101 Graphic Design Tips for Business Success
As you go through the tips, think of your own stories that can be associated with each tip. If you have a great story for a particular tip, please e-mail it to us from the Contact form. Pretty soon, we’ll be posting each tip on it’s own and be going into further detail. You’ll be helping your fellow designers with your contribution as well as getting a shout out from us.
We hope that you will find this post valuable, and if you do, please link to us from your blog or website. Please keep in mind that these tips aren’t in any particular order, but they’re numbered for convenience and reference. Thank you to all who contributed to this post. The names of contributors are at the bottom of the post.
Spelling errors, grammar, and other issues with designs can really injure the initial viewing of a concept. It might be a wonderful concept, but if it contains little errors, that might be pet-peeves of the client, you and they might miss out on a quick conclusion. Double check, triple check, and when in doubt, look it up.
Always be willing to learn from someone else. Having an open mind will allow you to learn and see things you never would have experienced with out it.
We all know that art is in everything and inspiration can come to you in the most unexpected moments. Look to everything around you for ideas and inspiration.
Be prepared with the right tools to make you successful. This ranges from having a pen and pad available for those inspiring moments, to having the right knowledge, software, business cards, drawing/writing tools necessary to completing a successful project, etc…
- Get the best education you possibly can
- Become a typeface guru – Using the wrong typeface with your designs can kill your chances of being extremely successful as a graphic designer
- Writing classes – Learn how to write and it will serve you well in everything you do.
- You may know a lot, but the graphic design world is evolving quickly. Make sure you get in some continuing education hours and give yourself that competitive edge.
- Take some basic business courses while you’re at it.
We chose to separate “Get an education” and this step, “Read books” because we feel that on top of reading books, which are for instruction on graphic design, it is also important to read books that have to do with other subjects. Fiction books are a great way to take your mind off of the world and into your imagination. If you feed your imagination, it will show in your work.
We all know someone who is extremely organized, and it’s impressive. If you look organized, potential clients might be impressed by this too (not to mention it just feels good to be organized). Also, if you have a structured/organized design process it can save a lot of time.
You only have so many seconds, minutes and hours in a day. Use them wisely. Make sure you make your customers’ time just as valuable.
Money is important, no doubt, but if you can focus on creativity and the needs of the client and prove to them your value as a designer, money will be no object if you’re charging what you’re worth and no less…
Testimonials are a great way of showing that you have been successful with other businesses and people. And, on top of that, they show that you are diligent and prepared and have a desire to do well and succeed.
You’ve seen portfolios that have only a few pieces of art from some designers… This is not enough. As a designer you need to “DESIGN” your own portfolio and display your works like you are passionate about what you do.
Design an online as well as an offline portfolio. Remember, presentation says a lot about you and how serious you are about getting their business and doing an amazing job. Try tailoring your portfolio to your next client (or prospective employer). They will be impressed
Make sure you have permission to display logos you’ve created for clients on your website. This will help your online portfolio grow. Most of the time people are happy to display their business name somewhere else, but you never know…
- Try to get a credit on some of your print design work. You can score more business by getting credit on your work.
- When creating a logo or web page for someone, see if you can get a credit placed on their website with a link to your page. A lot of times you will see a “Site Design by” link on the footer of a page. Try getting a “Logo Design by” link. If the client says, “No,” don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal.
Don’t be afraid to get more than just a name and e-mail address from someone. You never know what your situation will be like while working on a project, so you need to make sure you will be able to get in touch with someone if necessary.
Your marketing costs for repeat business will be significantly lower than marketing for new business. Don’t neglect your new customer marketing, but make sure you don’t forget to seek opportunities to work again for existing clients. Give them a call and check in.
- Referrals can drastically change your business and workload.
- You’ll know when someone is happy with the end result if they give you a referral. Ask your clients for referrals. This can increase your income significantly, and you will spend less time looking and more time creating.
Look for opportunities to make more money on each individual project. Don’t try to squeeze more money out of the client if it’s not necessary…
Be creative. Your expertise in graphic design doesn’t hinder your ability to refer to people who provides services that might be related to the project at hand. Some people will pay you for your referral… Print services, e-mail marketing, shopping carts, website security, hosting, etc…
As a graphic designer, you need a website, something you can refer people to. People these days love to research things because it’s easy to do on the internet. If you don’t have a website, you are missing out on a lot of opportunities.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is important in making your business grow. You can get jobs because someone visited your site by typing in certain key words into a search engine, like Google or Yahoo. Your expertise is graphic design, but it might not hurt to make your job search easier and invest in some SEO education.
