Starting a design business is challenging, so if you are into it, check this bunch of handy tips on building a successful design business that clients worldwide will know and trust.

Launching a design business of your own can be exhilarating and daunting at the same time. But hey, if you want to start earning those high-paying contracts, you’ve got to build your own brand. A brand that your clients and peers will trust and respect. That said, rising in the competitive graphic design industry is challenging, and you will need more than your innate talent to succeed. For one, you will need to create a killer brand identity and spend time picking out fonts, optimizing visuals, and researching your audience.

In addition, when starting your design business, you should also know about business structure. There are several options for a design business structure, each with its own implications. The best protection is provided by corporations, but they are complex to manage. Sole proprietorships and partnerships offer little liability protection. Corporations offer strong protection, but they are difficult to manage. Limited Liability Companies (LLC) often strike a balance, offering liability protection while maintaining simplicity in operation. A design firm might find forming an LLC particularly beneficial. As a formal structure, it enhances credibility, important in the design industry, and protects its personal assets from business liability. Creating an LLC for your design business can be a wise decision, as it offers the right balance of flexibility and protection.

You also need to channel your inner businessperson, and plan your finances, make a client acquisition plan, build a communication strategy, and much more. While it seems a bit overwhelming at first, rest assured that there are concrete steps you can take to make your entrepreneurial dream a sweet reality.

Without further ado, here’s how you can start a design business and ensure long-term success in the field.

Building a compelling brand

In the modern business world, the road to success starts with brand-building. You can be the most talented designer you know, but if you don’t have a powerful brand, chances are you’re not getting very far. Why? Because clients want to work with a professional who leads by example. So, if they are to entrust you with designing their brand, website, or other, they need to see that you’re worth your salt.

Of course, the portfolio on your website will help you land the top clients, but a portfolio is a single part of the puzzle. First, you need to build a brand identity. You can start by defining a set of values for your brand. You need to share the same values with your ideal clients to connect on a deeper level.

Next, define your brand’s personality and tone of voice. These two elements will permeate your website and your digital presence in general. Your personality and tone of voice need to be consistent on all online and offline channels.

Most importantly, for a graphic design company, you need to really nail your visual identity. You can look to some of the most influential graphic design brands of our time for inspiration, the likes of Landor, Pentagram, and Wolff Olins.

Pentagram website

Of course, you can only create a unique visual identity for your brand by researching your target demographic. It’s essential to specialize in a niche and personalize your visuals for your target audience. After all, clients from different industries are looking for different things, and you can’t expect to wow everyone.

On the other hand, if your brand uses generic visuals, you’re bound to lose yourself in a sea of uninspiring design companies. Go for that wow effect and make your brand as unique as possible to truly stand out in a competitive industry.

Landor website

Your site as your biggest acquisition tool

A creative sector is a place where you have the freedom to explore and experiment with various acquisition tactics. That said, you also need to know what works and what doesn’t to avoid wasting time and money. Remember, your goal is to quickly acquire quality clients, not waste time on tactics that don’t work in your industry.

With that in mind, it’s crucial to optimize your website for stellar user experience, craft and repurpose high-quality content, and build a beautiful portfolio. Your website will be your biggest selling tool, so it should be your top priority.

You can choose to make a dedicated portfolio website with the likes of RoAndCo that immediately shifts the visitor’s attention to their work, or you can focus on a more comprehensive website experience.

RoAndCo website

In the latter case, make sure your website is optimized for mobile viewing as well and that Google can properly index all pages. Pay special attention to the homepage flow because you have a limited window of opportunity to wow your visitors.

You might think that your portfolio should come first to capture their attention right off the bat. While that is a sound strategy, you might first want to capture their attention with a strong opening headline and a compelling story. Why? Because clients want to get to know you and your brand before deciding to check out your work.

Make sure that they immediately get an idea of who you are and what you do. Next, guide them on a journey by explaining your process and defining your unique value proposition. Lead them towards some of your best work, and make sure to sprinkle CTAs throughout. That will help nudge them in the right direction and inspire them to reach out.

Finally, do not overwhelm your potential clients with a crowded portfolio page. People don’t want to sift through countless design projects; they just want to see your best work. Keep three to five of your best projects on your portfolio page to keep their attention and inspire them to get in touch.

Enabling seamless communication with clients

The best kind of client is the one that stays with you over the long term. Now, if you think that clients won’t jump ship at first sight of a better deal, you’d be oh-so-very wrong. You need to nurture your client relationships to boost retention over the long-term because you can only grow if you have a stable revenue stream instead of living off one-of projects.

To boost client retention, you need to communicate and interact with them on a regular basis. Sometimes, you’ll be the one pushing them to launch new projects because clients can be extremely slow to act on their own. You see, you need to be proactive and communicate if you are to succeed.

Now, this can be difficult if you’re working with people from all over the world, and it can be costly. After all, calling a client halfway around the globe will rack up quite the bill. That is why you need to unify your communications on a centralized platform like VoIP.

Voice over internet protocol is a cloud-based phone system that allows you to communicate with clients without breaking the proverbial bank. Some of the best VoIP systems for small business owners like Nextiva also come with mobile features and digital communication channels, allowing you to communicate via phone, video, messaging, and the like.

You need to know how to communicate with clients on their own terms. If they want you to jump on a video call, you can’t ask them to email you instead. With that in mind, make sure to prioritize your communication strategy to keep the best clients on your side over the long haul.

Investing in digital marketing and promotion

Even though most of your work will come from WOM and recommendations, you still need to market your business to the world. While you don’t need to concern yourself with SEM right off the bat, you still need to promote your brand in other ways.

Consider leveraging photos for marketing as well as other visual content to attract the attention of the online audience. You can disseminate visuals on social media and build a loyal following on those networks that prioritize visual content, like Instagram.

Don’t forget about content creation and dissemination because a thriving blog page will keep your website alive. Most importantly, though, create catchy email newsletters that you can send directly to potential clients. You can use BuzzFeed’s strategy of combining short-and-sweet subject lines with catchy copy and relevant visuals to enhance the viewing experience. Make them personal and relevant to the client as well, and you will have an easier time inspiring them to get in touch.

BuzzFeed website

Building a long-term pricing strategy

When you’re just starting, you might feel compelled to drop your prices to get clients quickly. But the only thing that does is set you up for disappointment. Firstly, high-paying clients don’t hire low-cost designers. If you want to land the whales in the industry, you need to charge big for your services.

And secondly, do you really want to charge less than you’re worth? Of course, you don’t, which is why you need to develop a value-based pricing strategy. Know your worth, compare fees in your niche, and define a pricing strategy for the life you know you deserve.

Don’t forget to include your fee categories for different client types, payment terms, and overtime fees. Have a project-based fee for clients who don’t want to pay by the hour but by the amount of work done. And remember, you’re not just charging for your work; you’re charging for your talent, your creativity, and the years you spent building your skillset.

Wrapping up

Starting a design business is not easy, but no entrepreneurial journey is without its challenges. With these tips in mind, though, you should have no problem building a successful design business that clients worldwide will know and trust.

About the Author: Emma Worden is a digital marketer and blogger from Sydney. After getting a Marketing degree, she started working with Australian startups on business and marketing development. Emma writes for many relevant industry-related online publications and is both an executive editor at Bizzmark blog and a guest lecturer at Melbourne University. You can find Emma on Twitter and Facebook.

Title image from Pablo pack on Ouch Illustrations

Learn how to work on user experience for multilingual websites and design for mobile ecommerce, check how to build strong visual branding for your online business, and read how user experience influences the level of trust in the website.

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