How to Become a Freelance CAD Designer & Drafter

How to become a freelance CAD designer and drafter

For some people, a steady 9:00 to 5:00 job is a comfort. There’s always a steady paycheck, a set number of hours, and a predictable schedule they can follow. For others, striking out on their own brings a new set of joys. The ability to choose when you work, how much work you do, and how much you charge can be a genuinely tempting reason to leave behind a 40-hour office life.

If you’re interested in freelance work, becoming a freelance CAD designer is a great way to do that. CAD design is a growing field where there is substantial demand for talented people who can do the work. If you’re hoping to work from home and start your own business as a CAD designer, this article will take you through everything you need to know to be successful.

What does a freelance CAD designer do?

CAD, or Computer Aided Design, is the use of software to help you create needed designs, such as a floor plan for a residential building, a 3D concept drawing for a new product, or a drawing to show new buildings in an environmental impact report.

CAD design is essential for many businesses and hiring freelance CAD designers to help with projects is relatively commonplace. It’s also one of the highest paying forms of freelance work out there, making it a highly desirable choice if you haven’t picked a profession yet.

If you’re interested in studying to become a CAD designer, it’s worthwhile to do a little research to explore the industry as a whole. While CAD design is grouped in many ways, you may need specific certification depending on what field you want to find work in. It’s useful to get as many different types of certifications as possible so that you can find jobs in as many different fields as possible.

Skills needed to become a CAD design expert

The skills required to become a CAD designer can vary depending on which industry you want to work in. While it’s possible to gain the skills you need through an apprenticeship program, by far the easiest method is to get your education through a local college. You might start with a two-year program in drafting, and then get certification for the specific area of CAD design that interests you.

An associate’s degree in drafting, as well as certification, will get you in the door, but there is also a variety of other skills needed to be a successful CAD designer.

A good understanding of math
If you don’t love numbers, this job isn’t for you. Nearly every aspect of the design process involves math. You’ll need to measure angles, get precise distances, and help create accurate 2D and 3D drafts. If you love math and enjoy applying it as part of your daily work, becoming a freelance CAD designer may be a great career choice for you.

☑ Flexibility in software
As a freelancer, you’ll be working with a variety of different companies. However, these companies may not have the same software available as you are used to. If you only know how to use one CAD software package, then you may find it difficult to complete an assignment if you’re not familiar with the program they prefer to use.

☑ The ability to work independently
If the company chooses to have you work remotely you may never even see their offices. If you need a manager breathing down your neck to perform, you may struggle as a freelancer.

The ability to work independently is a critical part of any freelance job. Being self-motivated makes a difference in your performance. The last thing you want is to delay getting started on a task until just a few days before it needs to be completed, and then have to explain why it’s late. Without the ability to get projects completed without someone to motivate you, you’ll find freelance work very hard.

☑ Have a creative side
CAD is all about creating designs for new objects. Whether it’s a floor plan or a new product, it takes a flair for creativity and the ability to visualize new things to excel. If you’re not a very creative person, this job may not be the best for you.

Websites to find freelance CAD projects

Getting the certification and skills you need isn’t the only step in becoming a successful freelance CAD designer. You also need to know where to offer your skills. Luckily, there are a variety of websites available that allow you to provide your services or to find people who are hiring. Great places to look for jobs include:

