8

I'm a graphic designer and illustrator. I enjoy doing these things. Nobody is hiring. I want to do it anyway. I've been posting ads all over various platforms advertising free art and graphic design services, but not many people answer. How do I improve my client intake?

8
  • 3
    Perhaps you need to target clients that are actively looking for volunteers, e.g. charities or non-profit organisations. Commercial businesses might not want volunteers, and so will probably not be actively looking for them.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 10:52
  • 5
    Instead of doing freelance work, maybe look into finding a Graphic Design job at a company who would provide the work and clients.
    – AndrewH
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 22:19
  • 1
    Yeah freelancing can be difficult to start without a portfolio and with the "work for free" mindset. Instead, a junior level job will give you the opportunity to learn things, while doing actual work, while getting paid for it.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 10:35
  • 4
    So, not being harsh here - I'm a developer, I've worked with and been involved with hiring graphic designers before for projects. Why would I hire you? Getting a not great design done for free, with someone who I have no idea about their reliability, is so much more expensive in person hours, loss of stakeholder trust, etc than just paying for it. And, as I'm the one paying, I don't go trawling through ads. I put a bid out that people can apply for. I might advertise said bid. I might send it to some graphic designers I know, but I'm not reaching out to ones I don't.
    – lupe
    Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 13:59
  • 2
    I'd also point out that during the pandemic many companies shifted gears. The pandemic taught people (and businesses) what was possible to do remotely. And rather than sub-contracting or farming out design projects, many companies hired an in-house (remote) designer. This has altered the paradigm for many would-be clients. Unlike 2 years ago, there are many smaller companies that no longer seek out freelancers on a regular basis.
    – Scott
    Commented Jan 14, 2023 at 23:48

13 Answers 13

27

😀 You hopefully realize you are asking many professionals, who make their living via design work, how you can charge nothing and essentially compete for the same clients. You gotta "read the room" so to speak. Basic business survival dictates that one not give away effective marketing techniques to one's competition. This may be the wrong place to ask this question.


From the viewpoint of a desirable prospective client...

Think about the repercussions of offering "free services". Would you hire an auto mechanic advertising free services? An electrician offering free services? In fact, any professional offering to work for free? What if there's a problem with the "free services"? You can't argue about payment. You have no recourse if the work is faulty and you've lost days or weeks waiting for the "free work" to be completed, only to find out it is worthless and must be redone/fixed.

"Free" in the eyes of prospective clients generally translates to "no experience" or "hobbyist". If you're showing less than fantastic work in a portfolio, that can also be a factor. However, even if you have a monster portfolio showing stunning work, it won't necessarily be percieved as believable if you are willing to work for free. "You get what you pay for" is a common adage because it's often true.

In addition, in today's digital realm, data farming is a factor. An advertisement for anything "free" typically means there's a "gotcha" behind it. Sure you'll get my "newsletter" for free, but now that I have your contact information it's added to a mailing list and sold to every possible spam email marketer I can find. Or download my "free" app, but of course the worthwhile features are behind a paywall and require in-app purchases.

None of this may be your specific business model, but it is what the general public expects from "free" offers.

"Free" never really means free. Savvy people are aware of this. The cost of "free" is often more troublesome and annoying than merely paying for services.

To the best of my knowledge, only business operators hire designers - and even then only business operators possessing the wherewithal to understand that a designer will add value to their business. Most business operators are fully aware "there's no such thing as a free lunch."


Considering you and your goals....

Don't mistake my comments as "gatekeeping."
You and I will never be competing for the same clients.

My point is, if the goal is a career in design, that will never happen working for free. The only way to be successful is to be seen as valuable to clients. No one values what they get for free. Just the opposite. One often finds clients more demanding or passively "abusive" when working for free. "Free" is not real world and actually sets you up for failure. If you want a career, conveying to clients they can get what they want for free just makes them wonder why they should ever pay for anything. You drown yourself essentially.

