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How to Start a Graphic Design Business In 5 Simple Steps [2023 Update]

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Learning how to start a graphic design business can seem daunting.

The starting costs are low. Plus, there are tons of free educational resources, which only makes the competition fiercer.

Don’t lose hope; it’s still possible to build a thriving graphic design business.

In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know, from the profit margins to the top niches.

You’ll also find a step-by-step guide to getting your design business up and running in no time.

How Profitable is Owning a Graphic Design Business?

Despite the competition, graphic design can be a lucrative field.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a graphic designer, on average, made $50,710 in 2021.

For reference, the national median annual income back then was $45,760. Safe to say that being a graphic designer pays better than the average job.

Plus, it’s not unheard of for a freelance graphic designer to make $145 an hour!

Still, we need to clarify that profitability here depends on how well you can balance overhead costs and project rates.

If you manage to build a well-run design consultancy, expect around 15% to 20% profit.

What You’ll Need to Start a Graphic Design Business [& Associated Costs]

Entrepreneur estimates that a graphic design business costs anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000.

It all boils down to how large of a setup you’ll start with, but the following are the main expenses to consider:

  • A Reliable PC/Laptop: Models with adequate processing power can cost around $1,500.
  • A Graphics Tablet: It’s what you’ll draw your graphic art on and can run anywhere between $50 and $500.
  • Graphic Designing Software: Some common software options cost around $20–$50 per month.
  • Stock Photography Subscription: Expect to pay something around $29 per month for stock images.
  • Office Space: A sturdy home desk alone can be around $120–$900. If you want to go large-scale, factor in the cost of renting an office space.
  • Marketing: You don’t have to splurge from the get-go; start simple with social media ads for as little as you can afford.
  • Payroll: Consider chopping this expense by running a one-person show.
  • Business License: This aspect can change based on your local laws, but the fee usually sits between $50 and $500.

Do I Need a License or Certificates to Start a Graphic Design Business?

You don’t need specific academic qualifications to become a professional graphic designer—it’s all about skill sets.

Yet, some people get top-industry certifications to gain a competitive edge.

Adobe Certified Associate (ACA) is a common option if you’re willing to put in some effort.

Why You Should Consider Starting a Graphic Design Business As a Side Hustle

Picking up a creative hustle on the side is more common than you think.

It can be a way to pursue your passion without having to ditch the consistent income from a day job.

Thankfully, there are a few other merits to look forward to with graphic design businesses, such as:

  • Low Starting Costs: It’s possible to set up a small business in the field with as little as $2,000.
  • Ability to Work Remotely: You can find plenty of freelance graphic design jobs to tackle right at home without wasting time commuting!
  • Stimulating Variety: It’s hard to come across two jobs that are the same when you’re a graphic designer—new client, new rules.
  • Sense of Accomplishment: You’ll get to see your creative vision blasted on websites, publications, or products.

How to Start a Graphic Design Business in 5 Simple Steps

vector graphic showing an illustration of how to start a graphic design business

There are different ways to start your journey in the graphic design field.

Yet, there are some basic steps to cover regardless of your experience or niche.

Step 1: Prepare a Solid Business Plan

Start by covering the basics: What kind of graphic design work do you want to do? Do you plan to target companies or small businesses?

Find the answer to these questions to gauge how much competition you’ll face and what will be your unique selling point.

Next, you can set a pricing structure that keeps your business profitable.

Project-based billing can be better than hourly rates if you’re experienced and capable of turning designs around quickly.

Step 2: Tackle the Legalities

Before expanding your client list, get the legalities out of the way.

Depending on where you are, you could work as a freelance graphic designer with minimal need for business licensing.

This approach helps you promote your name in the industry.

However, it’s possible to opt for an LLC.

It’ll help you protect your personal assets along the way. You’ll also get to be your first client and craft an official logo for your business!

Step 3: Pick a Design Niche You Love

We’d strongly recommend picking a design specialty and getting particularly good at it to weed out some of the competition.

15 Niches to Pursue in Graphic Design

For instance, you could consider any of the following niches:

  • Motion design
  • Product and packaging
  • Brand identity
  • Publications and typography
  • 3D modeling
  • Album art

It’s okay if you’re not sure what’s the right niche for you yet. Take some time experimenting before you settle on a specialty.

