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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business

Offering resources to help streamline your home based graphic design and web design business so you can get back to what you do best… Designing!
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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business
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Now displaying: September, 2020
Sep 28, 2020

Are you producing any of your design projects in-house?

I got the idea for this episode of the podcast when a member of the Resourceful Designer Community shared her new toy with us in our Slack group. Laura bought a Roland VersaSTUDIO Desktop Sign Maker BN-20. It’s an eco-solvent printer she plans on using to produce stickers, vehicle graphics and apparel graphics, among other things.

This new piece of equipment will allow her to produce materials for her clients in-house. She also plans on using it to make pieces to sell through her Etsy shop. This got me thinking about different ways designers can produce things in-house.

Now for the record, I don’t produce anything in-house myself. I had the opportunity years ago, which I’ll share with you a bit later, but I chose to focus my time solely on the design part and not production. But if you’re into it, producing in-house can be a very lucrative income stream for your design business.

Years ago, a designer I knew lost her job and opened up her own home-based design business. When I later ran into her, she told me getting laid off was one of the best things to happen to her. She had purchased special equipment and was now serving clients she loved and happily producing printed materials for them in-house. Items like posters, business cards, postcards and wedding and party invitations,

That was my first exposure to the idea that a home-based graphic designer could also produce material in-house.

When I started my home-based design studio, an office supply representative offered me a high-end office copier for zero dollars. All I had to do was agree to purchase copier toner through him and to pay a small fee of $0.12 per sheet printed on the machine.

The offer was very tempting. But then I started thinking of the time involved running the copier, cutting, folding, and everything else involved with producing in-house, and I decided it wasn’t for me. I prefer to do the design part and let others handle the production part even if it costs me more to farm out these projects.

But many designers love producing their materials. And not just sheets of paper.

Home-based designers can produce things such as:

  • Stickers/decals
  • Heat transfers for garments and apparel
  • Posters
  • Banners
  • Vehicle graphics
  • Foil stamping
  • Laminating
  • Embroidering
  • Die-cutting using circuit makers
  • Screen printers
  • Block print
  • Letterpress
  • 3D printing

There are so many options you can choose from. It might be hard to decide what sort of products you want to produce in-house.

What if you can’t afford the equipment?

What if you can’t afford the equipment required for producing in-house? It might be easier than you think to acquire them.

New equipment is a tax expense.

Keep in mind that any equipment you purchase for your business claimable on your taxes as a business expense. Check with your accountant to find out how to claim the equipment.

Purchase second hand or refurbished.

Second hand or refurbished equipment can often be just as good as purchasing new, except you pay much less. There’s always someone out there selling old equipment. It’s just a matter of looking.

Purchase floor models or demo units.

As new models of equipment are released, stores and distributors must sell their current inventory to make room. These units are often available at great sale prices. But for a more significant discount, ask if they have a floor model or demo unit for sale. These units have minor usage and often come with the original warranty.

Look for grants or low-interest loans to fund your purchase.

Ask your local economic development group or business centre if they know of any grants or low-interest business loans available for small businesses wanting to expand or purchase equipment. You may be surprised at the amount of money available for anyone who knows where to ask.

Grants are great because you don’t have to pay them back. But they often require a lot of paperwork and jumping through hoops to get. But free money may be worth the hassle.

And some “expansion” loans for small businesses are available at 0 or very low-interest rates, which allows you to purchase equipment and pay it back over time.

Open a line of credit.

If you qualify, a line of credit is a good option for purchasing new equipment.

Lines of credit often have much lower interest than loans or credit cards. Most, however, do require collateral to secure them. They’re easier to get if you’re a homeowner and not a renter.

Incentive from seller

Lastly, contact the seller or distributor of the equipment you want and see what sort of deals they can give you. As I said earlier, I could have had a high-end office copier for zero money. All I had to agree to was purchasing the toner through the supplier and a fixed fee per copy.

If you can convince a supplier you’ll be purchasing enough supplies through them; they may offer you a great deal on the equipment.

Producing in-house: Pros and Cons.

