How to start a signage business

Use your creativity and graphic design skills to launch a bespoke signage business.

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If you are creative and have skills in typography, illustration or graphic design, starting a signage business can be a great way to monetise your skills. From choosing a business niche to marketing your business, this guide explains the key steps involved in setting up your own company.

What is a sign business?

A signage business specialises in making custom signs for individual and business clients. As a small business, you can specialise in making indoor signs (such as paper posters, banners and vinyl prints), outdoor signs (such as sandwich boards and A-frames) and digital signs (such as PDF files).

How to start a sign business

Here are the key steps involved in starting a signage business:

  1. Pick your niche. There are many types of signage businesses, so it's important to do market research to decide what type of signage you want to specialise in and who your potential customers are. For example, you might specialise in signage for weddings and events, such as welcome signs and seating charts. Or you can offer hand illustrated chalkboards for cafes and restaurants. With the rise of creative platforms like Etsy, you could even sell digital signs that can be customised.
  2. Develop a business plan. Write a business plan that sets out the up-front costs for setting up a signage business, a price list for customers, and estimated income and expenses for the next 12 months. If the up-front costs are high, you may also want to consider a small business loan.
  3. Create a brand name. Choose a memorable business name that will resonate with your target customers. You will need to register the business name with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), unless you're planning on trading under your own name.
  4. Purchase the right equipment. The tools and materials you need will depend on the type of signage business you run. If you're making physical signs for weddings and events, you will need materials such as acrylic and wooden sheets, and tools such as a vinyl printer and cutter. If you're running a digital signage business, you will need graphic design software such as Adobe Photoshop.
  5. Pick the right business structure. You should pick a business structure that meets your goals. If your aim is to keep the paperwork and costs to a minimum, running the business as a Sole Trader might be an option to consider. But if you want to have external investors involved or have greater protection over your personal assets, setting up your business as a company might be a better option. We outline the pros and cons of common business structures in more detail below.
  6. Consider legal requirements. As you will be dealing with suppliers and customers on a regular basis, it's important to have legal documents ready. Useful documents for a signage business include a Service Agreement and a Cancellation Policy.
  7. Market your business. Your marketing strategy will depend on your target customers. If you're making signs for individual customers, consider using creative platforms like Etsy. If you're making signs for cafes and restaurants, you can reach out to businesses directly. It's also a great idea to build a website that shows your skills and your past work.

man standing beside business signage

Skills needed to start a signage business

A typical day for a signage business owner will involve: Meeting with clients to discuss their needs, creating multiple drafts based on client instruction and feedback, and manufacturing and shipping finished products. Useful skills required to run a signage business include:

  • Skills in graphic design, calligraphy or illustrations. Most of the time you will need graphic design skills in order to create beautiful signs. For handwritten signage, you may need additional skills in calligraphy or illustrations.
  • Working knowledge of signage machines. If you're making physical signs and not outsourcing signage printing, you will need to know how to operate basic signage machines such as a vinyl cutter plotter.
  • Customer service skills. It's important to have good customer service skills, as you will be dealing with clients to understand their needs and could be re-working your drafts based on client feedback.
  • Marketing skills. In the early phase of your business, you will need to promote your service to attract customers. It's useful to have an understanding of basic marketing skills, even if you plan on hiring digital marketing consultants to help with advertising on search engines and social media.

Courses and qualifications

You don't need formal qualifications to work in the signage industry. However, as you will be working with customers to create beautiful signage, it's important to have experience in graphic design. You can find online graphic design courses here.

Compare graphic design courses online

Name Product How many courses are available? Are free courses offered? Are accredited courses available?
Training.com.au - Graphic Design
Training.com.au - Graphic Design
1,100+
No
Yes
Shortcourses.com.au - Graphic Design
Shortcourses.com.au - Graphic Design
200+
Yes
Yes
TafeCourses.com.au - Graphic Design
TafeCourses.com.au - Graphic Design
840+
No
Yes
Udemy - Graphic Design
Udemy - Graphic Design
100,000+
Yes
Yes
Coursera - Graphic Design
Coursera - Graphic Design
3,900+
Yes
Yes
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Equipment and software needed to start a signage business

The exact type of equipment you need will depend on your niche, but useful tools for a signage business might include:

  • Vinyl cutter plotter
  • Large format printer
  • Vinyl applicators such as squeegees and vinyl scrapers
  • Gloves
  • Popping pen
  • Cutters

In addition, you will need graphic design software to help you create signs and might need online accounting software to help with bookkeeping.

