Advice From a Self-Employed Graphic Designer

June 13, 2019

It’s such an honor to be approached by young and upcoming designers who are asking for advice or mentorship. The fact that I am at a stage in this business where I can offer my knowledge is a blessing and something I am so thankful for.

I’ve compiled a collection of the most asked questions for this blog post. As creatives and designers, we all start together in stage 1. We may all have different strengths, but we all still must nurture those passions until they become something we are proud of. I hope that you find this educational, inspiring, and motivational.

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I’ve been asked before what my degree was and what college I went to. To be honest, I’ve always hated this question. I’ve always felt that art related careers are ones in which your portfolio speaks volumes. In fact, it’s voice trumps your education or degree. You could go to the finest art school in the country, but if your work is mediocre your opportunities are as well.

However, I’m not saying that the educational opportunities don’t matter when it comes to choosing a school. There are still skills and knowledge you need to learn when it comes to design and other art related careers. Whether you choose to pick your school based on this, or choose self-learning, both are admirable.

For myself, I paid my way through college. I started at a local community college in their Visual Communications course. After I completed the two years and received my Associates Degree, my plan was to then attend a local University. It had been embedded into my brain that in order to succeed I needed a University degree. However, after I completed my Associates in Visual Communication I started applying to Graphic Design positions and answering inquiries for logo design or design work through outlets like Monster or Indeed. Freelance work started coming my way, and I decided to put off University (because my wallet was already suffering), and focus on self-learning. And I never went back to school!

Work Experience

I worked retail alongside freelance work before I found my first corporate job. From there I worked a total of 3 corporate environments doing design work. The environments were all different: sales, medical, and beauty. Not only did I grow in my design skills, but also in my business sense and communication skills. Knowing how to talk, respond to emails, be timely, punctual, lead meetings, and have a sense of urgency are all important skills I translated to my own business. Being good at what you do isn’t enough. You also have to be professional and personable.

Corporate to Self-Employed

When I decided to start my own business, it took me a year of daydreaming and 6 months of serious planning before I quit corporate. I plunged into social media, networking and reaching out to potential clients. My very first project (while still working corporate) was with a hair & makeup company. In my initial email I explained my situation and said I wanted to connect with those in that industry who were local to me, and offered them a free design item (they chose a standing banner). From there, they ended up following back up and expressing their need for a rebranding and website. This was the beginning, helping to mold my business goals and services.

Choosing the right design branch

If you are becoming a graphic designer you have several different outlets to choose from. There is logo design, packaging design, website design, and print design. Play to your strength. What do you enjoy doing the most? Love beauty products and packaging? Try out packaging design. If you don’t know what you enjoy yet, what Program are you best at? If you love Indesign, then layout and print design may be the way to go. Love Illustrator? Try out logo design. Love Photoshop? Try out print design.

Most importantly, don’t forget to give yourself grace and room to grow. The evolution of a designer is substantial. What you are creating now will not be even in the same ballpark as what you will create in 5 years. We are in a constant cycle of growl and pruning. What matters most is that we are putting all our heart and creativity into each project.

Working From Home

Everyone is different when it comes to their prime working environment. I know designers who prefer the invigorating sound of espresso machines and the smell of roasted coffee beans. Others prefer collaborative work spaces where they can feed their social appetites. Then there are those like me, who can bask in the silence and isolation of a home office.

Whatever your preference, there is no right or wrong. Test them all out and see which one leads to a more productive day.

How Many Hours a Week

When I first started out, my mentality was still very corporate. I tended to start work when my husband left for the day, and finished when he got home. I also knew that I needed to put in a minimum of 40 hrs and utilize the time to create my online presence and market my business.

To be honest, most weeks I worked even more than that. Working late at night and on the weekends. It wasn’t that I had a ton of projects, more so I was working on nailing down my own brand and online presence, creating useful content, and updating my portfolio. Not to mention all the trial and error, learning the best practices, and finding the most useful programs for my business model.

Now my work week varies significantly, averaging at about 20 hrs when I’m focusing just on client projects.

Determining Your Pricing

Here is a popular topic. It’s also one of the more difficult ones to answer since it varies person to person. While I can’t give you one size that fits all, I can offer suggestions, tips and things to keep in mind when determining your pricing.

When it comes to picking that number, I suggest starting with something you feel comfortable with vs the standard. Confidence plays a huge role in your business success. If you don’t feel confident when listing your price through email or over the phone, it may be too high (or you have low self-esteem). Either way, sounding timid or unsure creates hesitation with prospective clients. If they pick up on your wishwashiness, they in turn will be the same.

Assess your skill level. Research others in your industry and find those that have their pricing catalogs online. See how much they are charging, what they are offering, the value they are delivering, and their skill level. Where you are right now may not be on the same level as someone else, and you should price yourself to reflect that. Just starting out, your lack of portfolio, knowledge, or skill level should show in your pricing.

The lower your price, the worse the clientele. That may sound terrible, but it’s a no-brainer that when you offer dirt cheap or free work, you will attract people who don’t appreciate your value or skill set. They are focused on price and not the end-result. As you grow, increase your pricing to reflect it. What you offer is valuable, and should be priced as such.

Other things to factor into your price is how much of your time is required. If you are a beginner, it may take you much longer to create a logo. As such, your hourly rate should be lower to take this into consideration. If you are quicker and apply large amounts of skill in small amounts of time, apply this to your rate and make sure you are getting paid what you deserve. You shouldn’t be penalized for being quick.

Some other tips would be to research corporate salary and figure out that hourly rate to apply to your own. Also take your location and living expenses into consideration.

Building a client base

The next question I would get often was how did I build a client base? Where were people finding me, and how did I get out there?

Networking. Connections. Referrals.

These are the main contributors to my business. Even now, 3 years later!

While I’m no marketing expert, being active on Instagram and Facebook groups is a great way to get your name out there and grow your following. Be willing to give out your knowledge for free and assist those in need. Celebrate your growth and create giveaways if you feel inclined to. Search hashtags, like photos that catch your attention, and interact in comments.

While some people say follow/unfollow is a great way to grow, I would never encourage it. It just feels shady to me. By liking and commenting you are getting your name out there so there is no need to play games with potential clients.

It’s not a good way to build trust in my opinion.

Speaking of building trust, referrals is going to be a HUGE factor to your growth. Make sure you go above and beyond servicing your clients. After all, they are believing in you and your process and trusting you with their business and finances.

Don’t be afraid to turn away clients who won’t be a good fit. By doing this you allow yourself to focus on the good fits, avoid burnout, avoid drama and bad reviews too.

Still wanting to learn a little bit more?

I know all too well how stressful, scary, and confusing starting your own design business can be. It makes me laugh thinking back on the years I wasted just daydreaming and not doing.

I’ve learned so much over the past couple of years that have helped me fine tune my process and deliver great results for my clients, and I’ve decided to offer Mentorships to help you get to that same place in your business.

To learn more about my Design Mentorship and apply >> head here <<



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