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How to Start a Graphic Design Business

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Start a Graphic Design Business

Fast Facts

Investment range

$2,150 - $7,300

Revenue potential

$100,000 - $310,000 p.a.

Time to build

0 – 3 months

Profit potential

$90,000 - $125,000 p.a.

Industry trend

Growing

Commitment

Flexible

Graphic design is a profession that offers a lot of opportunities. It’s a service that is in demand by many companies, large and small. It’s a $13 billion industry in the United States alone, but with your own graphic design business in this digital age, you can work with clients all over the world. It’s also an opportunity to let your creative juices flow while you make money at the same time. Graphic designers create the aesthetic look of logos, websites, signs, and more.

Much preparation is necessary, however, to face the challenges involved in starting a graphic design business. Knowledge will be your greatest tool, and luckily, you’ve found the right resource, as this step-by-step guide has everything you need to start designing your entrepreneurial future.

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Pros and cons

Starting a graphic design business has pros and cons that you should weigh before deciding if it’s right for you.

Pros

  • Global Market – Work digitally for clients anywhere in the world
  • Flexible Hours – Work on your time at home
  • Impressive Revenue – Charge up to $150 an hour for your services

Cons

  • Trial and Error Work – Create multiple designs before clients are satisfied
  • High Competition – The market is saturated with graphic designers

Graphic design industry trends

Industry size and growth

graphic design industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

graphic design industry Trends and Challenges

Trends in the graphic design industry include:

  • Technological developments have increased the popularity of 3D design which gives the designer an opportunity to combine different types of aesthetic elements such as animation, photos, and flat illustrations. 3D typography is also a growing trend.
  • Crypto art offers graphic designers a way to sell their graphic art through non-fungible tokens (NFTs). NFTs are unique digital files of artwork published onto a blockchain, and they can have only one owner. Collectors purchase these files digitally. 

Challenges also exist in the graphic design industry including:

  • Graphic design is becoming a popular career choice for younger generations, creating a more competitive market for graphic design businesses.
  • Crowdsourcing, which enables companies to get multiple submissions of design ideas, is growing in demand, creating another competitive barrier for graphic design companies.

Demand hotspots

graphic design demand hotspots
  • Most popular states – The best states for graphic designers are Washington, Massachusetts, and District of Columbia.
  • Least popular states – The worst states for graphic designers are South Dakota, Mississippi, and Louisiana.((https://www.zippia.com/graphic-designer-jobs/best-states/))

What kind of people work in graphic design?

graphic design industry demographics

How much does it cost to start a graphic design business?

Startup costs for a graphic design business range from $2,000 to a little over $7,000. The low end assumes that you already have a computer, while the high end includes purchasing one. Other costs include a website setup and obtaining design software. If you’re not a graphic designer already, you can take online courses for less than $1,500 through places like the New York Institute of Art and Design. 

You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your graphic design business, including: 

  • Computer
  • Design software such as the Adobe set of design tools
Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corportation$150 - $200$175
Licenses and permits$100 - $300$200
Insurance$100 - $300$200
Business cards and brochures$200 - $300$250
Website setup$1,000 - $3,000$2,000
Computer$0 - $2,000$1,000
Design software programs$600 - $1,200$900
Total$2,150 - $7,300$4,725

How much can you earn from a graphic design business?

Graphic Design business earnings forecast

If you’re an experienced graphic designer, you can charge up to $150 per hour for more high-level work. On average, you will probably charge closer to $75 per hour. Your profit margin after marketing expenses should be about 90%.

In your first year or two, you could work from home and work 25 hours per week, bringing in nearly $100,000 in annual revenue. This would mean close to $90,000 in profit, assuming that 90% margin. As your brand gains recognition, you could hire additional designers and sales could climb to 80 hours of work per week. At this stage, you would rent a commercial space, reducing your profit margin to around 40%. With expected annual revenue of over $310,000, you would make about $125,000.

What barriers to entry are there?

