By Katrina Rauch
Being in the graphic design business is very competitive – you have to learn to swim or you will sink fast. I’ve been a graphic designer for 12 years and I’d like to share the journey I took to owning and building a successful graphic design business.
One of the first things I recommend to help develop skills and learn tricks that you would never learn in school is to get an internship. I got my first taste of graphic design in high school and by my senior year I was working as an intern for a small graphic design firm and also a print shop. I took an active role in my job to learn as much as possible by asking lots of questions to the senior creative director and also to the head print shop pressman. My skills and thirst for design blossomed from there. I majored in graphic design in college and had landed a very high profile graphic design internship and was taught a vast amount of tricks of the trade by highly skilled designers.
The next thing I would recommend is to read. Read as many books as you can find on graphic design and soak up as much of the industry as you can from the people who know it best. A friend of mine always says that the only thing that makes you stand out from your competition is the knowledge you gain from the books that you read. I am a visual learner, so for me I like to collect books that are informational as well as provide examples. I use design books as inspiration for a lot of the graphic design work that I do.
Having confidence in your ability and being able to apply that to your business is essential to your business success. When I first started my business, I was nervous, but confident in my ability to run my business with class. I plunged right in with both feet by developing a business plan, company name, web site and logo. Once I had the logistics in place I began the tedious task of marketing. Marketing is the hardest part of owning a small business and takes immense amounts of confidence and strength of character to do well, but if done effectively it will catapult your business to success.
Sell, sell, sell. Building a successful graphic design business is all about selling and marketing yourself. You can never stop selling, no matter how busy you are, you have to keep marketing in the forefront of your mind. Every person you meet is a possible client. Every contact you make has a sphere of influence that might need your services, and every vendor you work with might know someone who needs your help. Some practical ways I have marketed my business is by: joining my local Chamber of Commerce, building a strong web site that is correctly optimized, adding numerous reciprocal links to my web site, handing out business cards that function as a mini brochure, joining a leads group, joining special interest clubs, attending business expo’s and conventions, and networking with other business professionals. The key to marketing your business effectively is to become well known in your community by attending any and all networking opportunities you have. Marketing is all about building relationships with others and then capitalizing on the opportunity to sell your graphic design services.
Customer service is key to your success. The clients you gain and the customer service they receive from you is imperative to your success. I’ve learned from my clients that they appreciate a quick response from me all the time. I recommend that you be available to your clients by email, phone and fax at all times. I make a special effort to respond via email to my clients within 2 hours 6 days a week. I try to return phone calls even sooner if at all possible, even if it’s only to say that you received their call and will get back to them a little later. Every client has a sphere of influence and their referral will be dependant on the customer service they receive from you at all times. A prompt response is a good indication of solid design work and will give your client confidence in your services. If your client has a pleasurable experience with you they will happily refer you on to all the people around them. In the beginning, referrals are the quickest way to build your business on solid ground and with minimal costs.
The last thing I’d recommend is to keep your costs to a minimum as much as you can. I’ve built my business by starting out working from my home. The great thing about graphic design is the ability to do the job from the comfort of your home and this is a great way to minimize costs. Operate on a debt free basis, paying for all your business expenses with cash. You can still use older versions of software to build solid designs without your clients ever knowing the difference, and without the constant cost of upgrading. While you are working from home, plan to meet with your clients at a local coffee shop or their place of business. Send design proofs via email instead of printing them out on costly paper. In fact most of my business operates over email. I send invoices, proofs, contracts, and estimates via email so I don’t have to pay for the paper, ink, envelopes, and postage. There are a lot of corners you can cut in order to save money.
I hope this article has helped by giving you some practical ideas on how to build a successful graphic design business with minimal costs.
About the Author: Katrina Rauch is the President/Creative Director of KaTasidy. KaTasidy was founded in 2002 and is operated out of Denver, Colorado. Visit http://www.KaTasidy.com and sign up for our FREE monthly eZine filled with more helpful business information.