It takes years of hard work to create a freelance lifestyle. But it’s also one of the most rewarding choices for digital designers who want more control over their schedule.
Unfortunately freelancing is not just about designing. It involves managing your clients, your finances, and your time. It’s certainly not for everyone but it does work best for anyone doing digital work.
If you’d like to move into creative freelancing then these books are wildly valuable to add to your bookshelf. They’ll get you started on the right foot and help you avoid common pitfalls that most freelancers face.
The Best Books on Freelancing
Just note that each book targets a specific subject matter, so you won’t find one title that has everything you need. Mix & match the best ones to plan your roadmap to the perfect freelance lifestyle.
Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook
I’ve long considered the Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook to be the tome of creative freelancing. It covers everything you’d need to know from handling clients to writing contracts. There’s even a chapter on pricing to help you get a ballpark idea of what you should charge.
The newest version of this book totals about 350 pages. It’s also fairly large so it may not fit on your bookshelf.
Still this makes a perfect desk reference for anyone who wants to call digital design a career.
Small note: before you pick up a copy try to check for a newer version. The Graphic Artist’s Guild puts out a new book every few years with updated rates and revised chapters on changes to the freelancing world.
Very few creatives really enjoy the business side of self-employment. But whether you like it or not, you gotta learn it.
Creative, Inc. is your pathway to creative freedom. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything so it’s the perfect book for creative professionals who hate the business side, but realize they need to learn it one way or another.
Best of all this book doesn’t just focus on design. It can work for illustrators, animators, 3D modelers, and even web developers.
Over 180 pages you’ll find practical advice you can put into action for managing your payments, your client scheduling, and learning to balance work against personal life. That can be especially challenging if you work from home!
Creative, Inc. will help anyone who wants to move into freelancing as a full-time job. It may be a few years old but it’s a fantastic resource to keep nearby.
Freelance Design in Practice
The idea of freelancing is pretty simple. You just find people willing to pay for your services, do some work, then get paid.
But in practice this whole process gets a lot more complex.
You don’t always get paid on time, nor do you clients just appear from nowhere(well, sometimes). Freelance Design in Practice looks over the entire freelancing process from start to finish with the goal of helping newbies setup a solid foundation.
You don’t need any prior experience freelancing before reading this book. It really does feel like a beginner’s guide to the whole world of managing clients and handling payments.
You’ll find tips about hiring a CPA, how to get legal advice, and how to communicate properly to keep clients honest with their deadlines.
I mostly recommend this because it’s an affordable read with some great tips. But it can feel a little too “basic” if you’ve already dipped your toe into the freelancing world.
Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators
While this book specifically targets artists & illustrators, the attached forms can apply to graphic design as well.
Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators provides 29 total forms pertinent to freelancing in the creative space. A decent portion of the language assumes illustration work but you can tweak verbiage to fit anything from web design to UX design or anything else.
The forms come with easy step-by-step instructions to help you edit contracts and finalize ideas. These can also be brought to your lawyer for a final check before sending them to clients.
This is merely a starting point for anyone who wants to cover their ass legally. Always a good decision.
The Freelancer’s Bible
Totaling just under 500 pages with dozens of easy-to-read chapters, The Freelancer’s Bible is a tremendous resource for designers of all backgrounds.
With this book in your possession you’ll have no trouble diving into a freelance career the right way. It teaches the fundamentals behind creating your own office, finding clients, landing(and keeping consistent) work along with how to get paid.
Much of this book targets you, the freelancer, and what you can do for your business. If you’re selling services then you should really be selling yourself and the work you can provide.
That’s the beauty of this book: it helps you shape the exact type of business you want.
Talent is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers
The unfortunate part about design work is that being “good” isn’t enough. People want to hire good designers, but they also want people that are personable. Deliver on time. And communicate confidently.
Talent is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers proves that anyone can learn how to manage their own business. You’ll pick up basically everything else beyond design skills.
Client management, networking, marketing, everything you need if you work for yourself.
And this book can help contract/employed designers too. You never know when you’ll lose your job or want to move on from your current company, and when that happens you may want to try freelancing.
Keep this book in mind if you’re hoping to pick up all the business skills required to work for yourself. It’s a good resource to have even if you don’t wanna go solo now, but may want to in the near future.
How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul
I’ve seen dozens of digital designers recommend this book, and now I’m one of them.
Adrian Shaughnessy’s How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul is a superb read. It’s geared towards designers of all types with the purpose of covering the real world as it exists for designers.
Many students and younger designers think a career in design is just about making awesome stuff. And yes, that’s part of it.
But along the way you’ll find yourself beaten down by horrible clients and late payments, tight deadlines and people who want everything while paying almost nothing.