Pros of producing in-house

  1. You can make better profits compared to farming out projects.
  2. You can compete better by charging lower prices than your competition.
  3. You control the entire process from design to production.
  4. You can produce projects much faster than farming them out.
  5. Make extra money by producing for other designers.

Cons of producing in-house

  1. The equipment takes up space in your house.
  2. You need room to store supplies.
  3. You must make sure you have supplies on hand to produce projects.
  4. Equipment can be noisy and interfere with your family’s life.
  5. You are responsible for repairs should the equipment break down.
  6. Producing in-house is time-consuming.

Conclusion

I made the decision years ago that producing in-house was not something I wanted to do. But I’m not you. Maybe this is just the thing you need to expand your design business and take it to the next level. This might be the niche that will set you apart from your competition.

If you think producing in-house is something you would like to do, then look into it.

Sep 21, 2020

Do you farm out design projects?

Finding yourself overwhelmed with too many design projects is a sure sign that you are not charging enough for your design services. Don’t turn clients away. Instead, raise your prices and start farming out design work.

The following is a post from the Resourceful Designer Facebook Group.

Hi guys

So I'm turning away a lot of work at the moment, as I have my day job, and seem to have very little energy in the evenings and weekends to take on many freelance jobs. Seriously, I'm feeling so burned out, have been for a while now.

I do the odd freelance jobs here and there for previous clients that I'm friendly with, but I still get a lot of requests, despite not advertising or putting any vibes out there that I'm available.

I usually just recommend one or two other designers, and they really appreciate the work coming their way, but I also sometimes wonder if I'm being too kind? Would this be reciprocated? Could I charge a % from the jobs I recommend? Would outsourcing them take too much energy if I still need to be the person in-between the client and the designer?

Has anyone else been in a similar situation?

I’m sure the original poster is not the only designer facing this problem. At some point in your design career, you will find yourself burdened with more work than you can handle (trust me, it will happen).

When faced with this situation, the first thing you should do is review your design rates, because chances are you are not charging enough for your services. The same applies to all service-based industries. Too much work coming in is a sure sign that prices are too low.

Raising your rates will reduce the number of inquiries you receive, and those inquiries that come in will come from higher-quality clients. It’s a fact experienced by designers the world over. The more you charge, the better calibre of clients you receive.

Raising your design rates can be scary.

Raising design prices scares many designers. What will your current clients think? Will they leave you for a less expensive designer? Will clients stop referring you if you charge more? Will the influx of new design work dry up?

In my experience, and from others I’ve talked to, nothing drastic will happen when you charge more, other than you making more money.

Yes, there is a possibility of losing some clients. But the increased income from remaining clients will make up for the losses. Plus, with fewer clients, you’ll have more time to devote to projects, which means you’ll probably do a better job, one worthy of the higher prices.

Raising rates usually rectifies work overload. However, what if there are still too many projects for you to handle?

In the original poster’s situation, quitting their day job to run their design business full time is an option. But what if that’s not feasible? The solution is farming out design work.

Referring clients to other designers doesn’t help you. And asking for referral fees or commissions from other designers becomes complicated and seldom works.

Instead, you should retain the clients and farm out any design projects you cannot handle. Hire other designers to work for you and earn a percentage of the project cost.

Be an “art director” and farm out design projects.

When you start farming out design work, you act as an “art director.” Your job is to talk to the client, figure out what they need, possibly sketch out some rough design ideas and pass all this information to another designer to complete the work. This lets you satisfy the client without devoting all your time to the project. It’s a win-win for everyone.

How to farm out design work.

To farm out design work, you first need to find capable designers. Inquire within your network of design acquaintances if anyone is available to freelance for you.

If you don’t know any capable designers, you are sure to find some on platforms such as:

Once you find a freelance designer, you act as the go-between. You talk to the client, figure out what they need. Maybe come up with some rough ideas and then get these other designers to complete the work for you.

In some cases, you may give these designers creative freedom to develop their own ideas based on the information you provide them. In other cases, you may dictate exactly what they should design. It will depend on the project and the capabilities of the designer.

Once the freelance designer completes the work, you present it to the client.

Saving you time.

