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Starting a Graphic Design Business Whether you hope to work full time or make a little extra money from the on-the-side design business is a joyous and exciting adventure.
Learning how to start a graphic design business is very easy if you like to get involved in work. I have coached each other to thousands of graphic designers over the last 10+ years and how to start a graphic design business through this blog.
Today, I want to show you how to start a graphic design business in 10 simple steps with a free guide below. So if you are ready to learn how to start a graphic design business that allows you to do whatever you like while bringing a good payment check, then let’s get started!
Table of Contents
1. Find your first graphic design clients
My first recommendation in learning how to start a graphic design business is to find clients who will surprise you. Everything of your design portfolio !? What about your business name? What about a business license?
Yes, that’s all-important.
But very often, I see designers who want to learn how to start a graphic design business, but they always take a long time to get traction with their design business.
Starting a graphic design business is a lot more likely if you start with all the unrealistic business tasks. Instead, we’re going to start your design business on the right foot by bringing your first few design clients to the door.
Once you get some people who are willing to pay you money for your work, you will not believe the enthusiasm, energy, and passion you find in yourself.
And from there, you can solve all the other tasks.
So, Goal # 1: Find graphic design clients.
Where do you find graphic design clients?
When you start learning how to start a graphic design business (hence I think you are here) you may ask yourself: Good luck to you, I have been working with designers for over a decade and know how to help.
Fortunately for you, finding graphic design clients on the internet is literally not easy.
There are hundreds of freelance job sites on the web to help you find exactly the types of clients you are looking for.
For example, sites like Fever provide huge market space for entry-level clients that you can start with when learning how to start a graphic design business. These are not the types of clients you want to work with forever (although some do), but they are a great way to gain some experience, some portfolio pieces, some cash, and some confidence.
You can also find some good entry-level work on sites like Upwork. Upwork is one of the most popular freelance marketplaces in the world and you will find access to thousands of graphic design jobs there.
To learn more, here is a list of our favorite sites to find graphic design clients:
The best sites for finding your first graphic design clients
SolidGigs (Try for $2)
SolidGigs is our own home solution to help graphic designers find clients. Our team of fellow freelancers comb through thousands of freelance job boards every weekday and post the best ways to our freelance job board.
SolidGigs also has a library of courses, templates, and other resources that can be used when learning how to start a graphic design business. You can learn more about Solid Gigs here.
Another great option when learning how to start a graphic design business is FlexJobs- here they post daily jobs in all areas of design and about other fields you can think of. Learn more about flex jobs here.
Upwork (20% fee)
Next up is the largest freelance services market in the world (at least I think). This is called Upwork and many freelancers, including this man, have built their own six-digit businesses behind this powerful platform.
99Designs (variable fee)
Building a portfolio with competing sites like experience, confidence, and 99 designs is an option when learning how to start a graphic design business. Even if you are not guaranteed payment for your work until you win (which you do not intend to do in the long run), this is a good starting point.
Depending on your work style and preference in starting a design business, you may find some success on Craigslist or other similar advertising sites. Anyone can influence Craigslist to build their freelance business as graphic designer Cody did here.
In the beginning, don’t be too picky
As you learn how to start a graphic design business, you will find the advice of experienced freelancers and “experts” who will encourage your clients to be more interested in one another.
It’s easy to tell them, isn’t it? For a few years, they ran their own graphic design business. Finding clients has become old news for them.
But you? You need graphic design clients now.
You can delete them at any time. But right now, you can never get your graphic design business.
When starting a design business, take any reasonable graphic design job for any reasonable price. You never know where those early jobs will lead.
At the very least, they give you confidence, experience, and portfolio pieces. At most, they can become lifelong profitable business relationships or valuable avenues for other clients.
2. Set your pricing
Next, before you start a graphic design business, you may want to consider your pricing structure.
Do you charge clients per hour? By project? Or by the value at which you distributed them?
Charging exactly the hour is very easy and common for anyone starting a graphic design business from scratch, but you may want to explore other pricing models once you have settled down a bit more.
How to know what to charge graphic design clients
Knowing what to charge your clients when you’re barely getting started learning how to start a graphic design business can be really tough.
I personally love Bonsai’s Rate Explorer. Using their interactive graph, you see how much fellow graphic designers (and other professionals) are charging for their work and adjust your rates as you see fit.
If you don’t know how much to charge, pick a number. If the customer values the price, give it a little twist. whether they didn’t care, come back soon.
Eventually, you’ll land on a price that works as you start a graphic design business. Then revisit that number frequently. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you’ll eventually be able to charge in your design business.
3. Name your graphic design business
Now that you’ve got a few clients and you’ve got the confidence you need to start a graphic design business for the long haul, it’s time to start laying the framework of a solid business.
That starts with a well-thought-out business name.
Using your own name vs creating a business name
The first question anyone starting a graphic design business will ask themselves might be:
“Should I use my own name or should I create a business name?”
