Learn fluent English
This is essential, 99.9% of my clients speak english, they are generally from United States, England or Australia. You will also get to Germany and France.
Create a Paypal account
I would never start designing without some payment in advance, so we need a quick payment method, otherwise you can loose clients that need something quick, the majority.
Paypal is indispensable if you don’t want people to cheat you; you can receive instant payments through email, besides it’s free and easy to use. If your client doesn’t have an account, it’s easy to register and pay with a credit card, fees aren’t high and transfers to your bank take about 3-4 days; if you use a personal account you save all the fees but you have limits at the time of using the money, it’s better to use a business or premier account. This way, when you ask for the payment in advance there wont be any excuses. The problem with Paypal is that it’s not available in every country, specially South american ones.
You can also use Epassporte, it’s similar but less people use it and it’s worst for Europe (it costs 50US$ to transfer your payments to your bank).
Another alternative is Western Union; the client deposits to your name and gives you a code, after that you can request your money in any Western Union office. This system is pretty fast, but it can take a couple of days.
The rest of the alternatives (check, money order, bank transfer…) are a lot slower, so we will have the same time problem.
Create a 5 stars portfolio
If you don’t have any samples of your job, you can’t show how good you are.
Nobody will pay you a fortune without a good portfolio, try to pick works where you can show off; your priority now shouldn’t be the money, but building a quality portfolio. If you work hard, in a couple of years you will have a great portfolio and you will be able to choose more profitable clients… if what you need is quick money, i’m sorry pal, you are in the wrong business.
I started charging 15US$ per design, now i don’t charge less than 250US$ per logo or mascot design.
At first you must be very versatile, the more things you know how to do, you will have better a chance to get clients: logo design, web design, graphic design, comics, illustrations… anything. Besides, if you offer all this, more than one client that came for a logo will also order a website.
Create a Website
It’s useless to have a great portfolio if nobody can see it… if you are not in the Internet you don’t exist.
You have to design a website, it doesn’t have to be anything very advanced at first, a site in html with a gallery of your work and your email is enough. While you grow you should make it better.
Register a domain name
Now we need a domain name (for example: http://www.sosfactory.com); do not register it through hosting companies, many of them offer it free but sometimes that’s a cheat because they don’t give you a total freedom to use it, specially if you want to change to a different hosting company.
It’s better to spend from 8 to 20US$ and register it yourself with godaddy or eurodns or any other that you know that let’s you manage it completely. It’s also important to register a .com, because they are better valued.
Of course you have to think of a good name, now it’s a good time for it… don’t choose long names or difficult to write, or that sound bad in english.
Hire hosting services
Hosting is the space where you host your website to let everybody visit it.
I have all my sites hosted in Downtownhost, they are a young business, not overcrowded and with an excellent technical service, now that you are staring if there is anything you need, is help with your doubts and problems… forget about unlimited bandwidth or terabytes of hard drive.
I have been with very bad hosting companies and overcrowded that give you a free domain but they hide in clauses that nobody knows where they are (not even their own employees); this way they don’t let you go when you discover the horrible service they offer.
Well, after you have everything we said above, only the more difficult part is left :), promotion.
It’s better if a lot of people see your website, you never know who can visit it, prote yourself in art communities, forums, blogs… my biggest client until now, Funrise Toy Corp, came through an art community named Deviantart… so go there.
As you can see, the more visits, the better, but it’s also important that your traffic is directed to possible clients. Go to designers forums, blogs and art communitties where you can offer your work.
It’s good to learn something about Search engine optimization (google, yahoo, msn…). It basically consists in getting quality links to your website, this way you will gain relevance for certain search terms and your site will appear in the first Google results.