Farming out design work allows you to take on more projects with minimal time commitment on your part. A 10-hour design project may require only one or two hours of your time. Do this several times a week, and you can bill your clients for a full week’s worth of work, even though you’ve put in less than a day’s work yourself.

Once a design project is complete, you pay the designer from the money you charged the client. The difference becomes your income.

Many designers farm out more work than they take on themselves. They meet with the client, go through the whole discovery process, brainstorm ideas, and then farm the actual work out to willing designers who charge them less than they charge their clients.

Farming out design work allows you to keep clients.

Farming out design projects allows you to make money from projects you couldn’t otherwise handle yourself. The clients remain yours and will return to you the next time they require design services. In the future, should you have more time available, you can do the work yourself.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed by the amount of design work you have, consider raising your rates and farming out any design work, you can’t or don’t want to handle yourself.

Do you farm out design work?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Sep 7, 2020

If you want to succeed as a designer, you must invest in yourself.

Have you heard the quote, “it takes money to make money?” The same concept applies to growing your design business as well as improving yourself as a designer. If you don’t invest in yourself, you’ll become stagnant, outdated, and eventually overlooked.

Clients hire graphic and web designers because they want fresh ideas and skillsets to implement them. These clients will quickly tire of someone if all they ever produce are the same old things.

No business or person, for that matter, can do the same thing over and over and expect to succeed. Sure they may thrive in the short term. But if I were to hazard a guess, I would say you have long term goals for yourself and your business. The only way for you to achieve those goals is to invest in yourself.

To prosper and be successful as a designer, as well as live a content life. You must make sure you are always moving forward. Think of yourself as a shark. Certain species of sharks must keep moving if they want to breathe. If they stop moving for any length of time, they’ll die.

Try to have a similar mentality as a shark. To flourish in this business of design, you can’t sit still. Keep learning, improving, acquiring, and more.

I graduated from college in 1992 from a three-year graphic design program. It was only during the second half of our third year that we were introduced to computers. That means most of my design education was done using archaic methods compared to today’s standards. I learned how to use:

  • Proportion wheels
  • French curves
  • blue non-repro pencils
  • Rubylith or Amberlith
  • Letraset rub-on type
  • PMT cameras
  • Waxers
  • Xacto blades
  • and the list goes on

There’s no way I could have built a successful design business and gotten to where I am today without investing in myself. The skills I learned in school just wouldn’t cut it in today’s world of design.

Here are seven ways you can invest in yourself.

1) Invest in equipment

I always say that creativity comes from the designer, not the tools he or she uses. Just like a skilled carpenter can still make beautiful furniture with old tools. But let’s face it. The creativity may come from the designer, but having newer devices sure helps a lot. That’s why it’s worth investing in the equipment you use as much as possible.

I hate spending money on new equipment, but when I do, I make sure I get the best bang for my buck. If that means paying more money upfront for a better option that will last longer, so be it.

I’m a Mac guy. One of the most heard complaints about Macs is their price. But to me, it’s worth the investment for the peace of mind of knowing my computer will run flawlessly for years to come. I used my previous 2010 iMac from the time I bought it new to 2017 when I upgraded it for a new model. That was a good investment.

Of course, there’s other equipment you need besides your computer. Purchase each one with the knowledge that it’s an investment. And the idea behind investing is to get the best return for your dollar.

2) Invest in software and online resources

The software you use to run your design business, as well as the online resources that support your business is all investments. Without them, you couldn’t run your business or earn a living.

Invest in things such as web hosting, plugins, fonts, graphic resources from sources like Design Cuts or Creative Market. Tools like Logo Package Express or Services for creating mockups are all essential for your success.

Don’t forget project/client management software, bookkeeping and invoicing software, and so much more.

There are plenty of free options for you to run your design business. Gimp, for example, is a free design software alternative. But most designers choose to invest in tools such as Adobe CC because it makes their lives easier.

TIP: If you think you are going to use a software or online service enough, and the option is available, I suggest you purchase a lifetime deal. It costs more upfront, but it pays off big time in the long run.

3) Invest in learning

Remember what I said about my college days? The only way I got from then to now was by taking courses, watching tutorials, attending webinars and conferences, reading books, and any other way I could learn.

