How to Start a Graphic Design Business – Seven Tips

If you work for someone else now but you’re thinking about starting your own graphic design business, this is a big step. Most people begin to “freelance” on the side while they’re still in their full-time jobs. This is almost always the best way to see if you can cut ties to your regular job and go full-time as an entrepreneur. As you begin a new life as a full-time graphic design business owner, the transition can be scary, but it’s necessary for your success.

Not everyone has the talent it takes to make it as an entrepreneur. If you’re starting your own business because you think it’s going to be easier and you’re not going to have to be as responsible as with a regular job, you’re wrong. It looks glamorous and easy to be an entrepreneur, but in fact it means long days (and often nights), sometimes doing tasks you’d rather not do.

When you begin your graphic design business, you’ll need to wear every hat necessary to make your business run properly. That means you’ll need to do your own books, bill clients (make sure they pay on time), manage client needs on a day-to-day basis, and a myriad of other tasks that are normally taken care of by “someone else” at your regular job. If your only real drive is to design and you would rather not deal with clients directly, it’s likely that you’re better off working for someone else instead of having your own graphic design business. However, if you’re motivated and driven, and you want to make your business work despite hardships you’ll encounter, you may just have what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Here are seven tips that will make your transition from “in-house designer” to “entrepreneur” a bit easier.

#1 Name Your Business

The name of your business should be something that sounds professional. You want to sound like a large established firm instead of a startup. Even if your “office” is just a cramped corner of your living room, you’ll want to appear as though you’re a larger, more established company. Clients will want to work with an established business. Oftentimes, home-based businesses get stigmatized as “less than professional.”

#2 Make Your Marketing Materials Look Professional

Because you’re a designer, people are going to expect that the first visual impression you’ll leave with them is going to be top notch. Therefore, prospective clients expect that your materials are going to look polished and professional. If they don’t, your success is going to take a big hit. Design professional business cards and make sure you have them professionally printed, not simply spit out of your inkjet printer at home.

#3 Network

These days, there are lots of ways to network. You can join networking organizations in your community, and you can also look for communities online that you can network with as well. Either way, you’ll get to know other people in your industry who may be a great source of contacts as you build your business. Most people, including designers, are not comfortable simply “cold calling.” It’s true of course that cold calling is sometimes necessary. However, you should try to quickly replace it with referral-based calls or word-of-mouth marketing through satisfied customers. Therefore, networking is one of the most important things you can do. Form relationships with people who can help you grow your business, and return the favor in kind.

#4 Set Your Prices Competitively

Do some research in your industry to determine a fair hourly rate. Most designers who are just starting out price themselves way below competition. If you’ve got the talent and the experience, you can set your prices accordingly. You can also do some research on other firms in your market and set prices roughly comparable to others in the area. To give you a good idea, you should be charging between $50 and $100 an hour, depending on where your market is. If you’re charging less than $50 an hour, you’re setting yourself up for failure. $50 an hour seems like a lot of money, true, but that hourly rate is going to have to pay for a lot of things including computer maintenance and upgrades, computer programs, and all other business overhead and expenses. In addition, of course, you want to make a fair profit to pay yourself.

#5 Establish Your Own Website

Prospective clients, and those who refer you, are going to want to see samples of your work. Establishing a website for yourself and then putting your work on it is the easiest way to set up a portfolio. That way, you can simply include a URL on your business cards and any promotional materials. If you’re not versed in web design yourself, make sure you pay for a quality web designer that will make you look professional on the Internet. Once you have a professional website, it’s time to move on to Internet marketing so that you get your name out there in the online community.

#6 Make Sure You Get Paid

Most design companies require that clients put down an initial deposit before they complete any work. It’s a good idea for you to do this yourself. Charge clients 50% up front before you take on a project. This will not only help discourage clients that are not likely to pay, but it will make clients more responsive since they already have something invested into the project.

#7 Get the Business Tools You Need to Succeed

As I’ve stated above there is much more to running a graphic design business than just designing all day long. You’ll need to do things like track your billable, invoice clients, manage projects/clients, find new clients, and much more.


Author: Christopher Loch