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A Creative’s Guide To Getting Freelance Work

New #Shillumni guest author on Shillington Design Blog! We’re thrilled to welcome one of our Manchester graduates, Matt Pealing to share his advice about freelancing. Matt’s based in Liverpool and has worked on a wide range of design projects over the years—everything from brand identities for fashion designers to illustration for festivals. Read on to get the low-down on how to smash it as a freelancer!

It’s been a while since I wrote a post about freelancing advice. I got inspired to write this as I often get people asking me how I find freelance work, such as students or those who are quite new to freelancing. I’ve found that trying these different tactics over the years has slowly built up and work can often crop up quite randomly for me these days. So here we go, here are the different methods I’ve found of getting freelance work;

1. Emailshots

When I was starting out as a freelancer I would email design agencies, advertising the fact that I was a freelancer to try and get them to outsource work to me. I would gather lists of hundreds of design companies’ email addresses through Google searches. I first started off with local agencies and then moved on to other cities.

I’d then do a mail-merge so that I could contact all these companies (addressed to the MD or creative director when possible) to let them know that I could take on any projects that they either don’t have the capacity or capabilities to do in-house. I would also be sure to keep my emails short and sweet so I wouldn’t lose my recipients’ attention—often just stating my name, location and a brief overview of the kind of projects I was interested to take on, before then ending it by stating that it would be great if we could discuss working together. I wouldn’t bore them with my whole life story and would save talking about my rates for those who would reply to me.

This isn’t a method I tend to rely on these days. Partly because I use the other methods outlined in this post, and also because I feel like I’ve done emailshots to death!

True story: I once went on a friend’s stag do and one of his designer friends, who lived about a 3-hour train journey from me, said to me ‘Hey you’re Matt Pealing aren’t you, you sent me one of your emails a few years ago’.

2. Overshare

It’s probably quite obvious that social media is a good way to promote yourself as a freelancer. But I find what’s important is to overshare. If you finish a piece of work that you’ve put a tonne of effort into and are really pleased with the outcome, I see it as a bit of a waste to only post about it once, because a lot of people probably won’t even notice it.

I like to post about each project multiple times on different social media platforms. Let’s say I’m working on a logo, I will most likely post a bunch of work-in-progress shots rather than only posting the final thing. I may even post some of my initial sketches. This way, my followers are more likely to see what I’m up to, and it also gives people more of an idea of the amount of work that goes into it.

As a result of oversharing, I get the occasional bit of work interest from friends or relatives (often they’ll be asking on behalf of someone else) because they’ve noticed me posting my work on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.

While we’re on the topic of social media, I’ve noticed a lot of creatives have a personal account and another account that is to show their work off… so two Twitter pages, two Instagram accounts etc. I personally prefer to have just one account per platform. I like to mix my design posts along with other random stuff.

I feel it’s important to show a bit of personality and show that design isn’t the only thing that goes on in my life.

3. Register Everywhere

I generally find it can be a bit of a challenge keeping on top of so many different accounts on various websites—Twitter, Instagram, Behance, Dribbble, LinkedIn to name a few, but sometimes I’ve found it has paid off being visible in so many different places. I’ve had a couple of interesting enquiries after posting work on Dribbble and even once landed a large freelance job that someone posted on one of the groups that I belong to.

I’ve also found freelance work through Kin 2 Kin which is a website aimed at connecting creatives in Liverpool—have a look and see if there is an equivalent for where you are based.

When you’re registered on a large number of different websites however, the time you can spend on each one obviously reduces. So you could argue that you might be best focusing on just one, feel free to give that a try and let me know how it goes!

4. Make Friends

This has been quite a big one over the last few years. I’ve found that simply meeting new people is a great way to build your contacts which can lead to work further down the line. I used to meet new people a lot and would often get referred to as a social butterfly… I didn’t used to meet people specifically to try and get work out of them however, I was just interested in making friends more than anything.

I first moved to Liverpool in 2011 and didn’t really know any locals apart from a couple of friends from Uni. Most of my other friends were in my hometown of Ellesmere Port, only a 30–40 minute train journey away but too far for things like meeting for a quick coffee at lunchtime or a pint after work.

So I used to find myself going to all kinds of different meetups in order to meet new faces, which I found pretty exciting. I’ve always preferred the more casual kinds of meetups geared towards creatives rather than corporate networking events. I find the people at creative meetups are more on my level and also happy to talk about things other than just work. Check out to find creative meetups near you. Twitter and Facebook can be good for this too.

Where you choose to work also influences the amount of new people you meet—working from home can be very isolating, which is why I started working in co-working spaces.

I’ve worked in a number of different co-working spaces over the years which has meant making lots of different friends and has led to a fair bit of work… currently I’ve been working from Make Baltic for the last 3 and a half years. Freelancers often complain about not having any Christmas parties to go to, but if you work in a co-working space then this is a different story… Christmas parties for the self-employed can be pretty wild (probably because everyone knows there’s no-one there to sack them!).

There are also co-working events such as Jelly. I blogged about this many years ago, I’m not sure if Jelly is as big of a thing as it used to be, but if there are Jelly events local to you I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

If you already know a few local freelance/creative types, why not suggest working from a coffee shop or library every now and then for a bit of social interaction and a change of scene? For me, I’ve found that this ‘meeting-new-people’ method of getting work certainly doesn’t happen overnight. In a lot of cases I’ve found it can take months or even years after meeting someone for any work to materialise.

There are of course those people who are more business/sales minded that can pick up work quickly this way, but I know that isn’t the case with me and probably isn’t for a lot of other creative types either. But seeing as getting work was never really my intention of meeting new people, I find it to be more of a bonus if it does happen. I’ve found myself at house parties, arts fairs and even weddings (well, one wedding) as a result of meeting so many creative folk… so get out there and start meeting people!

5. Knowledge Sharing

This is another quite big one for me these days, as a big chunk of my freelance projects comes from those who have found me through search engines. I rank quite well on search engines, so much so that I sometimes get confused for being some kind of SEO expert.

The reality is that I have little knowledge of (or interest in) SEO, but I do know that posting fresh new content on your website is the kind of thing that search engines favour.

I blog about various design or freelance related topics when I can find the time. This attracts a fair bit of traffic to my site, a lot of which is most likely just other designers wanting to learn about something I’ve written about, but any traffic is good traffic as far as I’m concerned… who knows, they might end up buying one of my Etsy prints 😉

I’ve found that I rank pretty well when people search for local freelance designers… I’ve even had clients from other ends of the country that have found me through Google, and I’m pretty sure one of the main reasons I rank well is because of my blog posts. Blogging shows Google that you know what you’re talking about and in turn it rewards you for it (at least I think that’s how it works).

Massive thanks to Matt for letting us share his freelance advice. Head over to Matt’s website to see more of his work and read further advice pieces and blog posts. Get regular updates from Matt on Twitter and Instagram

Are you looking for more freelance resources? Check out out 15 Essential Places Freelance Designers Can Find New Clients, Top 10 CoWorking Spaces for Creative Freelancers in New York or hear from Adam Morgan, another Shillington Graduate who’s taken the freelance path. 

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