10 things you should know about starting your own graphic design business, part one

I believe that almost everybody has dreamed of owning their own business; firing their boss, striking out on their own and being successful while sleeping late in the morning and taking long lunches. I, however, was not that person.

I never wanted to own my own business; I saw it as having to be the boss to others, keeping up with books and receipts, and being responsible for battling with the competition for new customers. But, circumstances such as not being able to find a job after graduation, and continuously getting side graphic jobs led me down that very path.

Fortunately, I had a mentor that helped me with some of the navigation down that road of self employment. But a lot of people don’t get that type of guidance and are not sure what to take into consideration when they’re thinking about going out on their own.

Here are the top 10 things to consider when thinking about starting or just recently starting your own freelancing graphic design business.

1. If you currently have a steady job that pays the bills, don’t quit just yet!
This is my No. 1 biggest warning that I give to people who are thinking about starting their own business. Some people start their own business because they got fired or laid off, and that’s understandable. But considering that 80 percent of new small businesses fail within the first two years, if you have a job that’s paying the bills, don’t quit just because your boss is getting on your nerves. Use that job to your advantage to build up a savings that you can dip into when things get rough or to purchase necessary materials for your business. Also, working both jobs will give you the necessary insight to see what it will be like to work extra long hours when on your own, because that is going to be a major part of your life when you start being an entrepreneur.

2. Make a business plan
One of my biggest regrets when I started out on my own was that I didn’t make a business plan first. Sure, I’ve done pretty well so far, but I’m constantly wondering about where I should go next, how I should approach moving to the next level, etc. A business plan lays all of that out in advance. Remember, too, that a business plan is not something set in stone that can never be changed. As your business changes and grows, the market may change, too, and you’ll need to adjust it accordingly. Still, having a document that lays out not only where you are, but also forecasts where you will be by a certain time, and where you want to be by a certain time will be a great compass for you. You can see how far you are from certain goals and make decisions according to the direction of your plan. Who doesn’t want to be that great, big successful graphic design firm in the future? With a business plan, you can project just what it will take and how long it will take to get there.

3. Brush up on your customer service skills
Most of the time when graphic designers start their own business, it’s usually freelancing. You’ll take clients on a project-by-project basis or for a certain period of time and then move on or negotiate from there. Also, most of the time, you’ll be wearing every business hat yourself from artist to secretary, accountant to marketing representative and consultant to collection agent. That means a lot of interaction with the customer. It’s OK to have great designs, but customers are going to want someone that is easy to talk to. They want someone that they can have an easy-to-understand conversation with about options and prices. They want someone that can answer questions and that they can trust with their money and business information. You have to be that person until you can pay someone else to do it. So make sure to always have that friendly smile on your face, answer the phone professionally, and don’t use too much industry jargon with your customers. Great customer service can be the reason why someone chooses to use your services instead of your competition.

4. Get acquainted with an invoicing system
Not too long ago, I blogged about invoicing systems that are free for graphic designers. Read it, and get an understanding of how you would like to start that process. Even if you don’t choose one of those, having something that tracks your invoices is very important to your business’ organization. It is important to realize that your client is going to come along and deal with you the way that they deal with all of their other business-to-business contacts; that is professionally with formal invoices and accurate records. No business wants a handwritten receipt. No business wants an invoice that doesn’t show a break down of services. In order to go after bigger and better business in the future, you will have to look the part.

  • Show your business name and contact information
  • Show the client’s business name and contact information
  • Show the full description of the work and your price break down (hourly, lump sum, etc.)
  • Show the terms of payment (ex. 50 percent of the total cost due upfront and remaining balance due when final draft is completed)
  • Show who the check should be made out to
  • Show the date when the invoice was given, and the date when payment should be made.
  • Make sure to list your services on one invoice, and if the client has expenses (such as the client paying you for printing or other outsourced services) to list them on a separate invoice. Keep your services and your reimbursements separate.
  • Give every invoice a number according to your organizational system so that you can keep track of them in the future.
  • Put your logo on your invoice. It’s not only professional; it keeps your name on their mind.

5. Use an understandable calendar system for deadlines and appointments
This can be a paper calendar on your desk or an Internet or e-mail based calendar. Whatever the case, find one and start keeping track of what needs to be done and by when. One of the biggest roadblocks that I used to have was depending on my memory to tell me when something was due. It worked for a while until the work really started to roll in. This part shouldn’t be that big of a headache if you start using something that would be a constant reminder of your schedule now. Google has a calendar and even your e-mail programs such as Outlook and Entourage have calendars. You can find many online as well. Most of these calendars will have the capability to give you alerts when deadlines or meeting times are approaching as well as organize certain events and entries according to category or importance.

Click back tomorrow to read the five remaining things to consider when you are thinking about starting your own freelancing graphic design business.