  • CadCrowd.com is the largest freelance CAD community and focuses on connecting buyers with CAD designers/freelance engineers. The goal of our service is to help clients hire vetted CAD designers for confidential work on demand. The platform qualifies talent with design contests, rather than relying on paper credentials. The most talented designers (i.e., individuals that win contests) receive a majority of the private project offers. Also, designers can upload 3D design portfolios and create a designer profile to receive 1-to-1 project offers.
  • PeoplePerHour.com is a general marketplace that helps freelancers and businesses to get in contact with each other. The site offers CAD services, in addition to different freelance categories like writing, programming, and graphic design.
  • Guru.com is a similar concept and allows the business to compare quotes from freelancers for any job. It enables freelancers to interact more directly with the companies looking to hire them.
  • Craigslist.org is a more general website for finding what you need, but it’s worth looking through the job listings to see if anyone is hiring for CAD designers.
  • Freelancer.com is one of the larger sites for freelance work and often focuses on promoting itself as a place where clients can hire independent contractors to save money. One of the main complaints with the platform is that domestic bidders usually bid against CAD designers based on $3.00/hr locations (i.e., India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.), which lower client rate expectations.
  • Upwork.com is a place where businesses and individuals can post any job listing for domestic and foreign freelancers. If you are a good match for a business, your profile will be sent to companies for consideration on hourly work. Alternatively, you can also bid on the project listings on the site. Freelancers often run into the same issue with wage pressure that is experienced on Freelancer and hourly rates from designers in developing nations will often come in below $5/hr. Upwork formed after the merger of Elance and oDesk in 2016.
  • Fiverr.com is a place where you can get any freelance service at a flat rate. The site famously (or infamously) started as a place where you can get anything done for $5.00. The downside of the site is that no communication is allowed outside the platform, which makes complex projects very difficult to complete.
  • Other resources: Some other services that may be worth considering for freelance CAD work include LinkedIn Profinder and Thumbtack. These services ask freelancers to purchase bids to get access to local freelance projects.

You can also join forums for CAD designers. Many of them have boards set aside for job listings, so you’ll have the chance to peruse a new section of available jobs.

Building your website

As beneficial as these other websites can be for finding work, a site all your own can help you find jobs without having to pay for the privilege. While some websites are free, others will take a percentage of the money you charge or ask for money in other ways. They are businesses also, after all.

Not only does a well-developed website give you a steady flow of jobs without having to pay a commission for it, it also gives you a place to showcase your previously completed work so that you can show interested clients your abilities.

A website helps give you an air of professionalism, which a borrowed site can’t do. If you are serious about freelancing at all, a website for your work is a must.

Common mistakes made by freelance CAD designers

Going out on your own as a freelancer is liberating, but it does come with its share of problems. However, most of these problems can be avoided with just a little common sense. Here are a few common issues to look out for.

✘ Blowing off deadlines
While you may be focused on creating the most spectacular design the company has ever seen, the team working with you probably won’t see it in a favorable light if it’s three weeks late. All deadlines given to you should be taken seriously, and if you do have to miss the deadline, you shouldn’t treat it lightly. Explain to the team what happened and why the project may be late. Be humble if the problem is your fault.

Deadlines are there for a reason, and the company who hired you is counting on your project delivery on time.

✘ Not charging enough for your billable hours
This is a mistake that freelancers are generally guilty of no matter what field they work in. If you are new to the field or perhaps don’t feel confident in your skills, it’s tempting to charge an extremely low rate in the hopes a company will pick you and not quibble over any flaws you think you have.

Unfortunately, charging too low can cause a lot of issues too. You’ll likely feel the need to rush through the job, to complete enough jobs to pay the bills. You might also be treated as less valuable by a company, who views your cheap wages as a sign that you really aren’t as high quality as other freelancers.

Even if you charge just enough to have a comfortable living, remember that you don’t have a steady employer to fall back on. No one will be paying you when work is slow, and if you are sick or want to spend Christmas with your family, you will need to take that into account as well.

✘ Taking on too much work
Sure, you might have twice the amount of potential money sitting in front of you if you take on two jobs at once, but you won’t get the money from either if you fail to complete them. Taking on too much work leaves you distracted, exhausted, and unable to meet deadlines. Customers who are pleased with your work and find you comfortable to work with will order from you again. Not so if they saw your work slip because you were racing through it to get to the next job.

✘ Not setting boundaries
This point may not seem as important as the others, but without boundaries, you will quickly burn out. There is nothing worse than being harassed all weekend by clients because you didn’t specify the weekends were off limits. You might find yourself patiently making changes for a client once for free, but what if they continue to change their mind after you’ve already completed something to their specifications?