Blogging is a great way to express yourself and show people your knowledge and skills as a designer. It will help people get to know you as well as help with SEO because of the content that will be related to graphic design and your area of focus. It will also help your writing skills.
22. Put your ideas on paper
Putting your ideas on paper can help creative juices flow. Now, there are a lot of different preferences on how to get your ideas out, so find the one you like best and make sure that particular form of idea output is handy at all times.
Focus on the project at hand intensely, putting all energy into it, but try sometime to take a break to meditate. Clear your mind and relax. It can help you to return to the project renewed, and full of new ideas and enhanced creativity.
24. Write about your concepts
25. Give yourself time
Many times we try to look like a super hero by how quickly we can turn a project around. Try, instead, to give yourself a little more time in your estimations, that way if you need more time, you already have it, and if you’re finished early, you truly are a hero.
26. Seek work from savvy, well-known clients
Clients who have connections with a lot of businesses and business people can have a tremendous impact on you and your business…hopefully, because you’re doing good things. This will be a potential referral source for more work. Remember to do your best work always and you will go far.
27. Be healthy
28. Join a professional organization
- The Freelancers Union
- Graphic Artists Guild
- AIGA – Great organization for many things, but something very important is that they promote business savvy-ness in designers.
29. Attend or host networking events
Networking for business and networking for graphic design. Attend these meetings and see if you can become a presenter for one of these events, or even host one. Many people attend these meetings and don’t get too far, but the ones who do are the experts (those who aren’t afraid to get in front of the crowd). Set yourself apart as an expert and speak.
30. Become a teacher
31. Become an expert
The goal of becoming a valued speaker is to engage the audience in active listening; so engaged, and curious, that after the speech you are inundated with questions from the attendees. They will want to know if you can help them…
Become an expert in an area of business, like branding, marketing, etc… that you can speak on. Or, come up with several reasons why the right design choices are necessary for business success (or successful marketing campaigns). Then, speak! Give examples. If you can prove quicker results using the right designs, you will be in demand…especially if you can deliver…so, make sure you can deliver after your wonderful speech.
- It helps you become an expert, by practice, in a particular area of business.
- It gives you more visibility. People within that niche are more likely to hear and talk about you than ‘Average Joe’ who doesn’t focus on any particular niche.
- Educational opportunities
- Learn about competition
- Learn best business practices
- Learn about the industry
- Learn about new products and technology
- Opportunities to network
- Fellow designers
- Potential clients
- Teachers, speakers, experts, etc…
In a contest, this isn’t possible; however, when working one on one with a client you should require a down payment, unless you already have an ongoing trust relationship. This keeps you, and the client, honest.
Set your expectations upfront with the customer, on the number of concepts and revisions you’ll do (always create more than one). This will help protect you from getting taken advantage of. This should be covered in your contract.
If you’re doing a contest, you might want to consider doing the same and submit a certain number of concepts and revisions. Your time is valuable and even if you feel you have a shot, someone else may come out on top.
Don’t undershoot the completion date. Plan properly and your timing will be impressive. Give yourself a couple days of wiggle room so you can deliver on time, or better yet, early. Sometimes, those last second projects can be detrimental to you and your design business. You can lose by not delivering on time, or by losing time to utilize adequate creativity, so be careful about accepting those, even if you need the money.
A proper contract should be used to protect both you and the client. A contract should never be one-sided and should never be worded with tricky sentences meant to confuse and ultimately take advantage of a situation.
Be creative. There are many inexpensive ways to market your business, so do it!
- Send an e-mail newsletter. This is an inexpensive way to keep in touch with your clients and provide value. If you don’t yet have customers yet (just out of school?), create one anyway and send it to your friends and family. Have them forward it on to people they know, to help you get started.
- Creative drop-by’s
As a designer, you own your own business whether you work for a corporation or small business or you are on your own. You need to establish your brand in order to market yourself and your services to others.
This is one of those, “Well, duh!” statements, but it is so true. Sometimes, we forget to give it our best when we: don’t work as hard as we could, are negative about our job or other people, don’t do enough research, miss deadlines, don’t return phone calls, are late for appointments, have excuses, etc… Put your heart and soul into your work
Now, simplicity doesn’t mean that the design was easy to create, by any means…but, what it does mean is that if the presentation is so busy or flashy that there is no reference to the focal point, or it’s hard to find the meaning behind the design because of complexity, there’s a big problem… This isn’t abstract art!
During large projects with short deadlines, you may have to simplify your life a little bit to make sure you get the rest you need as well as keep your creativity at its max throughout the project. Write down your normal activities and try to eliminate those that aren’t necessary for survival. Proceed and conquer!
