Business Design

Starting a New Design Business – 5 Things to Do

May 30, 2015 | by Mineh Ishida
5 Things to Do When Starting a Design Business

So you’re starting a new design business, or you’ve decided to go freelance. Many people struggle when they start and need some advice.

My creative agency Arcturus Creative was started one year ago on a shoe string budget. It was not an easy launch, but we’re still in business a year later with some amazing clients, and I would consider the business a success. Recently, someone asked me what they might need to create a creative agency / design business on a shoestring budget.  I’ve come up with 5 things you should do / consider if you’re going to start a business.

1. You’re going to need an income.

Start a Design Business - IncomeYou cannot start a design business if you can’t pay the bills. Clients will come, but it takes time to build a base where you can survive. When you first start, if you don’t have savings to start the business, you will have to have a job or some form of funding. Consider asking friends and family to help you, but don’t automatically expect a positive reaction.

Many of the people who care about you may not understand your entrepreneurial spirit, and in their concern for you, may instead try to encourage you to further your career rather than starting a fresh design business or going freelance. If your heart is set on starting your business, you should be ready to handle the naysayers.

If you’re lucky, and they fund you, great! If not, then consider getting a part time job while you build your business.

When we started Arcturus Creative, I had to work 3 days out of the week for a company and spend evenings and the other 4 days of the week working on my creative agency. Once the business picked up enough, I left the job. Even so, it was a struggle at times. At one point, my car was repossessed and I ended up selling almost everything I owned to not get evicted. Even so, if given the opportunity I’d do it again.  Today, we have enough revenue for my partner and I to comfortably survive, and we have a few employees working for us as well. It took about 6 months to get to that point, but once it did, things got better quickly.

2. The best way to get design business is to network.

Starting a design business - Mineh Ishida logo project

To help promote my design business, I created some logos for my personal logo project and posted them to social media.

Tell everyone you know what you do and develop and refine a good pitch. Have lunch with everyone who could be a good client and just talk about what you’re trying to achieve and learn about their businesses.Create some designs and start posting them to your social networks.

I created the Logo Project and posted it to my social network. Not a day later someone asked me to design a logo for them.  Leverage your online contacts and take advantage of Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram and Pinterest. 

In addition, join some local organizations.  Chambers of commerce and business networking groups can be very beneficial.  I joined local business groups and the Tampa Club, which is a local dining club. That took a few hundred dollars, but I’ve gotten multiple clients from it.

You can also attend networking events, but remember that all networking events are not created equal. They seem to be divided into two groups. Networking events that have young professionals looking for job opportunities and career growth, and those that attract business owners. Try to find the ones populated by business owners and executives. Sometimes, educational seminars dedicated to business owners may be more beneficial for networking than dedicated networking functions.

3. Design a good website and business cards.

Start a Design Business - Web SiteYou’re going to need credibility. Design a website that shows off your past projects and some of the philosophy behind each design. It will give you credibility.  Having a professional presence is absolutely critical.  After all, you’re trying to show people the impact that good design can have on their business.  Would you trust a designer who had a bad website?

Your business cards MUST STAND OUT. You’re a designer. Having average business cards is absolutely unacceptable. Even above average doesn’t cut it. People have to look at your cards and marvel at how unique they are.  If your cards don’t have something unique about them, try again.  Paper, weight, shape, print style… There are any number of ways to create a card that is unforgettable. Spend some time and money to do it right!

4. Do some free projects in the beginning.

Start a Design Business - Do some free workIn the beginning, no one knows who you are or what your business is.  They have no reason to trust you.  One easy way to solve this is to do some comp work (free). Find people in the community who have a lot of connections. Offer to do a free project for them that is high visibility. Make sure you do an amazing job with it, and handle everything professionally. When you’re done, if you’ve done well, they will spread the word. The more you do this, the larger your sphere of influence will grow.

Often, we would start with a small very low cost or free project with a client, and once they trusted us, they would give us a larger project or sign up with a retainer for services.

Don’t fall into the trap of doing this too often though.  People won’t take you seriously and your new design agency will fail if you’re doing too much free work as an established business. A lot of people will ask you to do work “for exposure.” Just be polite and decline unless it’s a project that will really get your design work in front of the right people.

5. Give back to the community

Start a Design Business - Give Back to the CommunityFind some non-profits in the area to help out. Many of them need design and marketing help. Make sure it’s a cause you believe in and offer your services. Making sure your business stands for something and is involved in the community is a very important part of growing your business. Remember, business is about relationships, and everyone loves a person / business who takes action and follows through on what they say.  If you can honestly say that you care about causes and follow through by doing some volunteer work, it will only help you grow.

Starting a new design business is quite the adventure.  There are so many reasons that a design business is a great venture to start right now.  I really have enjoyed the last year of building Arcturus Creative, and am thankful to have had the opportunity to do so.  Just remember that it won’t be easy, but it’s a very rewarding path.  Feel free to message me if you need have any questions about how we started our business.

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