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

July 8, 2009

Here are the remaining five things from my list of 10 things to consider when thinking about starting or just recently starting your own freelancing graphic design business, picking up with No. 6:

6. Get a P.O. Box and business phone number If you give out your personal cell phone number to clients, you may regret it. I did that, because at the time it was all I had, and I didn’t think it would be a big deal. And for some people, it’s not. But I soon realized that people will call that phone at all times of the day and night, on the weekends, when you’re on vacation, any time they feel that they need to contact you. Soon, I got the message and got a different line for my business, which solved a lot of my problem. Even if you just have a separate voice mail service that answers your calls for you, you want to make sure that your business and personal life have some type of separation, or you’ll drive yourself crazy when the two start to run together. The same goes for a P.O. Box. Many clients will mail a payment to you, or when you have a website, you’ll want to list contact information. Even though you don’t have to list your address on your website, clients may then wonder where you are located or how they can mail something to you. It might not be a good idea to give out your home address if you don’t feel comfortable letting the world know exactly where you live.

7. Always have something to do when work is not coming in When I first moved to Columbus, I was bored out of my mind. I had no clients, therefore I had no work. I drove myself crazy sleeping in too late, watching TV all day and feeling sorry for myself. What I should have been doing was my business plan, my marketing material and searching for prospective clients. As an entrepreneur, there should never be a time when you’re not doing something because you think there is nothing to do. As a graphic artist, new things are coming out all of the time. None of us knows everything there is to know about this business, that’s why there are constant workshops, conferences, seminars, new books and tools to help you learn about what’s new and hot in the industry. And it doesn’t have to stop with graphic design specifically. Taking classes and workshops about being your own boss, resources for entrepreneurs, and free money such as grants offered to small businesses are all great places to increase your knowledge so you can take your business to the next level. Also, a lot of times you get so caught up in doing other people’s work that you don’t focus enough on your image. Look at those business cards that haven’t been updated; what does your website look like/say; are your newest projects being showcased in your portfolio? Lastly, you can always have work because you can always figure out what client to go after next. Create mock presentations to show prospective clients. Do an Internet search to find out which companies don’t have websites or who have sub par logos. A lot of businesses respond greatly to companies that have taken enough time to create a personalized presentation to show them what their marketing material could look like.

8. Invest in a website If you don’t have a website in this business, you are invisible. Clients need to be able to see your work wherever they are. This is a business that is based on the visual, and without a way to show that client across the country what you can do, you are probably going to lose their business to someone with an online portfolio. Often times, websites can be expensive, but there are a lot of free options. Wordpress.com, for example, offers lots of free blogs that look like websites. Most search engines offer web space and templates that can be used. If for some reason a full website is beyond you at the moment, at least have a Facebook or MySpace page where you are able to upload a portfolio of your work. There is no excuse for not having an online presence.

9. Set and memorize your price list and turnaround times And stick to them! No graphic artist worth their salt can ever say that they have not had a client who tried to negotiate with them on their price. The design industry is a funny one because value is relative. The client is going to determine in their mind what your work is worth, and they’re going to want to stick as close to that figure as they can, but you have to be firm. If you charge $300 for a logo, and a client asks you how much for a logo … you tell them $300. When they tell you that seems a little expensive, you have your speech ready about how valuable a strong visual presence is and you list the benefits. And if they still won’t budge, I believe that most of my graphic design colleagues will agree with me when I say, stick to your price, and if need be, walk away. People will always try to nickel and dime you (and, of course, there are exceptions to every rule), but, by sticking firm to your prices, you will show professionalism and standards. If the client can get you to lower your prices just because they want to be cheap, they will share that information with all of their referrals to you, and then — guess what — you’ll be stuck doing the same thing for them. The same thing goes for turnaround time. If your set turnaround time is seven business days, then stick with that time frame. If a customer says they need it in five business days, then charge a rush fee. Being clear on these rules is very important, because again, people will try to push the envelope. If your turnaround is supposed to be seven business days and you start doing three days, then two days, pretty soon, you’ll be doing things same day and wonder why you’re so stressed!

10. Save your business receipts, and be prepared pay your taxes This is important. You don’t want to be audited and unprepared, and you don’t want to have to owe the government large sums of money in the future due to non-payment of taxes. Register your business name with your local Secretary of State’s office. Get an EIN number. Decide whether you are going to charge your clients taxes on top of their services or whether the taxes are included. It is recommended by the IRS that you make quarterly tax payments throughout the year. When it gets to be April 15th and the IRS says that you owe $2,000 because you never paid anything toward taxes throughout the year … you just might not have it. Now, this is in no way official tax advice, I’m just speaking from experience. Set aside money to make sure that your taxes are paid and keep all of your business receipts. These help toward small business deductions on your taxes. What do you think? What should you know before you start your own business?

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