There are a few barriers to entry for a graphic design business. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • You must be a trained graphic designer, preferably with significant experience
  • Competition is high from other graphic designers and crowdsourcing

Related Business Ideas

If you’re still not sure whether this business idea is the right choice for you, here are some related business opportunities to help you on your path to entrepreneurial success.
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Step by Step Business values real-life experience above all. Through our Entrepreneur Spotlight Series, we interview business leaders from diverse industries, providing readers with firsthand insights.

Discover the art of transformative design with Nevilson Christian, Founder of SeekThem, and gain invaluable insights to elevate your own creative endeavors.

Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting a graphic design business, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market. 

Market research will give you the upper hand, even if you’re already positive that you have a perfect product or service. Conducting market research is important, because it can help you understand your customers better, who your competitors are, and your business landscape.

Why? Identify an opportunity

Research graphic design businesses in your area to examine their services, price points, and customer reviews. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing a 3D graphic designer.

You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry such as logos.

This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away. 

What? Determine your services

Based on your experience, determine the scope of services that you could offer. You could offer logo design, print design, web design, brand design, presentation design, and promo item design.

How much should you charge for graphic design?

The prices you charge should reflect the complexity of the work you’re doing but can range from $50 per hour all the way up to $150 per hour. You can also quote per project prices bases on your estimated time. When working by yourself, you should aim for a profit margin of about 90%. As your business grows and you have staff and an office, your profit margin will be closer to 40%.

Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price point. Remember, the price you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

Your target market will be business owners. You can expect higher revenue if you target larger companies, particularly local companies that want more personal service. You can make direct calls to business owners, or you can find them on sites like LinkedIn. 

Where? Choose your business premises

In the early stages, you may want to run your business from home to keep costs low. But as your business grows, you’ll likely need to hire workers for various roles and may need to rent out an office. Find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.

When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:

  • Central location accessible via public transport
  • Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
  • Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
  • Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
graphic design business idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Graphic Design Company Name

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better 
  • Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “design” or “graphic design”, boosts SEO
  • Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “Color Wheel Creative” over “Logo Lab”
  • A location-based name can help establish a strong connection with your local community and help with the SEO but might hinder future expansion

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.

Step 4: Create a Graphic Design Business Plan

Here are the key components of a business plan:

what to include in a business plan
  • Executive Summary: A concise summary outlining the business’s mission, goals, and key strategies.
  • Business Overview: An overview detailing the nature of the graphic design business, its vision, and core values.
  • Product and Services: Description of the graphic design services offered, including specifics on design specialties and unique selling points.
  • Market Analysis: Analysis of the target market, identifying customer needs, preferences, and potential demand for graphic design services.
  • Competitive Analysis: Assessment of key competitors, their strengths, weaknesses, and strategies to position the graphic design business effectively.
  • Sales and Marketing: A plan outlining how the business will attract and retain clients, encompassing marketing strategies, sales channels, and promotional activities.
  • Management Team: Introduction to the key individuals leading the business, highlighting their relevant skills and experience in graphic design and business management.
  • Operations Plan: Details on the day-to-day operations of the graphic design business, covering workflow, project management, and any necessary equipment or software.
  • Financial Plan: Projections of the business’s financial performance, including income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow forecasts.
  • Appendix: Additional supporting documents and information, such as resumes of key team members, sample design portfolios, and any relevant market research data.

If you’ve never created a business plan before, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider finding and hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business! 

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you’re planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to graphic design businesses. 

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state. 

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your graphic design business will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely. 

Here are the main options:

types of business structures
  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.

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Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN. 

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you’re completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

types of business financing
  • Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.

Personal funding is probably the best option for a graphic design business since startup costs are low.

Step 8: Apply for Licenses/Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

Starting a graphic design business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments. Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as, health license and permit from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits. 

You may also need state-level licenses and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more. 

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account. Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your graphic design business as a sole proprietorship. 

Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account. 

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

types of business insurance
  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of any of the above insurance types.

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

Launching a Business

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business. 

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks. 

You can use industry-specific software, such as Adobe, Canva, or teamwork, to manage your projects, tasks, communication, and metrics.

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial. 

Develop your website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism.

You can create your own website using website builders. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google. 