Study other designers’ work and learn from the best. Also, refer to great brands and award winning logos, understand how they related their design to the brand. Remember, do not copy… of course, you wouldn’t, but just in case…
Be sure of yourself when you call yourself a designer! You own the right to call yourself that and make recommendations to clients because you’re the one that went to school and learned the processes necessary to provide them what they need. The client calls the shot, but not until you’ve offered up what you know to be the right choice.
Even though you will repeat some of the same steps over and over, it’s wonderful to know that there are still designs that have not been designed yet and creativity can still exist. With that in mind, a satisfactory result today may not be satisfactory tomorrow.
- Use a contract.
- Get paid a deposit.
- And many other networks…
Networks help you see more designs and get in contact with good designers. If you don’t know who’s good, look at who’s being followed the most and try figure out why? Also, don’t forget the social networks that many businesses use:
- Share valuable insights, thoughts and links to business blogs on Twitter and other “like” networks. Connect with companies you’ve done work with before on LinkedIn and have them recommend you and write reviews of you.
Try new things. Let yourself get caught up in your customer’s vision and give them your best work. You might be surprised what you can do if you just let go for a concept or two and “let your hands explore the canvas.” Imaginations don’t have boundaries.
Respect the client’s time…and YOURS! Be on time, every time. If another client is holding you up, they need to respect that you’re a business person and they aren’t the only client. Schedule your time wisely and this won’t be a problem.
Don’t limit yourself by what you don’t know. Don’t go down that road! Take a chance and learn. Growth sometimes comes from the hardest times of your life. Take those times and chalk them up to experience and keep moving forward.
Don’t be afraid to ask a potential client for their business. You might get the old, “We’ll be back in touch,” and never hear from them again.
It’s called cold-calling by traditional standards, but you can do some things that will make your cold-calling not feel so cold, to you as well as the people you are calling on. Get creative!!!
Though cold-calling can be pretty trying at times, it’s a great way to strengthen your communication skills and practice your ability to quickly and effectively express your ideas to others.
Rejection will happen and when it does, keep moving on. One of the worst things you can do is hold on to the thought that someone doesn’t like you or your work. You should not take offence to others; it will slowly drag you down with a negative self-image. Everyone is free to their own opinion and if it’s not in your favor, move on and keep your head high.
Perseverance covers more than just being immune to rejection, and cold calling. It also means that when you feel the burden of losing a couple big deals and are short on money, or, maybe there’s just a dry spell in a down economy… you keep going.
As long as you’re adequately marketing yourself and doing quality work, there will be an influx of business ahead. Keep it up and don’t stop being productive. Remember that just because you might be doing something, doesn’t mean that you’re being productive in your business. Be creative and do things that other designers aren’t doing to set you apart. Make sure everything you do is productive and PERSEVERE!
72. Show gratitude
Showing people how grateful you are for how they have influenced you is a great way to strengthen relationships. Make sure to say thank you to your clients, as well as everyone around you who gives you the gift of time to help you and be there for you.
73. Be a finisher
Complete your projects, and complete them on time. Being a finisher means that once you start something you also end it. If you find yourself stranded between a lot of unfinished projects, it’s time to re-evaluate the decision process for starting new projects. Make sure before you start a project that you know you can and will and have time to finish it.
74. Be dependable
Be so dependable that when you say you will do something it will get done. Become an “under promiser” and an “over deliverer”. Live up to your commitments and promises. Learning how to do this is right in line with several other tips here and can help you earn an excellent reputation and more business.
Don’t assume you know how an experience will be. You might find your best clients in the most unpredictable situations. You should also ask questions of your customers before you assume what they’re thinking. You don’t want to lose a customer over a “good intended” assumption…
Study your potential clients. Research their businesses and surprise them with your knowledge of their business and market. If you’re focused on a particular niche, this is a very important step to take if you’re not already the market leader. Even then, it wouldn’t hurt to research the company itself…
Researching a project thoroughly can help build your passion for the project and the end result will be much better because of it.
Make sure your artwork is technically proper for reproduction. This will save you the time of having to edit, if it wasn’t correct in the first place.
79. Be unique
Speak through your designs with your own “Design Voice” and not by copying others.
Dare to be different, even if it fails. This is all a part of building your brand.
80. Be well rounded
Being well rounded in design and business is important. It’s important to know how to perform the client requirements, but it’s also important to know how to run and market your graphic design business. These are two pieces that go well together.
81. Be balanced
Learn how to live a balanced life between religion, family, business, friends and hobbies.
Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what the client wants because their vision doesn’t translate from their brain to words easily. In this case, ask a lot of questions and write all their answers down on paper to help sort the details to find the common theme.
This is a great way to do something good in the world, as well as get your name on a few pieces of print that can really help with publicity.
