How to Become a UX/UI Freelance Designer

Get started with everything you need to know about pursuing a freelance UX/UI Design career! Pros and Cons of the role, top tips for building your business, setting rates, finding clients and more!
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Working freelance is an increasingly popular option, especially for those in the tech industry. In fact, more than 70 percent of freelancers classify themselves as somewhere within the IT-sector, which is inclusive of UX/UI professionals. As online-focused startups have found success and companies of all sizes compete to increase their web and mobile app presence, demand has risen for these types of workers. Oftentimes, it is easier and more cost-effective for organizations to hire UX and UI designers on a per-project basis to launch their products, rather than complete efforts in-house. The designers who make the jump to the freelance market gain all the benefits of self-employment and the ability to choose projects that align with their interests.

Of course, freelancing comes with its own unique set of challenges. Seeking projects, setting rates, building an online brand presence all these critical tasks fall on one individual: YOU! In order to provide some clarity to the process, in this article we’re breaking down the major pros and cons of diving into a freelance UX/UI career, and providing our top tips for getting started finding work, setting prices and more. 

Pros and Cons of UX/UI Freelance Design Work

If you’re at the evaluation stage of launching a freelance career, a great step to take is to list out the pros and cons of this major decision. We’ve listed out a few of the major factors to consider on both sides of the equation.

Pros of Becoming a UX/UI Freelance Designer

Control Your Time and Schedule – One of the “go-to” perks of self-employment is the ability to maintain flexibility in your working hours. If you want to work less than full-time one week and pack on the hours the next, that’s completely dictated by your ability to complete tasks as outlined by your agreement with clients and amount of work you take on. There’s also no need to remain within the classic 9-5 workday schedule; freelancers often find themselves able to adjust their time around their laptop based upon other life demands and personal obligations.

Decide Your Own Worth – Freelancers set their own rate, with the only possible cap on their income being the amount of work they choose to take on. Many freelancers report making more money after leaving a full-time in-house job. You might be surprised at the type of rates you can charge if you work with the right clients and develop a reputation for delivering high-quality work. 

Work from Home (or Anywhere Else) – Although the modern definition of the “office” has become increasingly flexible, nothing beats being your own boss. Many freelancers enjoy the nomadic lifestyle, setting up a workstation in whatever city (or country) they find themselves in. Others take advantage of local co-working spaces, or work from home in order to balance childcare and family obligations. 

Choose Your Projects – Picking the clients you work with is an excellent opportunity to align your work with your passion. You’re free to tailor your service offerings around specific aspects of the job you enjoy and excel at the most, such as wireframing, storyboarding or persona creation. 

Improve Your Skillset – Taking on various projects from multiple clients can mean you face a new design challenge every day. While some might be intimidated by this fact, great freelancers are able to keep up with the latest industry trends and grow their portfolio with meaningful and challenging work. 

Gain Exposure Across Diverse Fields – Individuals in this field are called upon to work wherever they can find it. This might mean creating a website for an insurance company in the morning and user-testing a mobile gaming app in the afternoon. Becoming an in-demand freelancer is a great opportunity for one to gain experience across industries and work with cutting-edge products and organizations.

Cons of Becoming a UX/UI Freelance Designer

No Job Benefits – One of the major drawbacks of not having an employer is being forced to pay for health insurance out of pocket. Keep in mind any other on-the-job perks you might have to give up as a freelancer. These could include paid travel or access to hardware and softwares you’ll have to once again buy out of pocket. 

Unstable Cash Flow – While you stand to make a higher net yearly income, going freelance does pose more of a financial risk than a steady guaranteed paycheck. Some people are excited by the prospect of mastering their own fate, but you should prepare mentally and financially for any potential “cold” periods you might go through, especially at the beginning of your career. 

Additional Professional Responsibilities – Outside of core job responsibilities, freelancers are responsible for fielding client inquiries, seeking opportunities, building their brand online, invoicing clients, completing their tax returns and much, much more. Know that if you take this route, you should be prepared to be your own marketing, financing and sales team, or possess the cash flow to pay someone to take on these less desirable tasks. 

Lack of Office Environment – Some people flourish independently, while others thrive on bouncing ideas off of co-workers. Before you make the move to freelance, consider which environment you work best in and be prepared to spend more time sans-coworkers. If working from wherever you want without having to worry about others’ contributions as potential blockers sounds like your dream, freelancing might be for you! 

Getting Started as a UX/UI Freelance Designer: Essential Tips and Tricks

Ready to hit the ground running with your freelance career? Not so fast. Before you’re ready to start raking in clients, there are several critical steps to take to ensure your long-term success. Here are just a few of the essentials to get your business off the ground.