Times are different now than they were even a few years ago. If you want to learn something new, you can usually find someone on YouTube teaching it. However, YouTube and other free online resources are no substitute for taking a course.

I learned HTML and CSS by taking courses on the old Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning). I also tried to learn PHP that way, but my brain didn’t grasp that one.

Over the years, I’ve bought courses on Udemy, Skillshare, and many courses offered by private individuals or companies.

The difference between a paid course and something you can find for free online is enormous. Both the quality and the content is so much better in most cases. Not to mention, the people behind paid courses want you to like their product so you’ll share it with others and possibly purchase more from them in the future. Therefore, they make sure you get the best information possible for your money.

When it comes to learning something new, you can start with YouTube. But if you’re serious, find a paid course and invest in yourself.

4) Invest in networking/conferences

Ever since I got into this profession, I made a point of going to conferences and networking events.

It’s not just about what you learn at these events. It’s about the people you meet. Have you heard the saying, “It’s not who you know, but who knows you?” This statement should be the foundation of your business. If you want to build a name for yourself, you need to get out there and meet people. Conferences and networking events offer perfect opportunities to do just that. Plus, you have the bonus of leaning things at the same time.

If you work in a design niche, consider attending conferences for that niche. I attend podcast conferences every year, which has allowed me to grow my Podcast Branding business quickly.

There are many design-related conferences you could attend. Here are just a few.

Attending conferences may be costly, but you should make an effort to attend as often as you can, even if it’s only every few years.

If attending conferences is out of your budget for now, why not consider joining online communities. The Resourceful Designer Community is a perfect place for you to meet fellow like-minded designers on a similar path as you. And it’s much less expensive than attending an in-person conference.

There are other paid communities you can join as well. I belong to several paid podcaster communities. I also belong to a paid entrepreneur community. And there are others I’m looking into because I know that each one is an investment in myself.

5) Invest in a team

I made a massive mistake in the first few years I ran my design business. I tried to do everything myself. And I know I’m not alone in this. I believe that many new entrepreneurs make this same mistake. It’s your business, after all; therefore, you want to do everything.

Only after I let the notion that I had to do it all go, and starting hiring outside help for various tasks, that I truly learned what it is to run a business.

A team is not the same as having employees. A team is a group of specialized individuals you can call upon should you need their skillet.

My team is made up of:

  • My accountant
  • My layer
  • My business advisor
  • My virtual assistant
  • Photographers
  • Illustrators
  • Programmers
  • Copywriters
  • Translators
  • and probably more that I’m forgetting.

You use these people to help grow and operate your design business.

In point #3 above, I talked about investing in learning. But one thing all great entrepreneurs need to know is when to learn and when to delegate. Plus, having a team means you have more time on your hands to do the things you are good at doing.

So investing in a team is investing in yourself.

6) Invest in your environment

Whether you rent office space, or you work from home as I do. You want the room you spend your days to not only be practical but also to reflect who you are.

Take the time and invest in turning your working space into a place you enjoy hanging out. It will make those long workdays that much more enjoyable.

As I look around my office, I see some of the swords from my collection on the walls. I see various dragon figurines on my shelf. As Well as lots of geeky bobbles and nick-knacks I collect. All of these reflect who I am. If you know me and came into my home, there’s no mistaking that this office is mine and mine alone.

So invest in yourself by investing in your environment.

If you are someone who likes listening to music while working, then invest in a good set of speakers. Invest in good lighting, so you don’t strain your eyes. And invest in a good chair. Please, do not skimp when it comes to the seat you’re going to park your butt on for hours upon hours for the foreseeable future.

Make your workspace your own. Invest in it.

7) Invest in your health

As a designer, you spend a lot of time sitting down in front of a computer, to the point of neglecting yourself. Don’t let your love of design impede your health.

Remember to takes breaks, get exercise, eat healthily even though that pantry full of junk food is so easily accessible. See your doctor and dentist regularly. Get your eyes checked.

Every point I made before this one is no good if you don’t take care of your health. So if you’re going to invest in yourself, I suggest you start here, with point #7.

How do you invest in yourself?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

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