Marketing

Here are some powerful marketing strategies for your future business:

  • Professional Branding — Establish a cohesive brand identity that reflects your design style and professionalism, encompassing your logo, business cards, and a user-friendly website displaying your portfolio.
  • Website Optimization — Develop a comprehensive website that showcases your services, portfolio, client testimonials, and case studies. Optimize for search engines using relevant keywords like “graphic design services” and “brand design.”
  • Social Media Engagement — Utilize LinkedIn for professional networking, Instagram and Pinterest to showcase your designs, and Facebook to share your design process and client success stories.
  • Content Marketing — Maintain a design blog discussing current trends, client design tips, and insights into your creative process. Offer webinars or workshops on design-related topics to educate and engage potential clients.
  • Direct Outreach and Networking — Connect with local businesses, advertising agencies, and attend local events and trade shows to build contacts and present your services.
  • Email Marketing — Send regular newsletters to update your network on new projects, design tips, and promotional offers.
  • Experiential Marketing — Collaborate on projects with high-visibility local businesses and participate in public events where your design work can be showcased.
  • Speaking Engagements — Position yourself as a design expert by speaking at business events and conducting workshops on the impact of professional design.
  • Collaborations with Complementary Businesses — Partner with marketing firms, web developers, and content creators to offer comprehensive solutions to clients.
  • Customer Loyalty and Referral Programs — Implement a referral program rewarding clients who bring new business, and offer follow-up consultations to discuss ongoing design effectiveness and new opportunities.
  • Targeted Advertising and Local Partnerships — Use digital advertising on platforms like Google Ads and LinkedIn to reach potential clients, and partner with local businesses to mutually promote services or offer client discounts.

Focus on USPs

unique selling proposition

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your graphic design business meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire. 

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your graphic design business could be: 

  • Seasoned graphic designers for your most complex projects
  • Creative design for elite brands
  • Elevate your business with professional aesthetics

Networking

You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a graphic design business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in graphic design for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections. 

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in graphic design. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership. Online businesses might also consider affiliate marketing as a way to build relationships with potential partners and boost business. 

Step 12: Build Your Team

Building a Team for a New Business

If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a graphic design business would include:

  • Graphic Designers – work on design projects for clients
  • Salespeople – make direct calls and sales to business owners
  • Marketing Lead – SEO strategies, social media, other marketing

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need. 

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent. 

Step 13: Run a Graphic Design Business – Start Making Money!

Running a Business

Graphic design has come a long way with the advancement of technology. The latest graphic design tools are an opportunity for you to start a business with the highest and most creative level of graphic design services. In a $13 billion industry in the U.S., the market for your services will be large, and you can work for global customers as well. 

The sky is the limit to how large you can grow your business, and even if your business stays small, you can make good money. Now that you’ve educated yourself about the process, you’re ready to start designing your way to entrepreneurial success! 

Graphic Design Business FAQs

Is graphic design profitable?

Yes, graphic design can be a profitable career if you have the necessary skills and knowledge to meet the demands of clients in various industries. The profitability of a graphic design business depends on factors such as pricing, client base, and overhead costs.

How can I get clients for my graphic design business?

You can get clients locally, and online so you can do a combination of direct sales and online marketing. Make direct sales calls to local business owners and connect with them on sites like LinkedIn. To get clients online you can use a variety of digital marketing strategies including SEO strategies and pay-per-click ads. 

How do I start a graphic design business with no experience?

To start a graphic design business without experience, you could begin by developing your skills through online tutorials or courses, practicing your design skills on personal projects, and building a portfolio of your work.

How can you differentiate your graphic design business from competitors?

To differentiate your graphic design business from competitors, you could focus on providing unique and innovative designs, offer a personalized and consultative approach to your services, specialize in a specific niche or industry, or use eco-friendly and sustainable design practices.

Can you start a graphic design business on the side?

Yes, you can start a graphic design business part-time by complying with local legal and regulatory requirements. You’ll need a computer, software, a website, and a dedicated workspace that’s clean and organized. Consider beginning on a small scale and expanding as your business grows.

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How to Start a Graphic Design Business