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Freelancing as a graphic designer – Here’s how it works

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Graphic design is a popular way to start your own business. If you are also thinking about becoming self-employed as a graphic designer, then you should read on now, because on this page you will find all kinds of helpful information about what you should consider when registering your new freelance business, how much you can earn and what tax obligations you have as a self-employed graphic designer. 

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How do I become a freelance graphic designer?

There are many ways to get a foot in the door as a graphic designer. One option is a apprenticeship, for example as a media designer. In addition, there are now also various courses of study that deal specifically with graphic design.

However, you don’t necessarily have to complete the relevant training to work successfully as a graphic designer. If you are interested in the subject and have a lot of experience in the field, you can also work as a graphic designer without prior vocational training.

There are also numerous online courses and tutorials that can help you hone your graphic design skills. After all, as the saying goes: practice makes perfect.

How much do graphic designers earn?

What you’ll earn as a freelance graphic designer depends on many variables. Of course, the more experience and work samples you can show, the higher your daily or hourly rate can be. However, if you’re still a beginner and haven’t completed that many projects, you’ll likely face a lower hourly rate.

Therefore, before you start your own business, it is best to make a list of the running costs you will have to cover and the operating expenses you will incur as a graphic designer. This overview will then serve as the basis for calculating the minimum hourly wage you need to earn to make your work worthwhile. 

➡️ Thinking about becoming Self-employed? Here is all you need to know before!

Are graphic designers freelancers or tradespeople?

A basic question you need to consider when registering your self-employment is whether you are considered a freelancer with your graphic design business or whether you are running a trade.

This distinction is crucial for your registration process. As a freelancer, it is sufficient to fill out the questionnaire for tax registration, whereas as a trader you must also apply for a trade license and pay trade tax after starting your self-employed business.

In the case of graphic designers, it depends on whether they work in a craft or artistic capacity. If, for example, you design brochures for companies and have virtually no freedom in terms of content design, you are more likely to be considered a trade. However, if you design creative flyers or websites, you are probably more of a freelancer. 

However, the exact decision can be a matter of interpretation and if you are not sure, it is best to contact your tax office directly.

➡️ Freelancer or tradesperson – here’s what you need to know

Can I be a small business owner as a graphic designer?

If you want to keep your accounting costs as low as possible at the beginning of your self-employment, then you have the option of making use of the small business regulation.

As a small business owner, you are exempt from paying VAT and therefore do not have to include it on your invoices – and you do not have to submit regular advance VAT returns. This means that you have less tax work and can concentrate on establishing your self-employment for the time being.

However, as a small business owner, you may not exceed certain income limits, otherwise you will automatically fall back into the standard taxation.

➡️ How & when: Umsatzsteuervoranmeldung for freelancers

Can I join the artists’ social insurance?

When you become self-employed, you also have to take care of your own health insurance. The annoying thing about this is that you suddenly have to pay the employer’s share yourself, which means that higher contributions are waiting for you.

However, the Künstlersozialkasse (KSK), or artists’ social insurance, helps self-employed people in Germany in artistic fields with exactly this problem: If you are accepted as a member, the KSK pays the employer’s contributions for you. 

However, not every self-employed person can become a member of the KSK. Rather, membership is reserved for freelance artists and publicists. However, if your graphic design work falls into the area of freelance professions, you can definitely become a member of the KSK. In fact, in this case, the KSK is even considered mandatory insurance for you.

➡️ More than health insurance for freelancers: Everything you need to know about the KSK (Künstlersozialkasse)

What are my tax obligations?

As a self-employed person, you have a few new tax obligations. In addition to your annual income tax return, you must also submit an official profit calculation, i.e. clearly show the tax office how much you have earned and what expenses you have incurred for your self-employment. This is usually done by means of the income surplus statement, or Einnahmenüberschussrechnung, EÜR in short. 

➡️ How to submit your Einnahmeüberschussrechnung in Germany

➡️ How much money should I set aside for taxes as a self-employed person?

If you are not a small business owner, you must also submit an annual VAT return and regularly report to the tax office in advance VAT returns how much VAT you have collected through your invoices and how much you have spent on business expenses.

➡️ Advance VAT return explained – and made easier!

💡 Tip from Accountable: With our free app you can easily organize your bookkeeping and record all your income and expenses. This way you always have an overview of your income and can easily find out how much your sales and profits were. 

What can I deduct from my taxes?

As a self-employed graphic designer, you will certainly have one or two expenses that you need to make in order to work successfully. For graphic designers, this probably often includes licenses for the use of professional design software, but also typical work equipment such as paper for printing designs or the cost of a work cell phone.

You can deduct these so-called business expenses from your taxes and thus reduce your outstanding tax burden. 

➡️ 7 handy tax deductions for freelancers in Germany

How do I start my own business as a graphic designer?

If you want to get started as a graphic designer now, you just need to officially register as self-employed, because in order to be able to write invoices, you need a tax number for your self-employment.

You will receive this number from the tax office after you have filled out the tax registration questionnaire. With this document, you are informing the authorities that you are going to be self-employed from now on. After receiving your tax number, which can take about two to four weeks depending on the authority, you can then directly start with your new work.

💡 Tip from Accountable: You can easily fill out and submit the questionnaire online on our website. You can use our filling tools and all information will be sent directly to the tax office via a secure interface. So, what are you waiting for? Start your own business now!

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Tino Keller, Managing Director & Founder of Accountable Germany
Tino Keller, Managing Director & Founder of Accountable Germany

Tino already built two companies and therefore knows the challenges freelancers face first hand. With Accountable he wants to solve all those challenges related to taxes.
When not working, Tino enjoys a nice Asado with a glass of Malbec as well as celebrating one of the occasional wins of favourite soccer team 1. FC Köln.

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