Freelance graphic design is my preferred occupation. I am a graphic designer living in Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa and this is a short overview of freelance graphic design. In the field of design freelancing is the predominant trend. Unlike many other fields freelancing is simply the only way to get ahead in the field.
Computer programmers etc. might be able to get very high-paying jobs working for companies, but graphic design is like fine art... The term Fine artist is synonymous with freelance fine artist. It simply is the same thing. I think that all occupations have some high-paying office jobs, but they can be few and far between.
It has been said that a freelance graphic designer can only work for 15 years before retirement. Whether this is true or not, it certainly is true that freelancing in any occupation, including graphic design can be extremely stressful.If a practitioner of freelance graphic design wishes to retire, or even make an amount of reasonable profit, it is advisable to be the boss or the "big dog" so to speak.
In my experience an employer will usually make about 15 to 20 times the hourly rate of the employee. In other words, if you are working for an employer you take 10% to 16% of the money that comes in and the employer takes the rest. Whether they put that in their pockets, or back into company expenses and development is their business though.
This does not mean that your employer is out to get you. Everyone is in business to make money and they take all the financial risk, so they reap the benefits. It would however indicate that freelancing as a graphic designer is the only way to make a decent income unless you are still learning the ropes of the trade.An in-house designer is often about as glorified as a secretary or maybe a middle-management employee and the opportunities of job advancement in the in-house design field are few.
Unlike a secretary who becomes and assistant, then a middle manager and possibly main management, graphic designers usually have no such options. There are a host of sites out there these days that are all dedicated to providing freelance graphic designers and keeping freelance graphic designers posted about freelance graphic design opportunities.
It is a big field and these sites often specialize in certain areas of graphic design. Freelancers and designers can fill in their information and their area of expertise within the graphic design market. There are also many new marketing opportunities for freelance graphic designers. The web is a major now source of freelance work and is the perfect medium for freelance graphic designers to get their work looked at by prospective clients.