14 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Design Business

Designers are often told that they don’t have to worry about the business side of things since they’re so good at what they do. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. To create a thriving design agency or freelance business, you need to understand the fundamentals of running your own business and know how to make it successful.

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Creative Business
1. Research and understand your target market thoroughly.
2. Develop a strong business plan to guide your design business.
3. Networking is key – build relationships within the industry.
4. Pricing your services requires careful consideration of costs and value.
5. Embrace continuous learning to stay relevant in the evolving design field.
6. Time management is essential for juggling projects effectively.
7. Build a compelling portfolio that showcases your skills and versatility.
8. Effective communication with clients helps manage expectations.
9. Prepare for the challenges of freelancing, including irregular income.
10. Invest in the right tools and software to enhance your design workflow.

1. Crowdsource Your Network

Social media is one of the best ways to get your name out there, and it’s also a good way to find new clients. 

You can use Twitter and Facebook to post about new projects, what you are working on, and any news about the design world that might be relevant to those who follow your accounts (such as “I just got featured in an article about this cool new tool!”).

Your social media accounts can become a place where people can reach out to ask questions or share ideas with you. You may even find potential employees who want to work with you based on their interest in the creative field.

If there is someone in another part of the country or world that has an audience similar in size to yours, they could be an excellent partner for bringing some exposure from outside your local area. 

This could be through guest blogging together or helping each other promote one another’s businesses through sharing content across social media channels (such as Twitter).

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2. Don’t Skip The Legal Stuff

This is a big one. You need to register your business with the IRS, and you will have to file taxes. If you are working as an employee for someone else, that can be tricky but if you work for yourself, it’s even more complicated. 

I registered my own business under my name even though I was technically not supposed to do so until later in the year when I had done a little more work; luckily nothing happened in the meantime!

Registering with state, city, and county offices (and potentially others) is also important because these government entities may want copies of your business license or other documents before they will allow you to operate within their jurisdiction.

3. Separate Your Personal And Professional Life

This can be hard to do, especially when you’re a new business owner and are trying to figure out everything on your own. When you’ve got a lot going on in your head, it can be difficult to separate the two worlds.

But if there’s one thing I wish someone would have told me at the start of my design business, it would be this: Separate Your Personal and Professional Life!

The first thing I recommend is not sharing anything about either side of life with the other side. For example, don’t talk about your personal life at work or bring work home with you if it’s not necessary. 

This will help keep things professional and prevent any awkward situations from arising when one part of life crosses over into another (and vice versa).

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4. Get The Right Equipment

You probably already have a lot of the tools you need for your business. However, if you’re looking for a few new things to add to your arsenal, here’s what I recommend:

A good computer. You’ll need something that can handle running design software and maybe even some video editing. The best choices are either Mac or PC laptops; however, if you’re on a budget, there are plenty of great refurbished options available online.

Good lighting is essential in any workspace it helps prevent eye fatigue and makes sure your colors look accurate onscreen so invest in high-quality bulbs that won’t die after two months (and don’t go cheap at Ikea). 

The best option is LED bulbs because they last longer and use less electricity than regular incandescent ones do (though they’re more expensive). 

If you prefer halogen lights instead, try buying an LED lamp with a dimmer so you can adjust the brightness at will without turning off all the lights or waiting for them all day long before going home later tonight when there’s no one around anymore!

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5. Don’t Forget To Eat Or Sleep

You can’t be a good designer if you don’t take care of yourself. You are only human, so give yourself permission to take breaks and eat food that isn’t just salad or chicken breast (you get the picture).

 If there is one thing I wish I had known before starting my business, it would be this: Your body needs fuel for your brain to work at top speed.

I used to think that drinking coffee was an acceptable substitute for eating breakfast, but after doing a little research I realized how important it was for me to feed myself properly throughout the day. Nowadays, I try not to skip meals, and even better yet: if possible eat something healthy! 

That may sound obvious but sometimes when we’re overwhelmed with our creative projects we forget about ourselves and end up having a bad day because our bodies weren’t getting what they needed from us.

6. Take Short Breaks (And Long Vacations)

While I’ve always believed that a break is a key to keeping your mind fresh and focused, it wasn’t until recently that I realized how beneficial breaks are for physical health as well.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of working 16-hour days, only taking short breaks here and there between projects. You may think that this is the best way to get things done quickly so you can spend more time with friends and family, but the reality is that it will leave you feeling physically exhausted (and miserable) while also producing shoddy work.

We need our bodies just like we need our minds they’re connected! When one gets overworked, both suffer greatly; so don’t be afraid of taking some time off every few months even if it’s just an overnight trip away from home or work. Your body will thank you later!

7. Find A Tribe (Or Two)

It’s easy to feel isolated when you’re trying to figure out your business. You might find yourself asking questions like: “Why am I doing this?” “Am I ready for this?” or “When will I make money?”