None of the clients you get working for free will continue using you when you start charging. Clients seeking free work are bad clients 99.5% of the time. The key to a career in design is repeat business. Clients seeking to get something done for as little money as possible are most often one-project clients and are not the clients you want if you wish to have a successful career.

If the goal is a portfolio, then you can do that without any clients.

"Free" clients aren't going to help you learn how to negotiate agreements, deal with budget constraints, learn to say "no" to clients - all of which are very imperative skills. Working for free may result in some portfolio pieces, but it also may not. Free clients are more demanding and the end result is often a more client-driven design because the client doesn't value your free work and thinks they know just as much or more than you - they just don't know how to push a mouse around in Photoshop.

I'd also point out that "free" clients which are unhappy with your work are generally more apt to quickly go spread bad word-of-mouth about your services rather than try and work with you. They aren't vested in any project and have no desire to negotiate in order to get to a "happy" place, because it was all free.

It's not about what or whether you are charging for services, it's about the clients which may respond to your offer. It's advertising, you have to think about respondents and if you are being wise in your targeting.

Cost of services is not even in the top 5 reasons a good client would choose you over someone else. And no good client is EVER going to dump a designer they are already working with for your "free" services solely to save money. Selling design isn't like selling a lightbulb - where every store is selling the exact same product and the only variance is price. Design a service where every provider offers something different and unique - price is just one (very minor) aspect of the hiring decision.

If you can only acquire "free work", then you should evaluate why that is. "Free" clients are a special breed of client, unlike any other client. I assure you, paying clients are not looking at cost alone. What you may charge, if you were to charge, is not the primary factor in hiring you - there's some other aspect of your marketing that is deterring paying clients and it has nothing to do with the pricing of any other designer.


TL;DR:

You are targeting a specific type of client if offering free services. And the clients you are targeting are not the clients you want if you wish to have a successful career as a designer.

You are completely mistaken if you think client acquisition and retention is all about what you are or are not charging for services. Cost of services is quite honestly an exceptionally minor thing to good clients.


Working on self-promotion pieces is often more fruitful than offering free work to clients.

If you really want to work for free, enter "design contests".
Those essentially amount to "working for free" and most professionals
avoid "design contests" like the plague.
(As they should -- nospec.com)

There are typically many ongoing "contests" at various crowd-sourcing design sites. Or an internet search for "design contests" will turn up several results.

9
  • 4
    @66 I dont think they are gatekeeping anything. Its just that they have reliable clients. Markets change theres no guarantees Also how long can you keep doing this? I mean there are better ways like say self publishing a childrens book etc.
    – joojaa
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 20:45
  • 12
    With all the "gatekeeping" comments -- it would seem you are blaming other designers for why you can't get work. I assure you, that's not the problem. I don't know what the specific problem is, but it is most definitely not what other designers are doing or charging for services.
    – Scott
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 21:37
  • 3
    @66 You're misunderstanding the definitions of "work" and "job". If it doesn't give you an income, then you don't have work and you don't have a job. You have a hobby. And as Scott says, you're not competing with professionals because the kinds of people who'd get their design work done by a hobbyist are not people who'd pay professionals anyway.
    – Graham
    Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 13:19
  • 1
    I know zero about "66"'s abilities, skills, or experience. However, the willingness to work for free, and comments here in this question, convey quite a bit. I've been freelancing full time for literally decades. I don't use online crowd-sourcing sites or social media for client acquisition. It's an extreme improbability we will ever be competing for the same clients/work, @RohitPandey. To use a loose analogy, I don't want to appear boastful or insulting. There's Macy's and Wal-mart.. both may sell essentially the same things, but they aren't really competing due to price points/quality.
    – Scott
    Commented Jan 15, 2023 at 6:37
  • 2
    Sure in a decade or two 66 may be dealing with clients similar to my clients ... but by then I'll be retired or dead - so we still won't be competing. :)
    – Scott
    Commented Jan 15, 2023 at 6:53
17

Contact a nonprofit that does good work and offer to do volunteer graphic design for them.

