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Resourceful Designer podcast: Offering tips, tricks and advice for starting and growing your graphic or web design business.

Avoid these 10 things to grow your design business.

To run a home-based freelance design business you need to know what to do for it to succeed. You also need to know what to avoid doing so as not to fail.

You’ve done it. You’re running your own design business. It’s a fantastic feeling, isn’t it? The freedom and the power it brings you. The counterweight is the responsibility and pressures you face because everything is now on your shoulders. When done right, running your own business can be the most satisfying occupation there is. Just ask any successful entrepreneur. But if things go wrong, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

When it comes to starting a home-based freelance design business, most people research how to go about starting one. They read up on the things they need to get. They make lists upon lists of what they need to do to give themselves the best chance of success. That’s how you should do it.

However, what often happens along the way is you pick up bad habits that can affect you and your business negatively.

Here are 10 things you need to avoid while running your freelance design business.

1) Avoid Slacking Off

One of the most significant obstacles to overcome when running your own design business is the illusion of the freedom it brings.

Don’t get me wrong. Setting your hours and taking time off whenever you want without having to ask for permission is a definite perk when it comes to freelancing.

However, I said the illusion of freedom for a reason. Freelancing doesn’t mean fewer hours and less stress. It’s the opposite in fact. You are running a business on top of designing for your clients. That doubles your responsibilities. This holds especially true for new businesses. You may find your social life suffering as you devote countless hours to get things off the ground.

Avoid slacking off.

2) Avoid A Lack Of Direction

Maybe running your own home-based design business was always your dream. Perhaps you ended up here unexpectedly through lack of employment. Regardless of why you are doing it, you need to have goals if you want to succeed.

What do you want to accomplish with your business? Do you want to conquer a particular niche? Do you want to become known for a specific skill?

It’s nice to have design work that pays the bills, but if you don’t have goals and you don’t push yourself towards those goals, you will not improve as a designer.

As a design professional, you should have a mindset that design can change the world. Set goals to grow your business and to grow as a designer and don’t get left behind.

Avoid a lack of direction.

3) Avoid Isolating Yourself From Other Designers

As a freelance designer, you spend a lot of time by yourself, sitting in front of your computer designing amazing things for your clients. But how do you expect to improve as a designer if you’re not communicating with other designers? There’s only so much you can learn from articles, videos and yes, even podcasts. You need people you can bounce ideas off of and get real criticism from. People who are not afraid to tell you when you’re going in the wrong direction.

Clients don’t count. Sure clients give you valuable feedback on what you’re doing. But they will never be able to view your work with the critical eye you need to improve your skills as a designer and business person.

I’m talking about your peers. Other designers. People who not only understand what it is you do but how you do it. People in the same trenches as you. One of the biggest mistakes Freelancers make is not keeping in touch with other designers.

Find people to discuss design ideas with, to get critiques from, to solicit business advice. The more designers you are in contact with the more you’ll grow.

Avoid isolating yourself from other designers.

4) Avoid Being Exploited

One of the problems of running a home-based design business is that many people don’t see it as a real business. They imagine you as an unemployed designer who sits at home binge-watching Netflix and occasionally designing something whenever someone calls upon you. To them, it’s like designing has become your hobby and you’re lucky enough that some people pay you for it.

Because of this perception, friends, family and acquaintances may ask you to design for them as a favour. If they do offer to pay you, it’s rarely what you merit. After all, you’re not doing anything, and it shouldn’t take you long. Plus, they’ll help you out by spreading the word of what a great designer you are. Maybe they’re hoping this exposure will lead to employment for you. Don’t fall for it.

Sure it’s OK to design your sister’s baby announcement cards as a gift. But if your brother, your uncle joe or your old college roommate asks you to design a logo for a new business, they need to pay you. Give them a discount if you want, but let them know you’re not at their beckon call. You are running a business, and they will treat them as clients.

Not sure where to draw the line? Look at it this way. If they are asking you to design something that could directly or indirectly bring in money for them, and this includes charities raising funds, then they should pay you for your services.

Avoid being exploited.

