Have you ever gone on vacation without the roadmap? Drives you nuts in short order, doesn’t it? You stop at the first gas station and pick one up and whoever is sitting in the navigator’s seat gets to studiously mark out the route.
Or if you are lucky enough to have one of the newer vehicles equipped with navigation tools would you consider leaving home without having it hooked up ready to go? Probably not!
You may ask yourself why I started this article in just such a manner, and the answer is this: If you plan your vacations or road trips right down to the route you are taking and a roadmap to get you there, don’t you think it’s a good idea to map out your route as a graphic designer?
Most of us take it for granted that we create things like logos, business cards, brochures and any number of other promotional items meant to stimulate our audience. And some of us even enjoy a certain amount of success at it, but what if we could improve our success by sitting down and creating a roadmap for our design journey? Let’s plan our journey by creating a business plan.
I heard that! All those groans from the peanut gallery. It isn’t as bad as you think and the rewards are enormous to say the least. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? I think Mark Twain or some other smart fella’ said that a long time ago, but doesn’t it apply to us too? I think so. As freelancers, most of us have to have a pretty strong work ethic and if we can improve on our way of doing things or what our focus is, it’s just good business.
Business plans are nothing more than a roadmap telling the world, who you are, what you stand for, how you want to accomplish it and when you plan to have it done.
Unless you plan to go to the bank and ask for a load of cash, it is a fairly simple document. It does take a little of your time and there is homework involved, but when you are finished, you will have a much clearer picture of yourself and what you want to focus on professionally. Let’s break it down into manageable bites shall we?
Who Are You?
This is your description and analysis of the business.
- What is your background?
- What qualifies you to perform this particular job?
What Do You Stand For? This Is Your Mission Statement.
Think about exactly what you are trying to accomplish by doing what you do. Mission statements do not have any “I’s” or “We’s” in it. It is purely what you want to accomplish. This is mine:
“To create a satisfied customer by dealing with them in an honest and respectful manner and to provide the highest quality service at affordable rates.”
Your mission statement can be longer, but my message was a simple one. This statement summed it up very nicely for me.
How Do You Plan To Accomplish Your Plan?
Graphic designers especially have a lot of options to choose from with what we want to primarily do. From Web designers to IT specialists to Writers, we all have our niche, or we would like to. Identify what it is that makes you the happiest and focus on how it can be done the very best you know how to do. If your talent is photography, maybe defining what you photograph will be important. Do you want to work in a studio or go out and take shots of wildlife or action shots of baseball games? You decide what is right for you, and then focus on that aspect.
How do you plan to support your concept? Do you have income or an equity interest to help it get off the ground? Many freelancers start part time, working a regular job until they can get on their feet. Some have nothing to lose by creating a niche for themselves in today’s market, so they do. Any way you do it, find a way to support yourself while you are getting on your feet.
Take some time in this area and really think about what makes you happy. No matter what it is, you should do it. Though it is a personal opinion, if you are not happy with what you are doing or how you are doing it, change. Find a way to make it work. When you love what you do, it isn’t a J-O-B anymore. It is a life.
When Do You Want To Do This?
If you work on the Internet like we do, it’s kind of a 24/7, but if you are working at home and have a couple of kids maybe a spouse, you need to define when. I like to work from three or so in the afternoon until nine or ten at night. Before my husband went to work on the second shift though, my time was six am until noon.
Set some goals for yourself too. When I started working from a home office, I had a basic office. I set small achievable goals to upgrade and expand. Better quality equipment and software were added on as I grew, a little at a time. This kept my budget from getting shot in the caboose and let me keep a little for myself.
If you are just getting started with a home office, don’t give up your day job until you know you can make it. This can be one of your goals as a freelancer, to become self supportive within six months or a year. By starting out simple and sticking to what you know the best, it will allow you to grow at a pace that will keep pace with the finances coming in.
Some other things to consider as well
Keep Your Competitive Edge
Do you have a lot of competition in your area from other offices as well as freelancers? Right now there is a lot of competition and not as many jobs as we’d all like. This means you have to keep your competitive edge. According to the news, unemployment is at or over 5% nationwide. If you are looking for a niche market to work in, do your homework.
What is your target audience? Just like the clients we want, we have to identify those businesses or people we want to reach. I decided early on I wanted to work with smaller or new businesses that could not afford graphic designers and show them a way to afford my services. This has proven to be very successful and I have a flourishing business.
Do you have anything that will curtail your activities or ability to get the job done? The reason I put this one in is because a couple of years ago I had cancer and it strongly curtailed my business for several months. When I got better, I had to start over from scratch. I was not able to take care of my clients in a manner they needed, so they had to be referred to someone I could trust. Keep this in the back of your mind when you’re planning your future. How will you react or survive if something catastrophic happens. Will you be able to adapt?
By taking these steps, you will be able to create an effective roadmap for your future. Plan your route, save your money, and focus on the important parts. The rest will happen before you even know what hit you. Rand McNally won’t have anything on you and it won’t cost a dime for the gas. :)
About the author: Lois Knight has been a freelance writer and graphic designer for the last two years. She designs predominantly for small start up companies and non profits in need of design services that could not afford them otherwise. She has a background as an entrepreneur for over twenty years and has dedicated herself to educating people interested in graphics as a career. She also write on All Graphic Design.