1
  • 3
    Random ideas: website for a "physical" org - Wikipedia Graphics Requests and Wikimedia Commons - accessibility testing and consulting for the FLOSS office suites (LibreOffice, Calligra, ...) or graphics apps (Inkscape, GIMP, KDE, ...) - OpenStreetMap and Debian / Ubuntu / F-droid could also have some wishes.
    – ignis
    Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 11:00
10

You're asking the wrong question. You're asking where to find work to do for free but your real issue is finding good clients.

Here's a key: Don't work for free. You're bound to get better and more realistic clients if you charge something. Even if it's something like $5 for several hours of work, it's still skin in the game for the client which automatically makes them a better client.

Plus, most serious clients simply wouldn't hire someone for free, so you're automatically locking yourself out of those projects if you don't charge anything. If you see a job posted at a certain price, consider underbidding for it.

10

If you say your work is free, you are saying that it is not worth it. You are not adding value to a potential client or company.

If you want to design "for free" design a strong portfolio for yourself, in which style, potentially adds value to someone who is interested in it.

If in the end, your portfolio is good, then some clients would look to pay you for your services.

You are your first client. If you are not showing the capabilities of your design, so other customers want your product, you are doing something wrong. Work on it.

Make an Instagram page, ArtStation profile, Behance, DeviantArt. Get feedback, make some followers... There is a looooooot of work that must be done "for free".

3
  • Helpful answer for beginners too!
    – Vikas
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 8:23
  • Designing a strong portfolio is what i want to do. The problem is that I dont know what clients want. I know what I want but there's no market value in that. The only way i can tell what companies want is if they tell me, and the only way theyll tell me is if they hire me and the only way theyll hire me is if i have a portfolio of what they want. Do you see how that's an endless cycle? I have social media pages for my work but the algorithms there keep me down because I dont have enough views and the only way to get views is to do work. All of these endless cycles can be broken with free work
    – 6 6
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 17:25
  • 1
    @66 Honestly, clients don't know what they want either! As a designer, you're expected to come up with maybe a half-dozen different approaches sketched out quickly, and then the client says "I like this one, but can we change it a bit?" The market value isn't in how to use a DTP package to put things in places someone tells you, because any school kid can do that. Your market value is in creating initial designs yourself. If you can't create a portfolio of multiple different designs for a company (real or fictional), entirely on your own, then you aren't ready to work with real clients yet.
    – Graham
    Commented Jan 15, 2023 at 11:24
8

Help open-source projects! There are uncountably many open-source applications used by thousands to even millions of people that look like absolute ass. Because while open-source is a very common mindset among programmers, design people usually expect traditional professional work.

A good start is Wikipedia's "List of free and open-source software packages" or GitHub's Collections which is organised by topic, and you can explore related projects from there.

Some projects would like a snazzy logo, maybe some website work, or even UI design for web or desktop applications.

5

It’s a bit counterintuitive that working for free does not yield more job opportunities. It fights against conventional wisdom of how money works. But what you’re seeing is consistent with actual empirical data. Anyway I’ll list some reasons:

  1. "Free" means different things. A service like this is not really free for the potential client if he needs to participate in meetings, host server or print the designs, etc.

    So if you truly want to do a free job, design it first and then offer it to the client without any expectations. There are a lot of potential clients who could accept your work in this kind of form. Lot of small charities, local clubs, hobby groups and open source communities could accept stuff like this, or other nonestablished businesses. But you should be committed for this and be ready to be dismissed.

  2. Liability, and timelines continued support for the design. Free can be a bit troublesome when something special happens or is about to happen.

    If you offered a free service, it’s clear that the clients priorities and problems aren’t necessarily on top of your timeline. Although it might be, it’s hard to convince the client of this. It’s also unlikely that you have liability coverage since you don’t get paid.

    So if something happens or client needs a change down the line it’s not free anymore.