While these are all valid questions, they can also be paralyzing. The good news is that there is a vibrant community of other creatives and entrepreneurs who have been where you are now and they want to help!

Here are some ways you can join a tribe:

Find a mentor who has already done what you’re trying to do and ask them how they did it (and whether it was worth it). A mentor can help guide you through the process and keep your confidence up during times of uncertainty. 

They’ll also give wisdom from their experience that might help avoid potential pitfalls when starting.

Join communities online where people share their experiences working from home as designers or freelancers, such as Designer Hangout on Facebook or Slack groups on Twitter. These platforms can also connect you with experts/professionals in certain fields (like tax preparation) if needed! And don’t forget about Instagram you never know who else likes dogs 🙂

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8. Know When You Need Help

Hiring someone to do the things you don’t want to do is a great way to get more done and make your business run smoothly. For example, let’s say that you don’t want to spend time cleaning up your messy office space you’d rather spend that time working on your designs! 

Hire someone who can take care of that for you so that all of your time is spent where it should be: focused on creating beautiful design work.

It Doesn’t Take Much Money To Start A Design Business.*In fact, if you’re willing to learn from mistakes and put in some hard work, starting an illustration business will probably cost no more than $1000 per year (and that’s being generous). 

The key is knowing how best to use the resources at hand when starting so that they don’t become obstacles later down the road when trying to save money for future projects or events like conventions where illustrators present portfolios of their work through booths set up by companies like us here at Illustration Age Magazine.

9. Learn From Others’ Successes And Mistakes

When I was just starting, I remember feeling overwhelmed by all of the information shared online from other design businesses. It was hard to tell which blogs were helpful and which ones weren’t worth my time or money (or both). 

But then, one day, I stumbled upon a blog called DesignMeltdown where the writer talked about his experience as an entrepreneur. It was inspiring for me to read about his journey since he had launched his own design business around the same time as me!

In addition to being an educational resource, DesignMeltdown has also served as an inspiration for how I want my own company’s website & social media presence to look in the future so that when potential clients visit our site they will know what kind of experience they can get working with us based on what they see there now.

10. Embrace Social Media As Part Of Business

Social media is an essential part of the design business. It’s a great way to connect with people, get feedback on your work, find new clients and connect with other designers. 

I was reluctant to put myself out there online but once I started using it regularly, I realized how much fun and valuable information social media can be for my business. Here are some tips for making the most of your social media platforms (and not wasting time):

  • Set up all your accounts early on in your business so that you have time to build up followership before you need them.
  • Decide which platforms make sense for your target audience and use those first; don’t spread yourself too thin across too many channels without having them all in place from the start
  • Take advantage of tools like Buffer or Tweetdeck that let you queue up tweets or posts so they go out at regular intervals throughout the day

11. Be Prepared To Negotiate

You will be negotiating. Negotiation is a critical skill for entrepreneurs to have, no matter the industry or business type. Here are some of the things I’ve personally negotiated:

I negotiate a lower price for my products and services, and sometimes even get cash discounts from suppliers if I order enough from them.

I negotiate better deals for my clients, who often receive discounted rates on their websites or marketing campaigns once they become repeat customers or refer others to me.

I negotiate better deals for employees, who receive raises each year based on performance reviews and current market conditions.

I negotiate better deals for investors by paying them back quickly (within five years), keeping salaries low relative to profit margins, and giving away equity in exchange for capital investment when needed (which isn’t very often anymore). 

The more successful your company becomes, the more likely investors will want equity instead of cash so they can share in its future success! 

Make sure you understand what kind of investor you’re taking money from before signing any paperwork though you don’t want someone owning part of your company just because they gave you a loan at one point.”

12. Record What You Do On Paper And In Video. 

What is the best way to record what you do? Recording software like Camtasia, ScreenFlow, and Snagit are all great options for recording your screen. There are also phone apps such as QuickTime that allow you to record audio through your mic and stills with your front-facing camera. 

These recordings can be edited later on (we’ll get into editing in a bit), but they must be recorded in some form of media where they’ll be easy to access at any given time.

How often should you record? Ideally, every single day! If possible, start a habit of recording at least once per week so that the habit is established before launching into full-blown practice sessions each day during launch month (more on launch month later). This way it won’t feel like such a burden or obligation and will become easier over time with practice!

What should I record? A good rule of thumb here is whatever seems relevant or useful at the time if something is happening within the business that could affect us later down the line, then we better be documenting it! 

For example: if someone asks us about our pricing structure or how much our services cost because they’re interested in hiring us for one project; we should write down some notes immediately after this conversation so that we don’t forget anything important later on…

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13. Have An Open Mind, But A Firm Hand

Now that you’ve built your business, it’s time to get ready for the next level. The best way to prepare? Have an open mind and a firm hand.

