How to Start a Solo Graphic Design Business

How to Start a Solo Graphic Design Business

It is truly a joy to start a business. You have a sense of control and a great deal of motivation. The major plus is getting to do something you love every day. It makes working that much easier. This new venture you are about to embark on is not going to be easy.

Get ready to work hard but enjoy every minute of it. Here are some of the things that helped me start my solo business. Now for those looking to build an agency with a staff, you may have to do a little more than whats listed. Either way, start here to get things going. A few tricks I have learned along the way and a few resources I use.

Note: This page contains affiliate links

Learn the Business

Unfortunately, there was not a lot taught and the business of design in school but fortunately, we have the world at our fingertips. If it was not for the internet I would be lost trying to learn about business after graduating college.

Before starting your business, you must know more than design. You now have to learn how to manage clients, write proposals, market, and other business skills. Luckily I found The Futur (formerly known as the Skool). Their content is all about the business of design.

Develop Design Skills

Never stop sharpening your design skills. It is easy to get stagnate after graduating school but you have to set time aside to learn new skills. If your hand letter is not that great, take a hand lettering class.

Get on Skillshare and take one class a month. Before you know it, you will have an entire arsenal of design skills.

Get 2 free months of Premium Skillshare

Build a Portfolio

Every designer needs a portfolio. No getting around that. Potential clients look to see if you can do the work they are seeking. Even if you have not had a chance to gain any clients to build a portfolio, you need to find work to show off. How do you build a portfolio before getting clients? You can create mock projects, update student work, find a cause to donate work just to name a few.

At all cost, avoid working for cheap or free. Once you get yourself in the cheap box, it is hard to climb yourself out of it. Trust me I know.

Be sure to only include your best work. Think quality or quantity and only show work that represents the type of work you want to do. Including "portfolio fillers" to make it seem like you have a lot of work is not always a good thing. Put thought behind each piece you decided to place in your portfolio.

Check out Behance for portfolio inspiration

Related Post: How to Build a Portfolio Without Clients

Create a Service List

Determine what services you want to offer. It may be easier to start off with a small list, build up a reputation and grow from there. Be sure to choose services in which you can show off your strongest skills.

Build an Online Presence

Take advantage of the digital world that we live in today. Business owners now have the luxury to reach people in more than just the local market. There are a ton of social networks out there and staying consistent on all can be darn near impossible for one person.

Instead of stressing yourself out across too many platforms, choose two and dominate. After you have a system worked out, add another to your marketing plan. Now which social media platforms you use is up to where your target hangs out. Go where they are and provide value.

Create a Content Strategy

Content is king! You have to put some type of work out into the world in order for clients to come to you. Educate or entertain your tribe on a consistent basis and you will see people coming to you.

Set Your Rates

There is no right answer when it comes to design rates. For a simple logo design, you can find designers charging as little as $5 for a logo and as much as $10,000. Huge range right? Makes it seem almost impossible to set a price for your work. My number one hang up was worrying about other designer's rates.

I would look up a designer and price myself the same then look at another designer and change my rates to match theirs. Never do this! I was changing my prices for my services every week. Instead, figure out what works for you.

It is nice to know an average but ultimately it is up to you and your situation. Here are some things to consider when figuring out how much you are going to charge your clients:

  • Production Cost - Write down how much money is needed to carry out each project. This includes font or icon purchases.
    Business operation cost - Add up all of your businesses bills for the year and dived that number by twelve. This would let you know the minimum you need to make just to stay in business.
  • The value you bring - What value does your work bring and what is the expected ROI for the client. If they are expected to make $10,000 from your work you should make at least 20%.
  • Target audience - Figure out how much your target audience earns. You do not want your prices to be too high in which they can not afford your services or too in which you are underselling.
    Your salary - Yes, you need to be paid! Really important for a designer working on their business full-time.

Check out some of the resources I used to FINALLY set my rates.

NuSchool - How Much Should I Charge?

Freelance BoostFreelance Calculator

Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines

Check at other books I recommend

Set your rates and stick to them! Do not worry about what the next designer is charging. Be confident in your work and get paid what you deserve. There is no need to get into a bidding war. Someone will see the value and pay you what you ask for.

Have a Plan

Failing to plan is planning to fail. I know you have heard this quote before but it is true. Without planning your business activities things can get a little crazy.

Start off with a business plan. It does not have to be a long-winded ten-page document. Just enough to hold you accountable and something you can always refer back to.

When you are really getting things rolling, you need to implement a content plan. This lets you know what outlets you are going to use and what day you are going to post content.

Integrate Automation

Automation will save your life! When you are just starting out without much help, it is important to have automation systems step-up to save you a ton of time. Social media needs a lot of time that you do not have.

Using tools such as Hootsuite, BoardBooster, and Latergram to help with social media posting. You can take one day a week and schedule post on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and LinkedIn with Hootsuite, Instagram with Latergram, and Pinterest with Boardbooster. This is a great way to constantly have content going out and building your audience.

Related Post: 50 Must-Have Graphic Design Resources

Become Your First Client

Before you start designing for anyone else you must create a stellar brand for yourself. Treat yourself as a client and go through the entire branding process. In order to have someone trust you with their business, your business has to be together. Here a few things to consider when building your own business.

  • Branding - Not the design part of your business, but the key details. Define your audience and your brand attributes before doing any designing.
  • Logo - Yes, even as a solopernur, you need a logo. If you are just using your first still create a logo to identify yourself.
  • Website - Yes, you still need a website. Facebook is awesome but you need to be able to control your content and the user journey.
  • Branded Social Media Profiles - Create a constant look across all platforms. This makes it easy to recognize your business.

Looks like you are all ready to start your solo graphic design business. Starting a business takes some time and a lot of work but you can do it!

Head over to my Facebook group to share your progress.