30 tips to help you become a design entrepreneur
Any time, any given day is a perfect chance for me to reflect on my own entrepreneurial journey as a design entrepreneur. A great opportunity to walk down memory lane, bask in the glory of the unique eureka moments, assimilate the learnings from the mistakes and sit back and enjoy the rushes of every moment, good or bad, in the years gone by.
I’ve been a design entrepreneur for close to fourteen years now and it has been a journey with no regrets. The interesting bit is that while we’ve grown, we’ve gone down as well. I started off as a single man army from a second floor bedroom converted into a home office. After the first 12 months, I went down in life to a garage and we grew to four people. And then we went further down to a basement office and today, we’re an 32 people team.
As a design entrepreneur, I often get mails from many young design professionals asking for advice and tips on what to expect and the do’s and don’ts. So, I thought it might be a good idea to write this article based on my personal experiences and what I’ve learnt from other design entrepreneurs over the years.
Assuming that you are going on your own and will be working out of home or a small office for starters, here are 30 quick tips on what to do and what not to do when there’s no assured monthly paycheck coming in. These tips are written keeping the advertising, communications and graphic design business in mind (considering that’s what I am closest to), but barring a point or two, these work for anyone who is looking at moving out of the corporate world and being his / her own boss.
1. Get a business card in place. It’s your advertisement / television commercial / promotional leaflet / resume, all rolled into one. Don’t waste money on letterheads, envelopes and other stuff. That can come in later after you’ve made some money.
2. Invest in a good computer / laptop that also comes with reliable service. Club this with a hi-speed, reliable internet connection and you are ready to rock and roll. Honestly, as much as many people will tell you, that’s all you need to start your home / small office based design business.
3. Get an official phone / mobile phone (if you have to travel to meet clients) with a post-paid connection.
4. Don’t spend foolishly on office supplies. Fax machines, scanners, printers can wait.
5. Pick up any work, any. When you are starting off, don’t be choosy. Pick up anything closely related to your design domain and strive to do a good job of it.
6. When starting off, don’t let go off any work because the client is not paying you a lot. Atleast you have work. And that’s important.
7. Talk to friends. Design for them at a nominal cost. Ask friends, family and ex-colleagues if they have any work for you. Ask them for references. Scratch corners and you’ll find something. Every extended family has atleast one businessman / woman. Convince them that you can write their brochures / leaflets / promotional collateral or design their office, office furniture etc. Turn your friends into clients. Turn your clients into friends.
8. Your business and your needs are bigger than your ego. Always keep that in mind.
9. Be an independent design consultant for a bigger / more established design studio. Get work outsourced from them to you.
10. Get a domain, basic hosting and a professional email address. Coolest_dude_design_lover @ any email address . com will not impress clients.
11. For the first 12 months, concentrate only and only on building a fabulous design portfolio that blows clients away.
12. Over time, pick up one client on retainership. That eases the pressure and atleast gets some assured bread on the table every month.
13. Find a comfortable corner in your house which is ‘YOUR OFFICE’.
14. Get serious. When working out of home, the temptations are endless. The bed, the TV, the refrigerator are just 10 steps away. Put down a schedule and stick to it. And yes, enjoy the afternoon nap and the TV. These are benefits of working out of home, so avail of them.
15. Remember, everyone you meet is a potential client. Don’t be afraid of asking for business. One out of 10 proposals will work out.
16. Take a break everyday. Join a book-reading group / walking club / common-interest group. Have a friend to talk to. Sometimes the lack of professional human interaction can get to you when you’re working alone. Meet up with your clients / associates / ex-colleagues atleast once a week.
17. Network. Network. Network. Network. Network. Subscribe to common-interest groups online. Attend offline meets / networking events of your favourite groups. If your online group does not have an offline presence in your city, take the initiative to start one.
18. Work atleast 16 hours a day. Provide unmatched service. If you can solve a client’s problem at 3 in the night, he’ll swear by you. Work hard. But take out time to stop by and smell the roses.
19. Don’t under-price yourself. Don’t over-price yourself. Honest-price yourself.
20. Be professional in your dealings with clients. But remember, clients become fans if you can do something for them at a personal-professional level.
21. Invest in reference books related to your line of work. These are more important than fax machines.
22. Make a job list everyday. Understand the power of lists. And try to strike off everything in your list in a 24-hour day. Nothing beats the feeling of striking out a job done on your physical list.
23. Stick to commitments of costs and timelines, come what may.
24. If you can’t handle lots of work, pass it on to someone who has the time. But DO NOT refuse work.
25. Don’t wait for opportunities to knock. In fact, find opportunities, hold them by the neck, drag them to your door, punch them hard, push them down, pull them by the collar and make them knock till the cows come back home.
26. Exercise everyday. Jog your brain too. Take one short vacation every three months. File your returns every year.
27. When you make some money, invest in a comfortable desk with lots of drawers and a comfortable, ergonomically-designed chair. The fax machine can still wait.
28. Don’t become stagnant. Keep reinventing yourself every few months. Keep innovating. Find a better way. Work smarter but don’t take shortcuts.
29. Take risks. Calculated risks, if you may. You’d rather live your life saying, “Can you imagine I did that too” than, “I wish I had done that”. Till you’re not going to do it, you’ll never know if it’ll work or not.
30. Write your affirmations. Tell yourself you’re the best. And take one small step towards becoming that everyday.
31. Have an attitude. But not what people perceive as an attitude problem.
32. And finally, don’t lose hope when business looks difficult to come by. Give yourself atleast twelve months to allow things to work out.
33. Don’t do speculative work for clients. They have to pay for your services. For you have bills to pay.
34. Honesty and openness still matter in business.
35. Drink plenty of water.
36. This is the 36th point in an article that had to give you 30 tips. Always deliver more than you promise.