13 books every freelance designer should read

Ashley Gainer's Layout avatar

Are you freelancing?

No matter where you are in the process, whether you’re thinking about starting a side hustle or you’ve been freelancing for a handful of years, you need to be reading…and not just design books.

Building a successful freelance business requires a specific mindset, one that encompasses not only the things a designer needs to know, but also the things that marketers and even copywriters need to know.

With all of that said, here are some of my very favorite books for freelancers of any kind, but especially web designers:

1. Steal Like an Artist


You know this book, right? You probably love it, too. But if you aren’t familiar yet with Austin Kleon’s creative must-have little book on creativity, get yourself a copy and see why it’s so widely loved.

2. The Power of Habit


When it comes to running your own business, you need to rely on the systems and routines you put in place. Not having these systems — and relying on something squishy and unreliable like “motivation” or “inspiration” instead — will spell disaster for you in the long run, if not immediately. This book goes into why habits are so powerful and gives you ideas about how to put habit to work for you in your business.

3. The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed


Confession: I’d never heard of this book until I found it at my library. It’s not the newest or flashiest personal finance book, but it’s written for freelancers and people with irregular income, and for that reason, I love it. If you aren’t 100% thrilled and confident in your current money set-up in your personal AND business finances, pick up a copy of this book and get yourself on track sooner rather than later.

4. How to Win Friends and Influence People


Yes, this book is on every list. Yes, you do need to read it, especially. Yes, it really is that significant. You’ll pick up lessons that you’ll use constantly in your business, from marketing and positioning to how you interact with clients and colleagues. If you’ve been putting this one off, stop.

5. Secrets of Closing the Sale


In this book, Zig Ziglar shows you (a hundred times) how to close the sale. If you get nervous about that part of the discussion with your clients, read through this guide. You might still be a little bit nervous, but you’ll come away with a lot more ideas about what to expect and what you can say. (Pro tip: as a freelancer, you are always selling, even if you don’t realize it.)

6. Burn Your Portfolio


Here’s a book that’s geared toward web designers, but it’s great for any creative freelancer. Read this book from cover to cover to pick up invaluable wisdom about developing your work processes, building relationships, working with clients, and just about every other aspect of running your business.

7. Thinking, Fast and Slow


In this book, author Daniel Kahneman spells out the two types of thinking and how each one is useful. You’ll come away with a deeper understanding of the roles of analysis and intuition, both of which come into play regularly when you’re freelancing.

8. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less


If you read nothing else on this list, read Essentialism. It will change the way you think about your to-do list and all of those things that everyone is telling you “have to be doing” if you’re going to succeed in your own business. It’s an absolute must-read for any business owner, or anyone who ever feels bogged down by to-dos and expectations and “shoulds.”

Bonus: If you’re looking for something along the same lines but with specific work applications, take a look at Rework.

9. Permission Marketing


No list of books for freelancers would be complete without something by Seth Godin, and this is the one I’ve picked. If you’re a freelancer, a huge portion of the marketing you’ll be doing will be permission-based, so you need to have a good understanding of it. It’s an oldie but a goodie.

10. No BS Time Management for Entrepreneurs


There are a lot of great time management books out there. This one is my favorite because Dan Kennedy absolutely could not care less what you think of his methods… and his methods absolutely work. While you probably aren’t going to shut down your email and only be accessible once a day via fax machine, a lot of the mindset (and many of the other techniques and approaches) will create a big shift in the way you value and assign your time.

Want even more great content to add to your reading list? Check out these free ebooks that’ll help you boost your design business!

11. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion


Influence is one of the great classics. When you’re doing any kind of marketing — which you, by nature, are doing as a web designer — you need to have an understanding of the principles of influence and persuasion. Cialdini is the go-to expert on persuasion, and if you can master this material, you’ll become an excellent designer.

12. Jab Jab Jab Right Hook


If social media is a part of your marketing plan, learn how to stand out. Gary Vaynerchuk is an expert in standing out, and an expert in social media. This book distills much of his wisdom and expertise into a format you can digest and put into action.

13. Book Yourself Solid


I can’t speak highly enough of Michael Port’s fantastic book on defining your market and getting clients. You need to read this book if you’re freelancing, period. You especially need to read it if you don’t have enough clients or aren’t crazy about the ones you do have.

Bonus book: Check out Draplin Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything, the book in the feature image! That gorgeous title is a collection of work, inspiration, life lessons, and so much more from graphic designer Aaron James Draplin. It’s definitely something everything designer can relate to, and learn from.

What other favorites are sitting in your library? Let us know in the comments!

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