Are you worried your graphic or web design business won’t survive this 2020 pandemic? With so many clients forced to temporarily close their doors due to social distancing, it’s no wonder designers around the globe are lacking for work.
We’re living in an unprecedented time, and people are reacting and being affected in different ways.
As a home-based designer, isolation is part of daily life. We chose this lifestyle for ourselves. And the longer this pandemic goes on, the more evident it becomes that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone.
Many people are not taking well to being cooped up. Others are embracing this new way of working and may decide it’s something you want to continue doing once life gets back to normal. Only time will tell, and only you can make that decision for yourself.
But there’s a difference between voluntarily working alone and being forced to stay at home day in, day out. For many, the isolation is too much. And unfortunately, the typical remedy for isolation of getting out and being amongst other people is not a solution right now. Even for someone like me, who is used to staying home, it feels strange.
But like all things in life, this too shall pass.
I heard a great quote today.
“In order to appreciate a beautiful sunrise, you first have to live through the darkness.”
Stay strong and stay the course. You’ll get through this.
But what about your design business?
Is your design business suffering right now because of the coronavirus? Are your clients and projects drying up?
Over the past week, I’ve seen designers at both ends of the spectrum. Some are busier now than ever, while others are desperate for work. How are you going to weather this storm?
Around the globe, almost all businesses except for essential services are shut down. And with so many companies temporarily closed, it’s no wonder work is drying up for graphic and web designers.
Government aid packages created to help businesses affected by COVID-19 may not be enough. Many of the businesses forced to close due to the coronavirus will never reopen. Financially, this is the nail in their coffin. Without money coming in, there’s only so long a business can hang on. No matter how much aid is offered.
I know this sounds grim, but I assure you, there is a silver lining to this.
Back in 2008, when the last big recession hit, almost all businesses suffered. Many of them forced to close, except for designers. in 2008-09, design businesses saw a boom.
How can that be?
When businesses shut down, their employees start looking for jobs elsewhere. But when multiple companies in the same industry shut down, there are not enough available jobs for the number of people searching for work. This leads to a large number of those people deciding to start their own business.
I saw this myself in 2008, especially in the trades field. Layed off electricians, plumbers and construction workers started their own business. Other people started businesses based on their areas of expertise, their hobbies, or other skills they had.
All of these people needed a logo, a website, and other branded material to get their business started, and designers everywhere saw an increase in work. I anticipate the same thing will happen once this pandemic has passed.
With the inevitability of businesses closing, many of their employees will decide to start their own business, and they can use your help.
To take advantage of this influx of new entrepreneurs, you may have to pivot the way you do things.
I’ve talked before about the importance of finding a niche for your design business but now is not the time. Right now, you should focus all your efforts on getting as many new clients as you can, regardless of niche.
These new business people are not seasoned entrepreneurs. They don’t know about the various resources available to them online and abroad. They don’t know about Fiverr or 99designs. What they do know is they need help, and when someone needs help, the first place they look is close to home.
And that’s why you should be focusing all your marketing effort locally.
You can also contact your local business center and let them know you’re available to help anyone who is starting a new business.
Do whatever it takes to get your name out in your local market.
Raise your prices, raise your prices, raise your prices. So many people who talk in the design space are continually encouraging you to increase your rates. I usually agree with that 100%. I’m always saying that whatever you’re currently charging for your design services, you’re worth more than that.
However, now’s not a good time to raise your prices.
In fact, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, If your design business is suffering right now because of the pandemic, this may be a time to offer discounted pricing.
I usually discourage discounts because I believe that discounts lower the value of the service you provide. But these are not regular times.
Perhaps you could offer a discount to clients who are starting a new business.
I’m not a fan of design packages, but you may want to create special packages for new business owners. Try anything it takes to get clients on board. And once the world gets back to normal, your design business can get back to normal. Hopefully, with all the new clients you picked because of the crisis.
You will get through this. You may need to pivot your design business to weather the storm, but you will get through this. And if you’re lucky, you may look back and say, 2020 was your best year to date.
Remember that quote I said earlier.
“In order to appreciate a beautiful sunrise, you first have to live through the darkness.”
