Do you love the thought of being a part of a fast-paced agency environment that’s buzzing with creativity? Perhaps you’re dreaming of working to your own schedule from anywhere in the world, and keeping every penny you earn.
As a graphic designer you’ve got the freedom to choose whether you work for an employer or for yourself — but what are the pros and cons of each career path?
Securing a Full-Time Design Job
There’s a lot of opportunities for graphic designers to find full-time roles, with marketing agencies, dedicated graphic design agencies and organisations all vying for the best talent available.
For most designers the biggest benefit of a full-time role is the consistent salary.
The average salary for a graphic designer ranges from approximately £23,000pa to £30,000pa, depending on experience. Even if you’re at the lower end of that range, a reliable income allows you to budget accordingly every month.
Of course, the caveat here is that during your probation period (typically three to six months) you can be dismissed without warning.
Learn From Others
If you’re joining a team of graphic designers you’re going to be learning from each other. Even the most experienced designers don’t know every trick in the book and with a full-time role, especially at an agency, you’ll have access to a broad range of knowledge and support that will help you to become a better designer.
The battle for the best graphic designers is competitive, but this doesn’t just help boost salaries — it forces organisations to offer increasingly attractive employee benefits to lure the best talent.
Common employee benefits include free gym memberships, private healthcare and on-site benefits like free food and drink. Also, don’t forget statutory benefits offered in any full-time role: 28 days of paid leave per year, as well as employer contributions to your workplace pension scheme.
From Christmas parties, work nights out and employee bonding activities, through to just being in an office with other people, working for an organisation can be a lot of fun — although there’s no guarantee you’ll get on with the people you’re working with!
Busy Week? You're Paid The Same
The regular income might be a benefit of full-time employment, but the downside is that you’ll be earning the same no matter how busy you are. That might suit you during a quiet week, but if you’re frequently feeling overworked it’s frustrating to never see the fruits of that extra labour.
Covid-19 has shown all of us the benefit of flexibility at work, but full-time roles, even when they’re remote, will probably still be relatively structured. After all, you need to be available when your clients and your colleagues are working. Marketing execs, account managers and web developers can’t be expected to wait a day for the assets they need because you want to work during the evening instead of 9-to-5.
Opportunity for New Experiences Could Be Limited
This depends a lot on whether you’re working with an agency or in-house for a single organisation.
If it’s the latter, your day-to-day work is going to be limited by brand guidelines and the industry. You’re not going to be faced with lots of different design challenges.
Even at an agency with lots of different clients you’re going to be restricted to their technology stack.
If you’re a recent graduate or still at the early stages of your career we’d recommend building up your experience and professional network before trying to make it on your own. However, if you’re still living at home or can afford to take the risk, it’s an option worth considering. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of going freelance.
Set Your Own Schedule
You’re still going to have deadlines as a freelance designer, but you’ll be able to set your own schedule for meeting them. Need to take a day off midweek? You can choose to make it up at the weekend or over a couple of evenings. Not a morning person? Choose to start every day at 10am and work a bit later into the evening.
As a freelancer you’re in complete control of how and when you work.
Work with the clients you want
When you first get started as a freelancer you’ll probably want to work with as many clients as you can, but once you’re established you can choose which projects you take on. You can choose work based on what you enjoy doing, industries you’re interested in or turn down clients based on your values.
Much higher potential earnings
Because you’ll be earning for every hour you work, your earnings potential is much higher than in a full-time role.
For example, a salary of £40,000 works out as around £20/hour. However, that’s a pretty low hourly rate for a freelance graphic designer. If you put yourself forward at £40/hour you could work just half the time to earn the same money.
More creative freedom
It’s possible you’ll be hired to work alongside a team, in which case you’ll be working to a brief as usual, but if you’re working directly with a client you’ll have much more creative freedom to interpret what they need and how best to achieve it. This includes using the software you’re most familiar with and stylistic techniques you think would work best.
No guaranteed income
We mentioned the higher earnings potential for a freelance graphic designer, but it can sometimes be a feast-or-famine situation.
One month you might earn £4,000, but just £1,000 the next. It’s important to strictly budget yourself in the good months to ensure you can weather the bad. It’s also worth having two or three months’ worth of money saved up to give yourself a buffer.
Your time off is unpaid
When you’re a freelancer you can take time off whenever you want (deadlines permitting), but you won’t be paid for it. If you’re not working you’re not earning, so longer holidays are harder when you’re working for yourself. That said, make sure you do take time off, and don’t be tempted to work every hour of the day just because it’ll earn you extra money. Your work will ultimately suffer which will earn you time off in the wrong way — you’ll lose clients.
You are responsible for your own financial and legal admin
In a full-time role your salary is deposited into your bank every month without you having to do anything. As a freelance graphic designer not only do you have to do your own invoicing, you also have to think about setting money aside for taxes, tracking your business expenses, buying public liability insurance and chasing non-paying customers. In the event of a dispute with a client, you might even have to initiate legal action.
Working alone can be isolating
As a freelancer you’re going to lose the social aspect that comes with working full-time. This can be quite isolating, but if you find yourself needing some human interaction, look at co-working spaces, or just find a local cafe where you can work from — but try to not spend half your day’s earnings on chai lattés.
Choosing between full-time employment and working for yourself needs to be carefully thought through, particularly as the latter can be a bit of a risk. However, if you’re able to make it work, the rewards of a successful freelance career are huge.