How to Start a Graphic Design Business for Freelancers

How to start a graphic design business at home

If you’re a graphic designer and want to know how to start a graphic design business from home, you’ve come to the right place. No matter if it’s a side gig or a full-time work-from-home business, the steps in this article will guide you in the right direction. 

By the end of this blog post, you’ll have a much better understanding of: 

    • How to start your graphic design business from home.
    • The equipment and software that you need to create professional designs.
    • How much you can charge for your graphic design skills.
    • Plus where to start looking for your first clients.

By the way, if the concept of freelancing is a little foreign to you, check out this article of ours on What is Freelancing and What Jobs are Freelance

How to Start a Graphic Design Business? First Things First

Before you name your business, design a logo, and purchase a domain, be like Kermit below and create a design portfolio. This is a book of work (either print or digital) that showcases your design skills and is a golden ticket to getting paid for what you love to do.

Kermit the frog with a graphic design portfolio

If you don’t have a portfolio, don’t worry, you can easily start building one up. Here are some options for you:

    • Complete a few graphic design courses that are practical and help you build a portfolio. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered on this one! 
    • Look for entry-level remote graphic design work or complete an internship.
    • Create a few sample design projects to show clients. For example, if you’re going to be designing social media posts, use a free tool like Canva to create sample pages to showcase your ideas and skills. 
    • Offer free designs for family and friends who might need graphic design help. For example, maybe someone you know is trying to get a blog up or a website and they need design help. You could offer your services in exchange for featuring it as part of your portfolio. 
    • Feature past projects – If you’ve done design work before, even if it was a couple of years back, you can always ask past clients if you can feature the work you did for them in your portfolio. If clients are happy with your work, most times they will be okay with you showing their site or projects. After all, it’s a form of free advertising.  
  • These are just a few ideas to get you started and will provide you with curated portfolio pieces that can leverage additional work. 

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How to Start a Graphic Design Business – Step by Step Guide

With designs in hand, you are ready to gather the necessary software and equipment, create a business plan that includes rates and invoicing, and find your first client. We’ve created a few steps in the form of questions to answer to help you along the way.

Lego man using a map to depict how to start your graphic design business

Step # 1 – What type of graphic design service would you like to offer?

The sky’s the limit when it comes to having a graphic design business at home. You can take a jack-of-all-trades approach or narrow it down to one particular type of graphic design service. 

For example, you might decide to offer a full graphic design package to a customer including creating their branding guidelines, marketing templates, website look and feel, and more. 

Or, you might decide to specialize in a service like designing a wedding portfolio that includes invitations, a wedding album, thank you notes, etc. 

The key is to find something that you are passionate about so that you can love work at home. 

Graphic designer's desk at home

Step # 2 – Do you have all the skills to start and grow a graphic design business?

When starting a graphic design business, you need to ask yourself if you are qualified to take on all the tasks a client expects from you.  

Although graphic design is the main skill, there are many background skills that you need to work on if you are going to start your own business and keep it growing. 

These include:

    • How to find clients online and offline.
    • How to apply for posts and take part in interviews.
    • How to conduct an initial consultation with a client to make sure you understand their needs and requirements. 
    • Creating mock-ups and design concepts.
    • Doing the actual design and design revisions.
    • Choosing the correct software etc.
    • Tracking your time and expenses.
    • Invoicing your clients.

Also, it’s always good to work on improving your graphic design skills (and build  your portfolio), so check out our 10 Best Online Graphic Design Courses – Upskill for Success [coming soon!]

You got this sign for graphic design business

Step # 3 – Do you have the equipment and software to start your graphic design business?

With as little as $1,000, you can start a graphic design business. You can save the money you need to start your business or acquire a personal loan to fund your initial costs. 

The following items are needed to get started:

Computer and Monitor or Laptop – Research which computers are best for graphic creation. You can buy a refurbished computer in the beginning to save money. Head over to our home office section for a few ideas on the best desktop computers for your home office. 

Adobe Creative Cloud Software SubscriptionAdobe Creative Cloud is the gold standard in graphic design software. It’s used by students, professionals, schools, and agencies, etc.

It’s important to invest in Adobe to provide clients with industry-standard compatible files and for staying competitive when interviewing for agency and design production work. Investing in Adobe is about $9.99-$52.99 per user per month depending on your package.

All-in-One Printer –  A printer is useful for checking color composition and sizing. Regarding corporate design, for example, specific color and size expectations are required to meet brand standards.

A printer can also be useful when meeting one on one with a client (i.e. local job) to provide physical drafts of work for payment installments and for marking requested edits for the client to sign off on (for your own protection when money is exchanged). We also have a few printer suggestions for you in our home office area. 

Professional business license – According to StartingYourBusiness.com: “There is no licensing specific to a graphic design business, but some common local, state and federal registrations most graphic design businesses need include a sales tax permit, Employer Identification Number, and Occupancy Permit among others. ” 

For businesses outside the US, check with your local government office to see if any licensing, permits, or tax requirements need to be met.

If you want to invest more money into your business, consider adding:

Pantone colors fanned out in a rainbow

A Patone color matching system – The Pantone color matching system is for choosing specific colors for branding and consistent printing. Pantone colors are often used in company branding to differentiate one brand from another. Companies even trademark their specific Pantone colors such as Tiffany Blue or Starbucks Green. 

A Pantone color is a unique combination of 14 different inks. The Pantone matching system provides an exact color formula to the designer to then give to the printer. There are several advantages to Pantone including a lower printing cost compared to a 4-color process system (CMYK) and a consistent color match during every print run (even if you are printing a brochure in the US and packaging in China).

