There is no perfect time to start a creative business. Jumping into the freelance world as a graphic designer, photographer, videographer, writer, or anything else can feel scary at first, and there is no magical moment where the world will write you a permission slip.
So as a creative woman who wants to leave your 9-5 and live a life on your own terms, you will need to write that permission slip yourself!
When I first started my freelance design business, I didn’t think too much about whether I should become an entrepreneur or not – I didn’t really have the option.
I had a degree in graphic design, I had plenty of design experience, I had uprooted my life and moved across the planet (really!), and I was working in printing shops during the day while applying for design positions at night.
But no matter how much I tried to get a graphic design job with an agency, no one was hiring. If I really wanted to be a designer, freelancing was my only option. So I dove right in and learned everything about building a successful business the hard way: through trial and error.
If you’re a creative woman who is dreaming of starting your own service-based business, I want to support you. I want to show you everything I know, which is what Aventive Academy is all about.
And I want you to get to a point where you are booked out, making great money, and working from wherever you want – because my successful business is proof that it is possible for you!
If you already have a freelance graphic design business and are stuck at a plateau, you will love our value-packed guide of 9 ways to grow your graphic design business. You can get a free copy here:
And if you’re just getting started, here are the 7 steps to starting a creative business:
1. Establish the basics of your business.
Before you do anything else, fill in the blanks of this sentence: “My business offers___________ to _____________ so they can _______________.”
This statement will be the foundation of your creative freelance business. So congratulations – by answering the question of what you offer and who it’s for, you just took a bold step towards freelancing!
Anyone can say “I want to be a freelancer,” but what separates true freelancers from the rest is the gusto to take action steps towards that dream. Here are the core questions to ask when launching your service-based business:
What exactly are you selling?
For example, if you are a photographer, now is the time to think about if you want to sell prints, formal photo shoots, albums, digital files, or packages that include a mix of options. You can also add passive income to the mix which will help you make money while you sleep!
Who is your ideal client?
Think about whether you will mostly work with individuals, families, small businesses, or larger corporations.
Where will your ideal clients find you?
Are they primarily searching online, or are they looking to meet someone in-person? Many women freelancers will end up using a mix of both local and online approaches to building their businesses.
What are you up against?
Think about others in your field who are offering similar creative services. Also, you will want to make sure your creative business is something you feel passionate about – or at least something you will enjoy doing on a daily basis!
2. Make a plan.
Now that the base of your business is in place, you can flesh out the details like how much to charge, how many clients you want to work with, and what sets your business apart from the rest.
On the finance side, this is the time to look at your bank accounts and get clear on how much money your business needs to make to cover your personal and business costs (along with taxes!). And on the strategy side, you can start considering whether you want to focus on one niche or start out as a generalist.
When I first started out as a freelance graphic designer, I worked on pretty much any design projects that came my way. Business cards? Sure! Car wraps? Definitely! Website and logo designs for any industry? Absolutely!
This was a great way to cut my teeth in the freelance industry and learn how to work with clients. But there is a cap on the amount of income you can make as a jack-of-all-trades freelancer, which I experienced quickly. You can make more money and develop a stronger reputation by selecting a niche for your business as early as possible.
In Aventive Academy, we dive further into the details of how to figure out your pricing and niche your freelance business. Sign up here to be the first to know about our course launches and supportive community:
3. Set up your online presence.
I recommend that every creative business owner set up a basic online presence. As you grow and find what client attraction methods work best for you, you may not need to actively use all these tools – but it’s important to have them at the beginning:
Make sure you have a professional email address that ends with your website domain (not @gmail.com).
The website you have on Day 1 will not look the same the website you have two years from now. For now, do your best to get a simple website posted or work with a web designer to help you.
This will be on your website, but I’m mentioning it separately because it’s so important. Whether you are a photographer, designer, stylist, writer, or in any other creative field, your portfolio is usually the element that gets someone to hire you – even if they originally found you in-person or on social media.
The specific social media platforms you use will depend on where your ideal client is hanging out.
You never know who you will meet at a networking event or in line at the grocery store! Have some business cards on hand for those moments.
Let’s say someone comes to your website, but they aren’t interested in buying that moment. You can use software like Mailchimp or ConvertKit to capture their email address and send them future updates. In your emails, you can include links to buy your services or your passive income products.
4. Get organized.
Even if you are a one-woman business right now, you are still a business. This isn’t just a hobby. Your work has value, and it’s important to get organized and streamline your systems as early as possible.
The first thing to think about is your schedule. If you’re trying to escape your 9-5, you can probably only work on your business during evenings and weekends right now – which is okay! If that’s the case, set a realistic schedule of what days and times you will work on your business.
If you pick Tuesdays and Thursdays between 6:30 and 8:30 PM, put that in your calendar. If someone wants to grab drinks during those times, tell them you already have plans.
