The graphic design industry is filled with creative individuals. They lend their unique perspectives and artistic visions to whatever project they are working on. It is that same independence of thought and action that sometimes makes them poor candidates for working in team or larger structured business settings. They can feel controlled and dread having their creativity reigned it by rigid corporate interests. Sometimes the best option for frustrated individuals is to consider starting their own business.
There is no greater sense of satisfaction than being your own boss when your business is successful. In order to help you process whether that path and the resulting challenges you will likely face, I’ve laid out eight areas of consideration:
Do It All – When you own your own business you have no one else to turn to. You have to make all the decisions in all areas of your business, creatively, customer service, sales, marketing, accounting and finance. You will need to be well versed in graphic design, web design and other art techniques.
Start It Right – If you are going to have a realistic chance to succeed you must take all the standard business steps to ensure you have thought through your project. Steps like writing out a business plan with a set investment, submitting business license paperwork for your state, registering and incorporating your business if necessary and establishing a tax identification number for your business transactions are a must.
Infuse the Business with Yourself – One of the best parts of your new business is it will directly reflect your personality in every aspect. Throw yourself into creating a strong logo, brand and business identity that distinguishes who you are and your strengths.
Farm It Out – Being your own boss doesn’t mean you can ignore those areas of the business you don’t like, but it does give you the right to sub-contract it out to selected individuals. Personally, I always disliked doing paperwork and accounting, so I was happy to pay out the extra expense to have a seasoned professional handle it for me and I could focus more of my energy on other more enjoyable aspects of the business. No one is an expert in all areas of your business. Strategize where you can get additional help for your business to have a better chance to succeed.
Specialize – As a one person company, you can’t chase graphic design work in the same way that a large company can with teams of diversely talented individuals. Look to focus your efforts in areas of particular interest or experience. Look around your local market to determine niches where you can compete and excel. You might target a particular type of business, or a specialized technique or approach within graphic design.
Network – You may only be one person, but with social media and many professional organizations and events, there are many opportunities to market yourself. Work your personal network and create incentives for people to refer work to you. You have been involved in networks throughout your life (i.e. school, jobs, hobbies), so utilize them now. A reference from someone who knows you will carry much further than approaching a mass of strangers. Find some edge (i.e. bundling services for a discount, loss leader work, convention or charity approach) that can distinguish you from the crowd. One friend in the business became proficient at getting free press in local newspapers by submitting his own articles, or competing in locally covered contests.
Keep Realistic Expectations – Running your own business is rarely as easy as it seems before you start it. It involves long hours with severe uncertainty. Keep your expectations realistic and your overhead low to prolong that start-up period as long as possible before you have to take more drastic action.
Resume/Portfolio Builder – The worst case scenario of you trying to build your graphic design business is it becomes a commercial failure. You are unable to get enough regular business to handle your overhead and pay yourself. But that experience can be very valuable to a future employer and to your own growth as a designer and business person. At the very least you have accelerated the development of your resume and portfolio from projects for which you were directly responsible. Whether you return to take more course, freelance or look for regular employment again, your experience of trying to build your own graphic design business will give you greater insight and appreciation for other aspects of the business than you had before.