A drawing tablet – if you prefer to sketch out your designs or draw things by hand, then a drawing tablet is a good option. You can sketch out your designs by hand using the pen or stylus, and your designs are translated onto your computer screen, allowing you to save them!

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Canva Pro monthly subscription – Canva is a graphic design platform that can be used to create anything and everything related to design. It’s ideal for beginners and pros alike. The free version has a number of features that you can use, but if you want to experience all the tools and resources, then a pro subscription is ideal. 

High-speed internet plus a back-up internet provider – If you’re running cloud-based software of any sort, slow internet can kill your flow plus cause problems with uploading or downloading graphics. Also, if you are communicating virtually with clients, it’s a good idea to have a back-up internet connection of sorts in case the one goes down, you can always swap onto the other provider. 

A desk for dual monitors and an ergonomic desk chair – If you’ve never used an extra monitor before, trust me, it will take your productivity and design to the next level. Investing in a desk for dual monitors will give you plenty of space plus you’ll also feel more professional with an official desk. Throw in an ergonomic desk chair and you’re ready to take on the world of graphic design in comfort! Head over to our home office articles for desk and chair ideas. 

Desk with dual monitors for graphic design.

Step # 4 – Do you have an online portfolio and presence?

We briefly mentioned it earlier (remember Kermit?) but it’s worth covering again because it’s so important. 

In graphic design, a strong portfolio can land you more jobs. Having an up-to-date representation of your design skills not only helps build trust with your clients but can also bridge the gap between creatives and non-creatives. Sometimes clients don’t know what they want until they see it. If you have something to show them, it will make the whole process a lot easier. 

If you have the budget, consider getting your own domain. You can use your name or the name of your design business. Investing in a website domain is crucial for proving that you are serious about your business. If you are not familiar with web design, you can hire a freelancer (on sites like Fivver and UpWork) to give your portfolio a professional look.

However, not everyone is in a position to pay for a domain and hosting upfront. Sites like Wix and Behance offer free web space for design portfolios.

Create a portfolio online for your graphic design business from home

Step # 5 – How will you calculate your rate?  

Rates are a common pinch point that many freelancers and business owners struggle with. You don’t want to charge too little and risk not making enough but you also don’t want to charge too much and risk losing clientele to other graphic designers.

If you are working with a client that has a large budget don’t be afraid to raise your rate. Conversely, if you are working with a small business and the pay is low, make sure you are getting amazing portfolio pieces to make up for the lack of compensation. You can make up for low paying jobs by using the finished projects to impress potential clients and increase your overall revenue.

Check out our general pricing guide below that is based on years of design experience.

    • 0-2 years’ experience – $20-$30 per hour
    • 3-5 years’ experience – $35-$60 per hour
    • 6-10 years’ experience – $100-$200 per hour

You can also use this free calculator to create a custom proposal for a client.

Also, don’t forget to figure in overhead costs like software, equipment, website costs, and revision time. 

Step # 6 – How will you keep track of finances and project tracking?

As with most businesses, there are some behind-the-scenes activities to keep things running smoothly such as tracking finances and projects. Here are a few resources to help you. 

Accounting

For keeping a record for taxes and a steady stream of income into your bank account, creating and organizing invoices is a task that will quickly become routine. Creating a business account with PayPal is a great start. Most companies are comfortable paying you through this popular platform and copy and pasting invoices is a breeze.

If time tracking is a large part of your business or you just want more control over customizing your invoices, Invoice Ninja is worth looking into. It has a powerful forever free plan, with paid plans starting at $10 per month.

We highly recommend engaging an accountant or bookkeeper to help you with all the other intricacies of paying yourself, taxes, financial record keeping etc. Let the professionals do their thing while you focus on your strengths and clients.

Project Tracking

Keeping track of your clients and their respective projects is a must to be a successful freelancer. If you need a free project tracker, I recommend Trello. Trello is easy to use and provides great basic functions for freelancers. 

As your business grows and you need to have integrated invoicing and analytics, Monday.com is my favorite option. Both platforms have mobile apps so you can keep an eye on your projects while you are on the go.

A red pen across a page tracking finances

Step # 7 – Don’t forget the admin

Creating a written contract between the designer and client is a must if you want to get paid on time. Since projects differ based on the type of design and scope, you are going to need various documents at the ready.

Docracy.com provides free, curated open-source legal documents. Smashing Magazine features a top 10 list of free legal documents specifically for graphic designers. 

Step # 8 – Who is your target market? Narrow your focus

Before you start mass bidding potential jobs, it’s important to determine your target market and focus on that market first. Do you want to help small businesses? Women entrepreneurs? Choose a market that supports your design type and style, as well as your passion. 

Also, do some competitor research. On sites like Freelancer.com and Upwork.com you can view other freelancers, what they offer, how many jobs they’ve done and what they charge. This can help you find any shortages or gaps in markets that you could target. 

The focus point of a camera

Step # 9 – Find your first client!

A great place to start is: Where to Find The Best Remote Graphic Design Jobs

In this article, we cover our top 10 resources for seeking out new clients. Utilizing these job boards and freelance websites can help you build your business, your portfolio, and your graphic design skills!

Conclusion

The best day to start your graphic design business is today. Whether you are off to design school, getting a personal loan for equipment, or pitching for your first client, we have full confidence your hard work will pay off!

We hope that this article has given you some insight into how to start a graphic design business from home. If you know someone who would benefit from reading this blog, we would be ever so grateful if you shared it with them!

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