How To Start A Graphic Design Business

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This post is based on an interview with Jessica Greenwalt who is the founder of PixelKeet which is a graphics design business.

The Interview

Having your own graphic design business is a great business because you can work anywhere with a good internet connection. However, some of the best projects you can land are often a direct result of business networking. To get the best projects in the industry you are interested in working in, it helps to be where that industry is flourishing. In my case, attending events in San Francisco connects me with many startup companies I likely would not have met otherwise.

To start this business I needed a computer (desktop or laptop), a printer, and Adobe’s Creative Suite software. The total cost for these is approximately $4,500.

The licenses needed to start this business are the common company formation documents from your state such as getting preliminary LLC name clearance, filing Articles of Organization, and creating an operating agreement.

Our biggest costs are labor. Top notch designers and developers are expensive (but worth it). When I first started my business, the surprise costs I encountered were those involved with working for a cheap clients. I quickly learned that people who negotiated to cut down the cost of their design project ended up being the most demanding and time consuming clients. I no longer work with clients like this. But when I did, they would cost us a lot of time.

Currently, my marketing consists of word of mouth referrals, attending networking events, and doing a lot of SEO.

In total, I work approximately 50 hours per week. But you can work as many hours as you can. There is always more marketing that can be done.

As far as employees are concerned, I’ve been working with contractors because I designed Pixelkeet to be a design firm that brings together freelance designers for special projects. We can adapt our teams to perfectly suit the projects we’re working on.

We do a good job of managing expectations (of both our clients and contractors), setting reasonable deadlines for deliverables, and maintaining constant communication with clients. We use a variety of online tools to track project milestones, contractor time, budgets, and communication.

Contractors post the time they are available each week to a shared calendar. Depending on the specialty of the contractor and the due date of the project, tasks are assigned to contractors through our task manager. Contractors log time spent on each project through Zoho. We also communicate through email, text, and occasionally phone and video chat.

If you love design, this is a great business to get into. Graphic design and web development are in high demand, especially now that so many people are starting companies, and building apps. These companies and projects need branding and marketing materials. The demand has been increasing each year.

This business is great for someone who loves design, appreciates constructive criticism, loves to build things and solve problems, and is an excellent communicator.

Your relationship with others is more important than your design skills. You can be the best designer in the world, but if people don’t enjoy working with you, you won’t be working as a designer for long. Focus on cultivating positive, long-term relationships with ethical clients.

I started consulting when I was around 16 years old after discovering graphic design through my high school’s digital media class. It was around this time that I decided I would some day run my own design firm.

I worked as an in-house designer for several companies during college and immediately after graduation. I found that even though the companies I worked for believed they had a unique practice, they all provided the same work experience for their employees. Their common work experience was for everyone to get in early, take a short lunch (sometimes at your desk), and to sit in the same place for 8+ hours around the same people. This was not conducive to creative thinking. Creatives (i.e. graphic designers, product designers, illustrators, animators, etc.) need to come up with new ways of presenting, interacting, building, and more. Doing the same thing, over and over again, stifles the creative thinking required to continuously come up with new things.

I wanted to work in a way that would help the creative process rather than crush it. I spoke with fellow designers and found there were many creative people who also felt that their creativity was being hindered by the conventional corporate workday. That is why I founded Pixelkeet, a graphic design and development firm that works with designers who set their own schedules and work from wherever they choose. We want our designers to have the freedom to craft the environment that helps them produce their best creative work. As a result, our happy designers have been producing quality design work for organizations around the world including LinkedIn, UC Berkeley, The Keep A Breast Foundation, Telefónica, and many more.

The ideal clients for us are people who understand the value of design. These are the people who know that design can make or break their business. They believe enough in their business to invest in quality design work. They are usually the businesses who succeed or are already successful.

Further Business Help And Advice

If you are thinking of starting a business, you may be interested in joining our entrepreneur community, or checking out my book on starting a business, or any of my apps for entrepreneurs.

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