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How to start a graphic design company - (the low cost way)

Updated on May 31, 2014

How much graphic design training will you need?

Ok the first thing you need to be aware of is the majority of the worlds best graphic designers have undergone at least some sort of formal training, be it in art school or by attaining a degree in graphic design or media studies etc.

Perhaps you, yourself, have some training or knowledge in the world of graphic design. That's great!

But for this "how to" tutorial, I'm going to assume you have none. (That's right - absolutely zip!) But hopefully I can give you the foundations of starting your own little graphic design agency, that you can start for an extremely low cost (you can also apply some of these tips to running your own interior design agency).

So lets get going!

So where do you start?

Ok the first thing to remember is I'm assuming you have no knowledge of graphic design. So we're going to start small - (in fact there are many graphic design and interior design blogs that prefer to stay small, as it means they can provide a much more specialist service to their clients). Perhaps you want to concentrate on business cards or flyers (leaflets). People are always looking for business cards and flyers, so if you could do a great job designing these then we should have a ready made market.

But how do you design them?

Ok, I'm going to make one further assumption. You have access to a PC or laptop...(that's how you're reading this article, right?)

So the next thing you'll need is a good software programme. Whilst there's many on the market the one I highly recommend is of course...Photoshop.

But before you despair of the cost and indeed the thought of learning a fairly complex piece of software let me assuage your worries!

Photoshop offers a 30 day free trial - which will give you plenty of time to cover all the tutorials necessary to learn the basics. And for learning these basics - there's actually no better place than youtube to learn. Theres thousands of videos uploaded by good spirited youtubers who will take you through the very basics of photoshop, from drawing shapes and using the different tools like pencils, brushes, erasers etc. Here's a good tutorial to get you started - but just search for "photoshop beginner tutorial" and you'll find hundreds to choose from.

A couple of things to note -

Just be sure to check the "green bar" on the actual video - if its mainly green, the video has had loads of likes and is most likely a really good tutorial. If its mainly red then its had a lot of dislikes - and its probably best to skip that video.

Also there's a lot of different versions of Photoshop. At the time of writing the latest version of Photoshop is "CS5.5". But for beginner tutorials you're just learning the basics - so the version won't make too much of a difference.

When you feel you've covered the basics and want to move onto some actual challenges then I'd suggest doing some tutorials that will be pertinent to your business ie a business card tutorial.

PSD TUTS is a leading blog and community where users of photoshop can hone their skills. Its these kind of websites that graphic designers would use almost on a daily basis. So join their community, leave comments, ask questions and become a member. In the world of Graphic Design you never stop learning!

So here's another great tutorial (on business cards) to get you strated...on something related to your business...

So after that tutorial - you should have made your first "business card" - Congratulations!

Some insider tips....

Ok you're beginning to learn the basics of photoshop and now you've actually designed your first business card. In fact maybe you've gone on and done some other tutorials, on flyers or logo design!

That's brilliant!

However the vast majority of graphic designers use what's called "graphic design resources". Whilst theres absolutely no substitute for learning the necessary software and becoming proficient in making things from scratch - theres also a lot of resources that can give you a little helping hand along the way.

A website that contains tonnes of great graphic design resources is Graphic River.

For example you can actually buy ready made business cards for a few dollars - and just alter the text accordingly for your client. You can also change the colour of the card etc by changing the appropriate layer - (you covered "layers" in your tutorials right?).

So explore the world of graphic design resources and combined with your newly acquired skills you'll have enough to get you going in terms of design capability.

*Just to note - you may be nearing the end of your Photoshop 30 day trial. If so maybe a friend would kindly put a 30 day trial on their laptop and loan it you for a further 30 days, or something to that effect. Until you start making sales it may be slightly difficult to come up with the 500+ dollars needed - but hopefully you'll be making sales soon!

Graphic River Business Cards

So what next?

Ok you've got all your designs ready - now you need a good printer...

This is where you'll need to start learning about paper quality and thickness. For example business cards, good quality ones should be printed on no less that 350 gsm. What's GSM!!? I hear you scream?

GSM is simply a measure of the weight and type of paper.

Regular copy paper, like you would use in a copier or printer, for example, is about about 75 gsm. So for business cards you'd obviously want a much thicker paper.

So next you'll want to go online and find a great printer who can supply you the best type of card for the best price. The lower your costs the higher your margins - but don't scrimp on quality or you'll get very little repeat business!

So get in touch with a few printers, ask for some samples and also ask do they do deals for graphic designers who will use them exclusively. Printers pretty much always do a special rate for graphic designers.

So you've got your designs, and your what next??

Customers of course!

Get your own cards printed first!

You're starting off small don't forget so even getting that first order will seem like winning the World Cup!