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How to structure a signage business

It's important to structure your signage business in the correct way, so you don't run into tax, debt or ownership issues later. For a small business like a signage business, common structures are:

  • Sole Trader. The most common structure for a small business, you can register as a Sole Trader if you are the only owner of the business. It's a cost-effective option and involves a small amount of paperwork, and means you take full responsibility for the business.
  • Partnership. You can register as a Partnership if you are running the business with a business partner. Under this structure, you and the business partner will generally share profits and losses made by the business.
  • Company. Registering your Company will involve more administrative costs and paperwork, but it will give you protection over your personal assets. It also gives you the flexibility to share profits with external shareholders.

You can read more on different business structures here.

A signage business will be dealing with customers and suppliers on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, it's important to prepare legal documents to help protect your business. Useful documents for a signage business include:

  • Service Agreement. A Service Agreement will set out the scope of the project, payment terms and who is responsible if something goes wrong.
  • Refund Policy. Because most signs are customised for clients' specific needs, in most cases it's impossible to resell signs to different clients. This is why it's important to have a well-written Refund Policy that protects you in case the client changes their mind.
  • Wholesale Agreement. You may be buying supplies such as acrylic sheets and A-frame sandwich boards in bulk. For bulk buys, a Wholesale Agreement can be useful in setting out terms such as delivery times and order cancellation.

You can find customisable business contract templates and other legal document templates from the websites below. They can also help you find a lawyer who will work with you to prepare the documents.

Name Product What's offered? Starting price to become a member Annual Fee from Free legal documents available?
Lawpath
Legal documents and templates, Access to lawyers, Legal guides, Legal advice
$79 per month
Essentials: $288, legal advice: $828
You can view samples for free and you can create your first document for free.
Choose an annual plan from just $288 and get unlimited revisions to your legal or business documents. Plus, unlock exclusive partner offers.
Sprintlaw
Legal documents and templates, Access to lawyers, Legal guides, Legal advice
$599 (with fixed fee services starting at $99)
$599
Some documents are free to download. Get access to all documents with a membership.
Unlimited lawyer phone consultations, free updates to documents, exclusive partner offers & legal discounts.
LawDepot
Legal documents and templates, Legal guides
$4.99 per month
$59.88
Free one week trial available which gives access to hundreds of documents.
Customise and download legal documents in as little as five minutes. Plus, LawDepot offers peace of mind with two service guarantees.
Legal123
Legal documents and templates, Legal guides
Varies per template
N/A
No
Legal123 offers a range of individual templates or document packages for consultants, app developers, personal trainers and more.
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How to find customers

Generally, you will start by building a website that showcases your skills. You can also use the content on your website to promote your skills on social media.

To reach your specific customer base, you will need to tailor your marketing strategy to suit your target customers. For example, if you're running a wedding and event signage business, it's a good idea to connect with other suppliers such as wedding planners, photographers and florists. If your specialty is blackboard art for cafes and restaurants, you may need to reach out to hospitality venues directly. If you're creating digital signage, you can use creative marketplaces such as Etsy, 99designs and Envato.

In addition, you can respond to job requests on online marketplaces such as hipages, Airtasker and Oneflare. You can also list your services on directories such as Yellow Pages and True Local.

How much should I charge my customers?

Your pricing will depend on the type of signage service you provide, the cost of materials and labour, and how much your competitors are charging.

For commercial signage services the rates range from $50 to $60 per hour according to Service Seeking.

For wedding and event signage, typically customers are quoted a price per item. Welcome signs and seating charts can cost around $150 to $200 per item while smaller signs start at around $15 to $30 per item.

For digital signs, where customers receive a printable PDF file, you can charge much less since you don't need to supply the materials to customers. Search marketplaces such as Etsy to find out what your competitors are charging.

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Frequently asked questions

What are the operating expenses of a signage business?

Common operating expenses for a signage business include:

  • Materials
  • Machine servicing and maintenance
  • Business insurance
  • Website hosting and maintenance
  • Software subscription fees
  • Marketing

What are the signage trends of 2021?

According to international signage franchisor Signarama, the signage trends expected in 2021 include personalised signs to appeal to a particular group of people, minimalist signage and branding, and digital signage such as digital menus for hospitality venues.

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