Wanting to take my freelance work seriously.


Hi all,

I've been here for a few years and have found the site to be a great resource, so firstly, a long overdue thanks to everyone.

As an update on where I'm at, I started in a fairly grim, low level position a couple of years ago (not long before joining here) before gradually getting into a more modern agency recently (which I really enjoy).

On the side - I've freelanced throughout, with limited success. The main hurdles to sustained success (I feel) have been the following:

A) I dabble heavily between illustration and design, not committing.
I feel like I have pretty high competence in both areas, but I go back and forth between the disciplines so much that I don't feel like I occupy any kind of niche long enough to make progress in that area.

B) In general, I undercharge significantly.
This is because most of my clients are friends/family who I enjoy helping, and would feel awkward charging - I haven't put myself out enough to gain non-family clients. It's entirely my fault, but typically any non family jobs I have are ones where I spend a lot of time and effort doing logos that frankly aren't worth the peanuts I charge for white van men (no disrespect to white van men intended). The process is generally exhausting, and these types of client have no interest in branding - they just want a logo, frequently grumbling about being able to get something cheaper by some copy-paste jocky site which must not be named.

My plan to remedy this situation is as follows:

1) Want to stop dabbling and start specialising in the area of illustrative branding - aiming for work with clients that ideally market to the 18-30 demographic (As an example of work I love, which is similar to my own - I have been geeking out on these guys recently: Brethren)

2) As my portfolio is lacking the type of work I want to attract; I want to do some limited amounts of pro-bono (i.e. free of charge) branding work for local companies whom I feel occupy the area described above.

3) To flesh out the pro-bono stuff, I have also considered doing some 'ghost brand' work. By which I mean: making up a brand (I have made up tons of these over the years) and doing a full branding case study.

4) Hopefully, by doing the above, I can create a nice portfolio and in an ideal world garner a degree of social media interest (I have no illusions about the scale of this, but it can't hurt to try).

5) Examine the pro-bono process and come up with supporting documents that both determine what a prospective client wants (a questionnaire perhaps?) and also outline specific proposals, deliverables and price.

6) Once these foundations are laid down, perhaps I could start to pro actively seek work by pitching ideas to clients I want to work with - this will also involve turning down the low-pay-high-hassle jobs in favour of juicier offers?


My portfolio is full of daft stuff that won't fulfil these goals, so I am essentially starting from scratch (hence the pro-bono and ghost brand work I mentioned in 2 and 3).

Does anyone have any input, suggestions or even criticism of this approach?


Staff member
1) Don't know what to say - if that's what you want - go for it. Have you contacted the Brethern company by phone / email and submitted a illustrative portfolio? Try reaching out to them and see if they have an internship or any pro-bono work. Might be an opportunity to have a mentor with them.

2) Great idea - reach out to charities

Just a few charities I looked up quickly - as it's around kids/young adults - a style of design would appeal to it's readership - infographics/illustrations etc.

3) No - don't bother with faux-branding - try get real work. If you really want to - put it at the back of the portfolio and call it speculative work,

4) This is where you can look into places that you would like to design for - I found 3 charities there where your design style (like Brethern) could appeal to them. Instead of doing speculative faux-branding - find companies that you would like to design for - take a design piece of theirs and redo it to a better standard - or a different direction.

Try to get a Zoom meeting with their marketing departments to give a presentation.

In fact this is something you could add to your portfolio even if you didn't get a meeting or your foot in the door with a company.
Still make sure you highlight in your portfolio it was a speculative rebranding and include their branding and your proposal.

Behance is a great platform to show off this type of work - try get followers on there too.

5) Questionnaires will be ignored. People just don't have the time for stuff like that. Definitely come up with a presentation of what you can offer. Try get meetings with management/marketing departments over Zoom (due to pandemic) - have a well-thought-out presentation. Even make 2 or 3 presentations and try different presentations out to see which ones work and which don't. After a few meetings you'll have enough feedback to finalise a solid presentation.

6) Don't ever do low-pay-high-hassle. it's ok to say no.

Show us your portfolio!

You can get great feedback here - put on a heavy sweater! Where critique can seem cruel and personal, you should take it with pinch of salt and not personally and use it as a platform to grow.


Staff member
I can totally see where you're coming from Jri as I can see a lot of similarities with myself.

I also do design and illustration.
I work in many styles including mid century/mascot design.
I too can get stuck doing a lot of freebie jobs for friends and family (and friends and family of friends and family).

Personally, I really need to work in different styles as I'd just get bored of working in one (I know, I've tried).
I also work in different mediums like 2D animation where the style is often dictated by what can be tween animated.
Thing is, this does work against me to some extent, especially in illustration so I'd suggest that if you can work in a recognisable style then that does tend to be easier to market yourself and you'll not be branded as a Jack of all trades.

Thing is, you have a good idea of the style you'd like to work in you're starting pretty much from scratch so this is a good thing.
Why not have a look at the work you've done and pick out some of those daft things that have something and develop them further into a full branding project?

I'm in favour of showing personal projects (soz Hank) as these are often passion projects that you can pour a lot into without the pesky input of the client and often turn out better. They ALWAYS turn out better! ;)
To me it shows that you have the gumption to do the work because you want to do it especially if you're establishing your style.
One thing I do know for a fact is that you should show the kind of work that you want to be doing.
It could take you years to do by just showing client work as you have to find clients that want your style.
How do you get them without showing that style?
Catch 22.

Just remember that peoples attention spans are short when skimming portfolios.
They don't generally don't have the time or inclination to read about all the in's and out's of a project or if it was personal of commercial although it's not a good idea to be obvious about passing personal work as commercial.
Just use a bit of smoke and mirrors and fake it until you make it.
I did! ;)
When you do get some projects worth talking about then you can give an overview of it for these.

Doing freebie work will suck the life out of you in my experience.
When you work for free people don't see the value in what you do and end up bending it to look totally shite.
What's the point?
You don't get paid, it looks too crap to use in your folio and a bit more of your soul dies every time you do it.
Plus, a lot of the referrals you may get could be for "that guy who works for free".

Doing pro-bono for charities may be a good way to get some projects under your belt but I'd be inclined to choose them carefully and work for the smaller ones that need help and also the ones that do work you support.
One word of caution here.
A lot of these places tend to fall into the "design by committee" approach and if you don't stand up for yourself you can get pulled into making some very diluted, one size fits all work that you won't want to show in your folio anyway.

Thing is, you only need a few good projects in your folio.
They say around ten to twelve is a good number.

As Hank said, you can get some feedback on here.
It can sometimes sound harsh but it's always constructive.


Staff member
I'm in favour of showing personal projects (soz Hank)
How dare you disagree with me :)

Well I suppose for illustration it's ok - I would say showing your personal style and direction as an artist is ok.
I draw the line at logo/corporate rebrands though :)


Staff member
How dare you disagree with me :)

Well I suppose for illustration it's ok - I would say showing your personal style and direction as an artist is ok.
I draw the line at logo/corporate rebrands though :)

I was going to explain more on my post but I realised I was going on a bit. ;)

With what Jri's doing, I guess it's more important to define a house style that's recognisable rather than say "I'm a Designer and I'll design what you want in the way you want it".
I suppose it's where design and illustration collide really and you need to define your niche to appeal to that kind of client.
I know a lot of Designers that work that way and have been really successful and do the work that they like doing.

I was listening to a webinar a few days ago and a Jack of all trades is now called a "Generalising Specialist".
So....Now we know. :unsure: