Are you interested in starting a graphic design business at home? If YES, here is a complete guide to starting a graphic design business with NO money and no experience plus a sample graphic design business plan template. Graphic designers are those who usually make use of communication skills and have computer design skills that are used in creating advertisements that are used on offline and online media platforms.

The aim of graphic designers is to plan, design as well as manage the production of visual communication that is intended to convey specific messages. In trying to establish your graphic design business, you would first need to establish the type of legal entity you want.

24 Steps to Starting a Graphic Design Business at Home With No Money

1. Understand the Industry

Graphic designers usually work in studios where they can access drafting tables, computers, as well as the necessary software needed to create their designs. Most graphic designers work independently, while some work as part of a design team in a specialized company or with other independent graphic designers on projects.

Interesting Statistics About the Industry

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, graphic design businesses were projected to enjoy an increase of 13% from the period of 2008 and 2018. The growth was pegged on increasing demand from the internet as well as the interactive media such as mobile phone applications. The industry has $11 billion in revenue, with 172,494 employees, and 138,035 business. However for IBISWorld, there has been a decline in growth pegged at -0.5% between the years 2011 and 2016.

The graphics design industry in the united states is highly fragmented, and the 50 largest companies account for less than 15% revenue for the industry. There are no major dominant companies in this industry. As at 2014, 1 in 5 graphic designers were self=employed.

Between 2011 and 2016, there have been new entrants into the graphic designers industry, which comes in spite of a stagnant demand for the services of graphic designers. The sustaining factors for these graphic design businesses have been the growth in the expenditure by advertisement agencies and increase in product manufacturing. However, this industry is also one that has had a huge influx of freelancers that have created stiff competition, which have caused stunted growth for businesses, and low profit.

Even though demand has somewhat been stagnant, mobile media and advertising has helped sustained this market. Also, the web design segment is expected to grow significantly even though there is the likelihood of this growth being offset by a steady decline from the print media. The improving economy has also had an input into this industry, as it only starting recently growing with increasing demands.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected employment rate for graphics designers is expected to show little or no change from 2014 to 2024. This changes is expected to vary by industry, as graphic designers for books, newspapers, periodicals, and directory publisher is supposed to have a 35% decrease in demand. However, those in computer systems design and its related service is expected over the same period to grow by 21%.

2. Conduct Market Research and Feasibility Studies

  • Demographics and Psychographics

The demographic and psychographic composition of those that require the services of a graphics designer are those that in corporate organizations, non-profit organizations, religious bodies, advertisement agencies, manufacturing companies, government agencies, small businesses, fashion industry, photographic industry and so many others like that.

Those who would need to sell their brand, those who would like to pass a message and those who would like to create awareness are examples of those that would require the services of a graphics designer.

3. Decide Which Niche to Concentrate On

There are various niches in the graphics design business, which can help in jumpstarting your creative juices as an entrepreneur and also help you stand out in the industry. There are endless numbers of niches for those that intend to go into this route, or those that intend to offer additional but related services.

Some areas you can specialize in as a graphics designer are:

  • Website design for small businesses
  • Business card design
  • Mobile website design
  • Game designer
  • Twitter back drop designer
  • Sales page design
  • Magazine design
  • Landing page design
  • Design for large corporations only
  • Design for medical industry only
  • Design for fashion industry only and so on.

There are many niches to concentrate on, and as a firm starting on a small scale, it might be easier for you to specialize in one or two niches, however, you should note that larger companies will be able to offer more niche choice to their clients than you probably would.

The Level of Competition in the Industry

The amount needed to start a graphics design business is minimal, as the two major things needed are a computer system that can meet the requirements and a software that is not only up to date but also has design capabilities intended to make your job smoother.

Depending on the type of hardware and software you get, the price is relatively same except you add overhead and operation cost depending on the scale. It is far easier as a smaller design graphics firm to compete for jobs with even large firms in your region or area, especially if you are a specialist in a known niche; you could even partner with competitors and have them send jobs your way; this does not mean though that you can compete with larger firms all the time and win all the jobs.

4. Know Your Major Competitors in the Industry

It is not easy in this kind of industry to establish a brand, but yet certain brands have managed to stand above their peers and gain recognition within the industry. These well known brands have a large collection of impressive portfolios, have stayed long over the years, and are a dream place for budding graphics designers to hone their skills. Below are some of the well-known brands in the graphics design industry in the United States of America;

  • Landor
  • Meta Design
  • Happy Cog
  • Sagmeister & Walsh
  • Geyrhalter & Company
  • AdamsMorioka
  • ZIBA Design
  • Motto
  • Kate Keating Associates
  • Michael Courtney Design
  • Modern Climate
  • Piscatello Design Centre
  • Gresham, Smith and Partners
  • Chen Design Associates
  • Go Media
  • NOON
  • Everything Design
  • Kym Abrams Design
  • Cosmic
  • White Snail Design

Economic Analysis

Even though you might be passionate about graphic design, this does not mean you take it lightly if you intend to start your business. As a graphics designer that intends to turn it into a business that will bring forth money, you should endeavor to carry out a thorough research into the field.

The research will enable you know if you will be successful at the business or not, and if you won’t be, then you can still be a graphics designer but you might have to work for others instead. The research will also let you determine how much you would need to start-up the business, and if you have to source for capital, where.

Even though, the demands for graphics design in some niches have gone down, others have remained steady, while others have grown in leaps and bounds. This industry is that which is dependent on the economy – if it thrives or if it is in recession. A thriving economy will see more graphic designs needed, and a downturn in the economy will see otherwise.

Another thing to note before venturing into this business is the high influx of freelance graphic designers, who aren’t controlled by market rates, and therefore can pose a challenge to your new graphics design start-up. This means that, you would need strategies for not only large firms but also freelancers as well, and should be able to come up with packages that will be attractive to your prospective clients.

5. Decide Whether to Buy a Franchise or Start from Scratch

Starting a business from scratch offers so many advantages for you as an entrepreneur. One of which is you get to decide on your niche, and the strategies you intend to use to drive your business forward. Also, since this is a business that does not require much equipment or tools before you can start off, any serious minded entrepreneur can start the business from scratch and grow from there to become a brand name.

There are no franchises in this field, especially as this is a creative industry. Graphics designers that do not want to be on their own or freelancers can decide to work for well known brands so as to hone their skills. Smaller design firms in this industry can decide to partner with other firms to deliver on a project, but there are no franchises in this industry; which means that you either start from scratch or work for another design firm.

6. Know the Possible Threats and Challenges You Will Face

Every business faces a challenge or threat no matter what stage of life their business is in. for design start up firms; you can face the challenge of getting customers, job completion on time especially if you are the only one handling the job, or any such challenge like that. As a serious minded entrepreneur, you should be ready to face any challenge and should have crafted out strategies that will help you overcome the challenges as they come.

7. Choose the Most Suitable Legal Entity (LLC, C Corp, S Corp)

choosing a legal entity is a very important part of starting your business, and will ultimately affect how your business is run from the day you decide on the type of legal entity you want. For instance, the type of legal entity you choose will affect how much your business will pay in taxes, your personal financial security, and who can invest in your business.

When choosing an entity, there are certain terms to keep in mind, such as liability, double taxation, ownership, and such other terms; which is why it is important for you to seek the services of an attorney who will assist you in determining the best legal entity for your graphics design business startup.

The legal structures to consider are Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, Limited Liability Company (LLC), S Corporation, and C Corporation. You can as well start with the least confusing legal entity, which is a sole proprietorship, and change your legal entity later as your business grows to that which suits your business.

8. Choose a Catchy Business Name

  • Silk Designs
  • Acu Points Design & Associates
  • Design Wand Inc.
  • Creative ABCs
  • Flair Designs
  • Handy Colours Associates

9. Discuss with an Agent to Know the Best Insurance Policies for You

Having insurance for your business is very important, as it protects you as the entrepreneur from certain liabilities. The fact that you are working freelance or your firm is a very small one should not be an excuse of not having insurance. If you are confused on the type of insurance to have, you can approach an insurance agent to help you with the most suitable insurance policies for your business.

Below is some of the basic insurance coverage you would need when starting your graphics design business in the United States of America;

10. Protect your Intellectual Property With Trademark, Copyrights, Patents

This field is a creative and sensitive one. Graphics designers create intangible product whose value are always protected if they apply for an intellectual property protection. However, it is not enough to protect your work alone as a graphic designer, you must also ensure that you do not infringe on the work of another person as well. This means that you cannot use someone else’s design without their permission.

As a graphics designer, you must be aware of what you can and cannot use when it comes to the photos, images, and design elements of other creators and artists. You should as a graphics designer know the kind of intellectual property rights that exists for you – copyright and trademarks – and make your research thoroughly on them or get an attorney to assist you.

11. Get the Necessary Professional Certification

You can get a professional certification by going to a traditional brick and mortar school, or get certifications to buff up your profile if you decide to bid for jobs with other renowned graphics design firms.

However, this is not a necessity. Some graphic designers do not have formal qualifications, preferring instead to intern in big firms that can offer them an experience in the field while they hone their skills. Since this is a creative industry, clients are more inclined to give you jobs if you have an impressive portfolio regardless of whether you have got a qualification or not.

12. Get the Necessary Legal Documents You Need to Operate

Below are some of the basic legal documents you would need when starting your graphics design business in the United States of America;

  • Certificate of Incorporation
  • Business Plan
  • Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA)
  • Insurance Policy
  • Contract documents
  • Patent or Copyright registration
  • Operating Agreement
  • Business License

13. Write a Business Plan

As with any business, it is necessary to get a business plan written if you intend to start your graphics design business. Writing a business is the first step towards starting your business as it shows your serious intentions. A business plan offers a clear guide on the business, and will enable you know if you should go ahead with the business or not.

Your business plan is not only your blueprint for success but enables you to look critically at your resources, goals, and working capital, and set a milestone for where you presently are to where you want to be in a specific number of years. Most graphic design business usually grapple to stay afloat during their first few years of operations, and it is situations like this, which your business plan deals with.

There is no traditional number of pages that your business plan should have, and so while some business plan are long, some are short. It all depends on whether your business plan has the key elements that is needed for any investor and stakeholder to see.

Even though there are certain key elements that your business plan should contain, enable to make your business plan as personal as possible to your graphics design business. The key elements include; your business description which gives details on the history of your business, describes the services you intend to offer, and how different or unique you are from your competitors.

You should also lay out your marketing strategies for attracting clients and within a set period, and if you intend to focus on a particular niche. You sales, branding strategy, your SWOT analysis, and management plan are the other things that should feature in your business plan.

Finally your financials is very important as this is the part that interests an investor the most. This includes your projected cash flow statements, income statements, and balance sheets for three to five years. This is usually a complicated part of the business plan, and you could seek the services of an accountant to help you with this part; or a business plan writer to help you with the whole business plan. There are also websites that offer business plan templates dependent on the field, and you can download the templates from such websites.

14. Prepare a Detailed Cost Analysis

The cost of starting a graphic business usually varies depending on the scale at which the entrepreneur decides to start on. Basically, the requirements for starting are usually the same no matter what part of the world you are in.

The costs for starting up the business depend on how much of a budget the entrepreneur has. If you are operating on a shoestring budget, then there are some things you might likely forego whilst concentrating on just getting the essentials.

Some of the basic requirements you would need to start off your graphics design business in the United States of America include;

  • Incorporation fees would cost $1,000
  • Liability Insurance policy and license would cost $1,500
  • A small office facility would cost $8,000
  • Advertisement would cost $500
  • Multi function printer would cost $800
  • Computer system would cost $1,500
  • Basic design software would cost $500
  • Phone and utilities would cost $800
  • Hi-speed Internet would cost $4,000
  • Other miscellaneous (Business Cards, Office supplies, Signage) would cost $500

Going by the above report, you will need an average of $20,000 to start a small scale graphic design business in the United States of America.

If you want are looking to start a medium scale graphic design business in the United States, you would need nothing less than $40,000. And if you intend to start a large scale graphic design business in the United States of America, then you should look towards raising well over $80,000.

15. Raise the Needed Startup Capital

One of the main decision options when starting out one’s business is finance. If you were working as a graphic designer in a major firm, or had your clients prior to starting, then their jobs might form part of where you will likely get your financing from. However, if you are a pure greenhorn with no experience whatsoever, and starting out on your own, then you will need to look at various financing options for your new business.

