If you’re just starting out as a freelance UX designer, you may wonder what kinds of freelance UX jobs are out there. Here’s a list of strategies and tactics that have worked for me and some of my colleagues over the last 10 years. I hope it helps you find your next freelance UX gig. Good luck and happy fishing!
First, be honest about your experience level. If you’re a recent UX bootcamp grad and/or changing careers, freelancing may be an ok short term solution to help you build up your portfolio, but it’s probably best to get a full-time job as soon as possible.
Stability is important when you’re just starting out, and new freelancers often experience an up-and-down income roller coaster that is very different from working a full-time job.
If, on the other hand, you’re a mid-level or senior UX designer and ok with variable income, freelancing is a great option. I love it since it gives me a wide variety of projects and a flexible schedule.
What Kinds Of Companies Need UX Freelancers?
At the time of this writing, it seems like everyone needs an app or a website. And because there aren’t enough people with the required skills to do the job, there’s more demand than ever. I’ve worked on everything from day-long sketching workshops to chat bots, live events and even year-long engagements for large corporate websites.
While it may not last forever, right now there are loads of opportunities at large corporations, venture-funded startups, and digital agencies. The trick is finding them and getting accurate information on available projects.
Before you start looking, first take some time to think through what you enjoy working on the most. For example, do you like to work on responsive web designs or iPhone apps? Do you want to focus more on conversational apps or perhaps the Internet of Things?
Exploring what lights you up professionally will help you filter through all the noise. That way you can conduct a more targeted search that results in more interesting opportunities.
Where To Find Freelance Opportunities
Your Professional Network
Start with people you know. Don’t blast out a boilerplate email to your entire contact list. Instead, start by reaching out to just 10 people on LinkedIn or Facebook you know well. They can be friends or former colleagues. The most important thing is that they know you personally.
Send them a quick email to let them know what you’re up to and ask if they know anyone who might be interested. Your friends care about you and will be happy to help. This is my #1 tactic and hasn’t let me down yet.
LinkedIn / Facebook Groups and Forums
Forums are a tried and true networking tactic. I included LinkedIn and Facebook under the “forum” umbrella since they are rapidly replacing the old website forum model where like-minded people gather online.
The key with this method is to be genuinely helpful with anything you post and not spread yourself too thin across multiple groups. You want to be able to participate fully in the community.
Get to know other members by being interested, interesting, and thoroughly answering questions to the best of your ability. I’m only participating in 3 groups right now, and that’s plenty.
Local meetups can be an excellent way to find work, but this is definitely the most time intensive. It’s also not a great solution if you prefer to work remotely. I don’t personally use this method but I do have colleagues that swear by it to get ongoing job leads.
If you haven’t already, a simple search on Meetup.com for UX in your area should turn up some nearby groups. If there are no local UX focused meetups, try local business groups or agency meetups.
Staffing firms are an excellent way to find freelance work, especially if you are just starting out. These companies service larger organizations that do not have in-house UX resources.
Most contracts are 6-12 months in duration. This is also a great tactic if you eventually want to get a full-time position, since it’s a relatively low-risk way to test out a company and for them to test you.
Staffing firms act as middlemen. They conduct the talent search, place resources, and in the U.S. typically pay weekly on a W-2 basis. While the upside is getting a steady gig and a regular paycheck, the downside is you usually have to accept a lower rate and do not get retirement or medical benefits.
Here are several well-known staffing firms:
Job Boards can be a tough nut to crack, but there are ways to get noticed since good UX talent is hard to find. For example, instead of applying for an advertised full-time UX position, offer your services as a freelancer to the help HR reps in the short-term and potentially open a long-term door.
Here’s a list of job boards to check out:
- Craigslist (web/info design jobs)
- UX Jobs Board
Digital agencies are always looking for reliable freelancers. Keep a list of all the digital agencies in your area and keep in touch with them quarterly.
While they may not have immediate opportunities, if they know about you and your mad skills ahead of time you’ll have a good chance of getting the call when the big contract comes in.
Direct To Client
This one is the hardest, but pays the best and offers the most flexibility. When you start working directly with clients, you become a real business owner. Unlike working with a staffing firm or agency, you have to find the opportunities, sell, fulfill and bill the projects yourself.
This is my favorite method by far. But there is a lot more overhead than what you may be used to, since you need to put your sales hat on and do a lot more administrative work.
Developing an ongoing sales pipeline is important so you can forecast when and if you will be able to land future gigs. You also need “approved vendor” status for most large companies, which can take a while to set up.
My most recent direct client work resulted from initially going in through a staffing firm. After the project was completed, the client requested a buyout of my contract so I could work with them directly going forward. This is a very delicate process, since you need to make sure both the staffing firm and your new client are satisfied with the outcome.
Once you have a few clients under your belt you will start gaining momentum in your business, which means you won’t have to spend as much time looking for work. The good news is you only need a few steady clients to make a great living.
Do your best to deliver high quality, develop long term client relationships and get repeat business. That’s the key to thriving vs. surviving as an independent consultant.
What About You?
Have you started looking for freelance UX jobs yet? How’s it going? What strategies and tactics are you using? Are they working for you? If not, maybe we should talk. Schedule a free 15-minute UX coaching call now.