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A guide to

Becoming a Freelance Designer in South Africa

  • Topic
    Tips & Tricks
  • Reading Time
    9-12 minutes

Tips & Tricks

How to flourish!

A freelance designer's guide to surviving as a solo, creative entrepreneur in the South African climate. I won't lie... It has been somewhat of a tough year, with some hard learning curves. That is the reason for this post though. Giving you as much information as possible to help alleviate the learning process and hopefully assure you have less stress to deal with and more potential clients to work with.

Why Design?

Here is a video I found that answers a few questions. Touching base on the reason why we design and how to better go about your freelance career. Although this isn't specifically centered on freelancing, it does touch on some good subjects.

Take a minute to think why you got into freelance in the first place or why you are considering it as a career option. If your answer looks something like this: "to take the future of your professional career into your own hands" you are on the right track.

The image shows the basic principles of Art. The building blocks to Design. There are 8 basic principles you'll need to familiarise yourself with. Although Design principles may seem a bit more complex, Thorough knowledge of these will assure you effectively deliver quality work. You can view them all here: The principles of effective Design. I can't stress these basics enough. The 8 principles include balance, alignment, emphasis, proportion, movement, pattern, contrast, and unity.

For this post, however, I'll be focusing on my own freelance journey and some insight into my recipe for success.

Art Principles Explanation Image

Given your background, you will need a place where you can show off some of your past projects. This will highly prove beneficial when selling your service to any new potential client. there-after, branding yourself is paramount to how you are presented to clients and gives an air of professionalism. With that. A solid marketing strategy will launch you head first into the field. Keep in mind that you are in a highly competitive environment and the amount of effort you put in is the same amount you'll get out.


The recipe for success

Planning your strategy:

  1. Have enough capital to start with. At least two months salary will do you well. This will help you through your initial launch. And give you some breathing space in establishing yourself.
  2. Showcase your work! If nobody knows about you, how are they going to work with you? The main idea is to have your work ready to show anywhere, at any time! A great place to start is with your LinkedIn Profile.
  3. Word of mouth is your BEST form of marketing. If someone hears of you through a third party, they are generally more inclined to trust them and you.
  4. Charge what you are worth, not what a client thinks you are worth. If you are confident in your skills, settle for fair trade. The better you are at your profession, the higher your rate.
  5. Establish your identity. Brand yourself and communicate simply. Make your branding appealing yet easy to understand. If you specialize in a certain niche, then communicate it clearly.
  6. Don't be afraid to approach. The truth is, one out of ten clients you approach are going to go with you. Take one client and celebrate it. Don't focus on the ones you didn't land.
  7. Be confident in your abilities. If you are going to sell yourself. Sell yourself well. Make yourself the most valuable asset a company can have. That means they would rather choose to work with you than an agency. Which leads me to my next point...
  8. Don't be afraid of learning new skills. The stigma is that you can't specialize if you have too many skills. This is true to some extent, however... The more you have in your arsenal, the easier it'll be for you to get clients. One skill will help you with another and open brand new avenues.
  9. Some clients are bad at paying, deal with it. There are ways to go about it though. I'll explain in more detail below.
  10. Most importantly! Have fun! If you don't enjoy what you do, you'll come to despise your passion in no time, so make sure that you enjoy what you are doing.
By focusing on your own marketing, you'll learn how to offer the service to your clients.
Step 1

Step 1

Establish your Brand

Establish your brand introduction Image

The most vital part of your journey is establishing your identity. What do you offer that sets you aside from other creatives? Work with that. I personally offer a diverse skill set. That means I save clients money on outside sources. Understanding the demand is first and foremost your main objective.

Then, "brand" accordingly. Create your footprint and push your service! Creating an effective look and feel for your "persona" helps tremendously. It sets the bar for your level of professionalism and in turn, gets you more professional clients.

Below is a checklist of what you'll need to create pre-launch:

  • A tone of voice - This is vital to understanding what services you'll offer, how you are going to approach your audience and finally, what message you want to convey. Consider how you speak and stick to that.
  • Corporate identity - Make use of previously designed Brand bibles to get some inspiration. This will help you figure out your color use, decide on a font that best describes your services and a place for you to start thinking about your logo.
  • Personal Branding - This is your strongest asset. Your logo speaks tons about you by saying very little. Having an out of the box logo will show that you bring something "new" to the table. Setting a level of professionalism clients can be guaranteed to receive by making use of your services.
  • Brand Collateral - Consider any other form of brand collateral you could use. The more you do now, the less you'll need to do later. This will include, any printed material you could use at a later stage, Social media covers, motion graphics etc.
Step 2

Step 2

Market Yourself

Market Yourself introduction Image

Once you have established the basics and laid down your foundation. You'll need to figure out how you get to your clients. This phase does take some testing and time, so be patient. Consider your end-goal. Getting a constant flow of clients without needing to constantly push your brand.

The industry is somewhat saturated due to the tools available to everyone. Keep in mind that you are a professional and not just quickly dipping your feet in the water to feel the temperature. If you take the time to establish and fine-tune your brand. Your marketing will be peanuts.

Your sales funnel

I'm going to give you my marketing process so you have an idea of how to do your own. This should also be taken in steps and yet again, as with your brand establishment. Be considered as laying your foundation.

This is the process to follow to effectively lay a good digital footprint:

  1. Website - I consider this the home base. Each individual channel has its purpose. Your website, however, is the final step in the process. Driving as much traffic here as possible will mean better SEO and better generic ranking. You can use Dribble and many other portfolio specific sites. I choose Wordpress to build as it can track all your traffic and is quite simple to set up (also definitely worth learning to offer the skill to your clients)
  2. Set up your social media channels - And be active on them. Each channel individually serves to create a following. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn are the most plausible channels. From there, share content from your site as well as cool things you find (the 40 - 60 rule) 40% of your posts pushing your own service and 60% pushing cool stuff related to your industry
  3. Paid Marketing - Once you are confident in your following, running CPC campaigns will get you better traffic as well as new potential clients(setting up your audience will take some time, so keep monitoring). Here's where I add Adwords to the mix.
Step 3

Step 3

Manage your time and money

How to Charge introduction Image

Let's not beat around the bush here. Both designers and Companies have flaws. I have spent my freelance career ironing these out and found a few solutions that make life easier for everyone. Now that you have your clients, how do you go about actually doing the work?

I have a few tools I use to make life that much easier. Please also understand, your site serves as a place for terms and conditions aside from just displaying your work.

How to charge for your work

Through my experience, I have found charging an hourly rate for any and all projects makes everyone's life easier. Not all clients like this concept. However, many projects tend to go above scope and end up taking much more time than what was initially quoted.

Below are a few pointers that will help you iron everything out:

  1. What to charge - There is a survey written on the subject, visible here: South African Freelance Design Rates and Cost that gives a good explanation on what to charge
  2. Get your legalities in place - The honest truth is, you will encounter clients that outright refuse to pay you once the project is complete. This will need to be remedied on your side. Make sure you have Terms in place to avoid this. One way to go about it is to write up a contract that you both sign. Another way, which I use is to host your terms on your website with a link to it on both your invoice as well as in the footer of each and every mail you send.
  3. Make sure to track your time - Good ethics goes both ways. Make sure to track your time and work to the hours you have invoiced. Toggl is easy enough to use. I personally make use of a PHP script called Freelance Cockpit to track my time, to invoice and to set up projects.

What have we learned?


To be successful in the field takes determination and hard work. The end product of laying a good foundation is directly linked to the amount of work you put in. Rather than having short term vision. Establish your self for at least ten years to come.

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