Starting a graphic design business can be an exhilarating and exciting adventure whether you’re hoping to work for yourself full-time or just make a little extra money from an on-the-side design business.
First, we will learn about what is Graphic Design and what do Graphic Designers do, rather than directly jumping on to starting a graphic design business.
What is Graphic Design?
Graphic design is a craft where professionals create visual content to communicate messages. By applying visual hierarchy and page layout techniques, designers use typography and pictures to meet users’ specific needs and focus on the logic of displaying elements in interactive designs, to optimize the user experience.
What does a Graphic Designer do?
Graphic designers combine art and technology to communicate ideas through images and the layout of web screens and printed pages. They may use a variety of design elements to achieve artistic or decorative effects.
Their work typically involves the following:
- Meet with clients or the art director to determine the scope of a project
- Advise clients on strategies to reach a particular audience
- Determine the message the design should portray
- Create images that identify a product or convey a message
- Develop graphics and visual or audio images for product illustrations, logos, and websites
- Create designs either by hand or by using computer software packages
- Select colours, images, text style, and layout
- Present the design to clients or the art director
- Incorporate changes recommended by the clients into the final design
- Review designs for errors before printing or publishing them
Graphic designers must keep up with new and updated computer graphics and design software, either on their own or through formal software training programs. They must be able to create designs that are artistically interesting and appealing to clients and consumers. They produce rough illustrations of design ideas, either by hand sketching or by using a computer program.
Types of Graphic Design Services
Because the field is so broad, graphic designers might choose to specialize in one particular service or skill to start. When starting a business, this can help you establish a solid niche right away. As a result, it may help you find better or higher-paying clients who are seeking specific skills.
In general, the list below covers some of the most recognizable types of graphic design services available in the industry:
- Branding: Graphic design for brands and brand development (e.g., logo design, color schemes, etc.)
- Print design: Layout and print design (relevant for magazines, newspapers, and other physical or printed publications)
- Advertisements: Marketing and advertising-related graphic design services
- Packaging: Graphics for physical packaging and product labels
- Motion Graphics: For videos, animations, etc.
- Website Graphics: Images and designs for web and mobile development
So if you’re ready to learn how to start a graphic design business that allows you to do work you love while bringing in a nice paycheck, then let’s get started!
The list below includes 10 helpful and practical steps for finding clients and making your graphic design business dreams a reality.
- Find your first graphic design clients
What about your design portfolio!? What about your business name? What about a business license?
Yes, that’s all important.
Starting a graphic design business can be overwhelming if you begin with all the bogged-down business tasks.
Instead, we’re going to start your design business on the right foot by getting your first few design clients in the door.
Once you’ve got a few people who are actually willing to pay you for your work, you won’t believe the excitement, energy, and passion you find within yourself.
And from there, you’ll be able to tackle all the other tasks.
Therefore, your goal #1 should be: find graphic design clients.
When starting a design business, take any reasonable graphic design job for any reasonable price. You never know where those early jobs may lead.
At a minimum, they’ll give you confidence, experience, and portfolio pieces. At most, they could turn into life-long lucrative business relationships or worthwhile conduits to other clients.
- Take Stock of Your Skills and Resources
Although this is not always a bad thing, graphic designers who come from established career backgrounds frequently have a wealth of resources, tools, and other advantages at their disposal.
When you leave a professional job, you may discover that you no longer have access to certain tools.
This includes the fundamentals, such as a laptop, design software, and service subscriptions.
Take stock of what you have in your home and office, as well as what you might need to purchase as a business investment. Among these resources could be:
- A capable laptop with the right of amount of memory and processing
- An external hard drive for storing and backing up files
- Design software such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop or InDesign (some of the most popular options, although certainly not an exclusive list)
- A working printer to handle physical products, blueprints or printed files
- Marketing materials and other office supplies
Additionally, you should also evaluate what skills (both personal and professional) you have at your disposal. If you’ve got a solid working knowledge of how to market your new design business, that may help save money and time at first. However, don’t be afraid to invest in the intangible resources and skills you need to help your business truly take off.
- Conduct Competitive Research
It should come as no surprise that graphic design is a highly competitive field. There are many talented designers in the field, as well as well-established and capable firms that work with large clients on a regular basis.
It is critical not to become disheartened when you begin to realise or discover the abundance of graphic design service providers available.
As a new business owner, you will begin to carve out your own industry niche and serve clients and customers who are a perfect fit for your skills and expertise. That is why it is critical to know what your goals are when you first start in the design business, as well as what resources are available to you.
When you begin conducting competitive research in the graphic design industry, seek answers to the following questions:
- Do your competitors charge by the hour or by the project?
- What is the going rate for graphic design projects in your area?
