Thursday, October 20, 2016

Top 5 things every starting creative should know // Starting your own design business

I was drinking my coffee at one of my favorite lunch spots here in the city and realized a lot of waiters are just creatives in disguise. Nowadays it is so hard to find a job, even after doing master after master and a great amount of unpaid internships all over the world, graphic design business and other creative business in general do not have a lot of 9 to 5 job openings. But if creating is in your genes a Barista job will eventually wear you out so lot's of newbees try to start their own business and struggle, since doing business is something completely different than creating things.

There are so many designers in this world. Why did I ever think this could be a way of making ends meet? Well, it is possible. With the right mind set, eagerness to learn new skills and flexibility you can come a long way. If you are a designer yourself and don't know where to start keep reading! Here is my personal top 5 priority list. Things that I think can really help you out while starting your own creative business.

Create a solid business plan
I never started out with a clear business plan but working in the design industry for almost 10 years made it very clear what I did and did not want for my own company. When I myself started Little Smilemakers Studio it was not to get rich and make lot's of money. It takes a good steady foundation to built something solid.

The most important thing, the one to start off with is setting clear goals. Be realistic and humble. What would you like to do? Make a description of your workflow and plan your days. What clients would you like to work with? How much time would you like to work? What is most important? What sacrifices are you willing to make or not make? Could you work from your home office and save money or would you like to have a studio? Where would you want to be a year from now?

I schedule a little time to reflect ever quarter. What can I improve? What is going well? Where there any major issues to deal with? It is important to make time to overlook what you are doing. Sometimes there is so much to do you loose track of what is important to you. The one thing that being an independent designer should always keep in mind: Am I doing what I love? You can always go back being a Barista without all the responsibility of running your own business.

The art of social Media
The first thing you should know: Social Media is your new best friend. And as your friend it needs frequent attention and now and then some critical input. I know lot's of designers that do not have their own website. We live in a very visual world and you can reach a lot of new potential business partners via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Youtube and Instagram. Before posting and oversharing make a plan about what you think is representative of your business, be honest and only share things that reflect your skills and set a light on what you do best. Don't be afraid to delete old posts, comments and images that seem to lack quality if you at it later on.

Be visual. As a designer there is no better tool to present your portfolio to the world than on the internet. And we are working a in a very visual business, that is a big pro! But always be critical. Try to avoid posts that are too informal, no one wants to see your pet four times a week. Of course you can stay a little human too, but try to make the balance 20/80 when you post via Twitter or Instagram.

"Social Media is your new best friend. And as your friend it needs frequent attention"

Make sure your image is of good quality. If you want to post a finished product make sure you use with some good lightning that really improves image you put out there. Stay away from harsh lightning and mid night flashes. Just wait for the next morning and use natural light as much as possible. Research shows that light colored photography and visuals attract 80% more traffic than dark images. Something to keep in mind.

Create a Facebook page for your business. This looks very obvious but it needs a lot of work and make sure you upload frequently. By not posting anything for a few weeks your hits will drop and people might think you are out of business or just traveling the world. I always like to plan my posts, you can schedule posts if you are out of the office for instance so your page will stay active. I post things that I am working on, finished products and projects (tag your clients pages) but also try to come up with themed posts around the holidays and seasons. Variety is key here. Try to inspire your audience with everything you put on there and make sure all designs and creations are yours.

My favorite type of social media is by far Instagram. It is easy to post, tag and comment and that way your work will be found easily and lowers the threshold for people to get in touch with you and your work. Keep things interesting and inspiring. Keep in mind who you want your audience to be and connect with them by using tags. For instance I create a lot of designs very suitable for wallpaper and fabric, textile and home decor companies will study their market by searching by tag. So if you make patterns add 'Fabric' and 'Pattern' to your post. If you create typefaces add 'type' and typography etc. The right people will know where to find you. I have had several companies contacting the studio after getting connected over Instagram first.

Twitter is a great way of getting some attention too. Make sure you follow business related people and companies and keep a flow of communication going. I only use Twitter for current topics, design news, tips about online education and design courses etc. Keep in mind your potential clients are watching you. Don't get too involved into politics and off topic issues and mind your language. And always check your spelling!