The short answer is simple: it doesn’t really matter that much. Choose what you like. You can change this later.
The long answer is a little more complicated.
While I recommend picking something up and running with it (you can change it later — not ideal, but very easy), it takes a little more thought to choose your graphic design business name.
The name you ultimately pick for your graphic design business can end up impacting many facets of your design business including:
- How much you’re able to charge for your design work.
- How easily people remember your design business.
- The kinds of design projects you’ll be hired for (including industry, caliber, and scale).
- Whether or not people are likely to recommend your design work to friends and colleagues.
- Where you can do business legally without infringing on copyright or trademarks.
- And lots more…
My best advice for naming your graphic design business
In the spirit of keeping things simple as you learn how to start a graphic design business, below, you’ll find my best advice for naming your graphic design business.
For more help, you can also download my business-naming workbook which will walk you through an easy-to-follow process for naming your design business successfully.
Keep it simple: easy to say, easy to remember, easy to spell
It is easy to fall into the trap of getting overly beautiful, intelligent, or creative when thinking about a design business name. Instead, keep it simple. Your design business is easy for people to tell, spell and remember.
Make sure it’s available on the web
Before you fall in love too much with any name, you should check its availability on the web. Are there social media channels (if any) available that you hope to use? Does your design company name have a working domain?
In order to keep your ideas safe from domain squatters, here are a few resources I use and trust when checking domain availability:
- Bluehost or Dreamhost works very well for beginner sites at an affordable cost. You can use their websites to check domain availability without risking it being parked or squatted.
Ensure you personally love it & it speaks to the vision of your company
I really do not want you to be stuck with the task of choosing a domain name (see next point) It’s too critical for you to feel good about your name and it speaks to the vision of your graphic design business.
It should tell you a lot about your graphic design business name. You have to type it. You have to speak out loud. If you feel stupid about it or need to explain the context or pronounce it for the public, it will quickly become obsolete.
Don’t get paralyzed by decision
The biggest mistake people make when starting a graphic design business is getting caught up in all the graphic design business names available.
The ultimate enemy here is not h. Because if this is an important decision for your graphic design business, it is important to get back to revenue-driving decisions at this stage of your business.
Related article: Profitable Business
4. Build a basic website
The next step when learning how to start a graphic design business is to build a basic website.
I say basic because, just like naming your graphic design business, it’s easy to get stuck or paralyzed by the seemingly overwhelming task of building your website.
Lucky for you, there are loads of very easy-to-use and affordable website builders to build your first portfolio website.
My top beginner website builder recommendations
Here are my personal top picks for those starting a graphic design business. None of them require you to learn to code and they’re all affordable.
Wix is an easy-to-use website builder with hundreds of beautifully designed templates to choose from—all with drag-and-drop functionality. They’ve even got quite a few portfolio-centric options to get you started.
WordPress may require a little more technology (still no coding required) but it will definitely give you more flexibility in the long run. And as it continues to be the most used website builder on the internet, there are millions of tutorials to help you if you get stuck.
Pixpa is designed specifically for creatives and includes cool add-ons like a client-proofing area or a simple gallery feature.
The “minimum viable” portfolio site
This can be particularly important for someone learning how to start a graphic design business.
Because as a graphic designer you care very much about how things look, making it far too easy to overdo things, keep adding more and more, editing, adjusting tweaking.
Which often leads to never publishing your design portfolio. Which means no clients. And no graphic design business.
The better path (the one I hope you’ll take) is to aim for a “minimum-viable” portfolio.
The term “minimum-viable” answers the question “what is the least I can do to prove my portfolio can generate sales?”
Then start with that. It doesn’t mean, as you grow your graphic design business you can’t revisit your site and optimize it for getting more clients? You can. And you should.
For now, your mission is to learn how to start a graphic design business and get it off the ground. All the fancy stuff can come later once you have revenue coming in.
5. Develop a simple graphic design business plan
Once you’ve got a few clients in the door, you’ve named your graphic design business, and you’ve got a minimum-viable portfolio site, you can finally start thinking more strategically about how to start a graphic design business the right way.
In my experience, the best next step is to develop a graphic design business plan.
Why isn’t that the first step on the list? Because I didn’t want you to get stuck forever in the “planning” stage only to never actually make it to the executing stage.
Far too many design businesses (and businesses of all kinds) get lost in the planning stage and never see the light of day.
But not your design business. No. You are going to be different.
Since you’re taking the best possible approach to learn how to start a graphic design business, you only need a very basic business plan.
In fact, it doesn’t need to be more than one page long. You can download our one-page business plan here and fill it out in less than 30 minutes.
For an even shorter graphic design business plan, grab a piece of paper or a computer and answer the following questions:
- What services will my design business provide?
- Who is the ideal client for my graphic design business?
- How much will my design business charge for the work I do?
- What are your monthly design business revenue goals?
- How many clients do I need each month to hit my revenue goals?
