Pros and cons of freelance, part time, contract, and full time graphic design work | Ballast Notes

Welcome to Ballast Notes, a new venture from Anchored Creative Studio! Ballast Notes are different resources for nonprofits and small businesses looking to DIY their brand, new graphic designers looking to learn more about freelance skills, and more. 

This is part three of a series on how to learn graphic design skills on your own time. To read about my start as a professional designer and tips on how to start your career, check out part one; to read about some of my favorite graphic design resources, check out part two

Happy Thanksgiving week to all of my American friends! It's been a big year of opportunity for me, and I have a lot to be thankful for this year. Between Thanksgiving and Christmastime every year, I take time look over my work from the year prior and set goals for my year ahead. If you're plotting a career move, this is a great time to reflect over your goals and see what types of positions might fit best with your wants and needs in a job or jobs. 

To close out my three-part series on becoming a graphic designer and my personal journey, I'm going to discuss some of the different graphic design positions you'll find and the pros and cons of each. One of the awesome things about design is that there are a lot of flexible, temporary, and part-time positions for a ton of flexibility. Of course, those same positions can have lots of negatives, too. These are some of the pieces of information I wish someone had told me before I started.


Almost all graphic designers will freelance at one point or another. Whether it's something they do on a full-time basis, to get them by between other jobs, or in their off-hours, graphic design is arguably the most popular field for freelancers. In this type of position, you are paid for the work you create on a per project, hourly, daily, or retainer basis. 

Although there are full-time and/or in-house freelance positions, the majority of freelance jobs are remote and part-time/per-project. There's also "permalance," where you are a long-term freelancer for a company but not a staff member. The huge perks to freelancing is the flexible schedule and the ability to work as little or as much as you'd like. 

With freelance jobs, the largest con is irregular work. For the most part, clients are under no obligation to provide you with regular work, and much of your time communicating with and searching for clients is not billable time. From my personal experience, I love freelancing because of its flexibility, but I would recommend easing into it before going full-time so that you can take time to figure out a realistic billing structure and client funnel process. 


Although you should have a contract with any freelance position you take on, "contract" positions are design jobs that are for a set amount of time, as defined in the contract you sign. This can range from small jobs during a one-month contract, or up to a several year time commitment. 

This biggest perk to this type of job is listed right in its name: because you have a contract, you know exactly what the scope of work is and how much you'll be paid. Outside of that scope of work, you will be able to negotiate new terms, which allows you to avoid any nebulous job descriptions and getting saddled with responsibilities you didn't sign up for. 

But regardless of how long your contract is for, the time commitment is the most difficult thing about these positions. If you end up really liking the work you do, you'll be dependent on the organization offering you another contract to continue working there. On the flip side, if you don't like the work, you're obligated to stay at the position for as long as your contract states. As you're looking for positions to fill your schedule after the contract job is up, it can also leave gaps in your schedule before another position starts - which you will need to account for when deciding your rates. 


Part-time design positions are usually less common than the other types of jobs listed here, but have a lot of positives if you can find them. Unlike freelance or contract positions, these are permanent jobs that make you a staff member at a company or agency (unlike permalance positions, where you're still considered a freelancer).

Although you will likely not be eligible for benefits like vacation time and medical insurance, you might receive other office perks like design supply write-offs and in-office computers. Part-time positions also come with the perk of working with a team, and having steady work and guaranteed income, but being able to work on other projects during your other available hours.

The negatives to this type of position is the possibility of various workplace issues, as well as managers or coworkers mismanaging your time, with the work that needs to be done not fitting into your scheduled time at the job. It's important to clearly define the times you will be available at a part-time job, as well as what an overtime structure looks like. 


Just like any other full-time job, being a full-time graphic designer at one company has a ton of perks: salaried pay, benefits like medical insurance, holidays and vacation time, the possibility of expensing things like conferences, art supplies, your Adobe CC membership, and more. There's also the benefit of steady employment, the ability to work on one brand (working in-house) or a variety of brands (working with an agency), to have regular coworkers and an office presence, and set work hours.

The main negatives to having a full-time position as a designer are usually the same as other full-time jobs: the possibility of management issues, a lack of creativity or flexibility, and being pigeonholed into working on monotonous projects.  


And that's it! What types of graphic design positions have you worked in the past? Which were your favorites?