How to Start a Graphic Design Business in 2021

Whether you already have a full-time job, just got laid off, or simply want additional income, starting a graphic design business can be a great way to make more money. Best of all, you don’t need a lot to get started. In fact, you can start working right away for free, so money isn’t an obstacle! But what is graphic design anyway? Well, it can be a lot of different things to different people. Graphic design includes various deliverables such as logos, banners, and web page design. Here’s a short list of the most common graphic design subtypes:

  • Visual Identity Graphic Design

    This covers all the visual aspects of a business, providing templates and standards for a business’s visual identity using colors, shapes, and hand-picked images.

  • Marketing & Advertising Graphic Design

    This type of graphic design can include everything from flyers and brochures to vehicle wraps or even print ads.

  • User Interface Graphic Design

    Focused on simplifying the user experience, this type of graphic design involves creating easy-to-use (and visually appealing) layouts for websites, mobile apps, and game interfaces.

  • Publication Graphic Design

    If you prefer to work on paper, then this type of graphic design will appeal to you. Publication work is featured in newspapers, books, magazines, and other forms of paper content.

  • Packaging Graphic Design

    Labels, covers, and other types of packaging need a visual appeal, so that’s what this type of graphic design focuses on.

  • Motion Graphic Design

    Unlike the other forms of graphic design, motion work focuses solely on work within moving graphics. Deliverables are often featured in movies, online media, and on television.

  • Environmental Graphic Design

    This type of design covers a wide variety of deliverables. Work can include everything from creating signs or navigation maps to redesigning the interior of a retail store.

  • Art and Illustration for Graphic Design

    With a focus on artistic value over functionality, this work can include stock images or t-shirt designs, but also expands to more complicated tasks like video game design and graphic novel work.

Now that we’ve covered the basic types, it probably seems complicated. Is it even possible to start a graphic design business on your own? Good news – it is, so let’s find out how.

Starting from Scratch

Even if you don’t have any previous experience doing graphic design, it’s still possible to start your own graphic design business. You’ll no doubt have to practice your graphic design skills if you want to make any money, but doing the actual work is only part of the process, so let’s take a look at the business side of graphic design. These starting points will give you something to work on while you fine-tune your designing skills.

Before you even think about launching your business, you’ll need to establish some SMART goals (goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely). A good goal would be “I want to make $25k over the next 12 months.” Avoid picking a general goal like “make enough money to pay my bills”. There’s no way to measure that, so while it may be achievable, there’s simply no way to track your progress. It’s important that you choose a SMART goal because you can analyze your business progress and make adjustments as needed. Once you’ve decided on a solid SMART goal, it’s time to choose your tools.

While free tools won’t offer all the features of paid programs, there are still a large number of options you can use to begin your graphic design journey. Here’s a couple of free options we’d recommend.

  • GIMP – The free alternative to Photoshop, GIMP is perfect for beginners & experts alike. This open-source image editor has a full suite of painting tools and supports many common file types like .gif, .jpeg, .png, .svg, and more!
  • Canva – If you intend to deliver templates, business cards, or logos, Canva is a great cloud-based tool to use. You can use the basic version for free, but there’s also a paid version available for as little as $9.99 per month.
  • Krita – You’ll have to download this program, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a superior free alternative. Krita is great for illustrators and artists because it offers features like brush stabilizers, over 100 pre-loaded brushes, and even wrap-around mode!

Graphic editing software is important, but there’s more to running a business than just producing deliverables! Self-management is a crucial factor to your success, so you’ll want to invest in some time-tracking software as well. A good free option is Clockify, which can help you track time, manage your calendar, and keep track of ongoing projects. If you don’t mind spending a little money, Hours is an option that provides extra features like integrated invoicing and detailed reports in addition to basic time management software.

Unfortunately, working for yourself doesn’t exclude you from having to pay taxes, so you may want to invest in tax software. You can always manage taxes yourself, but if you don’t mind spending money to save time, consider using Quickbooks and Turbotax to track expenses and complete your taxes at the end of the year. We suggest this option because Intuit allows you to transfer data from one service to another, which will save you hours of copying records over to a new program.

Making It Legal

If you plan on making more than $600 per year, you’ll have to register yourself as a business. Sites like SwyftFilings or LegalZoom allow you to create a business online in minutes and handle all the necessary paperwork on your behalf. When legally creating your business, you’ll have to decide if you’re going to be a solopreneur or if you plan on building a graphic design agency. This will affect how you register your business, so take a look at this page to decide which option is right for you.

