Leah Sylvia Creative

How I Started Freelance Work

How I started freelance work - and how you can too!

The world of freelancing is amazing isn't it? With the click of a few buttons and some keyboard bashing, we're connected, creating magic and telling stories through meaningful branding & design.

But this world isn't something I ever looked into until I was living in Europe, needed money to fund further travels and an opportunity came up to brand a family business. “Woah” I remember thinking… “I just did a full brand & website from my living room in the French Alps, for my dad and brother, living back home in New Zealand!

Boom, an idea was born, just like that!

Let me walk you through the exact steps I took to blast off into this wonderful world. And remember…it didn’t happen quickly, not at all, but the steps below got me going, got my work out there and if you follow along blow, will help you too.


Step 01: Gather your best portfolio pieces

These could come from old university projects (most of mine initially were), personal projects, or pieces of work from any past job as a designer. Where ever they’re coming from, think of a way to showcase these in the most effective way. For me, I used (and still use) a mix between product mockups and layouts of logos/brand marks on coloured backgrounds. In my opinion, mockups are suuuuuch a great way to show off and showcase your work, allowing your people & dream clients to see your work in “real-life” circumstances.

Favourite website to buy product mockups? ——> MOYO STUDIO

Hint: tailor your portfolio pieces towards your dream client 😍

So what does this mean? Gather your best work that speaks directly to them! For me, this was (and still is) boutique style, feminine branding, because this is the work I dream of doing! Sure, I still included a variety of work in the early stages to show off my skills, but mostly these portfolio pieces were targeted towards my dream people. And guys guess what?! The beauty of putting together your best portfolio pieces is that, if you don’t have enough, MAKE UP YOUR OWN! Write your dream brief, create it, then use it in your portfolio! Personal projects are a fab way to draw in those dream proposals.

Step 02: Decide on your portfolio platform

Amazingly, there are now so many platforms out there to host your portfolio. And no, you don’t just have to choose one!

When I first started, Leah Sylvia Creative didn’t have the budget for a website platform of it’s own. Instead I utilised the travel blog my partner and I were growing, and placed my Graphic Design services on this. Why I didn’t start Instagram back then too? Well, I don’t know, so word of advice, start this too!


  • Squarespace - my business website and portfolio is now on Squarespace (an all-in-one solution for anyone looking to create a beautiful website, without the knowledge of coding - YES THIS WAS KEY FOR ME) I upgraded to Squarespace in 2018 when my business grew and I felt it was the right time to give LSC an online home of it’s own.
  • Instagram - I’m only as of 2020, hanging out on here also, but the gram is a perfect place to show off your portfolio.
  • Behance - Part of the Adobe Cloud Software that us creatives are very knowledgeable with, Behance is a platform that allows people with design careers to showcase their visual work. When I graduated YOOBEE, the Design School I studied at, Behance is where my online portfolio lived.
  • Adobe Portfolio - Allows creatives to build a one page website showcasing their work.
  • WIX - Similar to Squarespace, WIX is a drag and drop website builder that many of my design friends use and love.

Step 03: Build your portfolio

So once I’d decided on my portfolio platform, the building of it all began. Now whatever you choose, remember that it’s going to take some time to master the platform, understand how it works, how to upload your portfolio pieces, add captions and write about yourself as a designer + your experience etc.

Here’s what step 03 looked like for Leah Sylvia Creative back in 2016: I made a looooong skinny graphic on Indesign (see the original portfolio graphic HERE), with a grid like layout, full of different portfolio images (sort of like an instagram feed). I added this to FREE AND ADDICTED - the travel blog my partner and I were already writing and boom, I was set up. It wasn’t perfect. As you can see, it wasn’t overly pretty, it was cluttered, there were no write ups on any of the projects, about their concepts or how they came to be, but it was enough…PROGRESS > PERFECTION

Step 04: Promote and believe in yourself!

Once you’ve built your portfolio - it’s time to get it the hell out there!!! Promote it EVERYWHERE and don’t be afraid to show the world your work. You’ve studied and worked hard to be the creative you are right?! RIGHT?! So be proud of your work and back yourself. In NZ we’re generally afraid to speak up about our achievements in fear of tall poppy syndrome. Well…I say screw that! Use social media, friends, family and every tool available to leverage exposure to help your business grow. Your hard work and dreams deserve to be heard!

Step 05: Book your first client

So I was out there doing it in the big wide world. I’d done my first freelance project for my dad and brother’s biz and just knew, if I could successfully pull it off once, then surely I could do it again and again. But I remember the doubts creeping in… “Where on earth do I find and book clients?!” So I’ll let you in on a little secret, here’s a few places that helped me in those early days:
(I’ll write a more in-depth guide to this in the future as well team):  

  • Friends and family 🤗 Tell them you’re open for work and ask them to tell their friends! These people are your biggest cheerleaders and will be there to support you and help you along the way so use them!
  • Pump it on your social accounts 🤙🏼 GET YOUR WORK SEEN. I wish I’d started instagram earlier but when I was starting out, Pinterest and Facebook were my go to and I would post all the time.
  • Freelance sites ⚡️ Early on, I got a few jobs off Upwork and We Work Remotely. These helped give me experience in the freelancing world by working to a tight deadline and being on my own, even if the money wasn’t great, the experience was definitely helpful.
  • Facebook groups ❣️ These helped me majorly in the early days…MAJORLY! The key to facebook groups is finding the right ones where your ideal client is hanging out, thens start showing up and engaging there.

Advice and words of wisdom:

  • Just start! Things don’t have to be perfect to be out there. My business and portfolio is a constant work in progress. PROGRESS > PERFECTION
  • You can start freelancing as a side gig while you’re still working your 9-5. This is a great way to build your empire slowly but surely.
  • Network, network, network. Work with other creatives, ask for advice, and develop contacts across other creative industries. I have go to people I work with all the time - a website programmer, an illustrator, a photographer, a marketing man.
  • Throw your heart and soul into it, how badly do you want to live this freelancer lifestyle? Like any dream or goal in life, you have to want it BAD!
  • Talk to successful freelancers in your industry  or people who inspire you and ask them specific questions about how they get the work they do.
  • Find where dream clients are hanging out then show up there! For me this was one of my biggest lessons of 2020. My dream clients hang on insta, so it was time for me to join!!

Thanks for reading friends,
Leah x

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