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
Have you checked what services your local library offers lately? Many libraries offer free subscriptions to learning platforms such as Lynda.com or Skillshare.com. You can also download audiobooks and eBooks free of charge.
Libraries have come a long way since the days of only carrying books. It might be time for you to get or renew your library card and check them out.
In this final instalment of The Definitive Guide To Starting A Home-Based Design Business, I'm covering your business structure.
If you haven’t heard the first three parts of this series, I suggest you go back and listen to them.
Once you know what you’re going to do with starting your business. You need to decide what form or structure it will take.
Your business structure will determine how and when you pay taxes. It may affect how you deal with banks, especially if you are applying for a loan or line of credit to help you get started. Different insurance rates may apply depending on your business structure.
I’m not a business expert. I highly suggest you talk to your local business center, your accountant, your lawyer and seek their professional advice on the structure that is right for your design business. Plus, the information in this article is based on Canada and the USA. Rules and regulations may differ where in the world you are and may even vary depending on what state or province where you live. That’s why it’s important to seek the guidance of someone in your local area.
Also, your business structure can change over time. It’s possible that you start off using one model today, and switching to a different structure down the road.
A sole proprietorship is the simplest way to structure your business. A sole proprietorship is a business that is owned and operated by one person, you.
If you are running a sole proprietorship under a name other than your own name, you are required to register the name with your government business registry.
A partnership is an agreement between two or more parties where they combine their skills and resources and share ownership in the business.
A cooperative is an enterprise, or business, owned by a group of people or companies seeking to satisfy a common need. The initial capital for a business cooperative is raised by member shares, and personal liability is limited to the value of each member’s share. All members have one vote, regardless of the value of their shares.
A corporation turns your company into its own legal entity. Meaning the company has the same rights as an individual. It can acquire assets; it can go into debt; it can enter into contracts, etc.
A corporation is the most expensive and most complex business structure to set up and operate. However, the majority of big businesses, as well as some smaller ones, are incorporated. In Canada, you have the choice of incorporating provincially or federally. In the USA, a business can be incorporated at the state or federal level.
For a home run design business, if you want to incorporate, you’re probably going to do it at the state or provincial level unless you regularly do business in a different state or province. For example, if you live in northern Florida and often travel to Georgia to meet clients in person, you may be better off incorporating on a federal level.
As an added benefit, if you incorporate on a federal level, you’re ensured that no other design business in your country can operate under the same business name. If you incorporate at the state or province level, there’s nothing stopping someone in another state or province from using the same business name as you.
Any time you see the words “Limited,” “Ltd.,” “Incorporated,” “Inc.” or “Corporation” you know that the business is a corporation.
It is possible to incorporate it on your own. Still, the paperwork and regulations can get very complicated, so it’s advisable to hire a lawyer to help you through the process, especially when it comes to the division of and types of shares involved.
Plus, you’ll need to set out bylaws for your own business, stating how your corporation will operate, how “officers and directors” are chosen, how the business accounts will be maintained, etc. In other words, incorporating can get complicated if you don’t have help.
The majority of home-based designers are individuals who want to run a business all by themselves. For them, a sole proprietorship is all they need. However, if you want the extra protection, and you don’t mind the extra work and expense, then incorporating is the way to go. And if you plan on working with someone else, you have the option of starting a partnership or a co-op.
Once again, let me stress that you should seek business advice from a professional before making this decision.
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
Resource of the week 101 Ways to get freelance design work & clients looking for websites.
This past week, sports organizations around the world have stopped play to minimize the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Broadway closed down all performances. Disney World, Disney Land, Disney Paris and Universal Studios shut their doors for the rest of the month.
Even Mount Everest shut down to climbers for the rest of the year. When one of the most remote places on earth shuts down, you know the situation is serious.
In light of this global pandemic, many businesses are asking their employees to self-isolate and work from home.
If you are not a self-employed designer and instead work for an employer, one who is asking you to work from home here is some advice to help you through this temporary job relocation.
Working from home is very different than working in an office environment. Without a formal structure, it can be easy to lose track of time and become less productive.
A schedule helps you stay on track and get your work done. And the good thing is your home schedule doesn’t have to follow your regular work schedule.
