How to begin freelancing

This post is very subjective, every freelancer has their own journey and I’m sharing mine with you. Today I’m writing about my education and initial work experience, why I freelance and how my career has shaped so far.

Questions for today’s blog post were:

1)   How do you start freelancing and look for clients? – @paradox7_
2)   How does one starts out in the industry, where do you look for opportunities and what are some things that you think is a good idea to do as a student in order to yourself in a good position when you graduate? — @taraanandart

This post is very subjective, every freelancer has their own journey and I’m sharing mine with you. Giving you a brief idea about my education and initial work experience, why I freelance and how my career has shaped so far.

I went to a design college and learnt commercial arts, advertising, graphic designing and typography. The four year course was divided into two parts: the first two years were majorly hand work, while the latter were digital work. In my third year in college, I sent a few samples of my work to an advertising agency called Leo Burnett based in Mumbai. I interned there for a few months and had two realisations –

1) I enjoy designing
2) I don’t get enough time for myself because of long work hours

The prospect of good clients and good people to work with was not enough for me, I craved time for myself and personal projects as well as a disciplined schedule.

Around then I decided I will be my own boss forever. I have never had a job before!


Over the years I realised that being a freelancer is way more difficult. During my final year, I was very certain of not wanting a job but instead build my own opportunities. I started working on projects that would attract appropriate clients. I worked really hard on multiple college campaigns and uploaded them on my Behance profile.

Here are images from some of my college work. You can browse through my work on my website to see the whole project.
Around my final year, I received a call from a talented creative director from Ogilvy and Mather for an illustration project for Vodafone. This was my first major commissioned project. Because I uploaded a bunch of work on Behance, the agency found me and I had the best time working with them on the Vodafone campaign. The campaign attracted a lot of attention and thus, people began recognising my style.

A glimpse of the vodafone project.
This experience was proof enough for me to keep working on personal projects and updating my portfolio from time to time.

During my college years, I won a few awards which attracted multiple agencies that offered me jobs. (Work hard on your college assignments!) I was very honest to them about not wanting full time jobs, but being open to freelance opportunities. The honesty was appreciated and some of them even got in touch with me for commissioned projects!

And that’s how my career began.

3 important things you must never forget:

As a freelancer, you are doing much more than just designing or illustrating.
You have to balance three things at all times:
– Market yourself
– Interact with clients while working with them
– Handle your finances


1) Uploading projects on behance is a wonderful way to begin. Build your portfolio.
I attracted clients like Vodafone, 5star, Oreo, Quikr, MP Tourism because they found me on Behance. An international brand called Chegg also found me on Behance.

2) Social media – Upload projects or glimpses of your sketchbook, snippets of larger campaigns, etc. on your social media. Social media is a great marketing tool – you can interact with others here. Over the years, I built my social media content and eventually attracted clients like Animal Planet, Nivea, Netflix, Adidas, etc. through Instagram.

3) Create your own projects: One of my college professor said, “Don’t let a single day of your life be unproductive unless planned.” And sticking by this is so important. On days without commissioned work – Practice lots and share it on your social media/ portfolio. It is important for the world to see what you’re capable of, only then will you attract the appropriate clients.

Once a client reaches you, you must have a smooth experience with them so they come back/ recommend you to someone else.

Interact with clients:

Usually agencies have a team of people who communicate with the clients. Here, you’re on your own till you can hire someone.

1) Remember to always have your conversations in written with your client. You may go in for a meeting or may speak over a call – but to avoid confusion – always have everything written and confirmed in an email.
2) Advance fee – Never work on a project without an advance. In my early years, I have had many unfortunate occasions with unpleasant clients. It is always better to be safe and have your own set of terms before beginning any project. Make sure you receive an advance.
3) Cancellation fee – Make sure you mention a cancellation fee. After receiving your advance, sometimes projects could get shelved. This could be because of multiple reasons – the project isn’t working out, the client wasn’t clear of what they wanted and now don’t want to continue working with you, client’s priorities have changed, etc. – whatever the reason may be – you have to get paid for your time. Hence, a cancellation fee.
4) Pending payment – Make sure you have it in written about your payment date before commencing the project.
5) Number of changes – Make sure you have a set number of changes mentioned. If the client requests for more changes, revise your estimate accordingly.
6) Process – Remember that your client may not be able to visualize like you. You are helping them shape a brand and it is your responsibility to carry them with you through your process. Share every stage of your work with your client – right from ideas, rough sketches, drafts, etc. This assures a smooth process that is hassle free!

You’re having a great time freelancing, working well with clients but how do you handle your finances?