You should be prepared to negotiate with clients about everything from timelines and budget to design details. You may need to be flexible on some things, but don’t let that stop you from setting boundaries or sticking up for yourself when the situation calls for it.

Be confident in what you’re offering your product and expertise and who you are as a designer (and human being). It’s important that both sides of this equation feel comfortable working together, so honor each other’s needs while being clear about your expectations.

Finally, know that this is going to take hard work: long hours, late nights (and early mornings), ongoing learning opportunities…none of these things come easily or quickly but they do come with satisfaction!

14. Starting Your Own Business Is Hard, But Rewarding!

Starting your own business is hard, but rewarding! There are so many benefits to working for yourself. You get to make all the decisions about what you do and when, you can choose the people you work with, and there’s no commute!

However, starting a business means taking on a lot of responsibility and risk. There will be times when nothing seems to go right and it seems like everyone else has it figured out except for you. If this happens to be one of those days for you, here are some tips on how to stay positive:

Reevaluate your goals For this not-so-perfect day does not ruin your mood completely, take some time out of everything else going on around us to ask yourself why exactly it matters if something doesn’t go as planned today? 

Sometimes we need reminding that our goals may have changed since we first started working toward them! So take a step back and ask yourself honestly if these setbacks are actually making any difference in reaching those goals or if they’re just minor speed bumps along the way towards success (and if they’re not making any difference whatsoever then maybe think about whether those goals should still matter).

Take Away

If you’re an aspiring designer or you’re thinking about starting a business, the most important thing to remember is that it’s not an overnight success. To be successful, you need to work hard and be patient. It will take time for your business to grow, but if your passion and determination are strong enough, it will happen eventually.

Now that we’ve reached the end of this article, I hope that reading it has given you some useful information about running your own design business! There’s no doubt in my mind that being self-employed can be exciting and rewarding but don’t forget: this is also a huge responsibility! 

You’ll need good organization skills and plenty of patience if you want everything to run smoothly.

Further Reading

Here are some additional articles that offer valuable insights on things to know before starting a design business:

Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started in Design & Product Short Description: Gain perspective from a designer’s journey and discover the lessons they learned along the way, helping you prepare for your own design ventures.

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Design Business Short Description: Get practical advice from a seasoned designer on what they wished they had known before embarking on their design business, assisting you in making informed decisions.

15 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Fashion Business Short Description: Explore insights tailored for aspiring fashion entrepreneurs, detailing valuable lessons to consider before launching your fashion business.


How do I decide if freelancing as a designer is right for me?

Freelancing as a designer can be a rewarding path, but it’s important to assess your skills, financial stability, and readiness for self-employment. Consider your passion for design, your ability to manage projects independently, and your willingness to handle various aspects of running a business.

What are the key challenges when transitioning from a full-time job to freelancing?

Transitioning from a full-time job to freelancing involves adjusting to irregular income, managing your own schedule, and handling administrative tasks. It’s essential to plan your finances, establish a routine, and develop strong organizational skills to navigate these challenges successfully.

How can I effectively set my freelance design rates?

Setting freelance design rates requires evaluating your skills, experience, industry standards, and the value you provide to clients. Research the market, understand your expenses, and factor in your desired income to arrive at rates that reflect your expertise while remaining competitive.

What strategies can I use to attract clients to my freelance design business?

To attract clients, create a professional portfolio showcasing your best work, optimize your online presence through a website and social media, network within the design community, and consider offering initial projects or discounts to build your reputation and client base.

How can I balance creativity and profitability in my design business?

Balancing creativity and profitability involves finding the right clients, setting clear project scopes, and effectively managing your time. Communicate openly with clients about expectations, prioritize projects that align with your creative vision, and ensure your pricing covers your creative efforts and business expenses.

What Is The Best Way To Get Clients?

The best way to get clients is by building relationships with people you know. If you are starting a design business and want clients, I would start by asking friends if they would be willing to pay for some design work. 

People who know you personally will be more likely to trust your services than someone they don’t even know. You can also head out into the world and network with other designers or companies that need graphic design services to find new opportunities and contacts. 

Finally, if all else fails then it’s time for cold calling! 

How Do I Deal With A Client Who Doesn’t Pay Me? 

As soon as payment becomes an issue with a client then there might not be another project in your future together unless things change dramatically between now and then (I’ve been burned before). 

It sounds harsh but it’s true; no one wants their hard work taken advantage of which means that sometimes those service providers have no choice but walk away from such situations altogether because otherwise, things won’t change anytime soon either way – so why waste time on something like this when plenty other projects are waiting just around the corner? 

The best thing about being self-employed is having control over how much money comes into a business bank account so if there isn’t enough cash flow coming from your existing sales pipeline then go out there and sell some more stuff!  

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