5) Avoid Being Under Paid

Another issue when starting your own design business is not knowing how much to charge. In most cases, designers undersell themselves and it ends up hurting them and the industry as a whole.

Even if you are a new designer fresh out of school, your skills and knowledge are still valuable. Seek the compensation you deserve. Find out what other designers and design studios in your area are charging and try to fit in line with them.

Remember, it takes a lot less effort to land one $60 per hour client than it does to land four $15 per hour clients.

Avoid being underpaid.

6) Avoid Taking On Every Project

It’s human nature to want to please others. When a new client comes along or an existing client has a new project for you. You welcome them with open arms.

This gimme, gimme, gimme attitude is great when you are just starting out and can use all the work you can get. But as you grow and take on more clients and more work you will realise that not every client or design project is a good fit for you.

You need to be comfortable turning down work. It may sound like a foreign concept to you, but you need to determine if the project offered is right for you or not. If it isn’t then it’s OK for you to turn the job down.

Avoid taking on every project.

7) Avoid Rushing

As a home-based designer working by yourself things can get stressful when jobs start to pile up. Instincts will tell you to pump out as much as you can to lighten the load. But in doing so, you are compromising your creativity.

Design concepts take time to germinate. The more time you take thinking about them, the more variations will come and go from your mind helping you narrow down your focus and creating the perfect solution to the problem.

To allow yourself the time needed to do the job properly you could always pad the timeframe you tell a client. If you think a project will take you three days, tell them it will take five. It will allow you extra time if you need it. And If you complete it within three days, your clients will appreciate you even more.

Yes, there will be projects you will need to do in a short time. But remember episode 71 of the podcast titled Good Design, Quick Design, Cheap Design, Pick Two? If you rush a project, you are either producing sub-par work, or you need to make sure you are being compensated financially for the extra burden of turning a job around quickly.

Your best bet, avoid rushing.

8) Avoid Being Over Accessible

Unlike traditional 9-5 jobs, home-based designers are almost always home. That knowledge will often lead to clients expecting you to be available whenever they need you regardless of the time or day. It’s OK if you want to work evenings and weekends but do you want clients reaching out and expecting replies during those times?

You need to set boundaries from the start. Let clients know when they can contact you and how they can contact you. If you have a business phone, it’s not OK for clients to contact you on your home phone. Same goes for email. Clients should not be contacting you on your personal email.

Remember, this is your business. Your clients are just that, clients. You work on your terms, and you get to decide when it’s appropriate for clients to communicate with you and how clients should contact you.

Avoid being over accessible.

9) Avoid Overworking

At the top of this article, I talked about how you should avoid slacking off. The opposite is true as well. Without the regiment of a 9-5 job, many freelancers or home-based designers tend to overwork themselves, working more extended hours than an agency or in-house designer.

Working long hours adds extra stress and could compromise your creativity and lead to burnout. You need to step away from work on a regular basis. A healthy social life is vital if you want to be a happy and healthy designer.

Enjoy your evenings and weekends. Spend time with family and friends. Separating your work and private life will help both your business life and personal life success.

Boost your motivation and avoid overworking.

10) Avoid The Status Quo

Designers by nature are critical people, and I presume you are no different. You never settle for what is good enough when you know you can do better. It’s what makes you great at what you do and It’s the the reason clients keep coming back to you.

You are a problem solver. But the key thing to remember is that problems are not always correctly defined. Meaning the problem a client comes to you with may not be the actual problem they are trying to address.

A client may tell you they want more visitors to their website when in fact the problem is they need better visitors to their site. There are two options for every design problem presented to you. Give the client what they want, or give the client what they need.

Giving the client what they want is the easy route, but it doesn’t help you stand out from all the other designers out there. By digging deeper and giving the client what they need you will be making a name for yourself which will help the success of your business.

Question every design problem you face and see if there’s something more you can provide. Don’t limit yourself by just following orders and following the briefing word for word. Running your own home-based design business opens up a whole world of possibilities for you.

Take advantage of your position and avoid the status quo.

Are there other things you should avoid while running your design business?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

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Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn’t easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I’ll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com