Staring at a pile of unpaid bills? Gazing longingly at that tropical holiday you don't think you can afford? Drooling over the latest bit of tech with a sinking feeling that you're going to be left behind again?
Well, pull yourself together! You have valuable skills that are greatly in demand - and the freedom to earn as much or as little from them as you like.
You just have to apply yourself, and be a bit clever about how you go about maximising your income. Here are a few tips to help you along...
01. Cash in on unused files
Not everything you design will be loved by your clients. Instead of letting those unused designs go to waste, cash in on them by selling your files on marketplace design sites.
As an example, Graphic Leftovers (opens in new tab) is a website where graphic designers can sell logos, icons, illustrations and more. Or there's ThemeForest (opens in new tab) is a popular marketplace for designers who have web design templates to sell.
Before you sell any of your work on the web, of course, it's vital to double-check the files you're selling are not under the rights of any of your current or past clients.
02. Host a Skillshare class
You've likely heard the saying, "Those who can't do, teach." Well, that's bull. In business and design, those who teach can because they have the ability to do something other people do not know how to do.
Skillshare (opens in new tab) is an online community marketplace for classes. Anyone can apply to teach - and get paid to host - a class. Some classes designers have created are: 'Basics of Photoshop: Fundamentals for Beginners' and 'From Zero to Hero: Learn Graphic Design'.
You get paid based on the number of online students who sign up for your class. Keep in mind, though, you're not allowed to 'sell' your services or other products to your students, but courses can cover anything from tech skills to nail art design.
03. Try your hand at consulting
Consultants are often what I like to call experienced doers, aka highly valuable people. If you have a skill you know other people in your field want, sell consulting services that teach other freelance designers how to duplicate your successes.
A perfect example of smart creatives who've turned their design know-how into a full-fledged consulting business is Braid Creative (opens in new tab). Kathleen Shannon and Tara Street, who have backgrounds in advertising and freelance designing and writing, started Braid to help creative entrepreneurs brand themselves.
To do this, they offer 'Braid eCourses' on personal branding and 'Braid Coaching' services.
04. Charge what you're worth
If you've already done some spec work for a client and now they want to hire you for a job, don't be shy about charging the rate you know you're worth.
Many designers, especially young ones, don't charge enough, or rather, they undervalue the price of their work. Don't do this. Charging more is also a way to help maintain a high level of quality cliental.
Remember: Clients aren't just paying for your hourly time, they're paying for your expertise, experience, training and equipment. Stand by your pricing and you'll be better off for it, guaranteed.
05. Blog to position yourself as a pro
If you haven't started blogging, start now! Blogging costs you time, but it can pay off big. Use your blog to share design advice for businesses or publish helpful design tutorials.
Having a place on the web that hosts your insights and knowledge can be incredibly valuable for positioning yourself as an expert, creating new relationships with other designers and, of course, attracting referrals.
06. Give away free stuff
Now that you've started blogging, here's one really effective way to drive traffic back to your site: Give away free and, of course, beautifully branded downloadable resources like templates, themes and graphics.
Popular blogger and designer Bri Emery of DesignLoveFest (opens in new tab) has a segment on her blog called 'Dress Your Tech' where she shares beautiful downloadable desktop and mobile wallpapers.
Because people love to share awesome free stuff, this segment has created great brand exposure for DesignLoveFest. It has also opened up a lot of collaboration opportunities as Emery will often team up with another designer or artist for a Dress your Tech post.
07. Make smart use of LinkedIn
LinkedIn (opens in new tab) may be a lacklustre online destination for creatives, but it is the online network where professionals seek out other professionals most. To land more gigs using LinkedIn, start by sprucing up your profile. Next, start contributing to a few designer-focused groups.
Involvement in groups like 'Designers Talk: Freelance Graphic Design Group' is an awesome way to crowdsource for answers amongst other pros in your field. Responding to group questions is a great way to share your expert insight.
This is also a way to catch the attention of potential employers, who are using LinkedIn groups for recruiting.
08. Invest in tools
Sometimes you have to spend money to earn money, and that's certainly the case in design, where you need to invest in tools to get the most out of the skills you already have.
If you know Photoshop and a little bit of CSS and HTML, you're a triple threat! Take advantage of your skills and invest in a third-party design platform that's packaged for resale, like my own service ShortStack (opens in new tab).
Online tools like ShortStack allow designers to save time designing and, more important, broaden their service offerings. In addition to websites, logos, and posters you can use this tool to create custom Facebook apps, social contests, opt-in landing pages and more.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond these ideas, there are lots more ways freelance graphic and web designers can earn more cash.
You already have the skills you need to take your freelance design business to the next level. Now's the time to do what designers do best - get creative!
Words: Jim Belosic
Jim Belosic is co-founder and CEO of ShortStack, a software company that makes custom applications for Facebook, websites and mobile.