Make up your own terms and conditions and spell out how you expect to be treated. Otherwise, you’ll quickly burn out and find yourself running for that 9:00 to 5:00 job again.

Increase your chance of success

One of the scariest parts about being a freelancer is not knowing whether or not you’ll even get your first customer. Until you have a steady stream of projects and are at the point where you can pick and choose customers, you may find going out on your own stressful without knowing whether you’ll make money. Unfortunately, the only way to know is to try, but there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of success.

☑ Make yourself as attractive to customers as possible
Proving you are a good candidate for a client can be a little difficult without references or quotes from happy customers to help encourage new people to give you a try. Even a great sample project or a shiny certificate isn’t always enough.

You can make yourself more desirable by getting as many different certificates as you can, so clients can see that you have a diverse range of abilities. A well trained, but new, CAD designer is worth taking a chance on, whereas a new designer with unknown skills might not be worth the risk.

Even though we just talked about not charging enough, you may want to start with competitive pricing, at least until you get your first few clients. Lower rates may tempt someone to give you a try, and if you wow them with your skills they may become the reference you need to get more lucrative jobs.

☑ Adopt a winning attitude
All the certification in the world won’t do you any good if you are hard to work with. A great attitude and a professional outlook will help those who work with you to see you in a positive light, even if you’ve made a few mistakes.

If you’ve ever worked with a positive professional, you probably know how much more you enjoyed working with them than a grumpy or reluctant person. If you’re worried about getting a great review, focus on your attitude first.

Pros and cons of freelance work

Freelancing isn’t for everybody. There are ups and downs to every choice and choosing to strike out on your own is no different. If you still want to be a CAD designer but aren’t sure if you want to strike out on your own, here are the pros and cons of working freelance.

Pros of being a freelance CAD designer

☑ Your hours are flexible
You can decide for the most part when you work. You can choose to take breaks between projects, to only be available on certain days, or that you are unavailable after 3 PM so you can pick up the kids at school. You can spell out in your terms and conditions when you will be working in an office building, or you can choose those times when you are freelancing. Either way, there is more flexibility in when and where you have to work.

☑ You decide your pay
When you put up your rates, you decide how much they are. Every client who agrees to use your service is agreeing to that price. If you have always felt underpaid by your job, this can be a liberating experience.

☑ You decide who you work with
Most of us have that one coworker we can’t stand to be around. At the very least if you end up working with a client who is unbearable, you can finish the project and never accept more work from them again. This possibility is a big relief if you’ve ever suffered from workplace bullying.

Cons of being a freelance CAD Designer

✘ Goodbye, steady paycheck
Unfortunately, the big trade-off for being able to pick your own hours and clients is that there is no guarantee that you’ll get either. Not knowing whether you’ll be able to pay the bills next week can be a harrowing part of freelancing, until you start getting steady work.

✘  Goodbye, healthcare and paid vacations
As a freelancer, you, unfortunately, won’t get healthcare benefits through your work. You’ll need to include the cost of healthcare, sick days, and vacations, if you want them, into your rates.

✘  Hello, taxes
Without a business withholding taxes for you, you will have to file/remit them on your own. This detail can be confusing and stressful if you don’t know what you are doing. Be prepared to hire an accountant if necessary so you can keep your payments to the government straight.

Becoming a freelance CAD designer is a fun and rewarding career. You can expect to make a decent living, with average wages running about $50,000 a year, and you can do so with the flexibility not found in many other careers. It’s a chance to use your creative side, while still enjoying a detail and math-oriented career.

Don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you. If you’re tired of living the 9:00 to 5:00 grind and are ready to embrace a new lifestyle working for yourself, this choice could be a great career path for you.

Cad Crowd Can Help with Your Freelancing Projects

As a freelance CAD designer, you may sometimes need help with some aspects of your freelancing business. Our professionals can help. They can help you turn your CAD designs into photorealistic images or animations with 3D rendering services, or help develop stunning packaging for a product design you’re working on with packaging design services.

If you’re looking for patent services to protect your intellectual property, that too is something that Cad Crowd can help with. Learn how it works.