How & Where To Get Paid Freelance Work While You're Still A Design Student

Jacob Cass is a 21-year-old designer from Newcastle, Australia, who freelances under his business Just Creative Design, which also doubles as a popular design blog. Jacob’s talent has brought him many awards and his work has been published in books worldwide.

As a design student myself I know how hard it is to break into the field, but I am proof that it can be done with a bit of hard work… In this article I am going to share with you my tips on how and where to get freelance design jobs while you are still a graphic design student.

The Problems

There are four main problems that design students face:

They do not yet have the skills needed to be a professional designer as they are still (1) trying to figure out the ins and outs of the software (2) and to top off this they still are yet to have a reputable portfolio (3) or (4) any knowledge about dealing with clients, budgeting or time management which more than likely means that you (5) have no reputation and no one knows about you. Let’s have a look at these problems and their solutions.

Problem 1. You have no basic graphic design skills

This of course, is the reason you are studying to learn these skills. However, do not be a static learner at University, you must propel yourself forward to learn more and be the leader of the pack. You should be active in graphic design forums, read design and freelancing blogs, borrow/buy books, ask questions and really get out there.

Go to your local design studio and ask for work experience - I did this and I worked on all their pro bono jobs, it was a great experience and I learned more about clients and time management while I was doing it. These few things will help your basic design skills get up to scratch plus you will be ahead of the rest as not many people do this.

Recommended Reading

Graphic Design School by David Dabner A book about what your design course is teaching. A good aid!

Non Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams A great book for beginners at graphic design school, a must read.

Graphic Design as a Second Language by Bob Gill This book is aimed mainly at students and teachers of design, and those that wish to improve their design solutions through a better design process

Non Designer’s Type Book by Robin Williams This book is full of the bare essentials of typography. It is very easy to read and a must read for any graphic design student.

How To Be A Rockstar Freelancer eBook by Collis Ta’eed This is a great book for freelancers just starting out, it teaches you the bare ropes of how to be a successful freelancer.

How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy This book covers the more advanced topics about being a graphic designer. Great for the more advanced students.

Recommended Blogs

Just Creative Design My own - varied tips & resources

The Graphic Design School Blog Great tips, Tutorials, Articles, and free stock art. The focus on European trends is original and refreshing! All aimed at the Graphic design student.

Freelance Switch Great tips on everything freelance

All Graphic Design Very varied Graphic Design topics

A Creative Curio Great for print tips

Abduzeedo Great inspiration and more

Smashing Magazine Huge lists of resources

Recommended Forums

Estetica Design Forum

Graphic Design Forum

Problem 2. You have no computer skills

You need computer skills to be a successful graphic designer and a great way to acquire these skills is by reading tutorials, books and of course, practice. I repeat: tutorials, books and practice. By reading tutorials and books you gain more knowledge of the software and get better as a graphic designer.

Try to get first hand experience off other professional designers - a great way to do this is ask for work experience at your local design studio, they are usually more than happy to help.

Another handy trick is to get free stock items off the web and deconstruct them to see how they were made… this opened a whole new world for me.

Last of all: practice, practice, practice and hopefully you won’t turn out like

Other Recommended Tutorial Sites

After you’ve tackled all the tutorials on this site, check out these other sites. Choose a beginners tutorial if that’s where your at, and revisit the Graphic Design School blog regularly as more Graphic Design tutorials are added weekly.



Illustrator Tutorials

Problem 3. You do not have a reputable portfolio

Every designer had to start somewhere and every designer started with nothing so you are not alone. Building your portfolio is probably the most important thing you do at University as this is how you will get a full time job once you leave.

Portfolios are another topic in itself, however you can build it up by making up your own fictional graphic design briefs, working for clients on the web, and by using your university work.

Studios do not mind if your portfolio items are fictional as long as they are high quality and you can justify your design process & decisions made.

Portfolios Resources

10 Tips On Creating a Design Portfolio


To build your portfolio up you can get some small paying jobs (between $15 to $300) on Digital Point Forums.


Although sometimes frowned upon in the design industry, contests are another way to build up your portfolio. I entered quite a few when I was starting out however have since stopped after establishing my self as a professional.

Job Board sites

If you are good enough you should check out job boards such as the 28 ones listed


Problem 4. You have no knowledge about clients or time management

Nearly all graphic design graduates lack client and time management skills! This is where experience is the key and there is no way to get better experience than to gain work experience at your local design/print store - just drop in and ask. You will be surprised at how happy they are to hear from you - just mention you’re a graphic design student and you’re wishing to learn some new things.

By working there you will learn all about dealing with clients, time management and the design industry and the big picture. And more than likely, you will be working on charity based projects so you get to help the community too!

This was an actual reply I received from a reader of my blog - it does work!

Hi Jacob. You’re a legend. I followed your advice about just asking a local studio and was shocked when they said I could go in one day a week! I always thought they’d be miserable or have no time for silly young students, but true, THEY had to start somewhere as well! It maybe be pro-bono work but its vital experience that will set me apart from other students when applying for a full time job.

Getting The Work

Here comes the hardest part. After you feel confident enough to go out freelancing or working at a design studio during Graphic Design School, you should start looking for more jobs and clients.

Here are ten great websites to find graphic design jobs… the rest is up to you!

Doing contests lets you build up your portfolio however your chances of winning the contest are usually 1/100 which means you will more than likely, not get paid for your work. It is however a great way to build your portfolio, and perhaps get your work published. Here are some sites that can help.

Good Luck!

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