Chelsea & The City: Breaking into freelance

Over the last few years I have been asked on a regular basis to design my friends’ resumés. Of course I always say yes because it is something fun for me to do other than classwork, and a way to show some creativity. Slowly but surely, more people started asking and I started to wonder if I could get more out of it than dinner or drinks.

After spring semester was over I decided to take a leap and open an Etsy store. I didn’t think much would come of it — maybe making a few bucks here or there — but I was pretty wrong. I had my first purchase within 24 hours of opening my store, and the steady stream hasn’t stopped since. I started with only a few resumé templates and then slowly added business cards, letterhead and a design pack that includes all three pieces.

In short, I was having a blast doing this. I’ve had several clients come back to me with more work completely unrelated to their resumé or business cards and today, a lot of my business isn’t even through Etsy. People find me there and then contact me outside of my shop for special projects. I am really excited about this incredible opportunity and have decided after I graduate (and actually have some free time) I want to pursue this business even more. I want to start delving into other areas such as weddings, greeting cards, etc. I am going to expand with a website solely for this business and add more products. But, I am very uncertain about several steps along the way and would love any advice helping me answer these questions.

1. I am really bad at pricing. I don’t know how to transition from my college-student price structure to something that reflects I am now a young professional. I’m scared that if I go too high I won’t get any business, but if I go too low people I will be demining my time and talent.

2. How do I expand my cliental? Sure, Etsy is a great start, but what are other ways to get myself out there and be noticed? What are the best ways to get “in” to the freelancing world?

3. What other types of work should I get into? Like I mentioned, I would love to do weddings, but how else could I market myself to a larger audience and what other kinds of services could I offer?

I know a lot of you have been in the same boat and any ideas or advice would be wonderful!

— Chelsea

(Chelsea Kardokus is a senior journalism graphics major at Ball State University. See more of her work here.)

About Chelsea Kardokus

Chelsea Kardokus is a designer at TIME magazine.


What about stickers? Magnets? Maybe a dumb idea… I don’t know.

Try using a price leadership strategy – follow the industry leaders… Start at a somewhat lower price point than them, but pay attention to demand. If consumers have no problem paying your prices, steadily raise them. Are you using price bundling? That’s another great way to get more money out of people for not too much more work.

You should have gotten a business minor. 🙂


I am by no means an expert, and what I share is only what has worked for me over the course of my career as a freelancer, and now, as a small business owner.

1. I cannot recommend the Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines more highly. It is full of all kinds of wisdom, typical/acceptable industry practices, contract guidelines, and, yes, pricing information. It was a very valuable resource for me when I was first dipping my toe into the world of freelancing, and it still has a place on my shelf today. You can find it here:

There are all kinds of theories out there on pricing structures and how to calculate your hourly rate or flat fee for a project. I have my own formula, and it has worked pretty well for me over the years. But the bottom line, gut-level, decision-making question for me has always been: Based on the job I’m pricing, is this fee going to make me happy about doing the job when all is said and done?

Now, a lot of factors go into answering that question, and many of them change based on each job, client, scope of the project, etc. But, once I do my calculation using my formula, this is always the last question I ask myself.

The last thing for No. 1 that I’d share is, decide what kind of clients you want to work with. If you set your prices low, you’ll likely attract a lot of notice, but from whom? People who don’t want to spend much.

That’s not a bad thing if the jobs in question are relatively simple, straightforward and don’t take a lot of your time to finish. But if the projects are cumbersome, labor intensive, a time suck, and the client is looking to get something for nothing, that gets old really quickly.

Set your rates high enough so that potential clients know you’re serious and a professional, and that they should be serious and professional when they engage you for a project. Your skills and abilities have value, and they should be priced accordingly. Don’t play at the low end of the market. The only way you can make money there is based on volume, and that can be a difficult proposition in a service-oriented situation.

2. Getting noticed can be a tough one, especially when you’re just starting out. My suggestion would be to read up on internet marketing. It has redefined how people search for, find and interact with…well everything…including freelancers.

A great book to start with is this one:

Additionally, use social media, particularly LinkedIn, to build a following/expand your professional circles. I’d recommend creating business-only accounts for sites like Twitter, Pinterest, etc., and don’t mix your personal posts with things related to your business. Make a clear distinction in your mind about what’s appropriate for posting on your business accounts and what’s not. Personal stuff should be left to your personal accounts.

Ultimately it all boils down to relationships and who you know. Networking whether online or in meatspace is CRITICAL. Yes, you’ll get clients with whom you don’t share any kind of previous connection, but as a freelancer, the life blood of your business is about making those first time contacts return business. You NEED to build relationships with them, and be in it for the long term, because those are the kind of clients that keep you going. And when they move on to other jobs, they’ll say, “Hey, I worked with a freelancer named Chelsea at my old job. She’d be perfect for this project.” And thus, a new set of relationships with that old client’s new co-workers has just been formed, which expands your base even more.

Bottom line for no. 2, it’s not going to happen overnight. Long-term relationships are called that for a reason, and it takes time to build them, but begin laying that groundwork from the start with every client that comes calling.

3. Expanding into new markets is a great idea. Make a list of what interests you, and makes sense for your business to expand into. Do your homework about which ones make the most sense and focus on one, maybe two areas of expansion at a time. Don’t get distracted by the other ideas on your list. It’s easy to try to do too much here, and what ends up happening is that you take a scattershot approach to each one.

Make sure you can focus and put your efforts into that one (or two) expansion area(s). When you’ve built a steady following there, then you can look at the next item on your list.

I’m not sure how helpful any of this advice is. As I said, this is all based on my own experiences over my career (20+ years total and nearly 14 years now working for myself in one form or another), and what has worked for me over that time. I don’t have an MBA, and am far from what I’d call an expert. You have to find out what works for you, but if anything I’ve said helps you start to find out what that is, then I’m glad.

Good luck.

– John

John! You offered a lot of great insight here that I found helpful, myself. Thank you so much for sharing your insight with Chelsea, and indirectly anyone else who reads this blog!

John –
Thank you SO MUCH for all of your advice! You were so incredibly helpful. It is so great to hear from someone who has been in the field and has experience in this area. Both of those books seem wonderful as well. Thank you again! This helped me so much.

Those are great insights, Mr. Telford (I’m proud to know you!)

Maybe you should expand on this brilliance for something for!

Your article is very useful, the content is great, I have read a lot of articles, but for your article, it left me a deep impression, thank you for sharing.

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