How to start a graphic design business
Use your design skills as the basis for a profitable enterprise you can run from the comfort of your home.
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If you have a sharp eye for visual composition and love being entrepreneurial, then you may want to launch your own graphic design business. Whether you've just completed your training or you have years of creative agency experience under your belt, the chance to be your own boss is one that appeals to many.
Use this guide to learn the key information you'll need to start a graphic design business.
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What's in this guide?
- What skills, knowledge or requirements do I need to start a graphic design business?
- What courses or qualifications do I need to complete?
- Equipment and software needed to start a graphic design business
- What business structures do I need to consider before starting a graphic design business?
- Do I need any legal documents written up before I start operating? What about online legal services?
- Get access to legal services and documents online
- How much should I charge my customers?
- How can I build my client base?
- Frequently asked questions
What skills, knowledge or requirements do I need to start a graphic design business?
Graphic designers work with brands to bring to life their ideas and concepts through captivating imagery, shapes, colour and layouts. They deploy a variety of skillsets including logo design, web design, brochure design, animation, typography and infographics. It's hard to master all of these. So, many designers specialise in one of the above skills and offer services in that area. For example, designers who focus on logo design offer logo services while those who focus on infographics seek out clients who want these types of graphics on a regular basis.
Before you start your own graphic design business, identity and hone in on the specific niche you're interested in – typography, animation, web design and infographics are just a few options to think about.
What courses or qualifications do I need to complete?
You can learn graphic design by pursuing formal education in the field at a higher education institute. Another option is to take an online graphic design course. Once you have completed your learning, you can work with a senior graphic designer to get real-world design experience before setting out on your own path.
Compare websites that offer graphic design courses:
Equipment and software needed to start a graphic design business
You'll want a dedicated office space from which to run your business. If you have an extra room in your home, you can convert this into office space. You'll then need to purchase an office desk and chair, as well as a computer suitable for graphic design. You may then add other materials, such as a drawing tablet and a scanner-printer combo.
When it comes to software, one option you have is to subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud. This will give you access to essential graphics tools like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. An alternative to Adobe is CorelDRAW.
What business structures do I need to consider before starting a graphic design business?
Once you've sharpened up your graphic design skills and have purchased the equipment you'll need, you'll need to think about how you're setting up your company.
Here are five key steps to take before you're ready to do business:
- Choose a name for your business.
- Buy a domain name. Find out more about how to launch a website for your company.
- Choose a business structure for the business. You can select from one of the following based on your needs:
- Sole proprietorship. You are the sole owner of your business and take full liability over its debts
- Partnership. You run the business together with a partner and share liability over its obligations
- Company. You register the business as a company with shareholder owners and its own legal personality. The company is liable for its obligations and will be taxed at corporate rates. You can find out more about these business structures in our comprehensive guide.
- Register your business on register.business.gov.au. After registration, you will get an Australian Business Number (ABN). This is an 11-digit number that will identify your business for tax purposes.
- Get a business licence. States have different requirements for business licensing. Consult your state authority for more details.
Do I need any legal documents written up before I start operating? What about online legal services?
As a graphic designer, you may need to use the following legal documents:
- Service agreement. This is an agreement you will sign with clients setting out the terms of your business engagement.
- Copyright notice. This protects your ideas, including artwork.
- Intellectual property licence agreement. This is an agreement that gives your clients the rights to use your intellectual property.
- Independent contractor agreement. If you ever need to work with a contractor for large projects, you can sign this agreement with them at the onset of your engagement.
These are just a few of the legal documents you may have to use as a graphic design business owner. Thankfully, you do not have to prepare any of these from scratch. Simply access customizable templates from one of the services below.
If you need legal assistance in the customization process, you can hire a lawyer from the same services.
Get access to legal services and documents online
How much should I charge my customers?
You can charge your clients by the hour or a flat-fee per project. On online marketplace Airtasker, for example, graphic designers typically charge between $30-$100 an hour. The median is $50 an hour.
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How can I build my client base?
When you are just starting out, use a portfolio to attract clients. Create a website and include a portfolio of your best work to showcase your skills to the world. Create social media pages for your business and regularly post your finished creations there. As you build your audience, you can convert some of them into clients. You can also buy ads, both digital and in print.
Another option is to list your services on online marketplaces like Airtasker, hipages, Upwork and 99Designs. These platforms match professionals including graphic designers with paying clients. You can also list your services on online directories like True Local and Yellow Pages.
Frequently asked questions
Is starting a graphic design business expensive?
If you don't have a background in graphic design, you'll first want to pursue training in the area and this can be costly. However, if you already have a background in the field, your biggest costs will be equipment purchases, including a quality computer as a starter.
How do I make my business more profitable?
You can make your business more profitable through collaborations. For example, you could collaborate with a marketing and advertising agency to offer add-on graphic design services to the clients they already have. Similarly, you can collaborate with another graphic design business owner who specializes in a niche different from yours to offer comprehensive design solutions.
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