That might sound harsh at first, but the early stages of starting your business are an exciting time to focus on your goals and your future. You can still have a social life – you just need to be strategic and commit to your business during the times you said you would.
If you don’t have another job, it’s even more important to establish a schedule of when you are working and what your priorities are. You will need to balance the short-term task of getting clients with longer-term tasks like creating content to grow your audience over time. I use Trello, a free task management tool, to balance these competing priorities and keep my creative businesses organized.
5. Connect with others.
Your first few clients already exist. They woke up this morning, they drank their coffee, they have a problem that you are capable of solving, and it won’t take magic to find them. In fact, you may already know them personally!
When you’re starting a creative business, you can use your existing network of friends, family, and contacts as a way to announce your new endeavors. Even though these people may not be your ideal clients, they have their own networks of people who could be searching for exactly what you offer.
Don’t be afraid to announce your new business on your personal Facebook or Instagram, grab coffee with a few acquaintances, or send out a friendly email letting your contacts know what type of clients you are looking to work with.
Additionally, you can use both online and in-person networking opportunities to connect with other freelancers. Keep in mind that the purpose of networking is to truly connect with others.
If you go to a networking event, don’t show up with the intention to sell your services or land a client on the spot. If you’re a videographer and you meet a copywriter, you can develop a professional relationship that leads to sending referrals back and forth.
Networking will likely be an important component of your business until you’re at the point where clients find you on their own, so it’s important that you find ways to make networking feel fun and natural. Our Facebook group of motivated women graphic designers is a supportive place to start building your network!
6. Promote your work.
There are so many ways to promote your business, but the main one I want to talk about here is creating content for your ideal client.
Your content can come in the form of a blog, a YouTube channel, active social media channels, or a podcast – any platform where you can share your personality and expertise with potential clients.
Even a simple blog post called “3 tips for getting your kids to smile in a photo session” will help your audience get a sense of your voice and style before they hire you. You can also consider targeted paid advertising to grow your business faster.
Don’t be afraid to try different promotional methods to see what works best for you. I actually got my first graphic design clients from posting in the services section of Craigslist – yep, Craigslist!
Warning: it is extremely common for creative women to struggle with imposter syndrome when they first start promoting their businesses. Imposter syndrome includes feelings of self-doubt and the belief that you are a fraud – that you’re not “really” a business owner.
If you start to feel insecurities flare up, look back at the statement you wrote earlier in this article: “My business offers___________ to _____________ so they can _______________.”
Root back into the awareness that your work has value, you have value, your business helps people, and you just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other when promoting your offers. This guide will give you some more ideas on how to promote your freelance business and become a successful graphic designer:
7. Keep moving forward.
Creative businesses aren’t stagnant – you won’t just create your business today and keep it the exact same forever.
Over time, you will streamline your processes so your administrative tasks start to feel like clockwork. You will gain more confidence in your craft, and you will notice opportunities pop up that you couldn’t have predicted at the beginning. Maybe you will end up veering your business in an entirely different direction.
The key to getting your business to a place where you are making consistent income, working from wherever you want, and feeling that sense of creative fulfillment is to keep going. Keep showing up for yourself, keep shifting to a positive mindset and focusing on what is possible, and keep taking action steps to get clients — even when those steps are outside of your comfort zone.
It is so important to surround yourself with a community of creative entrepreneurs to help you stay inspired and on track through the highs and lows of your business journey. That’s exactly why community is such a key part of our offerings here at Aventive Academy! You can join our free Facebook group of women graphic designers here.
One day you will look back at this time of your life and smile. You will be so proud that you stepped out on your own, that you valued your work, and that you believed in yourself enough to start your creative business from scratch.
Is it realistic to start a business?
This is the question that nags at the mind of most female freelancers: Is it realistic to start a creative business? Am I crazy? What if it doesn’t work?
Let’s flip that question on its head: Is staying at your day job for the rest of your career truly “realistic”? Is your job even going to exist in 5 years? What happens if the company you work for goes out of business? Even though getting a regular paycheck can make us feel secure in the moment, the truth is that even at a 9-5 there is always a risk of it not working out and having to start at square one.
Freelancing isn’t a new phenomenon. There are tens of millions of freelancers in the US alone, and every credible business forecast expects freelancing to grow in the coming years.
Companies love working with freelancers, and why wouldn’t they?! Freelancers are experts in their craft, they deliver phenomenal work, and clients don’t need to worry about handling benefits since they aren’t employees.
Yes, starting a creative freelance business might feel confusing at first. There will be things you need to learn along the way, some self-doubt, and some mistakes.
But if you take it one strategic step at a time, learn from those who have come before you, and surround yourself with a supportive community, you can launch the business you have always wanted and live the life of your dreams.