  3. You might not have the proper resources for the job. Some things inherently cost money. A designer would ideally also somehow verify that their stuff works as intended. So getting proofs done, doing brand research, getting stuff hosted, and making production runs cost money.

    You could of course do your work for free, but have the company pay for this. But considered from the client's point it’s not free. Besides, if you handle it, how does the client not know that there’s just markup for services?

  4. Some of the above also run the risk of being some sort of bait-and-switch tactic. Client can not know even if you aren’t.

    People in general hate this kind of stuff. So they might be a bit cautious here.

  5. There are lots of dabblers out there. Why choose you over your wife's niece or your best friends son or the new office assistant?

  6. At the end of the day, graphic design is not just about one layout, but about consulting into tactics, business and marketing strategy by visual means. Would you have a free worker make your business decisions?

    Also, it is often the purpose of design to increase profitability. How exactly does it prove that you can do that if you cant even do it for yourself?

  7. Who owns the copyright? I mean, in some locales it’s near impossible to release copyright with a contract that is very one-sided.

Etc, etc.

For you, the problem is that there isn’t any clear path to convert many of the clients into paid clients in future. Also, unless you’re extremely lucky, this might become a problem for you in the future as people now know you’re willing to work for scraps.

5
  • I don't see a solution here. If I charge people I won't be hired. Free work is my only choice. I dont care about all the "bad" things that might happen because if I dont work for free I dont work at all.
    – 6 6
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 21:10
  • 5
    @66 id like to point that your not getting lot of good work for free either
    – joojaa
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 21:13
  • 1
    @66 With no pay comes no way to hold you accountable for the quality of your work. This is particularly bad sticking point if you are the one seeking them out rather than them bringing it up (but in that case it's also probably not a good sign for you).
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 15:04
  • 1
    @DKNguyen yeah there was a local story a few days ago where the town was asking a person who had been plowing snow off secondary roads for free to stop doing that. Even if it increased quality of life for the nighbourhood it did increase the liability of the town thus not free. Sad really, but thats the kind of world we live in.
    – joojaa
    Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 15:37
  • @66 if you're not independently wealthy, you won't be able to afford to stay in business very long offering your work for free. Even if you're using free tools to work with.
    – nocturns2
    Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 19:57
5

So, I'm not being harsh here—I'm a developer, and I've worked with and been involved with hiring graphic designers before for projects. Why would I hire you? Getting a not great design done for free, with someone who I don’t have any idea about their reliability, is so much more expensive in person hours, loss of stakeholder trust, etc. than just paying for it.

And, as I'm the one paying, I don't go trawling through ads. I put a bid out that people can apply for. I might advertise said bid. I might send it to some graphic designers I know, but I'm not reaching out to ones I don't.

This means the solution is sort of obvious. Don't post a load of ads; they're not working for you. Maybe post a few, but focus on either mining your network of friends/family/contacts to get a paid job for someone who would vouch for you, or start applying for bids/reach out to people. I'd second the suggestions earlier about charities/non profits, etc., but also look more widely. Is there anyone who owns a small business that you know? See if they'd like some design help!

Learn to deal with rejection incredibly gracefully, too. It's going to happen a lot, and so be polite, act like they've done a favour for you for even hearing your pitch, and learn to be extremely professional in your communication. I see in some of the earlier posts that you've got a bit of a chip on your shoulder about getting into the industry; lose that as fast as possible. We've rejected designers because their style doesn't fit the project, but, if they seem like they've been professional and easy to work with, we might invite them to the next one that works with their style.

Who we're not going to reach out to is someone who complained, or responded in a frustrated way when we declined to go with them.

However, your chances go up if your portfolio looks polished, has a nice range of examples, and shows you are interested in trying new styles and techniques. They go up again if you respond quickly to emails, are professional and organised, ask good questions about the project, and show you've done your research.

3

Unfortunatelly the field is by now overcrowded with many people getting a laptop, some fonts & templates, watching some tutorials, joining marketplaces. So you'll be competing against other people that are probably in the same position you are now, learning, doing work, looking for work, etc.

