How To Start A Graphic Design Business – The Foundational Steps

how to start a graphic design business

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If you have a passion for graphic design, now is the time to learn how to start a graphic design business.

Although this career path requires a great deal of work and dedication, it can lead to amazing success and financial freedom.

Starting a graphic design business is the perfect opportunity to create your own style and earn an income.

This article includes tips for getting started, planning your business plan, finding clients, and even reaching an international audience.

With these steps, you’ll be well on your way to creating a successful freelance graphic design business.

How To Start A Graphic Design Business – At A Glance

  • Know Your Skills
  • Choose A Niche
  • Educate Yourself
  • Research Your Competition
  • Build Your Identity
  • Create A Portfolio
  • Offer Freelancing Services
  • Build Your Client Base
  • Get Creative

After you learn how to start a graphic design business properly, you’ll be on the road to many successful opportunities.

Behold! Success doesn’t mean overnight success or an easy path.

Without any further ado, let’s get into it!

7 Things To Consider Before Starting A Graphic Design Business

Wanting to learn how to start a graphic design business is great but there are some important things to also consider before jumping into it.

1. What type of graphic design services will you offer?

Depending on your niche, there are several different services that could qualify as “graphic design” including but not limited to: logo design, print & web design, branding & marketing, photography & visual communications, packaging design, brand identity creation, etc. Or… you can simply focus on one or two services to keep things simple at the beginning.

Remember that when starting a business in the graphic design industry, the worst thing you could do is wanting to provide every graphic design service at once.

You don’t want to overwhelm yourself, trying to promote a thousand services!

2. Who is your target audience?

Depending on the type of services you offer, you’ll want to know who is your targeted audience.

For example, if you focus on web design, you’ll want to target clients like startups & small businesses that need that particular service.

If you specialize in something outside of the normal offerings (graphic design specifically), then market yourself to people who are looking for something unique (for example, photography).

3. How Equipped Are You?

Graphic design is a booming industry and there are tons of companies that can help get your business off the ground.

But doing it without the right equipment can be a hurdle down the road.

For example, there are beginner graphic design software options like Photoshop & Sketch that can get you started.

They’re not so expensive and will help you create client-ready work.

The downside is that they don’t offer EVERY feature an industry professional would need.

You see these are the things to consider in this area for efficiency and professionalism.

  • Mac or PC
  • What type of software do you need (Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Indesign, etc…)
  • Will you need a Wacom tablet or an iPad for more efficiency and a quicker delivery?
  • How many business cards you will need (if you plan to go out to local businesses)

4. How Will You Market Yourself?

In order to start a graphic design business, you’ll need to find clients.

But in order to find clients, you need a particular way of getting your name out there.

For example, if you have a portfolio website up that includes examples of the types of work that you do, then that could be a great way to market yourself and build a client base.

5. How Will You Charge Your Clients?

How you charge your clients will depend on the type of service you offer and your particular business model.

For example, if you’re just starting out, offering a $10 logo design may not be the best idea.

You should consider charging more than that or even looking for other ways to earn a decent income.

High-quality graphic design services don’t come cheap and you could charge anywhere from $500 to $5000+ depending on a few important factors.

But if you want to learn how to start a graphic design business, let me tell you that it’s worth the money for someone who knows what they’re doing.

6. Where Will You Market Your Graphic Design Business?

Marketing yourself is important for any type of business, but especially if you want to learn how to start a freelance graphic design business.

If you’re just starting out, then you may want to start locally with your friends, family, and/or local businesses.

You can do that by simply offering affordable freelance services to the people around you until you get the experience you need.

If you want to do it online, then there are lots of ways to market yourself to an international audience.

For example, starting an online graphic design business on sites like Etsy, Behance, 99Designs, Upwork, Guru.com, CrowdSpring, or Fiverr.

7. How Will You Get Paid?

Once you’re ready to start a graphic design business, the next thing to consider is how you plan to get paid.

Do you have a job where you’ll be paid hourly, receive a flat fee, or pay through a project/job system?

There are lots of options available and some can be beneficial depending on your business model.

For example, if you offer website design services on Fiverr or Guru, you’ll likely get paid through a project system with milestones.

But consider this: how will you get paid?

Some graphic design businesses may prefer to be paid upfront and others through a milestone-based system.

Also, remember to consider taxes and accounting as part of your business plan and growing your company.

How To Start A Graphic Design Business | Tips To Get You Started

Hopefully, I’ve answered some of your questions as far as how to start a graphic design business.

Now let’s get into the real meat of the subject: how to start a graphic design business.

Step 1: Know What You Can Do

Before you get started with any sort of graphic design, it’s important to understand your strengths and weaknesses.

Knowing your skills is essential when you’re starting your own business or creating artwork for other people.

