How to Start a Graphic Design Business; 9 Simple Steps

by | Nov 15, 2022

You’re ready to start your own graphic design business. You’ve got a portfolio to die for and a dream of making it big in graphic design.

But how do you go about it? What steps do you take? How long do those steps take? Do you need a college degree in graphic design?

Well, here’s an article to answer all those questions and more. This step-by-step guide will walk you through what you must know about starting your own graphic design business, from finding clients to pricing your services.

Start a Graphic Design Business - step-by-step guide

1. Determine Your Niche

If you’re thinking about creating your own graphic design business, it’s essential to determine what niche you’re going to be in.

Being a generalist is fine if you’re just starting and don’t know where to begin. However, as you develop your skills and expertise, getting more specific is important to provide better value for your clients.

The reason for this is that when you start working with a client, they’ll first want a clear idea of what their project entails and how much it’ll cost them. They’ll likely go elsewhere if you can’t immediately provide those answers.

Perhaps you want to become a Shopify expert and design only for projects on this platform? Or maybe your vocation is drawing game characters, illustrations for children, branding, or probably book design? Ask yourself these questions and try to find the ultimate answer!

This isn’t just about making money. It’s also about building trust and credibility with each new client that comes through the door.

how to start your own graphic design business - fiverr

2. Create A Portfolio

A portfolio is integral to starting a graphic design business because it shows potential clients what you can do. It also helps you get your name out there, bringing more clients and opportunities.

A good portfolio includes samples of your work and descriptions of each project you’ve completed. When creating your own portfolio, it’s best to include both digital and print projects to show off your skills in both disciplines.

A portfolio helps you:

  • Stand out from other designers by showing off your unique style and skill set;
  • Demonstrate that you have the experience needed for any design job;
  • Get clients by providing samples of past projects;
  • Build trust with potential customers.

graphic design portfolio

Image source: beneli.studio 

3. Choose Your Business Model

If you’re interested in starting a graphic design business, you must decide how you want to work. There are many different ways to start and run your own business. Here are some common choices:

  • Freelancer: This is the traditional way of working. You’ll find clients who need design services and then provide them with those services. As long as you can keep finding new clients, this can be a great way to make money as a designer ;
  • Partnership: You may want to start a partnership with another graphic designer or even an artist or photographer. You can share equipment, services, and clients so that you both make more money than if you worked separately;
  • Company formation. You can also start a small company of several employees, allowing you to have experience with larger projects than if you were alone. This means you can scale your business if you have that need and desire.

My personal recommendation particularly if you’re a digital nomad or solopreneur and want to start a graphic design business on the road or from your kitchen table, would be to start as a freelancer.

Sign up to sites like upwork.com or fiverr.com, load some portfolio pieces and build your client base and reputation from there.

When you’re ready and you have enough clients/reviews you could build your own website (see point 8 below) and grow your business into a bigger concern.

Graphic Design Business - Upwork

4. Design Your Pricing Strategy

Before starting your own graphic design business, you need to consider pricing. Most designers start with low prices and then increase them as they gain experience. If you start with high rates, it’s hard to lower them later on.

The best way to set your prices is to find out what other graphic designers are charging in your area. You can do this by talking to other designers, looking through their websites or simply seeing what others are charging on the freelance sites.

Once you know what others charge, you can decide whether your area of expertise is more valuable or charge according to your experience/background.

Remember when starting out you’ll likely charge less just to encourage the onboarding of new clients and attracting work and reviews. However, don’t underprice your skills too much.

Know your worth and consider how much time each project will take and how many projects you can handle each week or month before considering raising or lowering prices again based on how much time it takes to complete each job.

5. Find The Right Clients

When you’re starting your own graphic design business, it can be tempting to take on every client that comes your way. But this type of thinking is a mistake.

If you’re not careful, you’ll spend more time on less profitable clients, making it harder for you to grow your business. You also might lose valuable time working on projects that don’t align with your core values or interests.

So how do you find the right clients when starting a graphic design business? Here are some strategies to help:

  • Get clear on who your ideal client is;
  • Focus on solving their problems;
  • Be clear about what they need from you.

Building a good portfolio is important to getting clients and jobs. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most complex steps in starting your own business. Many people begin their careers without real experience or education in design, so they have to start from scratch when building their portfolios and client base.

