7 tips to start out as a freelance CAD designer

7 tips to start out as a freelance CAD designer

How would you spend your days as a freelance CAD designer? 

If you worked from home, you could say goodbye to the daily commute. It would be up to you which projects you work on, and you could turn down work that just doesn't interest you. As your own boss, you would decide what hours to work and when to go on vacation.

If that’s not appealing enough, consider the pay package - freelance CAD designers earn, on average, $2500 more per year than their colleagues in regular 9-5 jobs - and the best paid earn a whopping $10k more.

If you think it’s the right thing for you, here are our tips for starting out as a freelancer CAD designer.

1: Define your unique selling point (USP)

If you want to make a success of your new venture, you need to define your USP. What is it about your service that is different to all the other thousands of freelance CAD designers, agencies and in-house staff?

Perhaps you have a unique area of expertise - or maybe it's the kind of service you can offer, with super-flexible availability. Spend some time figuring out what makes your proposition different - this will make it easier to corner your market and build a successful business.

Pro Tip: reach out to potential clients (e.g. via LinkedIn) and ask them about how they view freelance CAD designers. Chances are, you will find your niche and potential clients.

2: Create a business plan

A business plan is a short document that describes how you expect your business to work. It will evolve over time, but to start with it doesn't need to be more than a couple of pages showing:

  • A summary of what your business is
  • Analysis of the market and your competitors
  • Financials (what you need to earn, and how much you will charge for different services)
  • Marketing strategy
  • Expected costs

Creating a business plan helps you see if your business idea is really viable - and it has been shown to improve the chances of success.

Pro Tip-1: Keep the business plan simple and concise. Keep coming back to it every month and revise it based on what you have learned.

Pro Tip-2: A great alternative to a business plan is a Business Model Canvas. Here’s a great free Udacity course that explains how to start a business using the Business Model Canvas.

3: Portfolio and website

Your prospective customers will want evidence of your skills and experience. It's therefore a smart idea to put together a portfolio that you can send out to new leads.

Pro Tip: It's worth investing in a website which explains who you are and what you do - it doesn't have to be special, but shows you are a legitimate outfit.Use a blogging platform such as Wordpress and a low-cost, high-quality website template for this

4: Finding your first customers

When you were an employee, your only real responsibility was to do design work. However, now you are freelance, you are the CEO, the marketing manager, the head of sales and operations director all in one! So, you will have to spend a significant amount of your time developing new leads and winning work. Fortunately, there are a number of websites where you can start, including:

Pro Tip: While these kinds of websites are good for building your portfolio, they normally take a hefty cut of your fee. As you get more experience, you might find it more valuable to get to work through your own website, social media (LinkedIn is especially useful) and through your personal network and agencies.

5: Tax and administration

It’s not all fun and games! Besides being in charge of business development, you're also going to run your own finance department, dealing with tax and business admin. Become familiar with the specific tax regulations in your country, and make sure you set aside a proportion of everything you earn for the tax man. It’s also important to consider business and personal insurance and to set aside cash reserves in case you have a couple of dry months.

Pro Tip: Many freelance CAD designers find it easier to use an accountant or sign up to online accounting platforms.

6: Plan the operations side of being a freelance CAD designer

Now you are freelance, no one is going to supply you with a desk, office space or a computer. So, make sure you have planned for:

  • A workspace – either at home or in a shared office
  • Suitable seating and a desk – stay safe and healthy!

Pro Tip: Become part of a community of like-minded souls where you can share experience and learn from others

Pro Tip 2: Here's a selection of the best apps and tools for freelancers to be more organised and productive in their work.   

You can read it here - https://www.smallrevolution.com/best-apps-freelancers/

7: Try it before you take the plunge

Before you quit your day job, try to do some moonlighting first with one or two clients on a platform such as the CAD Crowd. This will give you a real feel of what it takes to be successful in Freelancing.

Pro Tip: With a trial CAD license and a virtual CAD computer that you can rent per month you will have the right tools for your first gigs. Once you go full pro, you can then invest in the expensive CAD license.  


Starting out as a freelance CAD designer is it very exciting and opens up a world of opportunities. And, with a little bit of planning, you can make your new venture a real success. Good luck!