You can adjust your home schedule for the times you’re most productive. If you’re not a morning person, then shift your schedule an hour or more.
If your morning commute typically starts around 8 am to be at work for your 9-5 shift, why not start working at 8 am and finish at 4 pm. Eliminating the commute gives you two extra hours per day.
Of course, you need to work the hours that your boss needs you to work. And be conscious of what times you may need to communicate with clients, contractors or co-workers.
Since working from home is out of your element, and since there’s nobody there keeping an eye on you, the best thing you can do is make yourself a to-do list and adhere to it.
Identify what you need to accomplish each day and check off each task as you complete it. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, and it will hold you accountable and make sure you are using your time productively.
Find a dedicated space in your home and designate it as your “work area.” Your bed or sofa doesn’t count. Lounging on the couch with your laptop on your lap may sound pleasant and relaxing, but it doesn’t lead to productivity.
In this case, your kitchen or dining room table is acceptable as a workspace if you don’t already have a desk.
The more you make the area feel like a work environment, the more you’ll feel like working.
Inquire if your company has any allowance or budget to help you with expenses. Sitting at a kitchen chair all day is not comfortable. Your employer may be willing to purchase or rent you a chair to use while you work from home. Or they may ship one to you from the office. The same goes for computer equipment or whatever else you need to do your job.
Your employer is paying you to be productive, even when you’re working from home. They might be willing to invest a bit to ensure you can do the work properly.
When working from home, any regular office or client meetings will most likely take place over video. Here are some tips.
When in a conference call with several people, make sure you acknowledge your presence. Let people know you are there. Sure they can see your avatar or your video, but letting them know you are there tells them you are focused on the meeting.
You should also acknowledge the others who are on the call. If you would typically say hi to everyone before a live meeting, do the same on a virtual one.
You can also try Loom, which allows you to send video emails to people. It’s great for presenting things to your boss or clients that you would generally do in person.
For someone not used to working from home, it can get lonely, especially if the situation lasts for several weeks. Here are some tips to help you deal with isolation.
There’s a good chance your children’s school will close during this pandemic. Which means you have to deal with kids at home while trying to work.
Explain to your kids that even though you are home, you are working, and they must allow you to work.
This may not be the best parenting advice, but let your kids watch tv, play video games, if possible, get them to read a book. Try different things to distract them and let you get your work done.
Make sure to check in on them regularly. Less so with older kids, but you may have to check on younger kids every 20-60 minutes if they are not within eyesight.
Make time in the schedule I talked about earlier. Set “breaks” throughout the day and spend some quality time with them before getting back to work. Show interest in what they’re doing. Be sure you let them know how much you appreciate them allowing you time to work. If keeping your children entertained and happy means extending your workday by an hour or so, it may be worth it.
Working from home is fantastic. I wouldn’t change my lifestyle for anything. But one of the fallbacks to home-based working are the many distractions that come with working in the same place you live.
You may want to do a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, or take the time to prepare a big lunch. These are things you wouldn’t be doing if you were at the office, so try avoiding them while working from home.
Treat your work time and home time differently, even if they both happen at the same place.
Take advantage of this opportunity. If you want to dress casually while working at home, or even stay in your PJs, then go ahead. Don’t feel like shaving, doing your hair or putting on makeup; it’s not a big deal unless you have a video call.
Want to catch up on one of your Netflix show during your lunch hour. Why not.
Use this opportunity to learn what it feels like to work from home and figure out if it’s something you can picture yourself doing permanently in the future.
Who knows, this pandemic may turn out to be a blessing in disguise and propel you to a future life of entrepreneurship.
You never know.
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
Tip of the week Create a coronavirus (COVID-19) poster for your clients.
In the middle of this global pandemic, many businesses are making an effort to inform their employees, clients and customers of how they are handling things. This is the perfect opportunity for you to design a poster for them to use.
Create a single poster with all the information about the outbreak, and offer it to each of your clients with their own branding on the top.
Be sure to include your own branding and contact information on it as well.
Offer this for free during this trying time and your clients will appreciate you all the more for it.
