Want to Transition to Freelance Product Design? Here’s How.

First, plan for a smooth exit.

  • Create design assets: Create assets to sell via download on sites like CreativeMarket, GumRoad, ThemeForest. Think web themes, templates, stock illustration, photography, 3D assets and much more.
  • Create a video course: Video superstardom awaits. Create a YouTube channel and monetize it with ads. Do you have great skills with a particular industry software? Show them off in a series of videos on Udemy or SkillShare. Think about the frequency with which new product design software comes to market. Are you kidding me? There’s a never-ending need for new tool tutorials!
  • Become an affiliate: Sign up for a design product or service’s affiliate program. You’ll get a little kick-back every time someone makes a purchase. To make this work, you’ll need to promote your affiliate link in creative ways, like through a niche blog you run, or through a social media platform you have a following on. Try Webflow’s affiliate program. Full disclosure, I get a little kick-back if you sign up with that link. 8)

Funding the fun: costs and considerations

Make your grand entrance!

  • By the project: This is also called “Fixed-cost billing.” The plus: you can determine the scope of a project and know exactly how much you’ll earn for completing it. The downside: If the project takes longer than you thought it would, even if it’s because of client changes, you can’t charge more. Pro tip: If you bill by the project, be as clear as you can in documenting what your quote includes, i.e., the scope of the project, number of iterations, etc. While most clients tend to be fair if the scope grows, or if rounds of changes become excessive, it’s good to know your bid, in writing, has details that have you covered in case a project grows out of control.
  • By the hour, day, or week: People sometimes call this Time-and-Materials billing. This is essentially your “rate.” Decide what you’re worth and bill for your time. The plus? As the scope grows and changes, you’re sure to get compensated for your time. The downside? If you’re highly efficient and productive, you’ll end up doing more work and earning less. The plus side of that, though, is you can justify a higher rate, and you’ll have happy clients that will choose you over less productive competitors.

It’s your party. Do what you do best.
And for the business tasks, invite a pro.

  1. Your accountant can help you understand tax forms. Do you know what a W-9 is? Chances are, every new client will ask you to complete one of these, so they can determine how or if taxes are withheld from the money they pay you. Your accountant can help you make sure you make the best choices for your situation and fill in the gaps when you have questions.
  2. Your accountant can handle tax preparation. You’ll likely handle day-to-day considerations like invoicing. But when it comes to end of year accounting, and tax write-offs (that’s money you get back for business expenses) it can be helpful to have someone guide you so you don’t make any mistakes, at least while you learn the ropes.
  3. Your accountant can teach you about financial tools. You’re probably used to having a human resources department handle contributions to an employer-sponsored 401K. But now that you’ve made the leap, your new human resources department is you. You’ll need to figure out what kinds of investments you’re comfortable with to secure your financial future. IRAs? Stocks? Cryptocurrency? There are many financial tools available, and your accountant can help you understand which ones are the best fit for you.

Look as good on paper as you do in person.

  • AIGA: The resources page has links to free proposal and contract templates.
  • LegalZoom: Check out the document generation tool.
  • HelloSign: There’s a free plan, but paid ones start at $15.
  • DocuSign: Try the free trial. After that plans start at $10.

Go ahead, mingle a little.

  • Who Is Hiring: Dedicated exclusively to tech-minded people, this site lets you search and apply for hundreds of thousands of tech jobs worldwide.
  • We the Makers: Scroll through hundreds of freelance and full-time design positions worldwide, and sign up for email alerts.
  • Smashing Magazine: There’s a job board exclusively for designers and developers, and you can also keep up on the latest issues, tips, news and thought leaders in the product design world. After all, what fun is a party without a little gossip?
  • Vitamin-T: Specializing in digital creative talent, this agency is a go-to for many companies seeking freelance designers. Their free salary guide is a good resource too.
  • Robert Half: Local staffing experts and an app that instantly alerts you to opportunities make this agency a great resource for finding remote or on-site work.
  • Slofie. Here’s the largest Slack group aggregator you’ll come across. Trust me, you’ll find your people.
  • Designer Hangout: They’ve got over 20,000 members, and yes, a job board.

Take a party favor or two!



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Jonathan Patterson

Jonathan Patterson

Freelance Product Designer. Now: Celebrating a decade of freelance UX and UI design!