Sure, once you obtain your shiny new graphic design degree you could network and try to land a contract at a firm. But many graphic designers choose to embrace the increasingly popular nomadic artist’s life, working freelance full-time and making their own hours without being tethered to an office. The hours can be grueling, but the real obstacle is attracting enough clients to maintain the freelance lifestyle.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 24% of the 259,000+ graphic designers working in the United States are self-employed. With a number that high, you can bet that the online infrastructure is already in place for you to land gigs and build a relationship with a wide variety of clients. We’ve narrowed down the considerable heft of freelance platforms to showcase the best 10 sites for making quick income or landing prestige projects.
Upwork has changed faces often – previously known as oDesk, Upwork is the result of the two largest graphic design freelancing platforms (oDesk and Elance) merging into one terrific website. One of the most enticing attributes of Upwork: You can find the exact kind of work you’re looking for, whether you’re just starting out or looking for expert-level projects. You’ll be able to connect with over 4 million clients to find the right work for you.
On Upwork graphic designers fill out extensive profiles so clients understand the full extent of your training and experience. You have the option of communicating with clients before you accept work, so you can field requests and determine if the gig meets your expectations. There’s no signup fee, and the percentage of your total fee that Upwork takes is relatively small. It’s a great platform to build your portfolio and establish connections.
Sign up for free and begin filling out your profile at Upwork.
While many of the websites we’ll cover focus on quantity and turnaround rather than quality, AwesomeWeb only contains high-end clients looking for the most skilled graphic designers out there. The site boasts a docket of the most professional graphic designers, programmers, and web designers. When you sign up, your profile and portfolio will be manually reviewed before clients can find you in search results.
Because of this feature, AwesomeWeb is a great freelance graphic design site for established designers looking for fresh clients, but it’s not the best option for those just starting out. That said, if you have an impressive resume AwesomeWeb is hassle-free and easy-to-use: The customer support is reliably fantastic, and there are no additional fees or costs lurking in their services.
Sign up for AwesomeWeb here and keep all of your project fees; you only pay a monthly service charge.
On the other end of the spectrum is 99designs. This competition-based freelance graphic design site is best-suited to budding designers trying to hone their craft and make a name for themselves. Clients submit a project “brief” describing exactly what they want, and then the project is released to the designers on the website who can freely submit their pitches. You’ll receive feedback as you apply for the various projects.
Only one designer is typically hired, but if you connect with a client they can hire you directly for future projects. It’s a great platform to quickly build your portfolio. 99designs also offers plenty of tools that designers can use to sharpen their skills. A word to the wise: when you win a contest on 99designs, you’ll usually pay about 30% of what you earn in fees. However, for 1-on-1 client projects the rate is much lower, around 7%.
Start submitting to contests today once you register your account.
Freelancer.com is a massive marketplace featuring millions of projects for your perusal. Freelancer contains projects that you can bid for, and competitions where you can demonstrate your skills and gain a following. The sleek user experience is a huge plus – the design is nearly flawless, and their system is incredibly simple to use. Freelancer also provides escrow protection, requiring clients to submit partial payment to ensure your time is well spent.
The pricing model at Freelancer.com is perhaps the most confusing aspect – it’s free to sign up, but there are multiple pricing models and consistent upsells that get your work viewed faster. There’s a fee if you want to submit for more than eight projects a month, for example. But if you learn how to get noticed, the additional fees will still translate to steady freelance work.
Give Freelancer a whirl by signing up here.
PeoplePerHour has hundreds of thousands of users because it makes finding part-time design work a smooth process. You can sign up in minutes by logging in with Facebook or LinkedIn, and the platform is completely free to begin using, whether you’re a graphic designer or a client looking for design work. Most of the jobs here are hourly part-time gigs – you won’t make a load of money, but if you’re looking to build your portfolio as you position yourself to make a big move it’s a perfect fit.
PeoplePerHour is known to be competitive, so lower bidders tend to get more work. Focus on making designs as quickly as possible to make the most out of this freelance graphic design site. It’s a great exercise that can help you streamline your creative process. The more money you earn, the less of a percentage PeoplePerHour takes. But there is one caveat – it’s not possible to get on the phone with your client, making the transition to working with them outside of the platform more difficult.
