Pros & Cons Of Graphic Design Self Employment

585 388 Derek Kimball

pros and cons

Are you thinking about ditching your day job and becoming a freelance designer? Here are some of the pros and cons worth considering before making the jump into self employment:

Pros/cons: You are your own boss

Be your own boss

Being able to set your own hours, work at your own pace, make creative decisions, and answer to no one but your clients are all great benefits of being self employed. However if you have a tough time motivating yourself and staying organized, going solo is probably not for you. Some people just work better with predetermined tasks and when under supervision.

Pros/cons: Work From Home

work from home

For many designers, the idea of working from home is the ultimate opportunity. No rush hour traffic or filling up your gas tank twice a week, no dress code, the ability to work at your own pace and in your own environment. And of course having no annoying boss or supervisor dictating your every move. Though with all of these conveniences comes limitations and inconveniences…

If you’re extroverted and thrive on interaction with others, working from home may prove very difficult. If you have children, will they be a distraction during time off of school? Will you be able to avoid impulsive distractions such as watching tv, exploring social media on your phone, or playing a round of golf when you should be working?

Pros/cons: Must Wear Many Hats

designer wearing many hats

Being a freelancer requires the wearing of many hats beyond just “designing”. As a work from home independent branding designer, I’m tasked with marketing my business, communicating with prospective and existing clients, writing proposals, organizing and maintaining a variety of things (documents, stock imagery and graphics, website and portfolio, blog, online accounts, accounting, software, font collections) etc. I spend more time on these tasks than I actually do designing.

You’ll also be responsible for learning necessary skillsets, familiarizing yourself with new software and updates, troubleshooting problems and finding answers to frequent questions. Not having co-workers to lean on during times of frustration or confusion can be daunting, especially when you have a project deadline approaching.

Also consider that most freelancers end up working much longer days than their non self employed counterparts. This seems to be especially true during the first couple or few years of starting out, while you’re still developing your business and work process. Even after more than a decade of working as a freelancer, I still work very long days; though health issues have slowed me down here recently.

The amount of responsibilities you’ll have as a freelancer will depend on what area of design you choose to specialize in, how much money you wish to make, etc. Regardless of what areas you specialize, if you want to become successful in this competitive industry you’ll have to work hard and wear many hats.

Pros/cons: Investment:

investments required of designers

When just starting out as a freelancer, you may have to rely on some limited tools to make it initially (a slower computer, free fonts, basic software, etc). Though if you want to provide your clients with the best product / service possible, you’ll eventually need to invest properly in the right tools. And unfortunately, they aren’t cheap. Over my decade+ as a freelancer I’ve invested tens of thousands into my business. Not because I like spending money, but because each and every expense allowed me to improve my quality of service. Though as a result, I’ve been able to increase my rates.

While the costs associated with freelance will vary depending on what area of design you offer, here are some of the expenses you may have to consider: education, computers, monitors and calibration devices, tablets, various software, fonts, swatch books, printers, scanners, drawing tablets, cameras and photography gear, external hard drives and cloud storage, office space and supplies, stock images and graphics, books and publications, video courses, accounting / tax preparation expenses, business license, liability insurance, etc.

There’s also the personal costs that come with being self employed. For example, no employer matched 401k or social security contributions, no group rate health insurance, and no paid vacations or paid leave. And since you’ll be responsible for 100% of your social security, you’ll be paying a higher % in taxes than as an employee. This was something I was unaware of when starting out.

Final thoughts: If you’d considering becoming a freelancer, know that it can be a rewarding career choice, but also know that it requires a great deal of self determination, hard work and financial investment. You can read more on the pros and cons of freelance here, and view statistics on the design industry here.


Derek Kimball

Derek is the founder of DesignBuddy and a full time graphic designer. He specializes in logo creation and visual branding. Over the past 13 years Derek has helped hundreds of clients grow their business and establish a stronger brand identity. View his portfolio, or get in touch. If you'd like to receive an occasional free newsletter with useful design related content, please subscribe here.

All stories by: Derek Kimball