English is not my First Language... Can I Still be a Successful Graphic Design Freelancer?

English is not my first language can I still be a sucessful graphic designer.JPG

The short answer is yes. The long answer is, it’s complicated. You, as a freelancer working for international clients, must learn English and you have to do everything in your power to communicate well with your clients. English became a universal language for freelancers and it is important to master it if you want positive results.

I am not sure if you already know, but English is not my first language and I struggled to learn it. I speak Romanian, Spanish , a little bit of French and English.

When I first moved to Canada I was afraid to even order food. I have always been self conscious about my accent and grammar. I still am but I came to peace with accent and I am continuously improving my English.

When I first moved to Canada, I was not allowed to work so I studied and read a lot. Eventually I was getting more comfortable having a conversation and ordering food.

When I started freelancing I had a hard time figuring out the jargon of my industry and I got frustrated many times.

Here are a few situations where the language I spoke affected me and how I tried to fix it.

It made me look unprofessional

In graphic design there are many industry specific terms that every designer should know. I knew what to call the tools in Romanian but I had no idea how to name them in English.

Trying to explain my design choices was difficult and often clients thought I had no idea what I was doing when I really did, I just didn’t know how to explain it well enough.

Trying to translate something from Romanian to English can be a total disaster because often the communication can come across as aggressive, ignorant or too direct.

Making grammar mistakes or misspelling words didn’t help at all…

All these little things made me look unprofessional.

THIS IS HOW I TRIED TO FIX IT:

To improve all these little problems, I started reading English books and using Grammarly. Reading helps me improve my vocabulary and my overall cultural knowledge. Grammarly helps me catch any grammar mistakes and misspellings, especially when I communicate with my clients.

it LOWERED MY PRICE

Because I was not able to speak fluent English my price has always have been lower than other freelancers. I understand that many projects need someone who speaks the language but design is a universal visual language and it shouldn’t be too much of a problem…

On the other hand, I realize how important is to efficiently communicate with your clients.

THIS IS HOW I TRIED TO FIX IT:

I matched the fee to the knowledge I had in graphic design. I also made it clear from the beginning that English is not my first language and I will not be responsible for any misspellings or copy inaccuracies.

clients saw me as a second option

I recently had a client who I loved working with and we did a great job together. We finished a difficult project with success. When I first chatted with him, we had a great chemistry and I thought the job was mine, 100%. A week later he didn’t offer me the job so I touched base again to see what was going on. Apparently he interviewed other people as well and I was his second choice. He confessed that I was not his first choice because he was afraid I would not get what he needs because English is not my first language.

So, I asked him what helped him make a decision and he said “you seem very professional and knowledgeable, I really liked your work and you followed up. Plus you have much more patience than the other guy.”

I was so happy to hear that he saw how professional I am and how much I can offer.

THIS IS HOW I TRIED TO FIX IT:

I have written personalized proposals and I tried to stand out from the crowed with a good portfolio that was presented in a professional way. I believe more and more clients on Upwork look strictly at proposal and portfolio and avoid to make decisions based on what nationality or language spoken.

excluded from the list of potential hires

Upwork has a tool that excludes “non-residents” of certain areas or freelancers who are “not native English” speakers. I feel like it is ok for the client to have the right to choose. There’s a downside though. Many English speakers live around the world now so if you choose, for instance “Us Residents” and “English native'“ there is a good chance you just limited your options.

THIS IS HOW I TRIED TO FIX IT:

I simply accepted and respected the fact that the clients have the right to choose and I realized that there is plenty of work for everybody. I proof read my Upwork descriptions and I do my best to write mistake free proposals.

I lost clients

Most clients do not even realize I am not a native English speaker until they hear my accent. It is not a thick accent, but it is an accent. Also, during the interviews I am prone to more grammar mistakes because everything is so fast and I can not proof read it.

THIS IS HOW I TRIED TO FIX IT:

I created an amazing portfolio, a great creative process, I asked many questions and I offered as much help as I could. I am as professional as I can be and I present myself and my work as good as I can. I can not control the rest.

In other words, it is good to learn English if you want to work with clients from US, UK and Canada and you can make it as non-native English speaker graphic design, you just have to work a little bit harder.

You can also be successful as a freelance graphic designer by creating templates, illustrations and graphics for other designers and sell them on stock photo websites such as creativemarket, adobestock, freepik, creativefabrica, etc.

What other struggles did you face as a non-native English speaker freelancer?