stickers of my work on telephone poles in busy areas of town. This might sound a little old school, but it helped me get comfortable with the idea of putting my work out there.
I’m not saying put your work on public property. But I am saying get out of your comfort zone and start putting your work in the public eye.
Build Client Relationships. Remember to keep in contact with older clients. Even if you did a “one-off” project for someone, reach out in a month or two to ask how business is going.
It’s also a good idea to keep a running list of past clients. Be sure to set reminders on your calendar to reach out to them periodically in order to touch base on their design and marketing needs.
Learn and understand business ethics. When you take the next step to becoming a professional designer, you’ll want to know how to conduct business with clients and other business owners. This includes the proper way to write proposals and respond to RFPs, as well as create sales decks, briefs, and contracts.
There are plenty of free courses, articles, and resources out there to help you learn the basics. And don’t be afraid of a little “real-life” trial and error, too.
As with design, there is always something new to learn—including our past mistakes and business relationships.
Connect with other designers. Create a circle of designers to both share your work and keep updated on new trends, designs, and strategies. It will also benefit you to network with designers who offer different skill sets than you do. For instance, if you specialize in website design, make sure you’re connecting with people who work in game design, illustration, and animation, as well.
You never know when one of your clients will reach out to you, asking if you offer a service that’s outside of your toolbox. You’ll have an immediate referral ready. And this goes both ways, because other people in your network will recommend you if a customer reaches out to them for a project that requires your expertise.
Establish Your Contract Rate. There are a few ways to do this, but the most common include:
- Hourly Rate
- Day Rate
- Fixed Rate
Of course, you’ll need to consider many factors before deciding what these numbers should be. To give you a good starting point and a few examples, check out our blog on how to quote clients and avoid losing bids.
You’ll find a few tips and strategies to help you come up with a rate that values your work but still keeps you competitive!
A Final Thought
Don’t be afraid to say no. Not every client is the right fit for you, and you’re not the right fit for every client.
Establish this up front with a discovery call. This will allow you to understand the client’s industry, advertising needs, and budget. Be up front and professional with your decision, too. Most business owners will respect your consideration for their time.
We hope you enjoyed this article! If you’d like to hear more about how to succeed as a graphic designer, tune in to our podcast titled “Design Your Success” for more tips, strategies, and real-world insights!
Not a fan of reading interviews? No worries! Listen to Episode 4 of Clokendagger's podcast, Beneath the Brand, for tips on how to build your network, charge rates, and more!
LISTEN NOW →
Need Professional Graphic Design?
At Clokendagger, every service we provide is based on the foundational principles of graphic design. We like to think of ourselves as pixel pushers because we only want the best results possible for the small businesses we have the pleasure of serving.
If you’re looking for graphic design services or support, our team can help! Contact us for a free consultation to learn more about our graphic design capabilities.