How to setup your graphic design business

This is a series about starting your own graphic design business. If you missed the first part of this series, finding your first graphic design clients, you can find it here. None of the portions of this article are meant to be legal or business advice. If you want to get information about situations that apply to your personal situation, contact a CPA and a business attorney for help.

I underlined the importance of getting some clients before you invested any additional time or money in your business formation; because it makes no sense to invest your hard-earned money on something if you don’t know if it’s the right path to pursue. If you wait to collect some deposits or some fees for ongoing projects before you follow the steps on this article, you should have enough money to reinvest into the business in order to get properly started. In some of these parts, I refer to money amounts I spent when I created my own business. These amounts may vary depending on your specific location, and the decisions you make when you start your own graphic design business.

If you have done some contract projects and decided owning your own graphic design business is something you’d like to pursue, these are the steps you should consider taking to setup your business correctly.

Picking a name for your graphic design business

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

— Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare was on to something when he wrote this line in Romeo and Juliet. The name you pick itself is not as important as the values your name will eventually come to represent. You might be thinking, “But a name is super important, look at Coca Cola!” And I will tell you that in your lifetime, the odds that your business will become the next Facebook (sorry, Meta) are very slim. If you watched The Social Network, you will also remember that Facebook was not the original name of that company. Neither was Coca Cola.

In general, I can recommend the following:

  • Pick something easy to remember
  • Consider what would happen if someone were to refer your business by name
  • Don’t pick something too close to something else that can bring copyright concerns in the future
  • Keep it easy to spell
  • Check if it’s available online as a domain name, and social media handles
  • Just pick something soon

You could potentially prevaricate on the name of your future business for weeks, or even months. To fight indecision, don’t involve too many people in the decision-making process and pick something that feels good to get started. Remember you can always change it down the line if you need to.

Once you’ve made a decision, go purchase the domain name and reserve the social media handles that go with your brand new business name. Congratulations, a new business is born.

Register your graphic design business with your state

Note: I’m operating on the assumption that you live somewhere in the United States. If you do, you will have to contact your state’s Department of Revenue in order to register your brand new business. 

There are several ways to do it, and a few decisions to make. No, you do not need to pay LegalZoom several hundred dollars to do it for you. Most states make the process online and very easy to follow.

You need to select whether you will incorporate your business as a legal entity like an LLC, a partnership, a corporation, or whether you will operate as a sole proprietorship. In the beginning 10 or so years of my business, I operated as a sole proprietorship. I wasn’t working on my own business full time, so it felt like a lot of time and money to keep an entire business structure that I wasn’t going to be using at all during some periods of my life. If you choose to operate your business as a sole proprietorship, you will want to pay the $70 or so to establish a fictitious business name, also known as a DBA or a “doing business as” certificate. 

For example, during the first 10 years or so of my business, I operated under “Astrid M Storey doing business as Storey Creative.” This allowed me to get an EIN number from the IRS, get a business insurance policy and open a business bank account without having to create a full LLC for my business.

In 2019, I incorporated an LLC called Storey Creative, LLC. Creating an LLC for your business helps protect your personal assets should anything in your business go wrong. In the 10 years that passed between me starting my DBA and converting to an LLC, I had many things happen that taught me I would be spending 100% dedicated to growing my own business; and at the same time, that it was silly to not protect my nest egg and growing personal assets from something going wrong in my business. 

To establish an LLC in Colorado, you have to file some online forms letting the state know you have the intention of starting a business and pay a business filing fee. After that’s done, you can apply to get an EIN number from the IRS, get a business insurance policy and open a business bank account in the name of your business. 

Set yourself up with the IRS

Ah, the friendly folks at the Internal Revenue Service. You gotta love the tax people. If you were paying attention, you noticed I mentioned twice in the previous portion of this article something about “applying for an EIN number.” An EIN number is also known as an Employee Identification Number. It’s a 9 digit number that uniquely identifies your business as a registered entity with the IRS. Your clients will use this number when they file taxes to report the amount of money they have paid you for your services. You will also use this number when you file your own taxes. 

You should get an EIN number even if you’re running a sole proprietorship under a DBA so that you don’t have to share your social security number with clients and other vendors or service providers. As you know, stolen social security numbers allow your identity to be at risk of being stolen and used for nefarious purposes. So this is a safety consideration to keep in mind when starting your own graphic design business.

Hang your digital shingle

Now on to the fun stuff: your digital shingle. At this point in your business starting journey, you should setup a simple website and your social media profiles using the domain names and social media handles you reserved when you chose your business name. 

There are a variety of platforms where you can build a simple website. Like selecting your business name, it’s very easy to fall into a rabbit hole when it comes to building your first website. I am going to really stress that keeping it simple and getting something done and launched is way better than spending weeks or months stuck on custom functionality or complicated UI.

When figuring out what should be included in this first website think: what is the minimum amount of stuff I can include on a website and still close a sale or get a new client? Then do that, no more and no less.

I’m going to help you with this simple outline:

  • Who are you, where are you located and what are your credentials to offer graphic design services?
  • What do you like doing when it comes to graphic design? Provide 2-3 samples of that stuff you like to do.
  • How can someone get in touch with you if they decide they want to work with you?
  • Who are you looking to serve?

Google Your Business

Once your website is live, go to your browser and visit Google My Business. Create an account and enter your business information. Google My Business is a free Google Service that indexes local businesses into a database. Once your listing is live and approved, your Google My Business listing will appear when someone searches for your company name, or for terms like “graphic designers near me” and other cool business locator services. 

Inside your Google My Business account you can do things like blog, publish business updates, collect reviews from your clients, etc. Every entry you make into GMB helps your portfolio website’s SEO and improves your site’s rankings into the Google algorithm. 

Remind everyone you know of what you’re doing

This is a great time to throwback to the client-seeking post you made when you first decided to get started. If you haven’t yet, this is a great time to update your friends and family about this new business of yours. 

Just like you did the first time, keep it simple and upbeat. Try something like this: “Hi everyone, I wanted to drop a quick update to my previous career update. My new website (insert URL) is now live. If you or someone you know is in need of (services you want to offer), please let me know so we can connect. Thank you so much in advance.”

That’s it. That’s the message. If you don’t tell the people who love you how to help you, they will do awkward things or just avoid the subject altogether because some people are uncomfortable around entrepreneurs carving their own career path. Let them know it’s okay to ask what you’re doing these days, and ask for help (but not in a pathetic way) so your business continues to be top of mind when someone asks them “do you know a graphic designer?”

Astrid M. Storey

Astrid M. Storey

Astrid Storey is originally from Panama and spent most of her early years traveling through Central and South America. She arrived in Denver in 2003. During the next decade-and-a-half, she’s juggled a career in a variety of creative and marketing roles while building her own studio, Storey Creative, with clients in real estate, health care, publishing, and tech.

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