How to Start a Graphic Design Business

| January 11, 2011 | 0 Comments

Girls / laptopHere’s a question from one of our readers:

I want to start a freelance graphic design business. I want to focus on print graphic design with some online work including brochures, logo and identity, catalogs and publications, annual reports, as well as traditional ad campaigns. What are the ways I can develop new business and market my business on a tight budget?

– Maritoni (Maryland)

Congratulations on your new business!

Here are some suggestions on how you can win new business for your graphic design business, particularly on a shoestring budget:

1. Create a portfolio to showcase your work.

Your best marketing tool is the collection of all previous work you have done. Your portfolio should showcase the quality of your work in the various genres of graphic design. To the extent possible, use real world examples of works you have actually designed for customers.

However, even if you have little real world experience and no clients, create graphic design for a number of products such as a book cover, CD cover, business tri-fold marketing brochure, logos, stationary designs, greeting cards and invitations, posters, among others.

Moving forward, continue to build your portfolio. Incorporate in your contracts with customers the permission to use their project for portfolio use, then request for a few copies of the finished product to add to your portfolio.

2. Make customer satisfaction your primary goal.

Word of mouth is extremely important and a highly effective way to market a graphic design business. Extremely satisfied customers can return and use your services again in the future.

The better you service your clients, and the happier they are, the more likely they are to recommend you to their colleagues, friends and family. They can also refer you to other potential clients, and talk favorably about your business. Business owners can introduce you to their network of other business owners. Read the article “Simple Techniques to Keep Your Clients Happy”

3. Create your own website and use it to showcase your work.

The Web has become a critical part in marketing any type of business. Your business needs to be on the Web, and you can use it to generate leads, increase the word about your business, and showcase the work you have done so far.

The web site need not be expensive, but it needs to look professional and clean. Better yet, your website’s look and feel must be consistent with your design and style preferences. For ideas on how to create an inexpensive website, read the article “How I Created an Effective Web Site for Under $100”

4. Find potential partners.

Other types of complementary service businesses can provide a graphic design business with high quality leads. Working with these businesses and other business owners can open up your business to potential new clients.

If you partner with web designers/developers, you can get a steady stream of work doing headers for the site, PDF versions of the web site design (that they will then code and program), color consultations, logo work, icons and other design that you can work with in terms of building creative web headers. Also consider working with advertising agencies, media buyers/planners, interior designers, architects, photographers, printers, among others.

5. Request clients for a credit line.
For some types of projects, it may be possible to request a credit line such as “Designed by [Your Business Name and URL]. This will allow you to get your name out there and possibly attract those who have seen your work (and suitably impressed by it) to become your potential clients. Consider putting this as a clause in your contract for some types of projects.

6. Network, network and network.

The people you know may be able to help you find clients for your new graphic design business.

A graphic designer I know has gotten tons of work when a coworker transferred to a different company, and she was recommended to create some marketing materials for her friend’s new employer. Today, her friend’s new employer is one of her biggest clients with plenty of projects for her to keep her busy for months.

7. Consider crowd source and freelancer design sites.

When looking for potential clients, check out crowdsource design sites such as, which allows you to bid for various graphic design projects. Businesses, entrepreneurs and individuals use the site to look for custom logo designs, brochure designs, web designs and other graphic design work. The downside is that low balling is pretty common, and you run the risk of dropping your price significantly to compete with foreign graphic designers charging pittance for design work.

For more information, read How to Market a Graphic Design Business

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