Earn passive income
Making money as a designer is challenging but a true creative knows how to use their skills and make them into at least some money. I mainly create patterns and illustrations nowadays but started out as a graphic designer making brochures and logo's. I grew into creating things i love to create most and have the ability to focus on one thing now. But that can take years to accomplish. And you know, even designers, they got to eat.
On the internet you can earn a loaf of bread or two by selling your work via stock or Print on Demand websites. For instance I started out selling my photo's via Shutterstock, they were just there soaking up all this space on my computer and they were good enough for print and magazines so I started uploading my travel photography and themes that are popular in stock: food images and conceptual situations. I never earned a lot from selling my photo's, since I am not a very good photographer, I do not have the right technical skills to be a pro but from there I realized that I could just sell my illustrations there too. Even nowadays if I am not working on a project I still pass time creating new work for my stock portfolio and Society6 shop.

If you have no projects to work on and like to create things every day just keep in mind you can earn passive income with illustrations. photo's, musical compositions, paintings, video. There are many websites on which you can put your artwork into t-shirts or bedding for instance. But you can also start a blog and add advertisements to your page. Create video tutorials, typefaces or design templates. There are a lot of ways to earn some passive income. Research what works best for you and your business and once you have a decent portfolio and get the hang of it you will see the work will pay off. And don't forget to share your products via Social Media!

Join design organizations and connect to a creative network
Ah yes networking. It might be my least favorite part and I am so lucky I don't have to depend on other people too much. But working by yourself can be lonely, but also can keep you back from improving your skills, creative or business wise. If you are starting as a designer it is probably a good idea to consider attending meetings where people come together and can talk about similar experiences as a designer. I think networking is my weak point. But you simply can not do everything yourself. Keep creating, representing yourself to the world, learning new skills, researching wold markets, stay on trend and on top of that stay critical about your designs. Networking is a way to stay up to date and get feedback which is very important.

There are always people that have better skills in some areas in which you could use some extra. It is better to focus on what you can do though. I have a designer friend that is amazing with software, printing techniques and new features. If not for him I would just get a new computer plug and play without taking care of the right presets and things like that. Some people have more experience in doing business overseas, some have good knowledge of the producing side. It is good to have these people under your speed dial when things get complicated.

In Holland there is a design organization called BNO. Joining a design organization like this gives you access to legal information but also is a way to represent yourself as a legit designer. You can have a face to face with people but you can also join an online creative network. Whatever works for you. Do some research, there are several design organizations in each country.

Be honest & humble
If you don't have any colleagues to tell you "this header is a little off" you have to make sure you be critical about what you create all the time. Be honest about what you can and can not do. If a client approaches you and asks you to create a website and you are technically unexperienced don't prove yourself you can do it. Learn some skills first before taking your business for a test ride.

People always ask me "how does it feel to see your designs in shops world wide." I like to see how my designs pop up everywhere but it is still my job. I know my skillet, I know what I am good at and I see a lot of things that could use a little improvement too. Just because I am a designer that is creating prints for a famous brands and thus visually out there doesn't mean I am a good teacher or art critique. Some designers have this diva attitude which doesn't look very attractive on anyone to be honest. And I think literally people should mind their own business.

"Learn some skills first before taking your business for a test ride"

Be honest about your skills and trust your own creativity. Don't envy competition and don't try to be that competition. Work on your own skills and your own handwriting will convince people to work with you because you are unique and different from anyone else. Stay true to who you are.

You will have to work together with people and simply have to come up with a solution to their problem: company needs design. Know your skills and rather than lose patience in the process, give step by step feedback why you think your design would meet their needs. I have worked with a designer that had a complete lack of overview, made things that simply weren't practical and were not at all meeting the clients expectation. Keep communicating during the entire process. Instead of going back and forth meet each other half way. Stay in touch after you finished a project. Letting go of your creation can be hard and sometimes a client is persistent and really doesn't see what you see and it is hard giving up your baby. But it is true: kill your darlings.

Keep in mind, things worth your while are never easy. Stay on to of your game, set clear goals and work hard. For me it meant working 70 hours a week which is all right since I do not have a family or husband who need time. I am always looking for things to improve, stay on top of my numbers and after more than three years I can finally say I kind am getting the hang of it and can take a little step back in hours and if I travel it is not only for business anymore.