All Articles Adobe
Working as a Freelance Designer, 2016-Style
Elaine Ashburn on Sun, February 21st 0 comments
What's it like to work as a freelance designer in 2016? We called on Elaine Ashburn, freelance designer and author based in New York, to help explore this topic deeper and offer up helpful tips.

When I was first asked to write this article, I had to think about it for a while. Freelancing today is certainly much different than it was, say, even five years ago and I wasn’t sure where to begin.  

So, after giving it some thought, I decided to begin at the beginning.

Freelancing can be very rewarding, both monetarily and emotionally. And it can even work with your schedule. But … and this is a big but … you have to develop relationships; you have to be good at what you do and you cannot be afraid to sell yourself.


The Layoffs Began  

I was lucky enough to have worked at many of the top agencies in New York. And I spent a number of years at each one, meeting people and doing the best work I could possibly do. I took myself seriously and worked hard, so when the layoffs began around 2007, I had quite a number of account and creative people on my virtual Rolodex.

I called and emailed as many of them as possible to let them know I was currently available for freelance, and the work came to me. For the most part, I was expected to show up at an agency and work just like any of the staff creatives. I was just not paid from the same pool and I had to get my own health insurance. That was fine by me. I was naming my price, making good money and I could afford it.

Then 2011 happened. 

Creative Managers come into the picture

Don’t ask me what was so special about 2011, I don’t know. Freelance dried up and it was no longer who you knew in the account and creative departments, freelance was now controlled by specialized creative managers — HR people. 

Once again I found myself networking, this time meeting and establishing relationships with this new breed of creative manager. Thankfully I had a good reputation and got work easily and readily. Friends of mine, who were also freelancing, weren’t as lucky and word got out that if you were offered a staff job, you should take it since the pool was drying up quickly. 

I heeded that message and when asked, accepted a job with a title much below my previous ones. I really didn’t care, as long as they paid me. I stayed there for two years until the axe fell again and once more I found myself in the freelance pool.  

Networking 101 

But this time things had drastically changed. Not only were there creative managers in place, now there were networking groups on Facebook that you needed to join for your name to be noticed by them. Women Creatives and NYC Ad Jobs & Networking come to mind but there are others. You must ask to join and if someone who is a member recognizes your name from within the industry you will be allowed in. These really are great places for networking though and worth the slight embarrassment of not being recognized right away. Don’t worry, someone will see you and let you in.


Creative Resources You Can’t Afford to NOT Use

One other big networking arena that you must be in is LinkedIn. There are 161 million users worldwide who are connected with, and use, this resource regularly. Keep your resume up-to-date and allow all HR and creative managers (even if you don’t know them personally) to Link-In with you. You will get calls and jobs are posted here.

Image 1

Image 1

Another huge online resource for those creative people on the art side is DeviantART. It’s the largest platform for artists to be seen and exposed to clients and employers. (Image 2) There are also tons of tutorials here. Members of the DeviantART community like to teach and mentor other members—it’s very much like a real community. 

Images 2 & 3

Images 2 & 3

One additional resource that you shouldn’t ignore is Creative managers network here and the site has an interesting approach. They don’t accept everyone; in fact they say that they only accept 10% of the portfolios that they review. The best way to become a member here is to have a member nominate you. You’ll still have to be approved by the Membership Board but you don’t have to wait for the board to wade through the thousands of applications they receive daily. As you can see by the attached image, it’s a way to let creative managers know if you are currently working, looking for work or will be looking soon. It’s also a place to showcase your best 5 or so pieces. (Image 4, 5, 6 & 7) They often host parties and events for agency creative managers to actually meet the creative talent that the site showcases. It’s one of the newest (around 3 years) and most exclusive sites of its kind and well worth the wait of acceptance, if you can get in. 

Images 4, 5, 6 & 7

Images 4, 5, 6 & 7

Creative Circle

This mostly-freelance headhunting agency, does not pay particularly well (read that as poorly), but they do have jobs and it’s worth it to connect with them. You might even get lucky and find a permalance position where the agency you are freelancing for could take over paying you, in which case you can re-negotiate your fee. 

In addition, you might want to check out AgencySpy which gives you insider insight to the advertising industry. From hirings and firings to new campaigns that are being launched, it’s one great place to visit to keep up-to-date. And one last word of advice: blog, blog, blog. Try to get your name everywhere, write often and about anything that interests you. You may not think creative managers or influencers read these blogs, but they do. One of my favorites, Adfreak, is on and I’d suggest you check it out. Good luck with finding freelance, I’m sure if you are good at what you do and diligent in your search you will get work.

Related Videos
Comments (0)

You must be logged in to comment.

Melodyne 5 Extreme
Melodyne 201
Dream It. Do It.
Do you want to learn Melodyne 5 Extreme?
Yes, I want to learn!
No Thanks, I just want to read the article.
Course Advisor
Don't Know Where To Start?
Ask A Course Advisor
Ask Us!
Copy the link below and paste it into an email, forum, or Facebook to share this with your friends.
Make money when you share our links
Become a Affiliate!
The current affiliate rate is: 50%
Classes Start Next Week!
Live 8-week Online Certification Classes for: