**A little backstory**
I stumbled into graphic design. A professor in college gave me a compliment and then an opportunity and I took it and ran. I originally wanted to go to school for music producing – but I took my first graphic course and I was easily swayed. It took me several years to establish myself and build a clientele that was strong and consistent. I worked a full-time job while starting my own design studio. It was long days and even harder finding work. I’m writing this post to share with you my successes and failures in the past ten years while growing my design business. The information from this post is from personal business experience.
I’m writing this post as I reflect back on the last ten years. Ten years ago, I was fresh out of college looking for a graphic job and had such high hopes. I had the intern experience at national magazines, had a ton of graphic classes under my belt and was ready to bust out into the world and design stuff for EVERYONE. I designed by resume, packaged it up so it would stand out and sent them off on their merry way. And then…crickets. I had a mentor who helped me find side jobs to build up my professional portfolio, which was great but it wasn’t paying bills.
I ended up taking a job at a local car dealership and took more graphic classes online at night. I started my own design business on the side and worked on that whenever I had a free moment. It wasn’t ideal and I had no idea how tough it would be, but finally I had a break – a teen magazine looking for an art assistant. Score I was in. It was a great job, but I was technically a freelancer there and I needed more. I continued to do freelance jobs and eventually decided it was now or never to go full-time. I took a chance. And I’m glad I did.
It was no joke and it was hard work. I took the design jobs no one else wanted and I learned what it means to work your way up from the bottom. This post is meant to share some of the good and bad I learned during the way. So because I hate to end on a bad note, lets start with it.
Wish I Knew 10 Years Ago
Reflecting back there are three things I wish I had known from the start- three big mistakes I made in the start.
1. GET A CONTRACT. Get a contract and stick to it. I didn’t have one when I started and I ran into an issue with a client where I delivered the final design and then they wanted a million revisions. I had nothing stating how many revisions were included in the price. This was a big lesson learned. Even if you just start out with a simple contract, it will definitely benefit both parties. The components to a basic contract are: Who (You and the client), What (What are you doing and what is included), When (The design schedule), Rights to the work and Payment schedule. Which leads me to…
2. DON’T WORK FOR FREE. This is a two part-er: a. don’t do free jobs, and b. make sure you get paid. Taking on free jobs is great if you have the time and funds to support yourself. But your time and work are worth something. I did a few free projects and then it felt like everyone wanted something for nothing. This also goes with – price your time and work accordingly. I was SO excited to get my first paying, monthly client. It was a hip-hop magazine that was about 40 pages. I charged them $20/month for about 25 hours worth of my time. UM. NO. That’s 80 cents an hour. That can’t even buy a diet coke.
The second part is to make sure you GET PAID. This is when the contract comes back into play. If you take on a project and don’t outline the payment schedule and/or don’t require a deposit there is a very large chance that when you complete the project, you won’t be paid. I’m a trusting person, and I always have been. It’s a downfall in this business because I had let this happen too many times. I had to make myself understand that it’s not rude to require a deposit. How I corrected this mistake is by making a payment schedule. It will vary from client to client or type of project. A normal payment schedule for me is done in three parts. A non-refundable deposit of 25% of the project, then 50% at the half way mark (when I deliver mock ups) and then the remaining 25% upon completion of the product. This sometimes varies, but I try to stick to it as often as possible.
3. BACK IT ALL UP. This is something I should have known, and I’m sure most people do. But back up all your files as often as you can. There wasn’t really a “cloud” when I started so it was USBs and CDs. It doesn’t matter how you back it up, just make sure you do. Because the one time you don’t is when your computer will fail. This happened to me while I was working on an important, last minute project for a fashion designer a week before fashion week. It was one of those moments where your heart drops. Do what ever you need to, set an alarm, put a stickie on your computer, just do something to remember to back it all up!
With all that said, the good things 100% outweigh the hard lessons. I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t change a thing, because I would change all of that ^^^. BUT all of the stuff below makes it all worth it.
What I’ve Learned and Loved Along The Way
Happily, there are a lot of good things that come from owning your own design business, list to follow:
1. THE PEOPLE. You meet INCREDIBLE people in this business. Clients, mentors, vendors…the list goes on. Sure, once in a while you come across someone you wish you didn’t have to deal with..but in my experience, the majority of the people make all of those bads worth it.
2. THE FREEDOM. Although you have to put a lot into your business, you also have the freedom of being your own boss. Setting your own style, and getting to do something creative – all day!
3. SETTING A SCHEDULE. Whether you are full-time or part-time designing, you can set your own schedule. Of course, it’s equally important to remember to stick to your schedule. It can be easy to be distracted, but you can find ways to make your schedule yours.
4. EXPSOURE: There is nothing like the feeling of seeing your work somewhere, anywhere…a blog, a billboard…wherever! It is an exciting feeling to know “I did that!”
5. PRIDE. Having your own design business and making clients happy is a proud feeling. It’s good to feel proud of your work and to know that something you did was quality and appreciated.
6. HAPPY CUSTOMERS. What a feeling it is to know that something you made makes a difference to someone else. It’s really, the best part of this whole thing. Happy people, happy business!
Where are you at in your business? Just starting up? Ten years in? Thirty years? Just thinking about it? Let me know!
Copyright 2023 Ruffled paper
I've been a graphic designer since 2007. I specialize in stationery design and business branding. I've worked with large corporations, small start ups, celebrities and everyone in between. I'd love to chat with you about your upcoming project!
I'm a New Jersey native now living in Pennsylvania with my husband and family. When I'm not designing, I'm usually off on an adventure with my husband and step-son.