[sc name="pod_ad"]By this point in the Definitive Guide To Starting A Home-Based Design Business series, you’ve determined that you want to start a home-based design business, you’ve written your business plan, and you’ve figured out your workspace situation at home. If you haven’t done any of that, go back and listen to Part One and Part Two of this series.
Now that the ball is rolling, and you’ve figured out precisely what you want to do and how to go about getting it all started, it might be a good time to see if you are allowed to run a business from home.
Are there any restrictions that may prevent you from starting your home-based design business? Depending on where you live, there may be certain rules and regulations in place dictating what is allowed and what is not allowed when it comes to home-based businesses.
Some municipalities and communities require all home-based businesses to have a business license. Some require a home occupation permit, and some may require a regulatory license depending on the business model. Contact your local government to see what licenses and permits your business requires.
These licenses and permits cost money and, in some cases, may take time before they are approved. Some of them are one-time fees, while others must be renewed on an annual basis. All permits and licenses are tax-deductible as a business expense.
On top of the licenses and permits, you must check if there are any municipal or even neighbourhood by-laws that may prevent you from running a home-based business. For example, the neighbourhood I live in has a by-law preventing me from seeing clients regularly in my home.
Something else to look into is whether or not you might require license and permits from nearby municipalities. For example, if you live in one municipality but regularly commute to a nearby municipality to do business, you may require a license in both places.
Many municipalities have by-laws prohibiting home-based businesses from having employees other than family members residing in the home. In most cases, this won’t be a problem for a home-based design business. However, if you are starting as a partnership or want to hire a salesperson or anybody else, you may not be allowed to depending on where you live.
I suggest you contact your local municipality to find out exactly what you need to run your business in your area legally. You can also contact your local business center and your chamber of commerce for their advice as well.
If you are starting your home-based business on a part-time or casual basis while you work another job for someone else, be sure that your main job doesn’t have restrictions against employees owning or working at another business.
If you signed a contact at your current employer, review it and make sure nothing in the contract prevents you from moving forward.
Another thing to think about is insurance. Both on your business and your property. Your home insurance premiums may increase if you are operating a business from your home. And some insurance companies may void your coverage altogether, so be sure to check yours.
Some municipalities require proof of insurance before issuing you any business permits.
When reviewing your insurance policy, consider increasing your liability coverage. This protects you should anyone come to your home for business purposes and are hurt while on your property.
You may be thinking you don’t’ need extra liability coverage because you don’t plan on having clients over. But what about delivery people? If you order a new printer or computer and the delivery person slips and falls on your steps, and your insurance company discovers they were delivering goods for your business, they may decide not to cover you.
Also, as a sole proprietor, you are personally liable for all debts. If you order a $10,000 print job and your client fails to pay. You are liable to the printing company.
You may also want to acquire business interruption insurance in the event of a fire, theft, etc. It can help cover the costs of getting things up and running again.
Permits, licences and insurance may not be fun, but they are something you need to think about when starting your home-based design business.
Let’s talk briefly about marketing your business.
As you know, marketing is key to any business’s success. It ensures that your services are put in front of people who need them.
Because all businesses market themselves differently, and that includes design business, home-based or not, you must decide how you plan on promoting yours. Your skill levels, knowledge, experience and resources will help determine who your clients will be and how you will promote your services to them.
A business that’s just starting should ask both existing and potential clients what they should be doing to promote their business. Start conversations, interview clients and potential clients, hand out questionnaires, and use the valuable information you get back to determine the best way to market your services.
Networking is a significant part of marketing. Every established designer in the Resourceful Designer Communityattributes networking to the success of their business. And it’s the same everywhere.
Design is mostly a word-of-mouth industry, and you cannot rely solely on your clients, spreading the word. You need to get out there and pound the pavement and let people know that you’re open for business. Networking should be a big part of your marketing plan, especially at the start.
Failure to develop a strong marketing plan is one of the reasons most new businesses fail.
All of this is part of your marketing plan.
Build a website first. If you are not a web designer, hire someone else to design one for you.
In episode 149 - Starting A Design Business From Scratch, I mentioned how if I was starting over, the very first thing I would do is build a website for my business. I have a website for my side business Podcast Branding that brings me several new design projects every week.
