The CAD industry is full of job prospects and opportunities for CAD beginners and experts—hundreds of companies and small businesses hire CAD designers, engineers and drafters on a daily basis. But many people nowadays are opting for freelance work instead—you can be your own boss, and set your own rules. But what does freelance CAD actually involve, and how much should you charge your clients? Scan2CAD has all of the answers for you!
Check out our freelance CAD guide covering everything you need to know—from calculating your hourly rate, to increasing your chances of success, to the pros and cons of freelance work.
Table of Contents
- What Does Freelance CAD Involve?
- What Qualifications or Skills Are Needed?
- Common Mistakes Made by Freelancers
- Increase Your Chances of Success
- How Much Should You Charge Clients?
- Pros & Cons
- Where To Find Freelance Jobs
What Does Freelance CAD Involve?
If you’re working as a freelancer in the CAD industry, the odds are that you’re either a freelance CAD designer or a freelance design engineer. A designer will work on creating drawings and models from the specifications of the client, whilst an engineer will be responsible for the concept, the implementation, the cost and the testing.
CAD freelancers are typically hired by engineering or architectural firms, or individual clients, to work on particular projects. These projects may take mere weeks to complete, or they may take months—it’s all circumstantial. You might also be asked to work remotely from home, or to travel to the client’s location. For a better idea of what to expect, here are a few potential tasks in the day-to-day life of a freelance CAD professional:
- Designing or re-designing drawings from client specifications.
- Communicating with the client or project team for task requirements, or approval for design concepts.
- Liaising with teams, e.g. to obtain reference information, or to resolve issues with existing designs.
- Getting designs approved by clients, or creating alternative concepts to meet new requirements.
- Producing CAD drawings for products using industry standards.
What Qualifications or Skills Are Needed?
As with many other jobs or industries, the more qualifications you typically have, the more appealing you will look to potential employers or clients (at least that’s what we were told at school!). CAD is a very competitive industry, so you need to be prepared to do as much as you can to compete with others. Here are a few steps that you could take:
- Complete a 2-year associate’s degree in drafting. This can be undertaken at a technical institute. This will typically give you access to entry-level jobs.
- Continue your education. If you have the time and money, you might benefit from a bachelor’s degree, or even a master’s degree. CAD is a competitive industry, so any advantage might help you in the long run.
- Get a license. The American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) offers certifications which will highlight your competence and knowledge of CAD drafting.
- Complete an internship. Experience is everything, so a relevant internship would definitely be beneficial.
CAD freelancers should seek to improve their skills as much as they can, to stand out to potential clients. You need to put in the time and the effort to really reap the rewards in the future. Here are a few typical skills that you will need with freelance CAD:
- Adaptability with different CAD software. Some companies will work with Autodesk software, others will work with SolidWorks—you should try to be as versatile as possible. (NB. If you are a SolidWorks user, be sure to check out our guide to SolidWorks Careers.)
- Familiarity with both 2D and 3D design.
- Ability to work remotely. You won’t have a boss breathing down your neck or motivating you to complete your work—you’re on your own, so you have to make sure you’re comfortable with that.
- Speed. Deadlines are set in stone—so if you miss them, the odds are that the client won’t return to you for later work. You need to make the best impression possible, and good timekeeping is essential. (That said, no one likes a rushed job, either—you shouldn’t be sacrificing quality for speed!)
Common Mistakes Made By Freelancers
Navigating the world of freelance work can be difficult—there aren’t really any rules or official guidelines for it. So, more often than not, freelancers will find themselves tripping up over small (or large) mistakes. If you want to be really successful as a CAD freelancer, you need to learn from your mistakes—check out a few of the most common ones below.
Charging clients too little
You don’t have the benefits of full-time employment anymore, so you need to take into consideration holidays, sick days and extra expenses. You (quite literally) cannot afford to charge too little for your work.
Taking on too many clients
With the lack of security in freelance work, it’s easy to feel pressured into taking on too many clients. But that doesn’t mean you should—it can lead to low-quality work and missed deadlines. The important thing is to build up a solid client base.
Taking deadlines as guidelines
Especially when starting out, you can’t afford to miss deadlines, even if it’s just by an hour or a day. Your client is depending on you to get the job done in the chosen time frame—if you miss it, you look unprofessional, and the client will likely never return.
Not maintaining a client base/network
It doesn’t matter if you haven’t worked with a particular client in months—send them an email, and see if they have any work for you. Creating and maintaining strong relationships is a vital aspect to freelancing.
Not creating terms and conditions
Your client will have terms and conditions, and so should you—whether it’s your payment preference, or your conditions regarding out-of-hours phone calls. This will prevent any issues along the way should your client prove to be difficult.
Increase Your Chances of Success
In addition to avoiding the above mistakes, there are steps you can take to increase your likelihood of success. You have to remember that you need to put in hard work and effort to succeed in any job—especially in freelance work.
- Offer minimum-fee projects. If you’re only just starting out, you should offer clients cheap projects. This will help you build up a base of clients. Once you’ve got a few prospects, you can start charging a typical hourly rate.
- Create your own website or blog. This is the perfect way to advertise your work or portfolio. It gives potential clients an idea of what you’re capable of.
- Advertise your work and projects on social media. It’s a great way to self-endorse and reach out to potential clients.
- Try to build up your skills in CAD. Whether it’s learning how to use new CAD software, or obtaining a new CAD license, this will give you the option to broaden your skills and diversify your qualifications.
How Much Should You Charge Clients?
