Back in college, I started up a small design studio called BMJ Designs, LLC. I did print, signage, and web design. I recently decided to close up shop after ten years in business. In the time that my business was running, I learned so much about not only the design field, but also about business in general. In the first installment of this series, I would like to share five tips with you that will make starting a design business much easier for you.
1. Register as an LLC
First, you will want to do is to register as an LLC. Not only does it help you keep your personal and business finances separated, but it also protects your personal assets in case you are sued. It is also very helpful to have a registered business number to get special pricing from print vendors.
2. Discover Your Niché
When I first started out with BMJ Designs, I wanted to do everything in the field. I quickly learned that the old saying “jack of all trades, master of none” was true. I found myself doing a bunch of things at an average level and ended up stretching myself really thin. After taking a look at my profit margins and considering what I enjoyed the most, I switched my focus to being only a web design company. I was able to invest my time into learning more about web design and my money into new tools and plugins.
3. Use Contracts
Once you have your first misunderstanding with a client, you’ll wish you had a contract in place. By setting up a simple contract at the beginning of every job, you have a clear understanding with your client about important information like price, timelines, project scope, etc. When the client tries to add way more work to the project that is outside of the scope of the original contract, you can charge more. When the client doesn’t pay their bill on time, you have a signed document that says you can charge late fees. When you do work for friends, there won’t be the dreaded “I thought this was for free” conversation. I used to use a free tool from Legal Zoom called “Shake” that I highly recommend, as it will make this process easy.
4. Get a Good Invoicing Tool
When I started out, I found myself trying to keep records in Excel. It worked fine for the small scale I was working on, but at tax time it got pretty annoying. I ended up switching to Quickbooks Online and I have been thrilled with the results. You can keep track of all your clients, sync it with your bank account, and get the info you need for taxes in a few clicks. You can also send invoices and collect payments online.
5. Don’t Be Afraid To Charge More
One of the biggest questions I heard from my fellow graphic design students in college was, “What do I charge?”. At first, I started charging fees that I thought were fair. I quickly realized that I was giving everyone a break because I didn’t want to risk getting into conflict. You aren’t running a charity, you are running a business.Take a look at your overhead, your time ,and comparable designers’ prices. Take a look at the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook and see what is recommended for hourly rates. Figure out what kind of money you need to survive and charge that. Prices that I thought were going to be too high ended up still getting me “great price” and “affordable” feedback from clients. I wish I had learned this lesson earlier.
Do you have any additional tips? Drop them in the comment section below!
In the next part of this series, we’ll talk about dealing with clients.