If you have been considering starting your own graphic design business, this article is for you. You already know you have the creative skills and talent to offer great graphic design services to clients, but you might be concerned about what it takes to start a business on your own.
Whether you are thinking of opening up your own graphic design shop as a full-time business or hope to do some part-time freelance work, you will need to:
- Establish your credibility as a graphic design professional
- Make a business plan for your graphic design enterprise
- Legally form and market your graphic design business
- Run the day-to-day accounting activities required to manage and grow your small business
Establishing Your Credibility in Graphic Design
To succeed as a graphic designer, you need to demonstrate an understanding of design theory, possess certain commercial art skills, and follow widely accepted industry standards. You do not need formal education as a graphic designer, although a bachelor's degree in this field can show a certain level of mastery in graphic design.
Whether you pursue a degree in graphic design or go the self-education route, you will need to demonstrate that you have mastered certain types of design work to run a successful graphic design business, including:
- Graphic design theory, including typography, color theory, and grid systems
- Website design best practices
- User experience (UX) best practices
- Design apps, such as Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, and Spark
- Website and UX apps like Adobe Dreamweaver, InCopy, and XD
- Photography and video apps like Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, and Premiere Pro
You are also going to need certain soft skills to succeed as a designer. You need to know how to:
- Communicate. Graphic designers must listen to their clients' wishes and points of view without blindly following their instructions. You are being hired to create something beautiful and functional for your client and it's important to know how to please them without running afoul of sound design elements.
- Manage your time. You will find that it is hard to turn down opportunities when you are in business for yourself, even when your plate is full. Time management is crucial to running a successful business; you will have to juggle many different jobs and may also find yourself turning work down from time to time.
- Take criticism. It is often easy to fall in love with your own work. Don't let that happen. It is your job to examine your designs in light of your audience's perceptions. Graphic design professionals must constantly rely on their analytical skills and take constructive criticism from others to make their work better.
Making a Graphic Design Business Plan
The first step in planning your own graphic design business is creating a business plan. You will need to think about:
- The type of graphic design services you want to provide
- How you will go about finding clients
- What you will charge and what your startup costs will be
Graphic Design Services
There are many types of graphic design services in which you can specialize - from branding to print advertising to sophisticated high-tech user interface designs. It might help to break the graphic design industry down into four basic types:
- Brand identity, including logo design and typography
- Print and layout design for magazines, books, newspapers, brochures, posters, etc.
- Packaging design for products and shipping
- Web design and mobile app design, including UX design, user interface (UI) design, and information architecture (IA)
While you can offer one or all of these services to clients, some graphic designers choose to specialize so that they can build a strong portfolio around one or two of these categories.
There are many ways to go about building a new client base. You might want to consider these strategies as you develop your marketing plan and seek out potential clients:
- Create a website for your graphic design business. Creating your own website is an opportunity to make your graphic design skills shine. It is also a great vehicle to demonstrate your understanding of UX, UI, and IA best practices. Along with a robust About Me page that explains your graphic design background and experience, be sure to create a comprehensive portfolio that shows off your best work. Include a Contact Me page and testimonials from clients, as well as links to your social media accounts.
- Leverage social media platforms. Use your Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social media accounts to let people know that you are starting your own graphic design business and ask your connections for referrals. Show off your work and ask followers to share your page and leave reviews. Word-of-mouth advertising is often the best and fastest way to jump-start a new small business.
- Create print and digital collaterals. Creating print and digital marketing collaterals to show off your branding skills while promoting your business is a win-win. Pull out all the stops and use your design skills to create virtual and printed flyers, brochures, and business cards that showcase your versatility.
- Join job matching and gig websites. All kinds of websites act as lead generation services and/or provide freelance graphic designer opportunities. For example:
- Upwork's platform works two ways: You can sign up, create a profile, and then search for gig opportunities, or you can apply to join their talent network and let clients find you.
- Freelancer lets you connect with job posters looking for talent for one or a series of projects.
- Fiverr is a gig site where you list your services and talent-seekers find and hire you. You decide how much you will be paid.
- 99designs accepts applications from talented graphic design professionals who, if accepted, are placed into one of three design levels by the site's curation team. You can move up the scale for better-paying jobs as you prove your designer mettle.
- Toptal is a place where UX, UI, visual, and interaction designers are matched with companies seeking short- or long-term contractors. They claim to only onboard 3% of the freelance applicants.
Fees and Startup Cost Considerations
Determining what your pricing should be is probably going to take some trial and error. Graphic designers charge hourly rates that range anywhere from $15 to $150 depending on experience and the nature of the design assignment. Some freelancing graphic designers prefer to charge by the project. If you are not sure what to charge, spend some time on online gig boards to get a feel for the rates that local businesses like yours are commanding.
Your startup costs are also going to vary depending on the type of work you will be doing. Some essential tools for your graphic design business might include:
- A suitable computer
- A high-resolution monitor
- A quality wide-format printer
- A studio camera
- Adobe Creative Suite software
- A high-end smartphone
You are also going to need a desk, a comfortable chair, and a place to work (many graphic designers work out of their homes). If you rent office space, you will need to take into account the cost of rent and utilities.
Establishing and Running Your Graphic Design Business
You are going to need to establish a legal framework for your graphic design firm. You are also going to need to create a system for running the day-to-day operations of your new business.
Establishing the Right Legal Framework for Your Graphic Design Business
Generally speaking, there are four types of legal structures you can use for your business:
- Sole proprietorship
- Limited liability company (LLC)
Choosing the right business for your purposes will depend on several factors, including how much personal liability exposure you don't mind being subjected to, the tax consequences of your choice, and the expense of keeping necessary documents properly filed with your state.
When you operate as a sole proprietor, you are taxed at your individual rate but do not have any protection against personal liability. As a corporation, you'll enjoy a higher degree of protection from personal liability but will pay more in taxes. An LLC is a comfortable middle ground for many small business owners, as it affords some protection from personal liability while keeping taxes at your personal rate.
As a graphic designer who will be working independently and will have little exposure to personal liability, you will probably do well as a sole proprietorship. If you decide to form a corporation or an LLC, you will need to file the necessary paperwork in the state where your business will be based.
Permits, Licenses, and Tax ID Numbers
If you are operating a graphic design business out of your home, you probably do not need a business license (although you should check with your state and local government authorities to be certain). You will also need to determine whether you are required to obtain a federal tax ID or an employer identification number (EIN).
Even if you are not required to have an EIN, there are reasons to obtain one for your small business. Having an EIN allows you to open a business bank account. Delineating your business account from your personal account can be advantageous from both a bookkeeping standpoint and a potential liability standpoint.
Maintaining a Successful Business
To run a successful business, you will need to develop a system to keep track of business-related paperwork so that you can bill for your services and collect payments. You will need to account for the tools, equipment, furniture, and office supplies you buy for your business, as well as expenses related to your office space (whether it's at home or a leased space outside of the home).
Putting all of this together can take time away from your creative work. Fortunately, ready-to-use business software - like Skynova's graphic design quote, graphic design invoice, and receipt templates - are available to help small businesses like yours seamlessly manage their business affairs.
You can easily track all of your expenses and income with Skynova's accounting software, specifically designed for creatives like you who may have little or no training in running a small business.
Spend More Time Creating With Skynova
You decided to develop a career in graphic design because you are creative and love helping your clients grow and prosper. The last thing on your mind when you decided to form your business was how to keep up with the bookkeeping and business tracking that come with being your own boss.
That is where Skynova saves the day. Our online software options and business templates give you the freedom to do what you love while still making sure you accomplish what you have to for the success of your business.