One of the fastest ways to attract clients is to niche down to get started. Perhaps you target fitness brands, retail, online ecommerce stores. Once you’ve built a solid portfolio you can expand into other niches.

Graphic Design Business - portfolio

6. Sign up to Freelance Sites

When you’ve decided what value you can bring to clients and who they are, it’s time to set up your profiles on freelance sites. Here you can get top orders in real competition mode.

UpWork, Fiverr, etc. are great options.

To get started, take the following steps:

  • Fill out your profile. Clearly indicate what you deal with, what tasks you can solve, what niches you work in;
  • Constantly monitor job offers and apply for the ones that suit you best. Don’t spread yourself thin. If you apply recklessly and randomly to all jobs in a row just to get some work, you may be blocked by the site administrators;
  • When applying, make sure you carefully write a cover letter.

Voila! This can be one of the best ways to find the finest customer deals.

Upwork profile

7. Get The Word Out

The graphic design business is a competitive field. For this reason, you’ll need to get the word out about your business before you even begin.

Here are some tips for marketing your graphic design business before launching:

  • Identify your target audience. Who are you designing for? What kind of business do they run? What kind of design do they want? Once you know your ideal client, it will be easier to find them and sell them something they actually want;
  • Get on social media. Social media is an excellent way to reach potential clients and market yourself as an expert in your field. You can share industry news and articles about design trends and even post about things that inspire you. This can help build trust with prospective clients and drive traffic to your website;

Graphic Design - Instagram

Image source: instagram.com/shwetacreates 

  • Create a portfolio website or blog where people can see samples of your work and contact you directly through email or phone number if they’re interested in hiring you for a project.

Later on, it will also enable you to reach clients and projects that appeal to you.

8. Build A Business Website

If you’re a graphic designer and would want to start your own business, you should build a business website. This is recommended even if you’re just starting a side hustle or if you have no intention of turning your hobby into a full-time gig.

Even if you already have an established business, it’s still worth building a website for yourself, even if it’s only for personal use.

A business website is often the first place people will go when looking for a graphic designer, so yours must stand out from the crowd.

Here are some tips on how to do just that:

  • Start with an industry-specific domain name;
  • Make sure your website looks good on mobile devices;
  • Keep things simple by using only one font on each page;
  • Use photos of your work as well as written testimonials.

Tom Satori website

Image source: satorigraphics.net 

9. Stay Organized

One of the things that you need to do is ensure that you stay organized throughout the whole process. This will help you out in so many ways because it’ll make everything so much easier for you and help keep your stress level down.

The main thing that you need to remember when it comes to staying organized is that there are a lot of different things that go into creating graphics for websites, advertisements, and other such things, so if you don’t have a good system set up, then things could get really messy really fast.

Here are some tips on how to do it in the first stages of building a business:

  • Don’t dive headfirst into the business. Yes, you are enthusiastic and energetic and seem ready to move mountains if it takes to make your business a success. But that’s the most direct path to total burnout. Have fixed working hours so that you don’t get bogged down and are able to maintain all business processes in the long run;
  • Implement a scheduling solution. There are many scheduling options online (cloud-based systems are especially handy), where you can build a work plan and never lose it. Your notebook with pen notes can easily be left on the coffee shop table. With solutions like Todoist, Clickup, etc., you’re definitely not in jeopardy of missing all your data at a glance;
  • Manage all expenses and profits. In the initial stages, not everyone has the opportunity to hire an accountant who will keep track of all of the company’s financial flows. This may have to be done by you. When you don’t have a large income yet, it’s easy to let things slide. But that’s the wrong strategy. It is perfect to have a separate bank account for the business to help you manage it more smoothly;
  • Budget in advance for quarterly taxes and marketing campaign expenses;
  • For easier organization, keep paperwork to a minimum. All contracts can be signed online using the appropriate services.

How to Start a Graphic Design Business – Final Thoughts

So you’ve made it through this step-by-step guide of how to start your own graphic design business. You’ve got a solid understanding of what it takes to get started, and you’re ready to take the leap.

The graphic design industry is a great place to start a business, but it’s also a competitive field. You can make it happen if you have what it takes to be successful.

Dmytro Sokhach is an entrepreneur and the 6-Figure Flipper Club member. Founded Admix Global (web agency) that builds websites, makes them profitable, and sells them as business

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