Your enthusiasm about the job will show immediately through your eyes, face and body orientation, as well as in your voice. If you are not passionate about what you are doing, you might be working on the wrong projects, working for the wrong company, doing everything other than design, or you shouldn’t be in design at all… Figure it out…
Design only the highest quality designs, and give excellent service.
Time really can’t be managed, because there’s no way to change a thing about it. But, you can definitely be managed. Manage yourself in a way to make the most of the valuable time that you have. Your business and personal life will be significantly enhanced if you are accomplishing a lot more and not stressing over things that you don’t need to stress over.
Building a strong relationship with printing companies and other businesses in the industry can help your business. Be creative and you will find ways to benefit from this relationship (better pricing, trade work, referrals, etc…).
Some small budget projects might be worth it if there is potential for a lot of press. Put your name on it!
If the relationship isn’t working out, don’t be afraid to let the client know that it isn’t working out. Let it go and put your energy in places where you want and need to be.
Competition only makes you better and can help drive traffic to your door.
Write a 30 second commercial for yourself:
When people ask you what you do for a living, do you say, “I’m a graphic designer,” or do you say, “I create graphic tools for businesses that help them establish and re-establish their brand within their respective market.”
This will get a lot of, “Huh?” type conversations going, but it makes you look like you know what you’re talking about. You have just become an expert on branding and not just a graphic designer…hooray!
Bookmarking sites is a great thing, especially if you do it over time. One day you’ll need a tool or some information related to your field and you can easily check your bookmarks of all your reference sites and find it easily. In fact, make sure you bookmark ThePerfectDesign.com. There are links to a couple of the major bookmarking sites at the bottom of this post.
When you are showing a customer your concepts for their project for the first time, you are basically showing them the car they want and trying to decide which interior and exterior colors and features they want. Make sure to show the customer what their design will look like in a couple variations (color, etc…).
As an expert graphic designer, it can be easy to fall into the temptation of doing all the talking. The best way to make a client feel confident and comfortable with you is to become an active listener. Not all companies are the same, even if they are in the same industry and sell the exact same products. Listen and learn, then you can make the decisions and talk all you want, because then, and only then with new knowledge, you are the true expert.
Occasionally, okay more often than is preferable, a customer will change their mind in the middle of a concept and ask you to try something else or start over. The learning begins when you graciously accept this as a learning opportunity and go back to the drawing board. The fact that they changed has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Heck, even if your design did need an overhaul it’s not a big deal…just another situation to chalk up to experience. P.S. Make sure you get compensated if you didn’t mess up and they happened to just change their mind.
Commenting on business blogs and forums can be very beneficial, if done properly. When visiting blogs and forums, leave comments on subjects you know. Make your comments descriptive and helpful and not just say, “Nice blog entry!” If you can show that you know what you’re talking about, you will score some interest in your brand and start earning business. Make sure you don’t advertise in your posts, but do make sure you enter your website address whenever they ask for it in your information. This will help people find you.
97. Be a taskmaster
In the early morning before you go to work, or preferably the night before, look over your list of tasks and prioritize them. Then, focus on the most important tasks until they are completed and move on to the next one. Learn to prioritize.
When talking to new clients, and depending on the situation, don’t ask them a lot of questions that can be answered by ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This can slow down the process because of lack of information. Ask questions like, “What are your company goals for the next 5 years?” “What elements would you like to include in this particular piece?” or say things like, “Tell me about your business,” “Explain your target audience,” etc…
Asking the right questions is of ultimate importance. The right questions will lead you to the desired result. The wrong questions may lead you to more questions, the wrong result, a frustrated customer, and most importantly a frustrated designer (that’s you)…
Before running with an idea you have, make sure you have the clients 100% acceptance. It sucks to get into a project only to find that you wasted time by not getting the official okay.
Also, consult with your “brain trust,” people you trust will help you, when you need that extra boost of confidence.
101. Be relevant
Be relevant in all you do. Design with a purpose. Live life with a purpose. If everything you do is relevant to your goals you will live a more fulfilling life and your existence in the design world will be a success.
Whew! So there you have your 101 Graphic Design Tips for Business and Success. We welcome any comments or suggestions that you may have. Again, please give us your stories for a tip or two (or more) and we’ll see if we can feature that when we get to that tip. We will be posting, hopefully, one for each day of the workweek starting in the next couple weeks.
Be sure to sign up HERE to be notified of the launch of ThePerfectDesign.com.
All the best!
We want to thank additional contributors to this article:
Gina Yap – Cmate
Mohamed Shihabdeen – Shihab
Jesus Xaphan – Tsuperb
Samuel Orlando Pinzon Carranza
Romualdo Rommel Perez