Sign up and begin making money within minutes on PeoplePerHour.
Fiverr is the most notable marketplace for fixed-price projects, starting at (you guessed it) $5. It’s certainly not a platform for established professionals looking for longterm work, but if you’re looking for some fast money and can create a design relatively quickly then Fiverr is full of opportunities.
Because Fiverr is a “marketplace for small services,” success requires plenty of entrepreneurship and focus. When you’re a recent college grad and are carefully weighing career options in graphic design, trying out these micro-projects can give you valuable insight into the type of work you prefer. Consider Fiverr a springboard platform, and try it out for the experience.
Browse the enormous amount of fixed-price gigs at Fiverr.
If you’re in the top three percent of graphic designers in the eyes of Toptal, this is one the freelance graphic design sites that will become a top resource. Toptal is geared toward talented freelancers who have proven themselves in the industry. Applicants to Toptal are vetted at length before being admitted to the site and its dossier of top-tier clients.
Toptal is a community of talented designers, and as such you’ll always be compensated fairly for your work. A dedicated team of full-time designers actually work for the site to facilitate client-freelancer connections and to handpick the right artists for each job, meaning the jobs you’re offered cater to your skillset. The only catch, obviously, is the prestige – for a beginner freelancer looking to pad their portfolio, Toptal may be out of reach.
Start the screening process by applying to join Toptal.
Technically, Dribbble isn’t designed to match you up with clients and find you work. But it’s a powerful tool that can provide a proper showcase for your portfolio and get you noticed, which can make all the difference online. If you’re looking for portfolio feedback, it’s a terrific community that can allow you to grow as a designer. Quick note: you’ll need an invite from an existing member to upload your work, but with some networking, this shouldn’t be too difficult to accomplish.
The screening process for Dribbble guarantees that most of the portfolios here are of a high pedigree. There is a job board where you can match with clients looking for work, but some of Dribbble’s benefits are often indirect. For example, many clients narrow the field on sites like Upwork by filtering their options to designers who have an existing Dribbble portfolio.
Make a name for yourself and get your portfolio in the ether at Dribbble.
LinkedIn’s answer to websites like Upwork was launched very recently, but the site’s reputation for professionalism could go a long way toward making ProFinder a smash hit. The service was initially launched in San Francisco and is now available in most metropolitan areas around the country.
When you’re a member on LinkedIn, the information on your profile is used to fill out the corresponding ProFinder profile. Be sure to highlight your graphic design expertise to appeal to more clients. As clients submit requests to LinkedIn, your ProFinder profile will be used to match you with projects that fit your previous work. Connecting with clients via LinkedIn is one of the best methods of establishing a working relationship that can continue to pay dividends beyond the platform.
Start getting matched with freelance jobs now by applying for ProFinder.
Hear us out – while Craigslist is viewed as the Wild West of online marketplaces, graphic designers who know how to read a wanted ad can find plenty of well-paying freelance work on Craigslist. If you live in a major city you can have your pick between telecommuting work or temporarily setting up shop in a client’s office during the course of a project.
Obviously, direct communication and knowing what to look for are key ingredients to success on Craigslist. True, you won’t have to forfeit a percentage of your earnings to the marketplace, but that also means you have to advocate for yourself. Email back and forth and ask for all of the pertinent information before you begin to work. Ask to meet in a public place or for the client’s website and credentials if you’re ever unsure.
Visit your local Craigslist landing page and search the “jobs” and “gigs” sections for graphic design work.
When you’re making a place for yourself in the marketplace, all of these freelance graphic design sites will help you connect to clients and build professional relationships. Most of these websites, however, take a large portion of your fees as part of their services. Try out multiple platforms to find the ones that align best with your style of work and desired user experience, and keep at it until you find some clients that appreciate your work.
Once you’ve established a rapport with clients, try to move the relationship off whatever platform you’re using. It’s essential to build your own website and try to grow your freelance clientele organically. However, never hesitate to hop back onto Toptal and other platforms when clients drop off or if you want to expand your workload.
Top image by Julia Tim