There isn’t really a standard figure for freelance work, as how much you charge depends on many factors. You have to take into consideration your level of experience and your skill set—you can’t expect clients to pay a high rate if you’re inexperienced with a small set of skills. Some locations have clients that are willing to pay higher hourly rates, and if a project is going to take a long amount of time, your rate will likely decrease. And if your competitors are charging a lot less than you, you might have to lower your prices to keep up.
Additionally, it’s worth remembering that freelance work isn’t constant—you have to charge more than you might have made at a company simply because you’re not working all the time and you have to pay for your own expenses.
How To Calculate Your Hourly Rate
1. Choose your salary.
Typical CAD jobs like CAD drafters will average $45,000-$50,000—in this example, we’ll use the higher end of this range, $50,000.
2. Calculate your expenses.
Now you’re self-employed, you have to take care of extra expenses. Let’s assume you’re working from home so you don’t have to cover the cost of an office. You still need to take into consideration the cost of:
- Your internet connection
- A phone
- A new laptop every 2 years (as recommended)
- CAD software like Autodesk or SolidWorks
- Other computer software
- Promotion/marketing costs, e.g. business cards and ads
- Self-employment tax
- Healthcare costs
These expenses could add up to anywhere between $10,000 a year to $25,000. Let’s make it $15,000 in this example.
3. Calculate your annual salary.
Your target salary is $50,000 and your expenses are $15,000—simply add these together to get an annual target income of $65,000.
4. Determine your billable hours.
This is the amount of hours you’ll be billing clients for in a year. Assuming you’re taking say, 3 weeks of vacation, 7 US holidays and 5 sick days (216 hours), you’re left with 1,864 hours in a year. However, as a new freelancer you’ll be spending half of your time searching for new clients—so, your actual billable hours may end up being closer to half of this overall number of hours—giving you 932 billable hours. This will increase as you build up your client base and no longer have to spend time looking for work.
5. Make your final calculations.
Firstly divide your annual salary of $65,000 by your number of billable hours which is 932. This will then leave you with $69.74—we’ll round this up to an even $70. And there you have your hourly rate. Obviously, this will vary depending on your individual expenses and so forth.
So how much should you actually charge?
Hourly rates are used by many freelancers, but that doesn’t mean it’s your only option. Some freelancers also charge clients per project.
Let’s imagine this scenario:
You’ve been asked to create designs from a client’s specifications. It only takes you 4 hours to complete—if we use your hourly rate, that’s $280. But when you think about it, your drawing is worth far more than that—in fact, other CAD freelancers might have charged twice that amount. So essentially, you’ve been undercharged for your high-quality work, because you happen to be fast at what you do.
These types of situations push many freelancers to charge by project rather than by hour. Clients care about the value of the work and the end product. There isn’t really a formula for calculating the cost of a project—it’s all about how much you think it’s worth (within reason of course). For more information, check out how to price yourself as a freelancer.
If you’re only just starting out with CAD freelancing, you might be best charging by the hour to start with. Once you’ve built up a client base, you’ll have steady work coming in. Then, you’ll be able to figure out how you handle heavy workloads, and how quickly you complete tasks.
Pros & Cons of Freelance CAD
Thinking of taking a career in freelance CAD? Check out the pros and cons below to see if it really is the best fit for you…
Freedom of job choice. You get to pick and choose which clients you want to work for—everything is up to you.
Chance to build up a network. Freelancing gives you the opportunity to work with a lot of different people, which can build up your overall network.
Possibility of higher pay. If you build up a big enough client base and you’ve accumulated enough experience, you could be making more money than you would in a company job.
More job opportunities. You’ll have a more diverse range of jobs and projects to work on—some clients might even rehire you if you’ve made a big enough impression.
Lack of stability and no consistent paycheck. Job opportunities aren’t a certainty—so you might find yourself short on work some months, which is troubling if you have no savings.
Menial jobs. Some clients will want you to do basic jobs that are more in the field of broad IT than CAD—and without a consistent paycheck, you’ll probably have to accept the job.
No employment benefits. You won’t have a company paying for your holidays or healthcare—which is a lot to fork out for.
Obviously, the pros and cons will differ depending on how long you’ve worked in the CAD industry, and what qualifications you have. Undoubtedly, you’ll experience more of the cons when you start out, while the pros will most likely increase once you’ve found your footing in freelance work.
Where To Find Freelance Jobs
If you’re interested in becoming a CAD freelancer, you might be wondering where you can find work. As a starting point, here’s a list of sites that are catered to freelance work:
All you need to do is sign up to these sites and create a profile. Once you have, you can start applying for freelance work that people have posted.
Alternatively, you could check out this list of more generic job sites—you just need to choose your keywords, e.g. ‘CAD’ and ‘Freelance’, and start searching!
Just make sure that you research carefully into prospective clients and projects—you don’t want to rush into something, only to find that you’re not capable of following through. As always, research is key—there are opportunities out there, you just need to be patient.
As you can see, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration before making the big jump to freelance work. You need to take into consideration the sheer cost involved. There’s the issue of freelance work being unstable—particularly when you first start out and don’t have a client base to rely on. There’s also the issue of trying to calculate an hourly rate that will both sustain you, and appeal to your potential clients.
While these issues can be rather daunting, it’s clear that freelance work can be very rewarding if you put in the effort. You can be your own boss, set your own deadlines and choose your own projects. You have the possibility of higher pay, and you can work as flexibly as you wish.
As with most things in life, you have to weigh up every factor individually—research is key. You can’t make a commitment to freelance work on a whim. But if you have the drive and the patience, you could find a lucrative future as a CAD freelancer.
If you’re interested in more information surrounding CAD careers, check out AutoCAD Careers – Everything You Need To Know.