How To Handle The Business Side of Design

Starting a small business involves a lot of hard work and also requires the proper knowledge of how to manage it all. Having a degree in web development or graphic design is one thing, but does it really qualify you to be a business owner? More than likely it does not. There are many other things you’ll need to know before venturing into the design business; it’s not something that you can just jump into.

Starting out on your own can be stressful and you might sometimes feel hopeless, but don’t give up. It is possible to handle the business side of design without running yourself in the ground. So if you want to be truly successful and make it past the first year, here are 6 things that you’ll want to think about before going into business.

Handle The Business Side of Design


Having the proper education is a must for running any business. While there are many schools that offer programs in web and graphic design, you’ll really need a degree that doesn’t just focus on designing; it’s also important to focus on business. If you choose a a traditional college or university, be sure to fit those management, marketing and accounting courses into your schedule where you can. These are really important aspects of the business that you’ll need to know in order to grow and be successful.

instantShift - Handle The Business Side of Design

It’s also great to participate in ongoing training even after you graduate. Sites like, Kelby Training, and Open Courseware provide online training for practically free. Just check out some of the testimonials and you’ll see how has helped many to keep up in both in the business. With new courses constantly being added, you can keep your Web design and business knowledge current and up-to-date.

Here are a few great sources to help education yourself and keep up with the trends in the design industry:

These sites can even serve as supplemental sources to your education if you find that your degree is not focused enough on certain topics. Make the effort to add a new course to your schedule every month and see how much it will help you increase your knowledge and improve your business.

Work Environment

Having the proper work environment is especially is important because this is where you will spend the majority of your time. It’s customary for many small business owners to start out at home, but eventually you’ll need to expand. By that time, you should have built your income up enough to be able to afford an office an office suite or even your own building.

It really doesn’t matter which you choose, it’s just important to make sure you have ample space and the right ambiance to help you focus. Proper lighting is also important because straining your eyes will only lead to serious issues in the future. Plus, as a designer you really need to be able to see what you’re doing! You’ll be surprised at how much different colors can look in different lighting.

Another thing is to be sure to have a large enough desk or working area so that you can have room for your laptop and/or desktop and any additional monitors or devices that you need to use. You’ll also want to have a spot for sketching or writing if needed. Don’t forget about a comfy chair. This is a situation in which cheap just won’t do. It will be a bit pricey to find a good ergonomic office chair, but it will be well worth it. There’s nothing like sitting all day at a desk with a horrible back ache.

instantShift - Handle The Business Side of Design

An alternative to having your own office is utilizing a shared work space, or coworking as some call it. According to Wikipedia, “coworking is a style of work which involves a shared working environment, sometimes an office, yet independent activity.” Coworking allows you to get out of your house and meet other people who are small business owners like yourself. A great place for finding a place to a coworking space is the CoWorking Directory or Desks Near Me.

Shared work spaces usually only require a small weekly or monthly fee and with that you get a desk, chair, and sometimes even refreshments, lunch, and/or coffee. There are other locations that even offer a free day a week; so be sure to do your research and take advantage of that. this is a great way to get away from the house for a day. Coworking is also one of the best ways for small business owners and freelancers to network and meet others in their area who are in the same niche.


Thanks to the Internet and social media, marketing is now a lot easier, cheaper and more convenient than it was 10 years ago. There’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Google AdWords, and thousands of other tools and sources that can be used to market products and services. This is really where you want to put most of your focus when it comes to marketing your Web design services or business. The greater your online presence, the more customers you’re sure to bring in.

Here are a few Lynda courses that can help you with better understand social media marketing, Google AdWords, and SEO:

In order to get business and continuously bring in new clients, you’ll definitely need to be active on social networking sites. If you have the money, it’s a good idea to hire a social media marketing specialist or community manager that can manage your social media activities and help create buzz for you. Since keeping up with messages and networking on these sites is a job all on its own, it’s definitely worth having some help. When just starting out though you probably won’t be able to afford help, so be sure to invest in a good social media monitoring tool and a task management tool to manage your projects.

instantShift - Handle The Business Side of Design

It’s also a good idea to start an email marketing campaign or newsletter. This, of course, will take time and involves building a mailing list of people interested in your services. You can then send out weekly, monthly, or even quarterly email newsletters regarding news, updates, promotions, etc. A good tool for designing mailing lists and integrating them into your social networking profiles is MailChimp – “it’s like your own personal publishing platform.” Many of the top online business like TED, Woot!, and Smashing Magazine use this service and you can upgrade once your business grows.


