If you’re reading this, you’re either a designer, or aspiring to be one.
If yes, you’ve probably thought about having a business. No boss to answer to, no soulless cubicle, no energy-sapping colleagues. A business where you can let your creativity roam free – every designer’s dream.
Starting a design business, however, isn’t easy, much less a profitable one. You have to know your own craft and then learn countless skills – sales, marketing, management, etc. – and master domains outside your area of expertise until you can hire more people.
To make your job easier, follow these five tips for starting a profitable design business:
Assess your financial situation
Before you dive head-first into business, understand that any business – even a low-cost one like design – takes money to run. You’ll need tools, incorporation, accountants, and most importantly, money to support yourself while you get clients.
Sure, there are ways to cut your expenses. You could work from home, skip on incorporation, and use free tools. But you’ll still need a way to get money while you find and serve clients.
At the very least, you should have six months of cash flow saved up. This will give you a nice cushion while you set about your client search.
If possible, build it as a side business
Taking the leap into starting a business isn’t for everyone. There are enormous risks associated with it. What if you don’t even like working for clients and want the stability of a conventional job?
In this situation, you’re better off building your business as a side-project. Instead of quitting your job, build up a client base while still retaining your regular employment. You’ll have to work extra hard, but it gives you the safety of knowing you have an income coming in.
In case you’re currently out of work and need a job, use platforms like Workamajobs to find jobs in the creative industry.
Understand your value proposition
It might be surprising to learn, but the most important thing in building a design business is not your design skills.
Instead, it’s your ability to solve business problems.
Every successful design firm exists because it has a clear value proposition. It might help its clients improve conversions, increase engagements, or create a more visible brand. In all these cases, the value proposition isn’t design, it’s the firm’s ability to solve business problems with design.
This should be the primary goal of your design practice. Don’t focus on your skills; focus on the problems you can solve for clients. Show them how your work can add to their bottom line.
The more you can tie your work to revenue, the more successful you’ll be.
Skip the non-essentials
Designers without an entrepreneurial background (which is most designers) frequently make the mistake of focusing too much on the non-essentials.
And what are these non-essentials?
Think anything that isn’t 100% necessary to run your business. A great business card, a strong brand identity, a professional accountant, a payment system, etc.
Sure, all of these can help your business, but they’re not a requirement. You can easily run a profitable business without even a logo.
When you’re starting out, distil everything down to the basics. Focus only on the essential parts of the business, and skip everything else for later.
Always be networking
You might have heard countless piece of advice on marketing your design firm – PPC, content, social media, and even print/radio ads.
But for a solopreneur designer, the best way to get clients is still old-fashioned networking.
Networking gives you that much needed “face time” with prospects. It helps you sell not just your skills, but also yourself. Clients who have been burned by larger agencies and need the personal touch of smaller business particularly appreciate getting to know you.
There’s also the fact that networking is cheap. Outside of big conferences, it only takes your time. If you live in a large city, you can easily find countless networking events on Meetup.
One pro tip about networking is to hit events outside your specific area of expertise. If you’re a web designer, don’t just go to tech events. Also add in events for doctors, lawyers, and other small businesses in your calendar.
After all, even dentists need designers.