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An overview of how to start a graphic design business

Design Biz

Person sitting on the floor looking at magazine pages

I would seriously consider my line of work for a lot of people. And if you’re not really the design type, I mean just using your skills to open up your own business. The thing is, no matter what your personality is, you cannot be a generalist and have wishful thinking when it comes to opening up a graphic design business.

It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get to a place where you’re getting consistent work. Sometimes things just fall into your lap, sometimes things tend to fall apart.

Whether you’re having a booming business and getting clients all the time, or having a slow season where you’re sifting through a bunch of potential customers. Even with its ups and downs I don’t think I would have had the network I do, made the friends I have, or been challenged as much as I have been when I opened up my own business.

So if you’re really considering it, here’s a quick overview of what you can do to start today.

Make your graphic design business official

How do you make things official?

Is it when you write something down on a piece of paper? Is it when you put it in your planner? Or when you add it to your calendar to set reminders and dates?

Whatever the case, this is how you need to do it. As soon as you make it official, you’re making a commitment to yourself and your future.

What will make you different

A lot of people I know including good friends have always wanted to do a lot of things. They wanted to go farther with their hobbies. Or they wanted to make money in something that was growing really small. One thing that makes people fail is that they have a lack of commitment or drive.

Make yourself accountable by adding it to something that you see everyday. Or tell the world. Have a few friends or family members keep you accountable by telling them what you’re going to do.

You need to set goals and write down the steps to get to them. I’ll walk you through a few things that you can do this week to kick start your own design business.

Become a legal & legitimate business

The first thing you to do is become a legal business. If you skip this step and say “Well… I’ll see how it goes first”, then you’re already setting yourself up for anything but success. If you’re going to take this seriously, take every. single. thing. seriously.

That includes getting yourself legal. Even if you’re opening up an Etsy Shop, guess what? That’s a business. You’re making money. You’re exchanging goods for money and it needs to be accounted for and you need to pay taxes! Sorry! 🙂

Here’s a quick overview of how to get legal

  • You need to register a DBA if you’re not using your name as your business name.
  • If you’re getting clients, you’ll most likely need an EIN that way you don’t have to give out your social security number.
  • In order to keep track of taxes, it’s best to open up a business bank account, or just a separate bank account to do all of your financial transactions in. If you’re a small proprietor which I recommend in the beginning, you don’t need an official business bank account, as long as it’s different from the personal one used.
  • If you’re planning to sell physical goods, you’ll need a seller’s permit.
  • And lastly, if you are going to how your address printed anywhere including email newsletters, and you don’t want to use your name, then consider getting a P.O. box or a business address.

I have an entire blog article on how you can get yourself legal and not get audited or in any kind of trouble. This isn’t to scare you or anything, it’s just to make sure that you won’t have to run into any problems or go through any other complications once your business is thriving.


The fastest way to get good at something is to hone in on one thing and practice, practice, practice!

If you haven’t done this, and you have shiny object syndrome, then you might be learning too many skills all at once. Maybe today you learn icon design, maybe tomorrow you learn watercolors…you get the idea.

Think of what you really want to do and stay in a niche for now. Especially if you are a beginner.

Don’t put your eggs in too many baskets. The quicker you find a specialty and niche, the quicker you will become an expert in that field and get clients.

Ways to brainstorm your specialty

  • What kind of software do you like to use?
  • What styles of design do you like?
  • What kind of end results do you like to make for your clients? Is it print, digital, packaging?
  • Is it a certain type of person? For example, are you into wellness and love working with yoga studios?

Consider all these things, because the more passion you have in it, the more Drive you’ll have, and the more motivation to do really well at your job.

Your website

You don’t have to have a big complicated website to get started. You’ll just need a home page to introduce what you do and how you can help your clients.

In your homepage, don’t talk about you, make your headlines speak directly to your customers. Remember, this is a graphic design business website, not a resume!

Only after a few scrolls should you be talking about yourself. Make sure you link directly to your services page where they can look at how they can work with you and an easy link to your portfolio.

If you don’t have any clients and you’re just starting out, there are some logo challenges you can look at.

Another thing you could do is pretend you have a client in the industry you want to work in. So if it’s a yoga studio, pretend you’re designing an entire brand identity for them. Make a logo, alternative logos, submark, typography, color palette, and other marketing materials.

It’s up to you what you want to design. But the more you include the better. And you can set it up in mockups that way they can really get a feel of how it will all look in the end.

Remember, you want to design for your clients. This is the one mistake a lot of designer start in the beginning, they just design whatever they feel like and then they wonder why they don’t have clients in the industry they want to be in. This is a great way to set up a foundation for success.

Clients in the beginning

To stay afloat in your graphic design business, people starting out usually have to rely on referrals, word-of-mouth, family, and friends. This is totally okay. Because if it’s a client, then it counts! So tell everybody that you know, make announcements, make phone calls, message people– whatever it takes.

Don’t pester them or anything, just let them know that you’re starting this and be really excited. Don’t sell them on anything. You never know who will need your design services.

Working for free or discounting

The best way to get clients that I know of in the beginning is to offer a discount or one or two services for free. Don’t offer too much more than that.

Find people who have legitimate businesses, people who are making money. Not just your friends with a side business that might close next month. If it’s a legitimate business and they like your work, most likely they will come back to you. And if they don’t come back to you, you’ll be getting referrals. This is a great way to test things out and see what you like to do as well. And having those projects will look really great on your portfolio.

Social media

Find out where your ideal client hangs out.

If you are targeting agencies and larger companies, maybe places like LinkedIn would be better than Facebook. If you’re going after entrepreneurs or startups, sometimes Instagram might be a better place.

It all just depends on what you’re looking for. Make sure you also try out a few of the portfolio websites like Dribbble or Behance for some extra exposure. I’ve known a lot of people to get clients from those platforms.

Again, do your research first before you invest all this time into multiple websites.

Another great one is Pinterest! I get a lot of traffic on Pinterest because it’s such a visual website. And since you’re a designer, use it to your advantage.


The last thing you want to do after you set the rest of it up, is make a very simple PDF proposal. This is crucial for your graphic design business!

This doesn’t have to be too fancy right now but if you can at least include your services and prices, that way if you’re talking to someone and they want to get more information, it’s ready for you. My proposals have changed a lot over time, so don’t worry if it’s not perfect. The point is you’re taking action and doing it now.

Thanks so much for reading!

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