Step 4: Set Up a Stellar Portfolio

Once you have your eyes on a specialty, it’s time to get to work.

Do mock-ups, join competitions, or use some of the samples you experimented with during the previous step.

Either way, choose designs that best reflect the style range you’re comfortable with and get building.

Behance and Dribbble are two of the top portfolio-hosting options out there.

However, setting up a website or landing page is also a valid move.

This way, you can even track views and improve conversion rates, but setting up the website can take a while.

Note that, at first, your selection could be limited, but that’s not a problem. Remember to prioritize quality over quantity!

Step 5: Build a Client Base and Get Networking

As a freelancer, you can look for graphic design gigs on Fiverr or similar marketplaces, but that’s not the only option.

Try the following tactics and see what sticks:

  • Spread the word around your social circles.
  • Ask any existing clients for feedback and referrals.
  • Join industry groups on social media. (Graphic Designer Tips Lounge and Graphic Design are two popular options on Facebook.)

Even if you don’t land clients right away, at least you’ll get to network and follow the trends in the industry.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll even find some mentorship!

Things to Consider When Building a Graphic Design Business

So far, being a graphic design business owner sounds tempting. Don’t rush in, though.

There are a few critical questions to ask yourself when drafting your plan.

Can You Run a Graphic Design Business By Yourself?

It’s possible to run a one-person graphic design business, but you’ll need to tackle more than the creative aspects in this case.

For one, you’ll have to cover planning, billing, marketing, and scheduling.

If that sounds overwhelming, consider adding team members.

Can You Collaborate With Other Businesses?

Yes, you can partner with creative agencies to tackle designs on their behalf through a subcontractor agreement.

This advice works the other way around, too.

That means that you can find subcontractors to tackle aspects that are beyond your scope.

We see this type of collaboration for projects that require coding or content creation.

Can You Stand Out From the Competition?

Your graphic design portfolio is your best shot at selling your service to potential clients.

That’s why it’s vital to go beyond showcasing a selection of your best work.

You have to chase extra value by explaining the methodology behind each project.

A dose of personality won’t hurt, either.

Can You Handle the Physical Toll?

There’s a price to pay for running a graphic design business. Carpal tunnel, back pain, and eyestrain are the top risks to watch out for.

It’s not only your health that’s on the line, either.

If you hire team members, you need to invest in their well-being with comfortable office setups.

INSPIRATION: Graphic Design Business Ideas

Don’t worry if the typical branding-related graphic design gigs don’t appeal to you.

There are a few alternative ideas that can help put your graphic design skill sets to good use, such as:

  • Apparel Designing Business: Print your designs on tees and sell them through your website or marketplaces like Etsy. It doesn’t require a heavy fashion background.
  • Book Designing Business: Either design covers for books or work on the illustrations/graphics inside. Designing children’s books is a rich category to consider.
  • Printing Press: Design, print, and sell anything from greeting cards to wedding invitations. A brick-and-mortar business model could work better with this idea.
  • Graphic Design Courses: Teach aspiring designers both technical and soft skills. This could also be a side venture running parallel to regular design projects.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do Graphic Designers Get Clients?

Graphic designers can get clients by promoting their portfolios or signing up for marketplaces.

Networking and word of mouth are major tactics as well.

Some designers go as far as creating SEO-optimized content on blogs.

This way, they push their services to potential customers searching the web.

Which Software is Best for Graphic Design?

Adobe Illustrator, PhotoDirector, Sketch, and Affinity Designer are some of the best tools out there.

An Adobe Photoshop subscription could come in handy for image editing, too.

CorelDraw’s Graphics Suite is also a popular pick for illustration-based graphic design projects.

Similar Businesses to Consider Starting

Suppose the idea of graphic design is appealing but not compelling enough to be the base for your business.

In this case, we’d recommend the following alternatives:

Wrapping Up

Overall, graphic design can be a low-cost business opportunity with lots of room for experimentation.

Whether you prefer to design packaging or logos, you can find a client base that loves your style.

Is there someone you know who’s looking to join the field? Don’t forget to share the article and help them out.

Let us know what you think of the graphic design business outlook, too.

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