You don’t want to create something that may not sell because you don’t know how to do it well, but you also can’t rely on clients knowing what they want either.

The best way to get used to what you like doing is through research, but sometimes that can feel like an insurmountable obstacle.

Start by getting familiar with your own skills.

Take a look at your old portfolio, the designs you liked the most, and the things that made them unique.

Think about what drew you to those projects. Note down what you liked doing most and what you thought was your greatest accomplishment.

These are all great starting points for exploring your own style and getting used to working without a client directing you every step of the way.

Step 2: Choose A Niche

Now that you have a better idea of what you can do, it’s time to choose a specific niche for yourself.

This is where most people get this wrong! A niche that’s bound for success is not necessarily one where no one has set foot before.

Your niche could be the best of the best, but if no one knows that, then that’s a problem.

The best way to choose a niche that works for you is to do some research on who your customers are and what they want.

Find out what questions they have and use those as the basis for new designs.

And the most convenient way to know which niche you want to serve is to create a client persona.

What’s a client persona you might ask?

Well, before even learning how to start a graphic design business, the first thing you want to do is decide who you want to serve.

Creating a client persona first can really accelerate things since you’ll get a better idea of who you’re trying to serve. This will be a great foundation for your design work as well as your business model.

When starting a graphic design business, a niche should have three things;

  • It must have potential clients that have enough interest in your services that they’ll mention it in passing
  • It must be worth pursuing.
  • It must be interesting enough to work on consistently without getting bored.

As you may know, each year there are thousands of new companies that start, but not all of them survive the first year.

Beginning a graphic design business is like opening many businesses in one sense.

You need to find clients, create a product/service to sell, and you need to keep at it!

This next step can help you determine whether or not your chosen niche is worth pursuing.

Step 3: Educate Yourself

Now that you know what you can do and who your clients are, it’s time to learn about your competition.

The next step is finding out as much as you can about what other designers are doing to stay on top of their craft and how to do it better.

You’ll want a solid understanding of everything that’s going on in the industry at all times, so you can know how to steer yourself towards the best ideas and pick up new tricks along the way.

To get a solid education going, take at least one class from a professional instructor every year.

This is where you’ll get the information about what other companies are up to, how they’ve grown, and why their brand is successful.

You can also take time to go to other events, join associations, and even speak with other designers.

Once you have a good idea of what’s going on in your niche, you should have no problem creating work that looks great and gets the attention that it deserves.

Step 4: Research Your Competition

At this point, you should have a solid idea of what you can do and a great grasp of what your competition is doing.

The next step is researching the landscape to determine the key elements that make your business stand out.

For example, if your business is in the entertainment graphic design field, you’d want to know what is popular in that field.

You might find out that fonts like Rockwell and Impact are gaining in popularity year after year.

This is an excellent time to learn more about your niche.

Looking at the landscape, you’ll want to know what pain points your competitors are solving and what they’re missing.

You can easily figure this out by looking at their website, client profiles, and portfolio.

For example, let’s say you’re a freelance designer and one of your competitors is a design agency.

If you see that the design agency’s portfolio has a lot of grid designs and has no problem working on that.

You might find yourself thinking that the agency doesn’t seem to do much work in the logo or illustration space.

While you might not be able to offer something in both spaces, you could offer something in one of them (if you can).

By doing a quick search in Google, you’ll be able to see exactly what your competitors are up to.

You might also find a lot of information about the design agency’s clients.

With this information, you’d be able to analyze the company’s client profile and gain insights into their pain points.

Check out their portfolio’s design languages.

You can find great ideas for how to create better designs by understanding the design languages of competitors.

By doing this analysis, you’ll be able to see the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and their websites.

This is a great way to spot gaps in your market and start creating better work than the competition.

Now that you’ve done some research, you can start making decisions about your business.

There are a couple of key decisions that you’ll want to make and you’ll want to make them soon.

Step 5: Build Your Website

The very first thing you should do is build your website.

This is the cornerstone of your freelance business and you’ll want to get it right the first time.

While there are many things to consider when making a website, I’ll only talk about the essentials. Here are steps you should take when creating your own website:

  • Choose a domain name that’s easy to remember
  • Create a logo that will represent your brand well
  • Create copy that will tell prospects exactly what they are getting
  • Set up a payment method that’s secure
  • Make it easy for people to contact you by having a contact form
  • Train yourself to make good design decisions by showing others your work
  • Edit the website often with your audience in mind

With your website done, you can start doing business.

Now that you have a good grasp of what’s right and what’s left, it’s time to start bringing in revenue.

Step 6: Build Your Brand

Now that you have a solid foundation with your website, it’s time to start building your brand.

Your brand is the way clients know who you are and what you do.

