As a freelance designer and advertising student, I often get asked by other students how I find work. The truth is, I have lots of ways I find freelance work, but it’s been a journey getting to where I am today. I suppose the best way to tell any students (or anyone) seeking to find their first gig, is to introduce you to some ways to start out.
Since you haven’t had a paid gig yet, chances are your portfolio isn’t to sharp either, if you even have one. With that said, your target audience for clients is obviously not going to be Apple or Nike, so where should you start?
Talk with your friends. Let them all know that you do design, you will be surprised with some of the responses you will get. Are any of your friends in a band? Design a logo, posters, t-shirts, CD covers, or whatever else they might need. I know people who have done work for a church or similar group they are with. It might not necessarily be paid work, but you can usually get a nice dinner or something similar out of it. Just let your friends know what you do and that you are looking for design projects. Make sure you post your new designs to your Facebook, Twitter, and/or blog so that your friends can see them, it will help keep your name in the back of their minds in case an opportunity ever arises.
The next place I started was 99Designs. It’s not a great way to get consistently paid work, but it certainly can put you in your place. As a student, you often think you are much better than you actually are. Enter a few contests here and see if you can win. I can almost guarantee that you won’t win your first few (or 20), but you will definitely learn how to gauge your experience and skill level. It can also help you make some nice things to put in your portfolio that can help you land paid gigs down the road. The point here is that you can gain real experience and see where your skills might be lacking, all with the chance to get paid if you are actually any good.
The next place I went to after that was Craigslist. It doesn’t seem like the ideal place to look for design work, but as a student or someone who is just starting out it can be the perfect place to look for work. Most people who use craigslist to find designers are usually very concerned about their budget, and therefore more willing to use students to do their designs. This is perfect for you. Here you can take your first baby steps into the freelance design world. You will learn how to negotiate prices, deal with clients, experience the real world design process, and even make a little money.
After all of this you should have a decent portfolio worked up. Set up a website or check some other sites to host your work. Start promoting it through social media and real life networking (now that you have experience doing that already it shouldn’t be to hard to take it to the next level). Touch base with some of your past clients on occasion to see if they ever need any more design work like business cards, logos, web sites, promotional items, or whatever else you can help them with. Keep working at it and more clients will come.
See how some other designers found their first clients.
Check out this great list of other websites to find design work!
Now that you have heard how I started out getting paid design work, it’s time for you to start sharing your experiences below in the comments section.