- What do the most prosperous graphic design firms have in common?
- What are the needs or pain points that these companies assist their clients in resolving?
- What distinguishes your company from the competition?
- Assemble a List of Graphic Design Clients
If you’ve previously worked as a freelancer, you’re likely to have a steady stream of recurring clients or referrals. When you transition to a full-time graphic design business structure, make sure to communicate with your clients about the changes they can expect.
It’s also a good idea to compile a list of contacts or potential clients and update them on your new venture. You can connect with clients through professional networks and platforms such as LinkedIn, or you can spread the word about your new business website.
Keep in mind that if you previously worked for another company, bringing these clients over to your new business is never a good or ethical idea. There may even be a non-compete clause in your previous contract that forbids you from contacting a previous client legally.
- Establish a Budget and Secure Funding for Your Graphic Design Business
To get your new graphic design business off the ground, you may need to look into business loans or make a personal investment. If you don’t have the individual cash assets to invest, you’ll need to look for funding elsewhere.
Assign a specific dollar amount or budget to each item required to get your business off to a good start. The following expenses may be incurred when starting a graphic design business:
- New hardware or computer programs
- Leasing fees for office space
- Money to pay assistants or employees
- Costs associated with marketing (e.g., developing a marketing plan, logo design and building a company website) or administration
- Additional education, training and coursework
As you plan a longer-term budget, consider incoming revenue from projects and clients. How much can you eliminate expenses while getting started to secure a more stable financial future? These questions are critical, and any potential investors or loan officers will likely want to know the answers.
- Get Your Legal Documents in Order
The legal structure of your newly established graphic design business is just as important as your business plan.
Conduct extensive research to determine whether you want to be a:
- Sole proprietorship,
- general partnership, or limited partnership
- Limited liability company (LLC)
The legal structure of your business influences everything from how you pay state and federal taxes, to how you work with employees, and also which business expenses are tax-deductible. If you’re unsure how to plan this step, you need to connect with an accountant who specializes in helping small business owners make the right decision prior to their launch.
You should also be prepared to file the necessary legal paperwork with your locality in order to conduct business legally and responsibly.
- Set Rates and a Feasible Pricing Structure
One of the first questions new customers might ask is how much you charge for specific services. As a formal business, always be prepared to provide a standard answer based on a pre-defined pricing structure. Customers will expect to be treated fairly and to have transparency when it comes to how much they owe.
Helpful tools such as invoice templates and professional accounting software can make your job much easier when it’s time to accurately report on your income and outgoing expenses. If the financial side of things isn’t your strong suit, connect with a business advisor or conduct competitive research for industry standards.
- Create a Practical Workspace or Office
If you’re used to working from home as a freelance graphic designer, you may already have a workspace that suits your needs.
When you start a real business, you’ll need to think through more details to ensure high productivity and a smooth flow of work. As an example:
- Do you require additional space to accommodate new employees?
- How much is it?
- Will you be storing equipment or other project-related supplies?
- Is the working environment free of distractions and noise?
- Do you require a private meeting room to meet with clients one-on-one?
Although some of these questions may not apply when you first start your graphic design business, be sure to factor in business growth as you plan for how to use your space into the future.
- Network for Potential Business Opportunities
Once you’ve officially launched your graphic design firm, it’s time to spread the word and begin networking.
Although it may require you to step outside of your comfort zone, spreading the word about your company is a primary responsibility in the early stages.
If your neighbourhood or community has any professional associations, now is a good time to join them. Branch out and share a link to your new website or portfolio if you have connections in the local business community.
If you choose to work with personal connections (such as friends or family members), make sure they have a good understanding of your boundaries and business requirements. Even though it’s nice to lend a helping hand, it’s never a good idea to continually work for free.
- Market Your Graphic Design Business
Most business experts will tell you that instant success is rarely guaranteed. New business owners should think about how they will market their services and products.
In graphic design, you can frequently use previous projects to demonstrate your talent and customer service skills.
Whether you keep marketing in-house or hire an outside consultant, take the time to ensure that all marketing materials (including your company website) communicate your brand’s mission and purpose. Because graphic design is a highly visual field, marketing materials should be cohesive and quickly communicate your company’s look, feel, and style.
As your business expands, consider how to reach new audiences with tools like a user-friendly website, social media platforms, email marketing systems and printed materials.
Common Graphic Design Mistakes To Avoid
Whether you’re a brand new designer looking to jump into your first order or you’re an old hand who’s looking for a refresher, these common graphic design mistakes can ambush any designer and potentially cause a lot of harm.
So, take a look through these critical mistakes you need to keep an eye out for. As long as you stay vigilant and double check everything, none of these problems should bother you.
