With the launch of the Graphic Designers’ Playbook around the corner. I decided to start sharing content from the section “Business of Design” – Being in business is so much more than just procedures, admin and structure. I hope to share my knowledge of almost 22 years in the design industry so you can learn faster and move forward with more grace.
Anyone with a computer and design software can technically be a ‘graphic designer’. However, if you want to distinguish yourself as a top Creative, there is more to consider. This NEW ROLE has a lot of responsibility – good-looking communication, products, or branding are not enough. We are now CREATING CUSTOMERS through design.
Here are some qualities that I believe set apart the professional designer from the flash-in-the-pan:
Talent is not enough to build a lifelong business. Being a successful graphic designer is not just about your talent. I would go as far as to say that the recipe for being a successful freelancer is 20% talent and 80% hard work and self-discipline with a heaped spoon of agility and seasoned with knowing when to go into a new direction. HARD WORK, PATIENCE and an absolute PASSION for your craft will make you a better designer daily. PRACTICE makes perfect! There are NO shortcuts. Be wise enough to let go of your ego.
Be a lifelong learner. There is always something more to learn. For example, do you struggle with the business aspects? Then read books, do online courses, and learn how to be a better business owner. As Creatives, we think that our design efforts will sustain our business. I wish that were true. Growth is difficult but necessary.
Stay up-to-date and inspired. New trends, ways of thinking and features in technology develop every day. Take time to dive into the industries you love – fashion, interior design, food, cars, travel, business, or technology (my favourite is magazines). You will stay creatively inspired when enjoying other things. Your creativity will benefit from the fresh inspiration.
Master your niche. A few years ago, Designers could be generalists and still make a great living. If you want to stand out from the sea of designers, it helps to be seen as an expert in a specific direction. Decide what design area you love and do it excellently! The benefits you will find are: You will have higher paying clients, you will work less but more focused, you will be less overbooked and more in the zone of creativity, clients will trust your opinion, and overall, you will enjoy what you do.
Learn the art of communication. Listen, and I’ll repeat it, let go of your ego. Artist aggression has no place in business – learn how to handle criticism. Make your client part of the design process from the beginning. Clients do not understand the creative process, so communicate every step to them as you go along, and they will be an ease to work with. Educate them about your way of working, and they will respect you. It is not what you say – it is how you say it.
Be professional. Have self-discipline – learn time management. Plan your work to the best of your abilities and have procedures in place. Clients trust someone that has their ducks in a row.
Intentional boundaries: Home-based offices tend to be perceived as open invitations for coffee drop-ins, social chats or “just because”. Don’t have an open-door policy during working hours. Set your work hours and respectfully communicate them to your clients, friends, and family. Your space and time are valuable to work, build and grow your venture – working hours are from 8:00-16:00 (or whatever works for you).
Be the example. Unexpected visitors or clients do happen from time to time. Don’t get caught in your pj’s Netflix-ing and distracted from your daily goals. You are a professional Designer/Creative/Artist. Be proud of your profession and honour it by showing up each day, giving it your best and using your precious time to achieve your goals.
Have an inspiring environment to work in, i.e. make it pretty. Create a dedicated space to work and create in. Separate workspace from home space (where possible).
Ensure your pricing is competitive but in line with what you need financially.
Share only your best portfolio pieces, the work that will attract the clients and projects you’d like to work on more.
Believe in yourself, your style of design and your vision. The role of a graphic designer is more important than ever before. We do not just make logos, posters, car branding or flyers. As designers, we must create designs that reach a purpose or a goal. REMEMBER: you are a business asset.
Life is not just about work. Invest in a daily rhythm of nurturing a healthy mind, body, and spirit. Have fun, eat healthily, take social media breaks, don’t compare, exercise, meditate, read books, travel – get in a rhythm that works for you, that is holistic and not only about work. The more balanced your life is, your career and business will be better.
A sustainable business is built on authentic relationships with clients, suppliers, and fellow Creatives. Find people who align with your values. Not everyone will like you or want to work with you – and that is OK. Find the clients, suppliers and peers that fit with your creative soul.
Celebrate others in your creative community. Collaboration over the competition!
Always be open to change. It is the only constant in life. Be ready to pivot when needed.
In the end, do business your way. And you will always be happy and prosperous!