Which is why the business plan is very important, a well written business plan will get investors to listen to what you have to say, and possibly invest in your business. However, before you write your business plan, you must have thoroughly researched on the niche you intend to go into and your target customers. This will help you and your investors know if you are going into a viable field.

There are several available finance options available for a graphics design start-up business and some of the options are;

  • Raising money from personal savings and credit cards
  • Raising money from business partners
  • Approaching investors
  • Approaching the bank for a loan
  • Raising soft loan from family and friends
  • Approaching a lending facility
  • Online funding/crowdfunding sites

16. Choose a Suitable Location for your Business

Choosing a suitable location for your graphics design business is important because even if you choose an area with a high amount of traffic, your office would need to be carefully insulated from noise, as noise can be distracting in carrying out your job efficiently. Also, your office should be located close to your target market.

Another thing that can determine your location is your finances. If you are starting on a low budget, you might need to work from home at first, which will help in reducing your overhead expenses. However, if your budget is the type that can enable you go for an office facility then you should get one, so as to attract more professional clients and also be able to bid for jobs. However, if your home is in the ghetto area, then it would be advisable for you to rent an office facility close to town, where you are able to invite clients to.

One good thing with getting a facility for the graphics design business is that you do not need to get a large facility, as a graphics designer, you can work in small facility. Just ensure that your facility has all you need to enable you work efficiently, as you would need to have it pre-wired for high speed internet service. Also, ensure that the facility will be convenient for clients to access.

If you intend to get a large facility for your graphics design business, it should be because you intend to start on a medium or large scale, and would need to employ more hands that will help you in running the place.

17. Hire Employees for your Technical and Manpower Needs

Even though other tools that can be used to start this business can be bought at fairly used, it is however important that you do not get your computer system as fairly used. This is because a fairly used system might have certain problems that might arise whilst you are trying to complete a job for a client, so it is better to be on the safe side and get a new system.

Some of the equipment that would be needed for you to start your graphic design business in the United States are:

  • Computers (Desktops and Laptops)
  • Multi function Printer (Print, Scan, and Fax)
  • Phones
  • Design Software
  • Drafting Table

The graphics design business is a business that can be run from home. This means that if you are starting out and do not want to spend too much in procuring an office facility, and your home is convenient for you to work from, then it would be better for you to work from home. However, if you plan on starting on a large scale and employing staff, then it would be best for you to rent an office facility.

One person can effectively run this business, but if you intend to go medium or large scale then you would need to employ a manager, a cashier, a marketing executive, and several graphic designers. This will be about 5 to 7 people.

The Service Delivery Process of the Business

The production process involved in the graphics design is that which ensures that a pictorial thought or idea becomes visible to others through the use of software and a computer. A graphics designer must understand the requirements of a client, if not the job would come out wrong, leaving an unsatisfied client.

The production processes involved in a graphics design are input, brainstorming, and then output. Other production process involves aesthetics of the final output.

18. Write a Marketing Plan Packed with ideas & Strategies

Marketing is a very important process of generating revenue for your business. Not only do you generate revenue, you also gain new customers whilst retaining the old ones, and also garner publicity for your business. It is necessary for a business that intends to remain around for a long time, to always ensure that they are out there.

As a start-up, marketing is the only way by which people can be aware of your services, and it is therefore mandatory that you use available conventional and non-conventional sources to engage the awareness of people.

Most start-ups though do not have a large budget set aside for marketing, except start-ups that are on a medium to large scale, and which would have to set aside a huge amount to garner exposure and bring clients to patronize them. If you are starting on a small scale, it does not mean that you break the bank in trying to ensure that your budget matches that of the larger companies. The advent of online sources has made it easier for smaller companies to also break new grounds in marketing.

Listed below are certain marketing ideas and strategies that can be adopted for your graphics design business;

  • Introduce your business by sending a profile of your best works or brochure to prospective clients.
  • Partner up with companies that offer complementary services.
  • Offer related services to your graphics design task, that way you have leverage over competition.
  • Attend graphics design seminars or conventions, and offer to speak on a subject. Also use the opportunity to network with other professionals.
  • Offer incentives to your customers.
  • Apply for design awards whose criteria you meet.
  • Use a car to advertise your business by wrapping it up with a vinyl-wrap.
  • Ask your satisfied customers to refer your business.
  • Pass out flyers and business cards during conventions, and seminars of related fields.
  • Leverage on social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to promote your works.

19. Work Out a Reasonable Pricing for your Services & Products

There are several factors that can help you get the right pricing for your graphics design business. First off, you can design your packages in such a way that clients get to choose depending on the size of their purse. This means that higher paying clients will get more benefits than those that pay low. However, to be able to achieve this, you have to ensure that your operational cost is reduced to the barest minimum.

20. Develop Iron-clad Competitive Strategies to Help You Win

Most businesses win their competitors by ensuring that their pricing is cheap and affordable, but the field of graphics design is a peculiar one. Cheap does not always mean the best, and so most times the more expensive a job is, the better it is perceived as that of a high quality. This means that to win your competitors in this industry is not to offer lower prices that will hurt you in the long run, especially if you work is of a high quality.

The best way to win your competitors is to offer unique services and extra packages to your graphics design jobs. You can offer to copy write for your customers, or give them added incentives, perhaps designing their business cards free if they have brought a huge job to your firm, or offering a discount to those that refer other customers to you.

Another way at winning over competitors is if you keep in touch with your clients, during and after you might have finished their jobs; this way your clients are constantly aware of your business.

21. Brainstorm Possible Ways to Retain Clients & Customers

Customers love a business that goes all out to meet and exceed their expectation. Recent studies have found out that it is far easier on the finances of your company for you to retain customers, than acquiring new ones. This means that you should continually draft strategies that will ensure that most of your clients do not leave your business and go over to your competitors.

Clients also love it when they get value for their money, and since graphics design is a service oriented business, the value of a job will depend on the customer’s initial requirement and perceived satisfaction. As an entrepreneur and a creative person, your task is to ensure that you understand exactly what your clients want so that you can comfortably meet those requirements and even exceed them.

22. Develop Strategies to Boost Brand Awareness and Create a Corporate Identity

The graphics design business is one that helps businesses build and project their brands to their existing and potential customers. This means that as an entrepreneur your task is in two folds, while you help customers create awareness for their brands, you would have to draft strategies that would create awareness and boost your brands as well, while also creating a corporate identity for your graphics design business.

Below are basic strategies that you can use to boost the brand awareness and create a corporate identity for your graphic design business:

  • Take advantage of social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook to reach to your existing and potential clients
  • Blog about your graphics design business, and also ensure that most of your jobs are available on display on your blog
  • Use your official website to heavily promote your business, and also employ the use of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tool to ensure that your business remains visible to internet users.
  • Be consistent with the use of your logo.
  • Help sponsor shows by designing their banners on a heavily discounted price or for free.
  • Distribute your handbills and flyers in your target areas.
  • Ensure that you promote your business online via directories and offline via yellow pages.

23. Create a Suppliers/Distribution Network

The graphics design business is dependent on the continuous supply of great software as well as hardware that will ensure that the business runs smoothly. Every graphic designer has to be sure of the software and hardware they use, and need to get it from trusted vendors so as to be able to make enquiries and get updates on new software and hardware.

To be in a good relationship with your suppliers might enable you to give positive reviews on the software or hardware used, this way your concerns whenever a problem comes up can be attended to, with ways suggested on how you can get the best from your device and software.

24. Tips for Running a Graphic Design Business Successfully

This is a creative business that provides visual images for clients, and even though most creative people find it hard to be great at business, it takes an extraordinary creative entrepreneur to ensure that not only is the business running but it is running successfully. As a creative business person that intends to run his or her graphic design business successfully, you should be able to make decisions on the go.

Another bid at being successful is in anticipating and then understanding the design your clients have in mind and then ensuring that the final job meets and even surpass their expectations. This way you get satisfied clients that will prefer to use your services all the time.

As a graphics designer cum business person, you do not know it all. There is constantly new software coming out aimed at making the job of a graphics designer easier and better. This means that you would need to constantly update your knowledge and skills and even that of your staff so that your client will not only get the benefit but your business will benefit as well by having a healthy bottom line.

You can update on your skills and knowledge by attending courses online or offline, and also by networking with graphics designers in your niche, who might pass along trends in the industry.