The Three-Part Strategy That Will Build Your Graphic Design Business

Starting any business is difficult and a graphic design business is no different, and the you’re creative – you’ll figure it out approach ain’t going to cut it.

Graphic Design Business

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Whether you’re new to the graphic design industry or a seasoned veteran, you may struggle with your business’s marketing aspect.

After all, you’re focused on creating, not selling.

However, if you don’t continue to find work, you won’t have anything to design. Many designer’s mindset is more creative than businesslike, but this post will help you grow your graphic design business mindset.

One of the biggest hurdles many designers grapple with is advertising their own work, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. In this post we’re going to focus on the 3 core pillars you need to for a strategy to build your graphic design business.

No more delay, here is a three-part plan to help you take action and tap into new sources for your graphic design business.


Build Your Niche

If you’re just starting as a designer, your first inclination may be to reach out anywhere and everywhere for business. That approach, however, may not be the best way to get clients. It’s more likely that you will build a customer base by targeting your market.

When you find a niche audience, you can specialize. You can become an expert in a specific field and build a reputation on it. Say, for example, you decide to target the restaurant industry. After a few campaigns, you’ll learn what type of products restaurants need, such as:

  • A logo that works as well on an outdoor sign as it does on a website
  • Menus that are easy to read and navigate
  • Direct mail coupons distributed in the local neighborhood

Once you’ve worked with a couple of restaurants, their owners might drop your name at a networking event. Your good reputation can spread through your area’s industry. A new restaurant owner can rely on your expertise because you’re familiar with the process. You know what materials should be designed right away, and you know which advertising methods work and which don’t.

How should you choose your niche? Begin by asking yourself a few questions:

  • What are you drawn to?
  • What interests you?
  • What businesses have approached you in the past?
  • What industries will continue to grow in the future?


Build Your Network

Graphic design can be a lonely business. You might spend hours in front of your computer, working solo on a magazine layout, setting up your weekly schedule or tracking costs in Quickbooks Premier. Once in a while, it’s good to leave your nest and meet people. A great way to get out of isolation is to attend networking events. Grab a stack of business cards (that you designed, of course) and head to a seminar, conference or convention. Just being immersed in your industry can inspire you or spark new ideas. While you’re there, take time to meet new people and talk about what you do.

One thing to remember about networking is that you’re not there to sell yourself blatantly. The process should be about building relationships. While you may be eager to tell others all about your skills, be sure you’re reciprocating. Ask people what they do for a living, what interests them, or their expertise in a particular area. Networking is a two-way street, and you’re likely to learn something yourself. People will remember that you took the time to listen to them. They’re also more likely to recommend someone who didn’t just drop a name but formed a memorable connection.

If you find yourself at your desk after all, you can network right where you are. Browse for online forums and discussion boards in your niche and see what questions people are asking. If you know the answer, you can offer helpful information. As you strike up conversations online, remember to follow the same rules you would if you were meeting these contacts in person. Don’t turn all your discussions into sales pitches — focus instead on building relationships. It certainly doesn’t hurt to advertise your skills, but if that’s all you do, you risk turning off people and losing their interest.

Networking can be spontaneous. You might make your best connections at an industry convention, but don’t overlook the potential of meeting someone in line at the grocery. If you keep a few business cards handy at all times, you’ll be ready to network at a moment’s notice.


Build Your Skills

Graphic designers are usually evaluated more on the work they do than the level of education they completed. While you probably spent time honing your skills in formal training or obtaining a degree or certification, your potential clients will most likely review your work before looking at your degree.

Education is essential, though. Design tools evolve constantly. To stay relevant, you’ll need to brush up on the latest developments and techniques. One way is to attend graphic design conferences and conventions. You’ll be able to check off two items from your to-do list: learning and networking.

As you know, styles change constantly. What was hot last year (or last week) might be out of fashion now. Sometimes, trends from 20 years ago are all the rage again. It can be a lot to keep up with, but as a designer, it’s imperative to stay on top of what is new or your clients’ materials could look outdated. You can continue developing your eye for design by merely staying aware of trends. As a creative person, you probably look over printed materials and websites with an observant eye. It’s a good habit — keeping up with what is popular will help you bring the freshest designs to your clients.

With each project you take on, you will develop the skill of anticipating your clients’ needs.

Here are some examples of how that works:

  • A nonprofit organization asks for a quote on an annual report. You anticipate that the budget will be tight to minimize administrative costs. You can help find a printing company that offers discounts for nonprofits.
  • A company wants you to help with a social media campaign. You anticipate that it will be a fast-paced project with quick turnaround times as platforms are updated daily or even more often.
  • Your client needs both digital and print media. You already know that your designs have to work as well on a screen as they do on paper. You can also advise your client that its logo colors might look different on a sheet of paper than they do on a customer’s computer monitor because one image is produced with ink while the other is made with light.

As you continue to develop your professional skills, you’ll become an expert in the field, and clients will know they can trust you to handle their needs. They will also be more likely to recommend you to others — and word-of-mouth advertising can be the best kind.

Marketing strategies may not be at the top of your list of favorite things, but you don’t have to dread them. Once you build your plan, you’ll be ready to reach out to potential clients and increase your business.