Don’t underestimate the power of a well-designed website. When done right, it can become your most valuable client acquisition tool.
In part 4, the final installment of this series, I’m going to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of the different business structures you can choose and a few other odds and ends as I wrap up this definitive guide to starting a home-based design business.
Make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast, so you don’t miss it.
Tip of the week Asking for critiques
When asking people for critiques, don’t ask what they think about the design, instead ask them how they would improve the design. You'll get much better and more useful responses from them.
In the previous episode, I talked about whether or not running a home-based business is for you as well as things to consider before deciding to start one. This episode I’m making the assumption that you’ve decided to go ahead with your plans and discuss the next steps in the process.
There is a cost involved with starting any business, even one run from your home. You may not be paying to lease office space, but you will still need to fork out money to get your design business started.
Some of the costs may include a separate phone number to keep your business and personal communications separate, preferably a plan with voicemail and call display. You’ll need a computer and design software required to do your work. And then there are things such as a desk and chair, bookshelves, maybe a file cabinet.
Don’t forget your internet. If web design is part of your services, or you'll need to upload and download large print files you may want to increase your internet plan for more bandwidth.
Other costs include business cards, We may be living in a digital world, but you really should have business cards. And maybe you’ll want a printed flyer or brochure to help spread the word of your new endeavour. An Intro Packet might be a good idea as well.
Plus, there’s the fee involved with business licenses and permits, the cost of accounting and legal fees, and memberships, clubs and communities to help you get started. It all adds up.
Sure, starting a home-based design business is the least costly option to begin your entrepreneurial life, but there’s still a start-up cost involved. And that's not taking into account the cash buffer you should have to tide you over as you build up your clientele, start designing and wait to get paid.
You should set long-term goals to acquire some of the above-mentioned things which allow you to spread out the costs. Buy only what you absolutely need right now. Buy used or refurbished to save money, or purchase lesser models until you can afford top-of-the-line equipment. Make do with what you have and grow along with your business.
For the first two years of my business I sat at a desk I picked out of the trash bin at the printer I used to work for. I had to replace one leg with a 2x4, but It got me by until I was able to barter a better desk by exchanging services.
Even though you’re starting a home-based business, there will be costs involved in the beginning so do what you can to save money.
A business plan is a written document describing the aspects of your proposed business. Although not absolutely necessary to start a business, a business plan can help you when it comes to business decisions and keep you focused on the right path.
A business plan is a worthwhile exercise because it helps you think through your ideas, focus on what needs to be done, and identify what information or assistance you still need.
A business plan will improve your chances of success by setting out realistic goals and financial projections that you can measure your progress against. Plus, if you plan on securing a start-up loan or applying for any grants, you will need a business plan.
There are various ways to write a business plan, and if you’re doing this just for yourself then whatever way you choose is fine. However, If you are applying for a loan or grant, I suggest you reach out to the organization and ask them what their preferred format is. It will save you time and trouble in the long run.
There are plenty of online resources, some free and some paid, that can help you write a business plan. But here are the general elements that should be included.
There’s a lot more that goes into a business plan, but I wanted to give you a quick idea of how to lay one out.
Let's talk about your actual workspace.
If at all possible, your workspace should be a separate part of your home dedicated solely to your business. Having a designated area will help you feel like you are “going to work” and at the end of the day like you are “leaving work”.
Keeping the two separate makes it much easier to designate between your work and family life.
These are just a few things you might want to consider as you’re setting things up.
In Part 3 of this series, I’m going to talk about the legalities of running a business from home as well as touch briefly on marketing your new endeavour.
Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.
This week’s question comes from Cynthia
I have one semester left of design school and am starting to get commissions here and there. I plan to work for someone after I graduate and then I'd like to start my own freelance. I was wondering if you have or could point me in the direction of a generic graphic design contract? I'm not really sure where to start with that.
To find out what I told Cynthia you’ll have to listen to the podcast.
Tip of the week Business Grants
Whether you're starting out or you are planning on expanding your business, it's a good idea to inquire if there are any special grants you may qualify for. Contact your local municipality, business centers and Chamber of Commerce and find out what's available. Grants are "free money" to aid you in your business. Every little bit helps.