Try to work for friends or family at the very least, charge a little and do your best to impress. Build a portfolio and some networking, which in time can lead to more work. Join online marketplaces and try to find work there, too. Always add to your portfolio and polish your portfolio.

Also, understand the fact that large clients have no interest in working with beginners. It will probably take you years to build a solid enough portfolio and the experience to approach large clients, meanwhile, I guess focus on anything you can get, and learn from that.

Also, free work is a sign you're not confident enough to charge for the work. Clients will generally prefer to work with confident designers and they do expect to pay for the service. You need to get to a point where you'll know the value of your work.

Also, maybe a good idea try to get an internship or junior job. This will put you in front of real work directly and you'll quickly gain the experience.

Whatever they say on Instagram, freelancing from zero is tough.

2

Don't work for free. I've had some success on UpWork.com. Apply for freelance jobs, and try to build relationships with those clients.

Other alternatives are creating stock vectors/photography for stock websites. VectorStock is a good one.

2

You aren't offering free services, you are asking for free training. And it sounds like you need the training.

Designing a strong portfolio is what i want to do. The problem is that I dont know what clients want. I know what I want but there's no market value in that. The only way i can tell what companies want is if they tell me, and the only way theyll tell me is if they hire me and the only way theyll hire me is if i have a portfolio of what they want. Do you see how that's an endless cycle? I have social media pages for my work but the algorithms there keep me down because I dont have enough views and the only way to get views is to do work. All of these endless cycles can be broken with free work

Yes, well, people who hire designers aren't paying for jpegs/pngs/svgs. They don't know what to tell you to put in them. They are paying for someone to help them find out what they actually need and then give them that. One way to get better at that is to (try to) do it, but you don't just need to give your own time for free, you also need to find a reason why the other people would spend their valuable time on you.

I don't see a solution here. If I charge people I won't be hired. Free work is my only choice. I dont care about all the "bad" things that might happen because if I dont work for free I dont work at all.

Then actually work for free. But that means working on your portfolio and skills on your own, or at a school or other training facility. Businesses aren't going to train you out of the goodness of their hearts.

1

Indie video game developers are always in need of good art. You could participate in some indie game jam, for this, itch.io is a good place. Though, from my personal experience working with beginner level game-devs more than often leads to either unfinished or incredibly low quality end products.

2
  • 2
    This isn't a "job board". While the overall suggestion to help indie developers is great... I'm not so sure about the sub paragraph asking for volunteer work with a link. it's essentially a request for work, which isn't permitted here. If you wish to self-promote, add links to your profile page not in answers.
    – Scott
    Commented Jan 14, 2023 at 23:26
  • This is a grey area in this particular case. I'm not an expert on the policies of the website, but it does very directly address the concern the OP had. Commented Jan 15, 2023 at 4:40
1

What you may want to do is contribute to free cultural works.

Other answers already gave some examples of this: Graphics design for open source software, or contributing graphics to Wikimedia projects. Another example of a place where you could release vector graphics under a free license is OpenClipArt.

I am making this a community-wiki post so that people can edit this answer for more examples of useful places to contribute to the commons of free culture.

0

Disclaimer: I have no experience in graphic design or hiring graphic designers.

Why not set up a personal website that showcases your work? You can host it on Github for free. On the website, include your contact details for prospective clients in a place that is prominent and easy to find.

Another avenue is creating "how-to" videos and blogs on graphic design and linking your contact details on each of them.

I know there are websites where people creating music can offer their products for free to other creators (sound cloud for example). Their "customers" put the artists name and contact somewhere in exchange and this leads to exposure for the music composers. I'm sure something like this will exist for graphic designers as well. Maybe: https://unsplash.com? People writing blogs on Medium who just want to write and not create beautiful images will take yours and link your profile under them. If their blog does well, you get some exposure too as a result.

Edit by Willy: Artstation, devianart & instagram are also popular choices (cant speak for there effectiveness).

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.