The wild success of last year’s best-seller, 50 Shades of Grey, was a shock to many in the writing community. The story began as a work of fiction written by a fan of the Twilight vampire franchise. It began life as a story on a website dedicated to works of fiction by fans. Within months, the story had been read and reviewed by over 20,000 readers. Because of the enormous exposure and popularity of the work, an editor jumped at the chance to publish the re-written, original book by the same author.

What does all this mean to you as a freelance graphic designer? This is a case study in thinking outside the box. This author achieved success by a very unconventional means. She published on a website, rather than self-publishing or turning to e-books, or even following the traditional route of submitting her work to publishers. EL James succeeded by pushing the boundaries of tradition. You can, too.

For graphic designers, crowd-sourcing “contests” are the equivalent of e-books and self publishing for writers. Joining the crowd-sourcing trend is a good way for graphic designers to hone their craft and to get noticed in the very competitive world of freelancing. Crowd-sourcing has a long and benevolent history. Video game beta testing is an early form of crowd-sourcing that gave the industry a taste for large pools of potentially high-quality, cheap feedback, which soon evolved in to large pools of potentially high-quality, cheap labor.

When a crowd offers work, companies can sift through ideas and choose those which seem most effective.

So, what does this mean to you as a freelancer? It means that there are opportunities available to those who wish to participate in crowd-sourcing contests. Whether or not crowd-sourcing is a good choice for freelancers depends on what the freelancer expects to get out of it. If you’re looking for an opportunity to hone your skills and challenge yourself by comparing your capabilities against others in the industry, then entering a crowd-sourcing contest is an excellent opportunity for growth. For professional freelancer graphic designers, crowd-sourcing contests might be an opportunity to land a contract with a big-name company, a foot in the door, so to speak. With an opportunity to put work in front of companies, comes a chance to present work to some of the larger companies in the industry.