Keys to a Startup Design Business

With such a huge presence of design needs, many people are looking to start their own design business. Whether you’re a freelancer, or a designer who’s been working in the field for a long time—you could always use a little help. Here’s where to start:

Before You Start Your Business:

Be Self-aware:

It’s very important that, as a designer, you know your skills and weaknesses. If you’re a graphic designer who is really good at coding and really bad at publication design, for instance, don’t advertise your company as an all around graphic design company. It will only look bad on you if you can’t perform up to a professional standard. This is also why it’s so important to go into business with someone who rounds out your skill set and is good at things you’re not so good at.

Breathe, Eat, Sleep, and Live Design:

Start cutting out some of the useless things you do from day to day—we all do them—and start filling it with activities that actually expand your knowledge of design and design practices. It’s important to know what you’re doing and talking about when it comes to design, especially if you want to run a design business. So go ahead have a night out with your friends, watch a couple episodes of Game of Thrones, but don’t forget to start filling some of your wasted time with design, business, and marketing knowledge.

Branding, Social Media, and a Website:

Having a brand developed before you start your company is incredibly important. Your branding in the beginning should include a logo or word mark, typefaces, a colour palette, and maybe even some supporting graphics. That being said this process doesn’t need to be super complicated, you can always adjust it over time.

Before starting out your business you should at least have your social media applications covered and ready to start posting, no need to start posting yet, but have it ready to go for when clients start rolling in.

Having a website or at least an online portfolio with your companies name and branding on it is very important. You may have gotten by with word of mouth as a freelancer, but that is not going to do when it comes to your business. Having a website allows your potential clients to see what exactly you do and how you do it, and adds an air of professionalism to your brand. Building a website has never been so easy, Just check out Wordpress or Squarespace.

Starting Your Design Business

Now that you have all that ready to go, you can start your design business, but where do you start? I know, you’re doing this all alone and have no idea what to do, so don’t!

Don’t Do it Alone:

Having a partner—or partners—in crime can help round out your skills as designers and make you a more dynamic team, able to take on the world. Having like-minded individuals on your team also helps build the brand culture as the company grows. As you’re starting out, you’ll have to work very hard—a good team keeps each other in check and motivated.

Create Work and Show it off:

Depending on what practice you’re in, the process may look incredibly different. Being a design company mostly focused on Industrial design, we built a physical product that showed off our skillsets and showed it off as much as we could. This could be on your website, at design shows, or anything else you can think of—but make sure you’re not spending too much to do this—you need to be frugal in the beginning.

Sweat Equity:

If there is something you need to do on your way to becoming the next apple and you can do it yourself, always do it yourself. Starting from the bottom and making your way up can cost a lot of money, especially if you want your business to grow quickly. Saving money on everything possible, will help you in the long run. Whether that means you build your own CNC machine—like we did—or designing your whole website from the ground up, do it. Saving money on these things will help you out in the long run and allow you to spend money on the things that you can’t do yourself—allowing your company to grow faster.

Lets Make it Official:

At some point you’re going to have to go legit. What I mean by that is you’re going to have to get some business affairs in order. This means you’re going to have to Incorporate, get a business license, create a shareholders agreement, and come up with a solid business plan. Now this might seem fairly overwhelming at first, but the government of Canada has some pretty amazing resources on this, and if all else fails, you can Google each one of those things listed.

ABN, Baby: Always Be Networking:

Get your ass out to every single industry and networking event in your field. Sure, this can be really overwhelming at first but it will be necessary at some point. Even just showing your face there gets people recognizing you at least. Even if you don’t say a single word your first ten times out, you will get it eventually, and you will get better at self-promotion and networking. Even when you’re out and about, talk to people, you never know who is going to need a designer, and each time, you’ll better at networking and self promotion.

And there you have it, our thoughts on the best way to build a start-up design company. If you have any questions about starting or running a design business don’t be afraid to ask.