But to get that order you need to sell what you're doing - so now that you're a whizz on photoshop and have all your graphic resources at the ready make yourself an awesome card and get them printed on a high quality paper.

Then talk to people...friends, family, friends of family, family of reiends, the postman, the milkman...someone somewhere will want a business card (or business flyer or what ever you've decided to concentrate on!)...and hand your business card to them all!

If you're in the business of making great business cards and people see your beautifully designed high quality card then it's only a matter of time beofre someone bites!

And when they do - make sure they send you all the necessary details by email (name, phone number, website etc) - just so there no mistakes!...

Send the necessary files to your printer (usuallly a PDF) and save the PSD file for yourself. (Don't worry you'll learn all about these files in your tutorials!)...

And there you have it - your first order. And if you've done a great job at a great price - that first customer may well tell someone else. And you'll keep telling people (won't you?!), and handing out your own business cards...and soon you'll get order number 2....then 3, then 4....and before you know it you'll become the most famous business card designer in the world!

Well maybe not, but you can definitely start making a nice sum of money from it! And then you can increase the number of products you offer and before you know it you'll start thinking...well I need a new website!! hmmmm....maybe I could start doing websites too...?

Well stay tuned for my next "how to" and I'll show you how to do that too - the low cost way!!

Why would you like to start your own graphic design agency?

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    • Pamela Barnett profile image

      Pamela Barnett 

      16 months ago from Atlanta

      What if you don't want to start off small? I've worked on a freelance basis in the past. Family and friends ten to be a dead-end because they usually want to have the design work done for free. I'm more interested in small to medium sized businesses. How do I market my company so that U can put myself in the position to quit my job?

    • profile image

      Benjamin Nguyen 

      2 years ago

      I think you have some excellent tips Bookerboy.

      The great thing about starting your own graphic design company is enabling your work to speak for you.

      If you intend on getting a job in graphic design you likely need some academy qualifications. I know a friend who went through a simple college diploma at a local (BCIT) college for graphic design and then landed a job at Best Buy before moving to a start-up. Basically, you need a basic education or street creed.

      Where as with your own firm you can let your work speak for you. This is why your own samples are critically important so your suggestion about the importance of their own website design and business card is important.

      You may also be able to raise quick capital and some hourly work with freelancing sites like or It'll take some time to build a reputation but it can be a good way to get a portfolio built while being paid. It'a also a good opportunity to engage longer-term clients as a lead generation with these freelancing sites.

      If you're up for it, you can also get a drag and drop online graphic design software like YouZign ( ) then offer simple design services on micro tasks sites like

      You can create simple logo, business card designs, and Facebook covers for $5 that you can make with YouZign 2 in a couple minutes.

      This is a great way to get extra revenue and build a reputation on these sites. Many of these people are also SMB so they may require bigger work later, another great way to generate leads.

      Whatever you do, it's important to ensure you always maintain quality in your work. Even with the micro task work because it represents your brand though ensure the buyer understands their price also determines the amount of time you can spend on their work.

      - Benjamin

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Your tips is so simple and wonderful... I love what your write here

    • Hugo Furst profile image

      Hugo Furst 

      4 years ago from Australia

      I've always wanted to set up a design studio, so.. thanks for the tips! Voted up, as well :)

    • bookerboy profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks I say it's a bit daunting starting out in the beginning that's why its important to make full use of all the resources that are out there - and knowing where to find them! :)

    • Anjo Bacarisas II profile image

      Anjo Bacarisas II 

      5 years ago from Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

      superb hub, the tips are very helpful.. thank you for sharing this wonderful article, this will help a lot..

    • profile image

      APM Designs 

      5 years ago

      Interesting article regarding the use of Photoshop. I thought that most would use Vector Graphics software such as Adobe Illustrator. In fact I use Inkscape that is the equivalent to Adobe Illustrator, however, it is Open Source and can be downloaded and used legally free.

      Anyway nice tips for people starting graphic design

    • sfandler profile image


      6 years ago from Ireland

      I actually know a lot of photoshop - but haven't really done anything practical yet - I may give this a go!

    • bookerboy profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Ireland


    • bookerboy profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Ireland

      Why would you need a portfolio when starting off small - as you build up a client base of about 10 or so and then get your website together you could put your designs up on that...its really a way to start an agency on a very low budget - maybe I should include that in the title?? Thanks for the comment

    • Bldg an Architect profile image

      Bldg an Architect 

      6 years ago

      Great ideas! Seems like a great way to start a small business.

    • carlhuber profile image


      6 years ago

      No mention of building a portfolio? Just doing tutorials and printing business cards?

    • nikkiwikki profile image

      Nikki Wiks 

      6 years ago from Ireland

      Hey thyre some great tips - looking forward to the website one too! Although I'm an interior designer so hopefully you can show me how to start that for just a few dollars!


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