Creating A Website

Regardless of if your business relies on local referrals or operates purely online, having a proper website is an essential part of owning a graphic design business in 2021. Fortunately, there are tons of different providers to choose from, so you can easily find one to fit your budget. If your budget is $0, most services will still allow you to launch a website as a subdomain of their website, but you’ll need to pay if you want your own domain name. It’s important to choose a web host that allows you to customize your website so we suggest Squarespace or

Why do you need a website? To host your portfolio, of course! A portfolio shows potential clients what you’re capable of and motivates them to pursue your services for their business. But what if you’re starting from scratch and don’t have any past work to showcase? That’s ok – you’ll just need to create spec pieces! Spec pieces are designs that you create without being paid and serve as an example of your work. You can use any company (real or imaginary) in your spec pieces, but make sure you specify on your portfolio that these are spec pieces, not paid pieces.

Getting Your First Clients

After you’ve chosen your graphic design platform, registered your business, and created your website, it’s time to start making money! To do this you’ll need to find some clients, but what if you don’t know anyone that needs work done? Once again, this is where the magic of the internet shines through.

An easy place to find work is by using online marketplaces like Upwork, Fiverr, or Freelancer. These websites allow you to browse and apply to jobs (also referred to as “gigs”). Paid membership options are available, but you can start using these services entirely for free! Of course, nothing is actually “free”; each service will take a portion of your earnings on the website. Still, online marketplaces provide instant access to a wide variety of clients so they’re a great way to gain experience while making some money!

In addition to your website, you should also utilize social media. While neither option is likely to initially give you lots of leads, being active on both will eventually reward you with new clients! Social media allows you to promote your business while networking with other professionals. It’s important to create connections because they may refer work to you later on, and if you’re planning on building an agency, social media is a great place to find potential employees.

You may want to consider specializing if your goal is to make the most money. While being a generalist who can handle any type of project is certainly useful, you can demand higher rates if you choose a specific niche. The added bonus of specialization is that a lot of the work will be similar, so you’ll be able to complete projects faster over time.

Expanding Your Business

Once your business is steady and profitable, it may be tempting to stick with what’s already working. Truth is, you can do much more! By expanding your business, you’ll be able to pick up more jobs, onboard higher-paying clients, and establish your business as a go-to authority in the industry. Here’s a couple of different techniques you can try.

  • Advertising

    Depending on the type of clients you work with, you may already be familiar with advertising. If not, it’s time to brush up on your marketing techniques or hire another expert to handle it for you. The options for advertising are nearly unlimited: you can advertise on Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Instagram, and many other websites to reach clients you would have never connected with otherwise.

  • Networking

    Being active on social media has its advantages. Networking with other professionals gives you access to current graphic design trends, business ideas, and work references, all while increasing your online presence! Befriending webmasters can be especially beneficial because they might have work for you (or be able to refer you to someone who does).

  • Hiring

    Eventually your workload will exceed how much you can actually deliver. When this happens, it’s time to consider hiring employees! If you prefer to do all the graphic design yourself, consider hiring people to help manage the rest of your business instead, like accountants, marketing experts, or copywriters.


Maximizing Profits

As your business grows you may want to diversify your forms of income. There are two main ways to do this: teaching and passive income. Once you’ve mastered graphic design, many people will be eager to learn from you! This can be a great side hustle and provides a nice change from constant client work. You can do this one-on-one, or monetize educational videos on Youtube. While creating a successful Youtube channel is a whole another beast in itself, it can be extremely profitable if implemented correctly. If you’d rather make money without putting in additional hours, consider selling templates on sites like Shutterstock, CafePress, or Adobe Stock.
By selling templates on these sites, you can go to sleep and wake up having made money on commissions. Passive income is a great way to gain additional income without a lot of effort.

The Truth About Starting a Graphic Design Business

Creating your own graphic design business can be extremely profitable. Especially in 2021, where many people are looking for these types of services. Getting into graphic design is a great way to take control of your finances (and break free of the 9 to 5 lifestyle!). With all the resources online (plus the ones we’ve linked to above), we know you can be successful even if you’re not quite ready to commit to full-time self-employment just yet. There’s never been a better time to try something new, so do the research, put in the time, and enjoy your brand-new profitable business.

Create Personal Wealth

Create Personal Wealth

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