All too often, designers consider themselves to be “unfit” for an entrepreneurial career. What they do not realise is that they have amazing potential to be entrepreneurs. They are creative thinkers, problem solvers, and can generate new ideas that they then bring to market for their clients. These things are not learned but innate. What they may lack is the nuts and bolts of business acumen – the ability to run a business. These things, however, can be learned.
Designers who want to be entrepreneurs will have to learn to think and behave like traditional entrepreneurs. They will need coursework in business – coursework specifically tailored for entrepreneurship. These resources are readily available, either through online courses or at brick and mortar institutions. Acquiring basic entrepreneurial skills, and coupling those with the creativity and innovation that is already there, is a recipe for success. If you are a designer who doesn’t think you have what it takes to become an entrepreneur, think again. Here are the skills you will need to develop, but you can master them with commitment and a bit or work.
Before you strike out on your own, there are a couple of things to do to determine if there is enough of a market for your talent. If you are working for a design agency, become a student of its market research efforts. Do some research yourself to determine what the market supply and demand is. Look at the forecasts for your profession for the future of design. There will always be a demand for great designers.
Once you have the general research information, you need to define your customer persona – who will be your typical customer? Small business owners? Mid-sized business owners? Brick and mortar businesses? Online businesses? Combination physical and online? What will their needs be that you can meet? And how can your talents be expanded to meet any design needs they may have?
Niche or Generalist
One thing you will discover as a beginning entrepreneur is that you may need to expand your repertoire of offerings. While you may be focused in one small niche of design right now, the more niches you can capture, the more valuable you become to a client, at least in the beginning. Take a look at the possible niches and pick 2-3 that you enjoy and know you can do well.
- Landing Page Design. Business owners want designs that compel clients with their quality, colour, sleekness, and type. Can you design landing pages that will make customers “convert?”
- Identity and Brand Design. Businesses understand how important their brand presentation is – in their logos, their names, their letterheads and with all marketing materials. Are you creative and do you find this fun?
- Direct-Mail Marketing Design. There are companies who still use direct mail for marketing – lots of them. A lot of designers shun these types of designing opportunities, but they can really showcase your creativity.
- Outdoor Marketing. Think of all of the design opportunities in billboards, banners, large-format stickers and such. They must be clever and intelligent in design. This niche can be quite lucrative.
Plan Out Your Finances
As a designer, your overhead can often be quite low. Most entrepreneurial designers begin working out of their homes or in a small space that they may share with other young entrepreneurs. Still, there will be a need for up-front capital. You will need to market yourself; you will need to meet your personal expenses; you may need certain fee-based software and apps that will allow you to produce the stunning designs your clients will love.
Put together a rough budget of what you will need for a minimum of 6 months, both for your business and for your personal life. A lot of designers moonlight part time until they have saved enough capital to make their move. Also, there are free financial planning templates that will help you through this process.
1 – Get Expert Legal Advice
New entrepreneurs often try to save money by using online legal documents and setting up their businesses with both the state and federal governments. They try to design their contracts on their own. This is risky business. You are a designer and now a business owner. You are not an attorney. Find an attorney with experience in your industry – one who can help you set up all of the legal structure, contracts, and so forth.
2 – Assess Your Accountancy Skills
One of the big lacks in design schools is that they do not include business coursework for their students. A single course and the right software can actually prepare a designer to handle the daily bookkeeping tasks and other financial record keeping that will be necessary. Obviously, there will be tasks for a professional accountant, especially at tax time, but if you can take a course in basic accounting centred on a particular business app, you will be able to do much of this work yourself. And many of the companies that offer fee-based accounting software offer free training.
3 – Determine the Structure for Your Business
There are several types of structures for establishing your business. An attorney can help you decide, but you may want to do some initial research on these structures. A sole proprietorship means that you and your business are one. It is simple but there are drawbacks too. There is the “S” corporation or Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), and there are both benefits and drawbacks of those too. Do your research and then discuss your options with an attorney. Be certain that the correct registration paperwork is completed as well.
4 – Have Some Fun – Choose a Business Name
creative but be certain that your business name is memorable to everyone who comes across it – make it catchy, easy to pronounce and easy to spell. And make sure you consider how that name will translate into a domain URL name. As you make your list of options, do your research – you cannot use a name that is the proprietary property of another business or person. And once you decide on your name, copyright it so that you own it.
5 – Check Local Permits and License Requirements.
You will probably need a local business license but there may other zoning laws impacting whether you can operate from your home and what type of signage you are allowed in a residential area. This is not a huge issue for designers, and can be handled in a half a day.
6 – Determine Pricing
This may be one of the easiest parts of your set-up. If you know your industry/niche, you are probably pretty familiar with pricing. Check out the competition and gauge your own pricing accordingly. You want to be about in the middle range.
7 – Get to the Meat of Your Endeavour
Once you have completed all of the nuts and bolts of starting a business, you can get to the really enjoyable stuff – creating your website, your blog, your portfolio and your social media presence. All of this will be a part of your marketing endeavour, and you have an amazing advantage over entrepreneurs in other industries. You have the talent and the creativity to craft a stunning Internet presence across all platforms.
- Your website should reflect you – your approach to design and your love for it. Make it exciting and compelling.
- Your portfolio should have a link that is prominent on your landing page – this is where a visitor will immediately go to see the visuals – the examples of what you produce.
- If you do not have a portfolio of designs that you have created for clients, then craft a series of them in all of the niches you have selected. You can replace them as you have actual creations for customers.
- You do need a blog. There are so many exciting facets of design and you are perfectly poised to establish yourself as an expert. Produce blog posts as often as possible and even showcase some of your designs as the topics allow you to. There’s a lot to learn about blogging – SEO, links, making it easy for visitors to share what your posts, and so forth. A blog is a part of a larger marketing strategy, but if done well, it can be a huge factor in generating some excitement about you. You may not be an expert on maintaining a blog, so you may have to contract out some of the activity. But make a commitment to learn all that you can so that you can ultimately have full charge of it.
- You can really shine on social media because it is so dependent on visual content, and you are a masterful visual designer. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are all “made” for you and can be your personal showcases. And with each post on any of these platforms, you will drive viewers back to your site. Social media presence and brand distribution is a gradual process, but if you do it well from the beginning, you can become well-known within your industry.
Creativity is now an exciting push into capitalism. Businesses know they have to have creative designers and marketers to make it in the new consumer-driven capitalism. They can’t rely on those old hard sell tactics, and they know the need to use visual content in their marketing efforts.
They have to have creative individuals to change their personas. This is an enormous opening for designers who want to be out on their own finding those business clients and meeting their needs. Design depends upon creativity. Now, so does every business.