I know I’ve mentioned this a few times in some of my articles over the years, but I wanted to focus on it a bit more with a dedicated article on the topic by itself. If you are looking to get started in digital design, have the inner gift of creativity, and the skill-sets to bring your imagination to life on paper or a computer screen, this article should be able to get you pointed in the right direction.
You may want to also read the following (related) articles I wrote over the years:
- (Dec. 2012) – Starting a Legal U.S. Business 101
- (Dec. 2012) – Top 11 Online Start-up Business Mistakes
- (Feb. 2015) – How I broke free from the chains and got my start
- (Sep. 2016) – Your first online business venture
- (Sep. 2016) – Vector Design And Format Essentials
- (Mar. 2017) – Brainstorming Your Brand Name
Choosing Your Design Software
Obviously, to start an online business in design, you’ll need a design software that provides at least the basic industry standard tools and formats to practice on. If you already have your software and accustomed to it, great! If not, or you are interested in an alternative, I have put together some of the different options available today below.
Free Design Software
- InkSkape – (Vector Based Software)
- Gimp – (Raster Based Software)
- Daze3D – (3D Raster & Vector Based Software)
- Blender – (3D Raster & Vector Based Software)
Paid Design Software
- Adobe PhotoShop – (Raster Based Software) – You can buy an older version to download or pay monthly for the online-cloud version.
- Adobe Illustrator – (Vector Based Software) – You can buy an older version to download or pay monthly for the online-cloud version.
- Serif DrawPlus – (Vector & Raster Based Software) – You can buy an older version, however, updates are no longer supported.
- Affinity Designer – (Vector & Raster Based Software) – This software replaced Serif DrawPlus.
Learn Your Software – Practice Makes Perfect
Like with anything new to us in life, there is a learning curve. It takes time and dedication to learn a new design software, so be sure to start by Googling related free tutorials for the software you have chosen to start with. Most (If not all) design software’s have a following of designers that like to share their experience and accomplishment’s freely via tutorials, so it should be easy to locate free tips and tricks.
Study Each Contest Platforms Rules
Every design platform has slightly different rules, requirements, and mandated file formats needed to be delivered. Make sure that you study all their policies/rules prior to participating so that you can avoid any unforeseen circumstances that may get your account closed and cut your new freelance adventure short.
Building Your First Design Client List
This is approached differently by a lot of new designers, however, the quickest and easiest way I found to build a design client list for the first time is by entering design contests. Starting with the easier/low prize contests at first to get the hands-on experience, generate some cash, and log your wins as leads for future projects. This log will also become your first design client list.
Easy/Low Prize Contests
Below I have compiled a list of some of the free contest sites/forums with lower prize amounts. You’ll want to start with these at first to home your skills before you embark on the higher prize and more skilled competitions. Once you get a bunch of the lower prize wins under your belt, you can build a portfolio and then venture into the more difficult contests with higher prizes. A design portfolio is crucial to making a transition later from contests to freelance design services.
- NamePros – (Very Active) This is a forum with a design contest section. You can sign-up for free to participate.
- DigitalPoint – (Very Active) This is a forum with a design contest section. You can sign-up for free to participate.
- V7N – (Not Very Active) This is a forum with a design contest section. You can sign-up for free to participate.
Harder/Higher Prize Contests
Below I have compiled a list of some of the harder/higher prize contests that require more skill level to compete.
- 99Designs – (Very Active) This is a free to join design contest platform bringing clients and designers together to compete.
- DesignCrowd – (Very Active) This is a free to join design contest platform bringing clients and designers together to compete.
- LogoArena – (Semi-Active) This is a free to join design contest platform bringing clients and designers together to compete.
- LogoBids – (Semi-Active) This is a free to join design contest platform bringing clients and designers together to compete.
- DesignContest – (Not Very Active) This is a free to join design contest platform bringing clients and designers together to compete.
Secure your passwords
With both the above categories of contests (Easy/Hard), I suggest signing up to all of them for free and organizing a .txt or .doc file with all your passwords. Keep this list in a safe place that nobody else has access to. It’s generally a good idea to use different complex passwords for each account, that way if someone does get ahold of (Or guesses) a password on one platform, they won’t have access to all of your accounts on the others.
The following article on password security might be of interest to you: Password security and why you should care
Logging Contest Wins And Converting To Clients
As I mentioned earlier, your contest wins will be the start of your first client list. You’ll want to create a new folder on your computer titled “Clients”. Inside this folder you will create individual client folders using their company or real name (Depending on the project) and add all the design master files, .txt’s, .doc’s, and contact information.
Your client folder/list will accomplish the following for you:
- A source to build your first design portfolio/references from.
- A source of leads for upselling or sending discount notifications on potential future projects.
- An archive you can quickly reference if a client contacts you for an edit or additions later (I’ve had some contact me 5+ years later because they lost their files).
The above should be enough to get you headed in the right direction. If not, or you have some unanswered questions, please let me know and I’ll see if I can write another article to address them for you.
Keep in mind that creative design isn’t for everyone. If you are not artistically inclined and able to create unique designs from scratch, this probably isn’t the right freelance choice for you. Be sure to use extreme caution and do not use any clipart/stock in any of your logo/brand related designs. This will be a sure-fire way to kill any future potential you may have had in the design industry. Just remember, a company can’t trademark a copy of someone elses copyright or trademark protected work. It needs to be original.
Once you have mastered the art of design contests and built your client list big enough, eventually, you will start to see direct contact custom orders from the contest holders that loved your work so much, they want to work with you exclusively. It’s at this point that you can pat yourself on the back and start to make changes in your business plan to expand into a more one-on-one service orientated business model.
Be safe out there and get creative!
Since 1996, Eric has managed companies with 240+ employees, online communities with over 1 million members, attended numerous industry related events/conventions and has personally worked with start-ups, personalities, small mom and pop businesses, corporations, freelancers, news outlets, and a variety of domain investors one-on-one from all over the world. That equates to a lot of years behind the scenes with his fingers firmly on the pulse of multiple industries.
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