This book is like the lost bible of design. It reads like its own “chicken soup for the designer’s soul” and it should be mandatory reading for every wannabe freelancer.
The Freelance Manifesto: A Field Guide for the Modern Motion Designer
The Freelance Manifesto: A Field Guide for the Modern Motion Designer by Joey Korenman is geared mostly towards animators and motion designers. I still wanted to include it here because the book is one of the more comprehensive titles in this area.
Over 358 pages you’ll learn how to break your nine-to-five life and move towards a freelancing lifestyle. It’s a huge leap, but many motion designers pull six figures a year working for themselves. You can too.
I’d call this book one part motivational, one part pragmatic and hands-on. You’ll learn a lot about client work that may not “click” until you actually start doing it yourself… but as you re-read this book it’ll be like a trusted teacher along your path to creative freedom.
Most designers don’t get into the work for the money. But that doesn’t mean design work can’t pay well!
Burn Your Portfolio
Burn Your Portfolio is another incredibly practical guide to working as a professional designer. The tips in this book are superb and it’s basically a must-read for anyone serious about design, art, or any similar creative field.
The writing style is funny yet detailed, persuasive yet free-thinking. It gives you a handful of tips beyond your specialized skillset to help you make it in the creative fields. This can include freelance work but also covers tips for working with agencies.
Author Michael Janda has worked with many creative agencies as a designer and project lead, so he’s been on both sides of the hiring process. Selling yourself to a company is very similar to the act of selling yourself to a client.
Many of the tips in this book are kind of like “unspoken rules” in the design world. Professionals just seem to understand this stuff, and newer designers often have to learn it through failure first.
I highly recommend this as a life guide to any creative field. Doesn’t matter what you wanna create or who you wanna work for(in-house, agency, or self-employed).
This offers a brilliant look into the real world of creative work that’ll leave you smiling and thirsting to get to work.
Don’t Get a Job… Make a Job
The title of Gemma Barton’s book really hits the nail on the head. You shouldn’t be just following a predefined path with your skillset. You should try to find people who want your skills and show them why your skills are the best.
Whether you’re practicing web design, illustration, architecture, filmmaking, whatever you wanna do with your life. Don’t Get a Job… Make a Job is the best book to help you translate that skillset into a real business.
You’ll find tips on how to sell yourself, how to land clients, and whether you should specialize or generalize in your field.
The writing itself feels very creative and I’m beyond impressed with the style. It feels so easy to read and this book should be like a magnet to anyone aspiring towards creative fields.
Whether you’re hoping to make freelancing your full-time job, or whether you do it already and want to improve your workflow, this book is a must-read.
The Gig Economy
I’ll admit The Gig Economy is not just about design. However it feels very much like the previous book in that it covers how to make a career when you don’t have one.
Author Diane Mulcahy first published this book in late 2016 and the advice rings truer every year. We live in a world where it’s completely possible to work from anywhere, doing almost anything, so long as you deliver great work and retain trustworthy clients.
But this isn’t just a business book. It’s also a lifestyle book aimed to help people break the shackles of working for companies in lieu of working for themselves.
If you’ve always wanted to make the leap but just aren’t sure where to start or what skills you can offer then this book should be on your shopping list.
It’s detailed enough in 240 pages to help you figure out what you wanna do, but not so detailed that it’s off-putting to folks who have never considered self-employment before.
Work for Money, Design for Love
David Airey is a well-known designer with a lot to offer the creative community. He wrote this book for designers young and old alike to help bridge the gap between doing what you love and making a living from it.
Contrary to popular belief, yes this is possible. But the journey won’t all be passion and creative genius.
Work for Money, Design for Love is a true creative person’s guide outlining how you should approach design work. It teaches you how to separate the two common aspects of freelancing: the craft(design) and the business(taxes, clients, contracts).
If you want to make this a career you have to find a way to reconcile these two areas. They’re two sides to the same coin. And this book teaches you how to look at the situation with a new perspective.
My favorite tidbits are the interviews with designers like Eric Karjaluoto and Von Glitschka. They all have their own journeys into freelancing and they all have great advice for mastering the art of business + design.
Start Your Own Graphic Design Business: Your Step-By-Step Guide to Success
Whether you wanna run your own creative agency or just work as a solo freelancer, both paths require a detailed process of marketing and management.
Start Your Own Graphic Design Business takes you step-by-step through the entire process from branding yourself to finding clients and keeping them around for the long haul. It’s a fun read and there’s some great info on structuring yourself like a real company.
I primarily recommend this for people who want to form a real company, not just a DBA or personal business name.
However the advice can apply to small companies(like yourself + some contracted work) so it’s 100% relevant to freelancing in creative fields.