Doing Business as a Designer: Getting Started

Posted on June 9, 2010


This is the first part of a series.

A popular limiting belief amongst artists is that you need business experience or a business degree to start a business. This is total shitake.

If you truly love what you do, you will do whatever it takes to start your business and run it successfully. All you have to do is start, don’t give up, and take action.

“But where do I start?”

First off, do not start building your website, naming your company, and designing business cards and flyers just yet. The reason why you may not be getting any business is because you are not effectively communicating to anyone. There are a lot of “generalist” designers; they are a dime a dozen, they are everywhere, and most of them are going nowhere.

Lets start with market research first. 8 hours of it is all you get. Literally.

If you aim for every market, you’re going to be too distracted and you will need an advertising budget the size of a mega corporation. Each market has different needs, different views of the world, and different customers. Therefore, you will need to communicate to them differently.

Basic marketing research for designers:

  1. Brainstorm and pick 5 to 10 markets that you would see yourself ENJOY doing design work for. If you do not ENJOY, you will produce below average design and quit doing business altogether.
  2. Narrow your choices down to 1 or 2 markets
  3. Scope out your competition in those markets. How will you compete against your competitors?
  4. Define your competitive advantage. Here is a very basic example:
    • You find out that the majority of your competitors are offering low prices as their competitive advantage.
    • However, their design quality is much lower and all the design work looks generic.
    • A possible competitive advantage you can offer is “High quality, custom work at a reasonable price.”
    • Therefore, you are most likely going to attract businesses or individuals who have more money, care more about quality, and value your design expertise greatly.
  5. Communicate to your market(s), your competitive advantage clearly and effectively. Now this is where your business cards, websites, company name, company motto, and company image will communicate your competitive advantage to your market. For example, I will be using the competitive advantage “High quality custom work at an affordable price”:
    • My company image will not look generic. I will project my personality and design philosophy in everything I say, do, and design. This is one way that I can differentiate myself from the competition.
    • I will use specific design elements that my market can relate to. This will further communicate to my clients that I’m a credible designer. In other words; I’m an expert designer, in this specific market, and therefore will generate remarkable results.
    • Therefore I will not be perceived as generic to my market.
  6. Take action and get started right away. Stay focused like a laser beam. Put yourself on a schedule if you have to. The more action done, the more results produced. Results tell you what you need to do next.

Combating Analysis Paralysis

Limit the amount of time you do market research. Too much analysis will cause paralysis and will lead you to wasting time. This is where 92.599999% of would-be entrepreneurs get stuck and quit. Just doing a small amount of research and going straight into the sales process will get you more results faster than researching for a year. GO! GO! GO! GO!

Eliminate Distractions

Turn off the T.V. Logout of FaceBook. Turn off your cell phones. Get to work. GO! GO! GO! GO!

Still cannot start?

Get yourself a drill instructor or someone who will hold you accountable for your actions. GO! GO! GO! GO!

There are a lot of “generalist” designers; they are a dime a dozen, they are everywhere, and most of them are going nowhere.


The Doing Business as a Designer Article Index

Doing Business as a Designer: Getting Started

Doing Business as a Designer: The Reality of Sales and Marketing

Doing Business as a Designer: The Hunter and Gatherer Mentality

Doing Business as a Designer: How do I get more repeat business?

Doing Business as a Designer: Startup Business Cycles

Doing Business as a Designer: Focus on Selling

Doing Business as a Designer: Defining Your Competitive Advantage

Doing Business as a Designer: The Price Wars

Doing Business as a Designer: The archetypes in starting a business

Doing Business as a Designer: Give It All You’ve Got

Doing Business as a Designer: But There’s Too Much Competition!