Oh, the joys of being in business on your own. Whether you’re a student or a seasoned designer, I’m sure you’ve run into some of the common problems described below. Drawing on my experience and those of others, I’ll shed some light on these everyday issues – and offer some solutions for each.
GETTING YOUR WORK OUT THERE
This is obviously an important part of the lead-generation process. While there are many ways you can showcase your work, I think it’s worth the investment to have your own portfolio website. If you’re not big on web design, a Squarespace site is both user friendly and easy to begin at about $8 a month. If you prefer a site with a more of “branded” look, I recommend using WordPress. Make sure you define your “brand” as a designer with consistent rules to ensure your website/portfolio adheres to those guidelines. You can also display your completed projects on social media – I’m a huge fan of Instagram for designers! Check out Salted Ink’s work on the platform to see what a great Instagram account looks like. Pinterest is also great for designers, because it’s incredibly visual, and people frequently look at what users post on the app for design inspiration. Facebook is important, too, and you can use it to generate serious leads for your talents. The key to success is to always be certain who your target audience is, and to cater your messaging and work display toward them.
Along with your website, it’s crucial that you always have business cards on you that make an impact! My favorite printer is MOO.COM, and it offers gorgeous card stock at affordable rates. Make sure your business card screams “WOW!”
CAN’T FIND WORK
This is obviously the biggest one. Just a few years ago, the economy was so bleak, I’m not sure how graphic designers could even afford to have their own business. It always seemed so hard to find the next job!
Luckily, sites like Outsource.com and Upwork.com make it easy for freelance designers to pick up jobs and build a great clientele. You can also run targeted ads on social media to try to find interested customers. LinkedIn is an amazing social media channel, and there are always job posts for freelance designers there. I’ve also used the ZipRecruiter app to find decent-paying jobs occasionally. Make sure your resume looks AMAZING (we offer a beautiful template here) and prominently displays your top projects and website.
HOW TO PRICE A CLIENT
Not only is it hard finding clients, but then you have to propose a price for the project that makes sense to both you and the client! This is one of the biggest and most frequent challenges I hear designers talk about. The best way to think about it is to come up with a detailed, itemized list of what you’re going to do for them. For example, you can brand a client by doing a simple brand guide that includes a color palette, some imagery, two logo variations and a brand mark – or you can do an entire brand guide book! The pricing for two options can be quite far apart. The former can run a client about $1,500, and the latter can cost about $3,000! You can read my article on 6 Things You Must Do When Branding A Client by clicking the link.
The best way to think about pricing is to estimate how many hours of work you think it will take to complete the project. Then, add 3 extra hours for good measure and figure out what those hours and your labor are worth to you. If you’re a brand new designer, then $20/hr. is pretty good. If you’re a top designer with amazing brands under your belt, you can probably go as high as $100/hr. Of course, you also want to consider the value of the project. By which I mean, if you don’t have a lot in your portfolio yet, you may want to do the project a bit more affordably, so you can use it as a something to bolster resume.
EXPENSIVE TOOLS & ASSETS
We all know Adobe programs aren’t cheap! However, being able to use those programs via Adobe’s monthly subscription service means always having access to the most recent version of the software and staying up to date. You can’t do your job as a designer without these expenses. Luckily, as an independent contractor, you can pay for them from your business account and not your income. This is an important perk that you must not to miss out on! If you’re paying out your pocket for these expenses, you should keep a detailed log so you can write off those expenses each year. Also, when you first begin your business, you’ll have additional up-front costs. It’s important to look at those expenses as an investment in your business and yourself. If you can book one job to pay for some of these assets, then you’ll soon see they’re worth the investment. For example, think of a makeup artist who’s just starting her career. Without investing in expensive makeup and brushes, she wouldn’t be in a position to take on great clients.
This is an interesting problem that’s common among almost all designers. For example, you could add a client who wants a website designed. If you don’t have a web designer on hand, you’ll likely miss out on potential additional business.
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Jacqueline Ball is author of “The Graphic Designers Guide to Branding Clients” and owns The Digital Design Co. She can be reached at Jacqueline@thedigitaldesignco.com