- Where/how will I find new design clients? Or how will I retain current design clients?
Answering these and similar questions will help you maintain traction and gain momentum when starting a graphic design business.
6. Communicate with your clients
One thing you find out extremely quickly as you learn how to start a graphic design business is you have to wear a lot of different hats.
Not only are you a graphic designer, but you’re also the bookkeeper, the marketing manager, and the account manager.
Communicating regularly and effectively with your clients is an absolute must when starting a graphic design business.
The freelance designers who I see succeed the fastest are the ones that realize their clients aren’t some burden they have to deal with, but an essential and wonderful part of their graphic design business.
Sure, every once in a while you get a “client from hell”, but for the most part clients are typically fairly easy to work with if you can do one thing really well:
Part of learning how to start a graphic design business and grow it is managing both the day-to-day growth of your graphic design business as well as keeping current clients satisfied.
If you find yourself overwhelmed with all the client communication, try using automation tools like Freshbooks which can send invoices, follow-up on those invoices, send proposals, and create contracts for you.
7. Deliver high-quality projects on-time
If being unprofessional in your communication methods doesn’t kill your graphic design business before you can even get it started, then failing to deliver on your promises will.
This is another huge fail point for many creatives learning how to start a graphic design business because they mistakenly think the hardest work is finding design clients when in reality it can often be more difficult to manage multiple projects and always deliver on time.
This can be especially important in the early days of your graphic design business since a few bad reviews or bad word-of-mouth reports around your local city could signify a real setback for your design business.
8. Write and send professional invoices
Once you’ve delivered your work to your clients and you’re ready to get paid, you’ll want to create and send a professional invoice.
The most basic option is to just write an invoice in Google Docs, Word, or InDesign and send it over via email.
But I recommend eventually signing up for something like Freshbooks—where you can create and send invoices in less than 30 seconds.
Plus, your clients can pay directly from the invoice when they open it on their computer.
And, if after a while, your client forgets to pay the invoice, Freshbooks will remind them for you automatically.
Some designers like to ask for payment upfront, but when you’re first learning how to start a graphic design business, I recommend delivering the product before asking for payment.
As you begin to build more confidence and mutual trust, a pre-payment can be a great option.
9. Collect payments from your design clients
When you’re first learning how to start a graphic design business, the idea of doing work you love every day can be exhilarating.
In fact, depending on how much you hate your day job. You might be hoping this graphic design business can be an escape from your cubicle into work you actually care about.
But if you get so caught up in the day-to-day creative work that you forget to manage your graphic design business properly, you won’t be in business for long.
After all, a business that doesn’t make money is just a hobby.
For someone starting a graphic design business, that means collecting payments is absolutely critical.
How to make collecting payments NOT awkward
Sometimes asking for money can be a bit awkward when you’re just learning how to start a graphic design business.
Here are two simple things to keep in mind for taking the awkwardness out of collecting payments.
1. Remember, this is just business.
Sometimes, when you’re new to doing business, it can be hard to remember that collecting payments for work completed happens almost every day in just about every industry.
Starting a graphic design business is no different.
Your client pays FedEx to ship their products to customers. Your clients pay the electrician when the warehouse light is not on and your clients pay next door for the office donuts every Friday at the cafe.
It’s just business. And if you don’t act awkward about it, neither will anyone else.
2. You have to make it SUPER easy for clients to pay
If you keep finding it hard to receive payments for the graphic design work you’re doing on a weekly basis, then maybe it’s too hard for your clients to pay you.
The truth is people are busy. Or lazy. Or both sometimes. And this most definitely includes your graphic design clients.
As your graphic design business grows, you may want to consider placing recurring invoices or keeping your clients’ credit card information on file to guarantee future payments.
Once you have tasted a little more as a graphic design business owner, you may also want to consider changing steps 8 and 7 by requiring a longer upfront payment to deliver the final product to your client.
This can help you avoid drawn-out legal battles or forever chasing down clients for payment. But I recommend you do that once you’re a bit more established.
10. Ask for referrals
I’ve spent over 10 years working with freelancers in just about every industry—including lots of graphic design business owners.
No matter how many times I ask what the most common way of getting new business is for established business owners is, I always get the same response:
Word of mouth.
Asking your graphic design clients for referrals can be a really great way to establish yourself when first learning how to start a graphic design business.
If you’re not sure where to get started, you can download our referral-generating email template.
But asking for referrals for your graphic design business should not be embarrassing or difficult. In fact, with so much practice, you might even be better off asking for referrals throughout your process without ever begging carelessly for someone like Ben.
Remember, part of the challenge in learning how to start a graphic design business is making sure you have consistent design work each month (not just this month) and referrals are a fantastic way to complete the pool.
How To Start A Graphic Design Business In India Let’s hope it boosts your business instantly. Business is one of the challenges in learning how to start a graphic design business to ensure that you have continuous work.
Related Article: Freelance Graphic Designer Guide