  • A Solid Financial Base – The unfortunate reality of freelancing it might take you a while to build a solid client base and you don’t have the guarantee of a paycheck at the end of every month. It’s recommended that you get your finances in order prior to embarking on this type of career risk, with available savings to cover all living expenses in a worst case scenario.
  • Start Small – You need to prove your experience to get new work, but to get work, you need experience. A paradox, right? In the beginning months, be ready to take on smaller and/or lower paying tasks to build up your professional experience. Also, consider looking into non-profits or charity organizations that you could complete projects for on a pro bono basis. They’ll love the opportunity to upgrade the website or app and you get to contribute to a worthwhile cause while gaining vital experience. 
  • Build Up Your Portfolio – It’s basically impossible to become a successful UX/UI Freelancer without an excellent portfolio. This personal website is the first thing a client will look at to get a sense of who you are and what you can do. This step is so important we’ve written a complete guide to creating your portfolio: what to include, what to avoid, tools and resources, examples and more. 
  • Join the Community – Hanging out with other UX/UI professionals online is the best way to sharpen your skills, find professional opportunities, seek mentorship, keep up with industry news and have fun! We’ve highlighted some of our favorite sites to find inspiration and maybe even your next client (more on that below) in this list
  • Build Your Network and Stay Active Online – There are thousands of UX/UI freelancers and thousands of potential clients, the trick is being in the right places to make that match. Ensure you’re using all the tools in your arsenal by updating all your social media channels. Think of any place a client might look to get a sense of your past work, like LinkedIn, and make sure you present yourself in the best possible light. Remember, you’re the brand and networking is part of the job! 
  • Sharpen Your Skills – Be ready for any job that comes your way by mastering as many tools and job-specific skills as possible. Taking UX/UI bootcamps, listening to podcasts or attending conferences are all great ways to incorporate learning into your day-to-day routine. The Daily UI Challenge website is another popular and time efficient way to hone in on your skills. 

Finding Work as a UX/UI Freelance Designer

One of the most surefire ways to find clients is via sites designed to connect freelancers with job opportunities. One one hand, these sites are time-savers on both sides, offering a curated selection of professionals for those looking for work and a large potential client base for workers. On the other hand, many of them take a cut of any jobs you land or charge a flat membership fee. You’ll have to decide if this tradeoff is worth it. If you don’t have a large network already, the answer is likely yes. In any case, here are some of the most popular freelance sites that are at least worth giving a try:

  1. Upwork – One of the most well-known platforms for any and all types of freelancers, clients can hire on a houry, full-time or per project basis. 
  2. Dribble – This site is specifically for designers, and initially launched as a place to share portfolios and work. It’s since added a robust job board and a paid “pro” section wit additional features, like priority hiring placement
  3. Behance – The premiere “social media” site for designers: users have the ability to follow topics of interest and build a custom feed. Similar to Dribble, they’ve added a job boards section which boasts more than 1,500 open positions (freelance and full-time)
  4. Fiverr – “The best for every budget,” is the tagline of this site, which offers freelance services across hundreds of categories starting at $5/project. The site allows service providers to create custom packages at different price points users can compare based on their needs. 
  5. Toptal – This site specializes in offering only the top three percent of talent, which means it’s quite competitive to become accepted on the site as a freelancer. However, if you do, expect to receive project offers from top employers like AirBnB, Bridgestone and Shopify. 
  6. Freelancer.com – It’s all in the name here. For this site, employers post a job description of the work they need done and freelancers bid on the project. Freelancers can browse projects across more than 1800 different sub-categories. 

How to Set Your Rates as a UX/UI Freelance Designer

Now we finally arrive at one of the hardest parts of being a freelancer: deciding how to set your own rates. How can you calculate fair compensation without a benchmark or co-workers? Well, you essentially have three options: per hour, per week or per project rates. In most cases the latter two are your best bet for netting more income, but a per hour rate can be helpful for smaller tasks, or if a client presents you with a task they want done in a specific short time frame. Overall, you’ll want to take into account the location and size of the business you’re working with, as well as the scope of the job. You likely have a significantly better understanding of the amount of work a task will take compared to your client. Don’t be afraid to ask what their budget is to help you make an estimate. 

If you’re looking for a more specific dollar amount, Upwork lists the following sample UX Designer rates based on users of their platform. Keep in mind, this can vary widely based on level of experience, geographic location and project scope.

Project TypeAverage Price (per hour)
General UX Design$25-$75
User Research$25-$65
Storyboarding/Persona Creation$30-$70

As we mentioned above, there’s absolutely no limit to what you can make as a UX/UI Freelancer. As you build up your level of expertise, you’ll be able to take on more tasks, work with higher-profile clients and raise your rates, as you complete excellent work. According to ZipRecruiter, the average UX/UI Freelancer earns $98,198 per year. The site estimates a wide potential range of earnings from as low as $33,000 all the way up to $159,500. As you can see, this is an in-demand role with a very high earning potential, it just depends on how hard you work at it. UX/UI Freelance Designer Salary

Final Thoughts and Learning More about UX/UI 

Freelancing is not necessarily the right choice for every UX/UI professional. But for those suited to the role, the job is full of interesting and varied work, as well as lucrative opportunities across the sector.

Interested in learning more about starting in the industry? Check out additional resources below: 

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