Freelancing during design school

“Am I good enough?” Let’s face it, as designers we’ve all asked ourselves this question at least once.

When I first considered freelancing, I questioned my skillset. Especially as a student. I thought, how could I make money from something that I’m not really qualified to be doing?

The truth is that freelancing is a great way to compliment your study as you learn along the way. During my entire time at design school I was freelancing along with about 10% of the students in my class (which I thought was pretty low).

Freelancing alongside my study wasn’t intentional, it just happened to me.

My first client contacted me because they’d seen me posting doodles on Instagram and Twitter and wanted me to design a lettering piece for t-shirts they were going to have at their weekend workshop event.

Many of the students in my class didn’t freelance because they didn’t want to be a freelancer after they graduate. But who says you have to be?

It doesn’t matter whether you want to join an agency or work for yourself after graduating,freelancing during your studies can be hugely beneficial to you and your future career.


Exposure (the kind that counts)

When you complete a project for a client, it’s likely that your work will not only be shared with your clients audience, but their audiences network as well.

Just think how many people that could be, all being exposed to your work. Soon you’ll be make a reputable name for yourself in the industry, which gains respect and trust.

What do you want to be known for? Whatever it is, start doing it early to get noticed.


Personal Exploration

When I started freelancing I took on basically any project that came my way. Print, web, illustration, hand lettering, animation, logos, branding, you name it.

My old portfolio is proof of this and it makes me cringe just looking at it, but it shows how much I’ve learned along the way. I’m not saying that you should take on whatever project you can get, though.

If you know what you’re good at, then you should specialise. However if you’re unsure, freelancing lets you discover your niche, pick one thing and be good at it.

I thought I’d really love print work. Turns out, staring at paragraph styles and CMYK colours all day just isn’t my thing.

I also thought I’d enjoy doing logos and hand lettering projects. Well, I discovered rather draw letters in my spare time as a hobby.

It took about a year of freelancing for me to discover that web design and helping businesses position themselves online is really where my passion lies.

If you haven’t yet figured out what areas of design you’re really passionate about while at school, freelancing is the perfect opportunity to do so.



How impressive would it be if you could show in your portfolio that you have some real world design experience outside of school work? I’m not the only one who’s written about this.

Employers are more likely to take notice of you and have a good impression if you have some real life projects in your portfolio. It not only shows that you’re ambitious, but also shows your passion and dedication for design.

Freelancing as a student shows that you’re trustworthy, reliable and can follow though. It shows that you have a passion and that you enjoy doing it outside of the classroom.

Freelancing as a student also opens you up to having a personal brand. Managing clients, outlining your process, invoicing and marketing yourself are things that most design school don’t teach and are vital business skills.

Even if you don’t want to continue being a solo freelancer after you graduate, having a basic understanding and experience of these demonstrate that you have business qualities.

It’s likely that if you’ve freelanced you also have decent people skills and good character. It’s the client’s job to be open and honest in their feedback to you.

Critique can be challenging, not just in the classroom but in the real world too. Having real projects allows you to develop and extend your people skills outside of the classroom. After some time you’ll learn to put feelings aside and understand that the client is not personally attacking you, and you’ll be more receptive to feedback. This may open you up to becoming more approachable and flexible.

Showing that you know how to be a professional is an invaluable trait. Workings with clients shows that you’re professional, trustworthy and can get a job done. This will also help you manage your school projects better.

Personal projects and school work are great, but client work goes a lot further.



I’m constantly learning things every day. Sometimes it may be design related, other time business related. A designer grows with their work. You don’t suddenly hit a certain threshold of ‘talent’ and never produce anything better.

Freelancing gives you the opportunity to learn more and up skill. You may be required to learn a new skill or piece of software for a particular project, or maybe you find out a new Sketch hack you didn’t know of before. Just think, you’ll be learning at a faster rate than your peers and improving your workflow along the way, becoming more efficient.

Your client may be relying on your design to reignite their business. There’s more at stake in a real world project and no such thing as extensions or flexible deadlines.

You have to honour the clients needs and realise that you may be one tiny piece in a giant puzzle, so you need to get your part of the project done on time. If you can demonstrate that you’re good at managing time to a potential employer or client, this makes you a valuable candidate.

I see so many student portfolios that are filled with only school work. Demonstrating that you can take what you’ve learnt in the classroom and apply it to the real world is going to position you above your peers. Your tutors will also be impressed when they see you’ve extended your skills outside of the classroom.

Learning doesn’t stop once you graduate.


Connect & Collaborate

As a student it’s easy to get caught up in student life and not venture further afield. When working with clients you may have to attend a meeting with a design team, meet developers or exchange emails with their agency. Your client could have good connections.

Maybe they have a design team and might offer you a job after you graduate?

Going freelance means there is no marketing team or sales team doing the work for you, it’s up to you to promote yourself and your services. Your network is important.

Ivan Chua talks in his article that it’s all about who you know. Attend meetups and form a network in your industry. During your research for a project you may stumble across other designers and their work.

This is a great opportunity to reach out to them and make a new connection, which could lead to other opportunities before or after graduation.

You may be thinking that you’re doing pretty well for yourself just focusing on your school work, but imagine the possibilities of taking on a client in your spare time and exercising your passion outside of the classroom.

You can only learn more, so go for it.