The Graphic Designer's Business Survival Guide


Graphic design is a crowded, highly competitive world. And it takes a lot more than raw talent and technical ability to make it as an independent designer. Successful graphic designer and entrepreneur, Larry Daniels exposes the weak spot of so many: the critical business side of running even a one-person design firm. Designers often prioritize aesthetics over a client's needs, and ignore basic business skills such as writing, record keeping, and relationship building. This practical insider’s guide explains how ...

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The Graphic Designer's Business Survival Guide

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Graphic design is a crowded, highly competitive world. And it takes a lot more than raw talent and technical ability to make it as an independent designer. Successful graphic designer and entrepreneur, Larry Daniels exposes the weak spot of so many: the critical business side of running even a one-person design firm. Designers often prioritize aesthetics over a client's needs, and ignore basic business skills such as writing, record keeping, and relationship building. This practical insider’s guide explains how to build a profitable, sustainable design business. Packed with sample agreements, letters, forms, and more, it reveals how to:

• Create a website and portfolio that highlight design solutions

• Do pre-pitch research and deliver winning presentations

• Prepare inviting proposals that win lucrative contracts

• Establish a reliable system for tracking billable hours (and staying solvent)

• Use cold-calling strategies even sales phobics can master

• Quantify design decisions in ways that business management can relate to and respect

• Break out of “freelancer” mode to highly compensated creative consultant

The field of design is littered with failures. To stand out and succeed, you need to be professional, efficient, and focused on the bottom-line results that clients value. The Graphic Designer's Business Survival Guide shows you how.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Trust us, this book isn’t just good for folks in the graphic design industry, it’s good for anyone looking to do freelance work or set up their own company." --NY Creative Interns

"This is a great book on starting and running a graphic design business....a great tool." --Reading Room Book Reviews

"Whether you're a full-time freelancer or do a few projects on the side, this book will help ensure your success." --How magazine

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814432419
  • Publisher: AMACOM Books
  • Publication date: 12/12/2012
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,467,930
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

LARRY DANIELS is past president of DanielsDesign Inc., a New York based branding and communications design firm that has been a consistent recipient of major industry recognitions for outstanding achievement.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1 Taking the Plunge: A daunting, energizing journey


Most graphic designers I’ve come in contact with over the

years have at least entertained thoughts of “going it alone”

at some point in their careers. Some have done it successfully;

many have not. For those who have not, lack of raw talent

was almost never the reason for failure; lack of business

know-how almost always was.

The reality, of course, is that no matter how business

savvy you may be, entrepreneurship is not for everyone.

Consider, for example, that while design ability may be at

the core of any successful design firm, you’ll probably devote

no more than half (often more like a quarter) of your time

to the actual process of designing once you’re the principal

of a one- or two-person firm. Sales, client interactions,

project management, and the various administrative functions

required to run a business tend to take up a far greater

role than many would-be entrepreneurs have the knowledge—

or stomach—for. And speaking of stomach upheavals,

before you decide to take the plunge, you’d do well to

reflect carefully on the roller-coaster ups and downs of those

inevitable business cycles that often make a steady paycheck

a very attractive and satisfying alternative to operating your

own business.

Finally, there’s the issue of eventual net worth. With

most other types of business, entrepreneurs work hard to

grow their ventures with an eye toward building cumulative

value and then eventually either passing the business on or

profiting from its sale. If this is your goal, the design business

is probably not for you. While it may be true that a few

large design firms have been acquired by larger companies,

the market for “boutique” shops is clearly not appealing

as a solid business investment. Think about it: annualized

sales volume that’s more often than not dependent on iffy

project-by-project assignments; no long-term contracts or

projections; spotty cash flow; no real property holdings; no

inventory; and, especially in the breakneck pace of digital

innovation, constantly depreciating equipment value. Add to

that equation the fact that most client/resource relationships

are personality driven and won’t transition easily, if at all, to

new management—and you can see that this is certainly not

an enticing picture for potential investors.

There is a bright side, though, and it’s this: Just about every

designer I’ve ever known would happily characterize this

career choice as one that he or she wouldn’t want to trade—

something that sadly is beyond realization for the vast majority

of the working populace. And so, the question you must

answer is: Do you think you have what it takes to succeed in

this often difficult, often rewarding business of ours? If so,

read on and get ready for what could be the ride of your life.

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Table of Contents

List of Figures vii

About the Author ix

Preface xi

1 Taking The Plunge: A Daunting, Energizing Journey 1

Facing the reality of entrepreneurship

Early missteps: an object lesson

Partnering: a marriage of convenience?

Do you really need a business plan?

Building a brand voice

2 Setting Up House: Firm Fundamentals 21

Self-discipline: the first key to success

How should I structure my business?

Bookkeeping: why some things are better left to others

Location, location, location? Not so much anymore

Vendors: strategic alliances you can't grow without

The lowdown on markups

You're not alone: tales and tips from other creatives

3 Design Firm Management: Tools and Templates 47

Managing big-budget costs

The print production specsheet

Cashing in on media commissions

Tracking sales efforts

Assigning project identification: the key to efficient administration

Time tracking: the key to managing profit

The ledger: documenting and tracking receivables

Invoicing: structuring how you get paid

Managing cash flow

Progressive billing: the key to staying solvent

4 Designing a Relevant Firm Image 65

Focusing on a defined practice area

Defining your USP

Designing for business

Showcasing your qualifications

5 Communicating Credibility 81

Shaping an image that shapes perception

Getting to know your prospect: pre-pitch research

Honing presentation skills

Overcoming jitters

6 Effective Business Writing: The Cornerstone of Firm Growth 93

Good design is no excuse for bad writing

The new contact introduction letter

The follow-up letter

7 Crafting a Winning Proposal 101

Composing the real art of the deal

Establishing creative methodology

8 Time Management: The Key to Design Firm Profitability 121

Juggling the time clock

Establishing baseline time rates

Establishing billable time rates

Tracking billable time

The new project start-up package

Tracking billing information

Project content folders

Tracking progressive expenses

Handling downtime

9 Effective Marketing: Your Passport to Success 139

Sales: an unavoidable reality

Absorb like a sponge

The importance of taking a worldview


Testimonials: harnessing the power of praise

Capitalizing on peer recognition

Taking the chill out of cold calling

Promotional marketing

Avoiding the "eggs in one basket" predicament

10 Growing Your Firm in Any Economic Climate 187

"We" vs. "me": the art of shaping perception

Leveling the playing field

Corporate chemistry: adapting to cultures and personalities

Hooking the big fish

Mining the media

Mining other income streams

The nondisclosure agreement

11 Sidestepping Obstacles in Your Firm's Path 207

Getting past the gatekeepers

Dealing with deadbeats

When good projects go bad

A sobering reality … and a bright outlook

A final word (or two)

Index 223

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