Handle your finances:

1) Pricing is one of the most difficult factors of freelancing. Your radar for knowing where you stand must be accurate. When you’re a freelance illustrator there is nothing like a “market price”. People’s style, talent and experience differ. Factors such as time invested in the project, who the client is, how swift will the communication be, number of iterations, how will the project weigh on your portfolio, etc. should be considered.
While over-pricing might be your constant worry, underpricing can be equally unappealing to a client. Make sure you know your worth!

2) There will be times in the beginning of your career when your planner will have “harass xyz client for payments” – that happens. Some clients delay payments and you have to be responsible enough to politely but consistently be asking for your payments.

3) Specially in the beginning of your freelance career, you will have some months where you’re loaded with work, followed by some very very dry months. This happens and that is okay. Salaried employees are advised to have 6 months worth of expenses in liquid/easily liquefiable assets in case of layoffs. I believe a freelancer should do have more. A big paycheck followed by a big splurge is always a recipe for financial disaster. Save. Way more than you think.

Tip: During dry months, work on personal projects – you’ll attract more clients.

Final thoughts:

Sleeping and working in the same room can be a bit difficult. You must have a lot of discipline to wake up and convert your room into a workable environment.
Eating on time, sleeping on time and having strict work hours is very, very, very important. Else your work will consume you! You are your own boss, learn to be a good boss to yourself.

And finally, you might hear people offering you work in lieu of ‘good exposure and recognition’. My only two cents about this is that only you should decide for yourself what is or isn’t a good opportunity. While the client may  think this is a good opportunity for you, you are your own true judge, because you are going to pave your path. Don’t get too consumed in this “opportunity” business.

Note: While starting out, I read some well-crafted articles by Jessica Hische. These two (this and this) articles will be really insightful!

If you have any questions feel free to write to me at with “Questions” as the subject.
I would love to create a conversation with you, if you have anything to add to the post, feel free to drop comments. We learn from each other! 🙂

Have a lovely day!

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14 thoughts on “How to begin freelancing

  1. Hi Pranita,
    Thank you for such an informative post. After reading your post I am aware of the do’s and don’ts of the trade. Looking forward for more topics like these.

  2. Hey Pranita
    I just saw your blog , I little inspired by you
    Thanx for that
    N my self Prathamesh Shedge
    I also passed out from J J institute of applied art (passing year 2016)
    At present I am doing job in BASE 501 wich is Design agency as an illustrator., but I want to do freelancing also I want to become a business.
    and I can,t do this because of my language problem, I am too weak in english. I can convey the client with hindi or marathi languages.
    People are always judging me on language .,
    and also I cant give time for me and my portfolio. because job timing issues.
    So What should I do now
    Should I learn this language properly or improve my existing language skill or convencing power ?
    Let me know as soon as possible

    Thank you
    Prathamesh Shedge

    1. Hi Prathamesh! I believe it is very difficult to work full time as well as freelance. I would suggest you to focus only on one of the two. Language shouldnt be a barrier – you definitely could try improving your convincing skills in any language that you’re comfortable with! At this point, it would be great if you work on your job + network with people and clients as much as you can. In a few years, when you’re confident of your skills – you could begin freelancing! 🙂
      (Please note: this is my opinion, I’m sure there are a lot of ways to go about!)

  3. Hi Pranita,
    Are you not like the most Adorable?
    I have been interning for a social media marketing profile, although a little different from yours i learned our thoughts are so similar! I printed some of your illustrations and now they are on my desk !
    There everyday , seen & inspired Everytime!
    This post is very Helpful since i wish to start my own blog soon!
    Loads of Love

  4. Hi Prantia !
    This article was so so helpful !
    I have just started as a freelancer and it is quite a task dealing with the many aspects involoved in this .
    So I started working with this social media platform as a graphic designer ( for peanuts as payment) so that I at least kickstart my career in the field. These people are also a startup . Initially it was good with them and I did a lot of good work for these people but at the end they paid me a very small amount and when I asked for more they said I am inexperienced and started comparing me to other people and told me that I should have patience. Now I have been working with them since April. They also recommended me to somebody else and I got a project to work on through them. But now the main people of the company are becoming more and more interfering and since I wasn’t very professional while dealing with them initially ( I acted like a novice and a child) they now treat me like a child and overpower me . What should I do ?

    1. Work towards being more responsible and taking up tasks, proving yourself right! In time, they will see it. You must give this process time and lots of hard work! 🙂

  5. Hi pranita !!
    I came across your page just recently and absolutely loved your artworks and your blog posts !
    I read your freelancing post which undoubtedly helped me but I am still pretty lost when it comes to freelancing .
    I have updating my behance portfolio and have started using Instagram as a platform to show my work. But I still don’t really have a direction as to how I can get more work. Could you please guide me a little more ?

  6. Phew. Discipline hardwork repeat. And pranita, trust me you inspire a lotttttt! Thankyou for writting this blog. This is very helpful.

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