Most small design businesses on the internet are really not small businesses.
A business is considered to be a small business if it has at least 8 or more people. So if you are a one or two man army then yours is a micro-business.
This kind of creative online companies/businesses are started (most often) by creative individuals who want to be “their own boss”.
Here are a few reasons why people want to be their own boss and why I think these are simply myths.
I am not trying to scare or disappoint budding creative entrepreneurs. I am merely analyzing the myths.
You have the freedom to decide your own work hours
Many creative people, when going into business for themselves (even as freelancers to start with) think that they can decide the number of hours they will work and when they will work. To me, this is the biggest myth. Most freelancers in the graphic design/logo design fieldwork more than 100 hours a week. When you are working from home, then you are always working.
Even though you have no direct boss to tell you to get up and work, your clients are your bosses and you will have to work long hours to complete the projects. Of course the more you work, the more you earn.
There is no sense in burning yourself out. I know it might be difficult initially to make enough money to be able to work less. But wearing yourself out will not help in the long run. Try to stay away from overcrowded places such as bid boards where 1000s of other designers are fighting for limited projects. Such places will force you to come up with free mockups without guarantee of being picked and hence paid for the work you put in.
Free mockups mean more hours of work and less likelihood of payment.
You can pick and choose the projects you will work
Unlike you have been in business for a long time it really is impossible to pick and choose the projects you will work on and those that you will turn down. In the graphic design/logo design/website design industry, the market is saturated with more suppliers than demand.
In such a highly competitive arena, you can hardly pick and choose projects. You will grab with both hands and feet whatever project comes your way.
This is not necessarily bad but if the quality of design projects you work on is poor then in the long term you will get frustrated and lose your motivation.
Even though you can not turn down projects, it would help to build a process where you can make your clients aware of the standards you have. For instance, if you get a client who shows you logo that belongs to someone else and asks you to make a similar looking logo, then perhaps you should put your foot down. You could work around it by telling the client about the potential risk for HIM in terms of copyright infringement etc.
Perhaps this example does not truly describe the “quality” of a project or client but in my opinion, a client who asks you to do that falls under the “bad quality project” section.
You do not need a business plan
This is one of my favorites. Designers and other creative people who start an online business feel that business plans are only for big corporations. To a certain extent that is true. However, you do need to have a business plan, albeit a small one.
The scope of your business depends on the nature of the nature and size of your business. If you are looking to land a few investments into your company or are approaching the banks then you would need a very thorough business plan that outlines the financial figures, marketing plan, scope, and potential. Such business plans are best written by professionals.
But if you are a freelancer that is looking to turn it into a business then you would need a business plan that is smaller in scope. You would need to think about where you are now, how the market is, where you want to be one year, two years down the line and how you plan to get there.
Thinking about these things and writing them down can have a huge impact on your business. It will give you clarity and a sense of purpose.
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You just create, you don’t need to sell!
Another myth that most designers who start an online business believe in is that they simply have to be the best at what they do and success will follow. This is far from the truth. On top of creating, you would need to market and sell what you create.
Bidding for a project on a bidding forum might not be considered as marketing or selling by most people. But that is exactly what it is. Designers simply use a “copy-paste” method when bidding for projects. They do not market themselves at all.
The websites that a lot of small design firms do not have any sales copy at all. They display their work in a nice portfolio but that is pretty much it. You have started thinking about your corporate identity and your image and how to enhance both at every opportunity. Do you have a nice logo design? Does it reflect who you are? Is your website professional? Is the sales copy adequate? Are you trying to answer the most common questions that your website visitors have?
Ok, I have to stop before this post turns into something related to website usability.
Learn about copywriting and apply it to your website
I can manage my money!
The biggest problem for the creative entrepreneur is managing money. Because we are their own boss now, most often than not, we that we have full control over our finances. Wrong! At least that is what I have seen in my experience.
Managing money is a talent that has to be learned and practiced. If you do not apply yourself to that skill you will soon find that you are working really hard but you have little to show for it. For instance, if you are a logo designer, then you might realize at the end of the year that you had created 100s of logos and yet when you look at your balance sheet, it does not look so great.
Ok, this problem might not be relevant to the single man army kind of freelancer turned full-time individual. I am talking about those entrepreneurs who have started a small business, engaged a few employees and have an office outside their bedroom.
The best investment you will make in terms of managing your finances is to engage a professional and proper accountant. Not the cheapest, but one who is qualified and experienced in dealing with small business accounts (preferably in the design industry).