This is one of the most important decisions that has to be made in any business, especially design. First you’ll need to decide if you’re going to charge on an hourly or per project basis. A modest flat rate per project is good for those just started out and have yet to prove themselves. You can then move up to hourly fees once you’ve gained your clients’ confidence and proven your expertise.

instantShift - Handle The Business Side of Design

You’ll need to do a little research and see what your competitors are charging, so that you can set your prices accordingly. If you already have a group of loyal customers, then you can use that to your advantage and charge a little extra; the more references you have the better. When it comes to actually deciding what to charge, it can be frustrating and difficult, but it simply must be done.

Here are a few sources to help you when deciding what to charge:

Personal Assistant

Many people dream of having a personal assistant because they can fill many needs and wear numerous hats. They’re great for helping with your marketing needs, social media management, and brand monitoring. If you need help with the business aspect, you can find someone that specializes in human resources, accounting, or finance. If you have too many design jobs, then you can find someone who is great at designing and can help you work on huge projects or complete smaller projects for you.

Here are a few great resources that can help you find the right personal assistant:

So as you can see, a personal assistant is just good to have because they are basically two extra hands that will help you get more done and in a shorter amount of time.

instantShift - Handle The Business Side of Design

Other options are also outsourcing, hiring freelancers, or hiring a virtual assistant. These are people who can complete tasks and projects for you and are usually cheaper than hiring an actual personal assistant. They specialize in the skills that you need and usually don’t need any kind of training or molding. Whatever you choose to do, whether it be a personal assistant or virtual assistant, it will help you free up some of your time so you can focus more on your business and sales.


You definitely have to use technology wisely and to your advantage. Portable devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones let you take your work on the go so that you can keep up with and handle business wherever you are. There are iPhone apps, Android apps, portable apps, and web apps that all come in handy for web designers and small businesses. Nothing has to be difficult; there will always be some kind of app out there to help you do business more efficiently and to help keep organized.

instantShift - Handle The Business Side of Design

Here are a few web apps to help you run your business more smoothly and effectively:

  • Noteleaf – This tool works with your Google Calendar account and your mobile device (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry). Whenever you schedule a meeting in Google Calendar, Noteleaf will let you know who you’re meeting with right before the meeting.
  • Crowdbooster – This tool analyzes your marketing efforts on Twitter and Facebook and then tights you how you’re doing. It will give you tips for on how to be more effective.
  • Wildfire – This is the ultimate tool for running promotions on Twitter and Facebook, which in turn helps you increase customers and sales.
  • Postling – A special tool that helps small businesses manage their social media profiles, stay on top of comments, and keep track of what people are saying about you across the web. It’s really great for brand management and monitoring.
  • Payment Processing – A few tools to help you quickly and securely process payments via mobile devices are: Square, Cimbal, and Venmo.

Time management also ties in here because there are literally thousands of tools and apps out there that can help boost your productivity and manage your tasks and projects. These are also good for keeping stress levels low because with proper organization and preparation, there is really no reason to be too stressed out. The more you have things under control, the better you will feel and the more you can focus on your business.

Additionally, if you’re still in need of guidance there are always web forums and groups that are free to join. You can use these to discuss issues and get help from others in the web design business. Even if you don’t anticipating needing extra help, it would be in your best interest to be a member of a few forums anyway. They’re great for networking you’ll constantly learn new tips that you can use in your business.

Keeping all of these tips in mind, you’re sure to succeed and keep the business side of design under control.

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  1. Pricing advice is not correct.

    Flat fee is best. However, if there are many unknown variables, an hourly rate is best.

    Good example is a logo project:

    Let’s say you happen to do an incredibly clever logo and it only took you 2 hours. If you charged a flat fee of $2,000 for the logo, that would be significantly more money than if you charged $100 per hour.

    Get me?

  2. PS- In other words, with a flat fee, you are being paid for your experience and expertise and not for your hours.

  3. “Keeping all of these tips in mind, …” Lior, your so funny!
    Thanks for a great article Lior!

  4. nice post! it is great pleasure to visit your site. thanks!!

  5. Thanks for the stuff on technology – couple of things there that really look useful. One other thing – cash, cash, cash. Seems obvious but more businesses go bust from not managing cash in/out that all else!

  6. “Having the proper education is a must for running any business.”

    I disagree with that completely. Many people are self taught in design and business and do just fine. A piece of paper saying you can do something is over rated… and some of the designers I see with BA Hons look like they’re still on their first day of Photoshop. I guess they award anyone with a degree these days?

  7. Great post, I am very happy to visit in your site.

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