Not Understanding Instructions
As in all things, communication between the designer and the client is critical. While it’s the prerogative of the client to provide clear and informative instructions, it’s the responsibility of the designer to ensure they understand those instructions, even if that requires additional queries sent to the client.
Creative Bloq highly suggests going over the client directives multiple times while taking notes and brainstorming. Whenever something confusing crops up in the directives, it’s critical that you get in contact with the client right away in order to clear things up.
Staying In The Box
While thinking out-of-the-box may be clichéd advice, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. A major graphic design mistake in logo design and other designs is staying in the well-traveled ruts and sticking to what is known.
Graphic design is a creative process, and as such, you need to be creative in order to truly be successful. Go for the crazy and weird, try things out, experiment and play around. Not everything will be a success, but nothing will be if you don’t try.
Too Many Fonts
Playing with fonts may be fun, but if someone is trying to read through something that changes font type ten times in a paragraph, it’ll get tiring and annoying quickly. Planet of the Web suggests using no more than three fonts in any single layout.
It would be better to stick to just one, or maybe two fonts. A single font adds continuity, which is good. You should keep the number of fonts lower in business card design also where space is already tight.
Just because you can add something to your design doesn’t mean you should. Simplicity has plenty of perks on its own. So, be careful about going crazy with the Photoshop filters. Over-designing isn’t a major mistake, but it can cause some serious problems.
The more stuff in your design, the harder a viewer needs to think to extract the info. As Rasmussen College discusses, a design needs to breathe and flourish on its own. Having blank space isn’t necessarily bad, and in many cases, it’s better than filling every square inch of blank space with something.
If your brochure design is crowded with too many images, fonts, and colors, try to keep them to the bare minimum. That will help customers focus on the key business features that you want to highlight.
Overpromise And Under-Deliver
Out of all the mistakes covered so far, this is by far one of the most severe and potentially damaging. As the Go Layer Cake site states, when it comes to graphic design, you’ll rarely, if ever, find a job that is “quick.”
So when discussing deadlines and expectations with your client, you’ll want to make sure you don’t promise them something amazing, and then fail to meet that promise. It’s better to finish a project ahead of a long deadline than late on a short deadline.
For your design needs, you can always hire a freelance graphic designer with a good track record so that you don’t need to face any delays in your project.
Instead, take your time. It is better to tell your client that you may take a lot of time in creating design work. Do not make loud promises that raise their expectations to a very high level.
This way, you will be putting yourself under pressure in scheduling the work and quality of the design. For example, a website design takes many more days than work on a graphic design item like a logo.
Kerning Your Fonts
If you’ve never heard of kerning before, don’t worry, it’s very simple. According to We Design Studios, kerning is the process in typography where the space between letters is adjusted, either manually or automatically.
Kerning is important because in some situations, adjusting the space between letters can make the wording more legible and pleasing to the eye. However, misusing kerning or not paying close attention to it can cause some major problems, from misinterpretations to destroying a design’s cohesiveness.
Use Of Stock Images
Ah, stock images. While it’s not wrong to use stock images, it’s best to go easy on them. Using too many stock photos makes a project look cheap and, in some cases, unprofessional. Plus, there are plenty of stock images out there that people will instantly recognize since they’ve seen them all over.
Now, think of a packaging design having a stock image. Will the consumer buy that product? Probably not, since they get the message that the quality of the product may be inferior as is the design.
Check For Spelling
Yes, you are a graphic designer and not a writer, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to pass on proper spelling. While you may feel that running a quick spell check after finishing your project is all you’ll need, there are plenty of graphic design mistakes that spell check systems can miss.
So follow Creative Pro’s advice, pay close attention to the details and comb over your project before sending things to print.
For example, if you are distributing leaflets as part of your ad campaign, and if the leaflet design has many spelling mistakes in the text, it will backfire. The customers will not take those mistakes kindly. They may simply ignore your business as such silly spelling mistakes convey unprofessionalism.
Along with spelling problems, you want to make sure your project has proper grammar. While a misused comma or other punctuation marks may not seem like a major problem, there are plenty of people out there that will see a small slip like that and disregard the entire rest of the project.
Designing For Yourself
Finally, it is always absolutely imperative that you stay cognizant of the fact that you’re designing a project for a client. Whether you’re a freelancer or working with a site like Designhill, it’s incredibly important that you stick to the client instructions and don’t make changes because you think it looks better.
It would be better if you send your graphic design work to Designhill, which is a leading marketplace. At this crowdsourcing site, you get your logo, website, brochure, business cards etc. designs at affordable prices. You get dozens of new design ideas from as many graphic designers. But if you do not like the designs, the site will refund your money under its 100% Money Back Guarantee policy.