If you want to do graphic design work from home, keep reading! We have everything you need to know about this creative career field.
One career that allows you to work from home is that of a graphic or web designer. Graphic design is a way to communicate visually with people. It may be a poster, ads in a magazine, a website design, a business logo, social media graphics, postcards, or even a font (hand lettering). These are just some examples of assets that graphic designers create.
What Training Do You Need to Be a Graphic Designer?
There are a few ways you can become a graphic designer. You can get a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, visual communications, fine arts, computer graphics, multimedia, illustration, advertising, marketing, or industrial design. The second way you can become a graphic designer is by teaching yourself the craft of design or taking an online course.
Graphic Designer Example #1
Heidi Yarger, the owner of Spitfiregirl, LLC design, started her business because she was tired of others dictating her time, pay, and vacation. She says:
“I called design studios, agencies, and businesses, and somehow got my foot in the door. I was relentless, and eventually, it paid off. To back up, I never went to design school (I have a BFA), so I supplemented with design classes where and when I could. I learned almost everything on the job; that’s right; I am self-taught! Over time I developed a distinctive style, found client niches, and now have a thriving business. I believe talent is talent, regardless of degree or lack thereof. On a personal note: I’m an absolute proponent of going to design school if you have the ability/opportunity/funds to do so.”
Graphic Designer Example #2
Another well-known, self-taught graphic designer is Karen Cheng. She says:
“I got my job as a designer without going to design school. I had hacked together my own design education in 6 months while working a full-time job. I didn’t think I was ready but started applying for jobs anyway – and got a job at a great startup, Exec. To be clear, I’m nowhere near as good as those design prodigies that come out of a 4-year education at an elite school like RISD. But I’m definitely good enough to do my job well. I’m the only designer at Exec, so I do a pretty wide range of things – visual and interaction design, print, web, and mobile app design.”
How Much Do Graphic Designers Make?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, graphic designers can earn an average median salary of $50,710 per year. They also suggest that graphic design jobs have a slower-than-average growth rate and job outlook. I’m not sure why this is. But it could be because of platforms like Canva and PicMonkey, which make it easy for anyone to create good-looking graphics.
As a business owner, I’ve worked with many graphic designers, and I can tell you that the good ones earn much more. According to ZipRecruiter, a freelance graphic designer earns an average of $58,437 annually, with top graphic designers earning $93,000 annually.
Where Do You Find Freelance Graphic Design Jobs?
There are a couple of routes you can take with graphic design. You can work as an employee for a traditional marketing agency or corporation. Or you can start your own freelance design business. Most in-house companies will require you to have an advanced degree, which is why many graphic designers go out on their own.
Here are the best places to search for freelance graphic design gigs, part-time jobs, and remote work.
- Authentic Jobs
- Design Observer
- People Per Hour
- Robert Half
- VaVa Virtual Assistants
If you want to work for a design agency or big company, you can search for remote graphic design jobs on LinkedIn and Indeed. Be sure to include the terms art director, creative director, UX designer, and visual designer in your search. You can also write a list of dream companies you’d like to work for and check their websites for remote design positions. Many companies keep their marketing team in-house and hire a dedicated designer for the team.
Ready to Start Your Graphic Design Business?
Like any other home business, you will need to educate yourself on the best business practices, file all of the appropriate paperwork, and get your legal and financial ducks in a row. Once you write your business plan and set up the preliminary business framework, you can start working on the fun parts of your business.
1. Get the Training and Design Software You Need
If you haven’t taken any classes, or an online course, doing so can help you quickly learn basic design principles. Things such as principles of design, typography, color, and the mechanics of Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe Photoshop. There are many online certification programs and graphic design courses from Coursera and LinkedIn Learning that can quickly get you up to speed. You’ll also need to purchase a copy of Adobe Creative Cloud, which lets you create high-quality professional designs and images that are easy to modify.
If you’re not fully committed to graphic design as a work-from-home option, you can test the waters using the free version of Canva and design simple graphics for clients. In fact, there are many Pinterest virtual assistants who create and schedule pins for clients. Other people, like Julie Beringer, use Canva to create and sell printables on Etsy. If you decide this is the right path, you can invest in your graphic design skills and tools once you have some money coming in.
2. Decide What Services to Offer and What Style
As a graphic designer, you can work on many different projects. From creating brochures and flyers to logos, book covers, website layouts, business cards, printables, and more! But a couple of other things to consider are what industry you would like to work with and what’s your style. While some graphic designers are generalists and work on a wide variety of projects, it can be easier and more lucrative to choose a specialty and focus. For instance, Champagne Designs focuses on graphic design projects in the wedding niche!
When you’re determining your services and fee structure, you’ll also want to come up with a design brief and contract that discusses payment schedules, revisions, deliverables, the scope of the project, and the time frame. Having these ensures that both parties understand their responsibilities, and it protects you from misunderstandings.
3. Build a Website
While I think having a website can help you attract more clients, if you don’t have the funds right away, you can start your business without one. With visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, there are plenty of places to showcase your portfolio of work. However, if you’re doing website design, you should have a website that represents your creative abilities. Plus, as a user, I want to know that you’re capable of incorporating user experience into your design, and the best way to do this is by testing your website out.
WordPress is a great option if you’re interested in building a website for your graphic design business! Here are simple step-by-step instructions for building your website.
4. Market Your Business
One of the easiest ways to land your first client is by telling your friends and family that you’re open for business! These people know, like, and trust you, and while they may not need your design services, they can spread the word to people in their network. Once you’ve reviewed your contacts, you can write up a dream list of clients to pitch. It’s helpful to build the relationship by following them on their social media platforms, signing up for their newsletter, and thoughtfully commenting on their blog posts. Taking the time to get to know them and their business will help you formulate a thoughtful pitch. Some experts believe you should follow up with five to ten potential clients daily until you have a constant flow of clients in your pipeline.
Of course, there are lots of ways to promote your graphic design business; the thing you need to remember is consistency is key. Choose two to three methods that you think you’ll enjoy doing and spend time each day working on those methods.
Not sure of your options? Here are just some of the ways you can market your business:
- Discovery calls
- Email marketing
- Facebook groups
- Online advertising
- Social media
- Networking events
5. Get Organized
Before you start pitching clients, you’re going to need to create a system so that you know when to follow up and when projects are due. Not sure what to use? No problem! I created the Ultimate Online Business Planning Toolkit to help freelancers stay on top of all their business tasks. Whether you need to track your pitches, create an invoice, or have a checklist for your project, the Ultimate Online Business Planning Toolkit has you covered!
6. Invest in Your Design Business
As your cash flow builds, you’ll want to reinvest some of it into professional development. Luckily, they are events, conferences, webinars, teleconferences, online courses, books, membership sites, mastermind groups, and coaching sessions. There is something to fit every budget and every niche. By investing in your self-development, you gain the knowledge, information, and skills to make your freelance business a success.
As you can see, you don’t need a college degree to be a graphic designer. With some motivation and self-study, you can learn the craft and quickly sell your freelance design services online. Do you need more tips for working from home as a designer? Meg Farrington shares some great advice for having a successful first year as a freelance web designer.
Originally published in March 2009. The content was updated in March 2023.