This is also the key to making more money so you’ll want to be consistent with your branding.

Now, I’m not talking about just any branding here. Let’s go back to our example of the entertainment graphic design industry.

If you’re a freelancer looking to work with a production company, you’d want to develop a logo for them so it’s easy for them to remember your name.

You’ll want to have a logo that’s unique and represents you well – but at the same time, it should also be something that other people would find recognizable.

The logo should be something that other designers would pick up from one glance at your work.

Once you have your logo, you’ll want to put it on all of your projects. You can also create pages for clients to be able to easily find you online.

The next step is brand consistency.

Listen, I know that this sounds like overkill but you’ll want to make sure that every piece of work that’s associated with your business looks the same.

This is not only good for branding but also good for marketing if it’s done right.

The goal is to make sure that every piece of work under the same company name looks the same and has the same branding.

This is a big part of branding and it’s something that you’ll want to do as soon as possible.

As you’re doing this, you’ll also want to think about how branding can help you stand out from other designers.

It’s easy for clients to find your business online because your brand will be well-established by this point.

Once you’ve got your brand down-pat, you’ll be able to move on to the next step: building your work portfolio.

For freelancers like you and me, our portfolios are how we make money.

Step 7: Build Your Portfolio

When it comes to impressing clients and getting your first gigs, you’ll want to build a good portfolio of work that you can show off and call your own.

The portfolio is not something you want to take lightly.

The portfolio is vital because it’s the one thing that can sell you to your clients.

You might be able to get a gig with a client without a good resume but if you don’t have nice work samples, you won’t make any money out of it.

What’s great about freelancing is that our portfolios are only limited by our imagination.

We can create anything that we want to showcase in our portfolio – it just has to look good.

You’ll want to have a good mix of work samples that are easy to digest.

I’d recommend you keep things simple by including five or six best pieces of work samples in your portfolio.

These should be well-edited and will be the only thing the client will see about you.

When creating your portfolio, think about how it can attract clients and make them want to hire you.

You want to make sure that your portfolio is the best it can be and you’ll want to invest some time into your work samples.

The more quality work you have in your portfolio, the better it’ll be for attracting clients.

If you plan on getting a lot of work from branding and identity design, then I’d suggest putting together a typography showcase portfolio.

My point is that the portfolio should reflect the type of work that you do and should be something that works well with your potential clients.

Step 8: Offer Freelancing Services

As a burgeoning graphic designer, you’ll want to start offering freelance services to family and friends or even in your local area.

This phase is probably the hardest. Why?

  1. You’re spending time doing work for free
  2. The return might not be a great one
  3. You might get only good feedback that won’t push you out (remember these are your friends and family)

But, if you ask every successful graphic design out there, they will surely tell you at an early point in their career, they had to do free work to get their foot in the door.

See it as an experience! A path that will help you tremendously down the road.

This is the only way you’ll know if this is something you want to do.

Step 9: Go Get Your First Client!

By now, you should already have your website up and running.

You should also have all of your branding taken care of and your portfolio should be ready to go.

Now that you’ve got everything set up, it’s time to start looking for clients.

There are two ways that I recommend for getting clients:

  1. Developing relationships with people who can introduce you to new clients
  2. Finding new work yourself by reaching out via different avenues

By this point, you should have a good grasp of what types of things you should be doing to get work.

The only thing left is just going out there and doing it! It’s time to start getting some jobs and being a success as a freelancer!

Below are 3 simple ways you can land your very first projects:

  1. Freelancing Sites (Upwork, Freelancer, 99designes, Crowdspring)
  2. Creative Market (They have a Discussion section where many businesses seek for designers)
  3. Cold Pitching (Cold email & cold calling)

How To Start A Graphic Design Business – Hot Tips for Beginners

Once you’ve started your business, here are a few things that will help keep your business running smoothly:

  • Always ask for feedback from potential clients. This will help you make sure that you’re giving them the best quality work possible.
  • Be friendly and helpful to your clients. This will help them become loyal customers.
  • Only have one or two design projects at a time so you can easily wrap up everything that’s on your plate.
  • Keep your prices reasonable. You’ll want to make sure that you’re profitable enough that you can turn down work if it doesn’t meet your standards.
  • Create a design process for your business
  • Get feedback from clients on the design process you’re using.

Final Thoughts About How To Start A Graphic Design Business

Now that you get the foundation of how to start a graphic design business, I’d recommend you take that first baby step and go out on your own.

There are a lot of things you can do to get started on this path and know that you can be successful if you know what you’re doing.

This is a very good place for you to start if you want to get an idea of the type of work that a freelancer does.

Once you’re a successful freelancer, there are still a lot more things to learn about how to get new clients and make money from your business.

Good luck!

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