10 tips for a successful design business

Fine-tune your fees

1 Fine-tune your fees

Setting the right price for your work can be tricky. Undercharging devalues the industry, but try not to overcharge, or you may well be outbid by someone else and not get the job. It’s a fine balance, but you will learn from your mistakes. Bodies such as the Association of Illustrators can help: they have a team of lawyers to give pricing advice.

2 Be flexible

When it comes to negotiating fees, go in and ask for a slightly higher amount than you ultimately want, but be up-front with your clients that you are flexible and that there is room to manoeuvre. It often helps to ask what the budget is. That way, you can’t stray too far from the track.

Nurture your client relationships

3 Nurture your client relationships

Cultivate lasting relationships with your existing clients so that they keep coming back to you as their preferred supplier. You can do this by staying positive in any communications, which can sometimes be challenging, but is always worth the effort. Offer them over and above what they’ve asked for: depending on what the project is, this could be a small freebie on the side or a little discount.

4 Stay connected

Keep your eyes and ears open to potential business opportunities; often friends can be a good source. Networking also helps, or going to functions where you can meet people who move in the right circles. Once you’ve done it a few times it gets easier, and having a portfolio to offer them makes the process easier, since they can then see exactly what it is that you do.

Spread your web

5 Spread your web

The absolute basics you need to market yourself are a good, easily navigable website, and a way of attracting visitors to it. Whether that’s through approaching blogs to feature you or sending a link directly to potential clients is up to you, but without a digital portfolio and a way to spread it, you won’t get very far.

6 Think creatively

In addition to having a website, you could try any number of ways to attract further attention. Get your work published in books and magazines, make your own portfolio book to post to clients, send press releases to blogs, or even design your own custom packaging to mail out, for instance. It’s only your imagination that can limit you.

Be a real human, not a billboard

7 Be a real human, not a billboard

Don’t become that annoying person blowing your own horn and bombarding everyone with spam adverts on Facebook. It’s important to keep yourself fresh in the minds of existing contacts, but coming up with a unique approach to marketing yourself usually yields better results. Keep up-to-date on what they are doing and show an interest in them.

8 Keep paperwork in order

Make sure you keep your books in check. Pay relevant taxes when they’re due and have a good accountant who can help you out in times of need. It’s also a good idea to have insurance against things such as property damage, contents insurance for computers and other equipment, employer’s liability, public and products liability and commercial legal protection.

Form a super-team

9 Form a super-team

If you really don’t think you have an aptitude for the money-making side, you could always look for a business partner. But a partnership shouldn’t be entered into lightly. When partnering with a friend or relative, consider how it will affect and possibly change your relationship. It’s also important to consider where your weaknesses are, and try to find someone who can fill the gap in those areas.

10 Take a deep breath

Don’t be afraid of – or avoid making – big decisions because they seem scary and stressful. Some stress is inevitable, along with some ups and downs, and times when you may question if it is worth it. But persevere, because nobody got there in the end by giving up before the beginning.

All illustrations by Joe McLean

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