Are you taking enough time to build your design business?

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Not long ago, I read the E-Myth Revisited (affiliate link), a phenomenal book about entrepreneurship. One of the most life-changing (or I guess you could say business-changing) concepts understood from the book was the importance taking time to build your business. Many entrepreneurs spend too much time working in their business instead of working on their business.

This article will explore the best ways to build your design business while still finding time to do what you enjoy most: designing. It will help you start today and make a difference in the success, size, and strength of your design business. Whether you’re a freelance designer or you run your own design firm, you will benefit from the content in this article.

You’ll also find more business-building tips for designers in the “Business Tips” section of the blog.

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Working on your business vs. Working in your business

If you are a freelance designer or an owner of a design agency, most likely you are passionate about web design, graphic design, or whatever sort of design you specialize in. That being said, you probably hate crunching numbers, running sales pitches, and doing all the “brainy” business work. You’d probably be happier just designing, right?
This is where the E-Myth comes in. Essentially, what Michael Gerber taught in his book is the importance of working on your business instead of in your business. As an entrepreneur or business owner, your product is no longer solely your design work. Your product now is your design business. You have to dedicate as much time or more to building your business.

Getting rid of one boss and creating another

When you decided to start your own design firm or make the switch to “freelance freedom” you were probably glad to be rid of the binding chains of schedules, meetings, cubicles, and a boss. What most entrepreneurs don’t understand is that, if you don’t spend enough time building your business, you’ve essentially just created another “boss” for yourself. If your business is not successful enough to support you on weekends when you just “don’t feel like working” or to allow you to take a day off here or there, you haven’t built a business for yourself!

You’ve built a new boss.

Overcoming Design Business Slavery

Designers who fall into this trap often feel like a slave to their design business. They find themselves spending more time with numbers, invoices, client meetings, late-night client phone calls, etc. than actually taking time to design. The very skills and talents that drove them to start their own design agency or begin freelancing continue to diminish and soon they are left less happy than they were at a “desk job”. Your stressed more and more each day, and enjoy your job less and less.

So how can you overcome this little problem?

There are multiple solutions to this problem. My personal favorite (as you can tell from previous articles here at Millo) is to outsource work that you don’t enjoy to people who do. Believe it or not, there are people out there who enjoy crunching numbers or hounding bad clients for prompt payments. If you can afford it, hire people who enjoy these sorts of tasks and who, let’s face it, are probably better at it than you are. This will give you more time to do what you love: design.

A few tips for building your design business

Taking time to build your design business isn’t always easy. Below are a few tips to help you take the time to build your design business effectively:

  1. Make a plan. There is nothing more important than a business plan for your company. Write down plans and goals for the next week, month, quarter, year, 5 years, etc. Envision where you want your company to be some day, dream big, and then make specific plans to make those dreams come true.
  2. Ask for help. There are a lot of people out there who are willing to help you with the tasks you are not so good at. If you can afford it, hire part-time help. If not, try exchanging services for now. Don’t get stressed out by thinking you can do it all. A business can only grow as big as the people who are working inside of it. You might be amazing, but there are still only 24 hours in a day.
  3. Create systems and routines. You’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish when you get in the habit of it. Try checking your email only once or twice a day. Set aside specific times for certain tasks. I know, for example, that I usually answer all my email from the previous day at about 7:30 or 8:00 am. It’s a routine I have. The longer you keep your routines, the easier you will find it to accomplish the tasks and the more effective you will be at it.
  4. Do the little things. A few days ago, we published an article called “11 ways to build your design business in less than an hour“. The article spurred some interesting conversation and proved that it’s the little things that really help a design business grow.
  5. Stop Procrastinating. What are you waiting for? Until your design business is bigger? Until you graduate from school? Until you find some more clients? Stop making excuses about how much time or means you have to grow your business. If it’s something you really want, you can find time to accomplish it. You can do it!

What else would you add?

These are a few of my thoughts on building your design business in a way that lets you enjoy what you do and still be successful. What other thoughts or insights can you share with the rest of us on taking the time necessary to build your design business?

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, and the founder of this blog. You can contact him via twitter at @prestondlee.

Leave a Comment



  1. Great article dude… You are so focused in what you say. Thanks for nice info…

  2. It’s the procrastination that really bugs me in smaller businesses – stop talking about what you could be doing in 6 months and focus on the next 4 weeks. Too many managers have their heads in the clouds about the day they can afford a Porsche instead of really concentrating to run a business and make money. Long term view is great and important to have but is only a part of long-term planning. You never know, you might find the country in recession or something….

    • @Emily Smith,
      It’s true. You have to manage your means to an end. Having a big vision of what is possible is a must, but setting daily goals that help you accomplish your long-term goals is necessary in any industry.

      So how do you deal with the issues you mentioned above?

  3. Hey Preston,

    This is a great topic to address. I’ve read a lot of articles about creative professionals not really liking the “business” aspect of their business, but only wanting to focus on the creative aspect. While I understand that, personally I really like the business side of things. I actually find it quite enjoyable spending time on growing our business.

    I think the key to expanding is choosing to do just things that you enjoy and only pursuing opportunities that inspire you…regardless of how big or small they may be. That way it’s easy to keep up with them.

    Outsourcing is a great tool as well. It was really hard for me at first, because I like things done in a specific kind of way, and it’s hard to trust someone with your business that you grew from nothing with your own bare hands… but it actually saves you so much time and energy and you end up making much more money in the long run. With outsourcing my only recommendation would be to surround yourself with people who are really experts in their fields and know what they’re doing (even if they’re more expensive)… that will save you a lot of headaches.


    • @Lou Levit,
      Well said. I once heard a quote that said something like: “If you think hiring a professional is expensive, try hiring an amateur.” Meaning, all the time you lose, professionalism sacrificed, and time taken to correct errors, you should just invest in hiring someone worthy of the job.

      What parts of your business do you outsource?

      • @Preston D Lee, To respond to your quote with a quote “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right places.”

        We outsource everything we don’t enjoy doing… a lot of SEO and article writing… if we’re doing direct mail we usually outsource looking up the addresses and addressing the envelopes…even though that’s been hard for me to let go of. I have an obsession with the stamp being at the right angle and the addresses being written out in just the right handwriting. We outsource all web development (psd to html or wordpress etc.).

        Another, perhaps less traditional thing we outsource is cleaning…not all cleaning, but a lot of cleaning.

        When we just started outsourcing we made the mistake of trying to find cheaper solutions. I would never, ever, EVER do that again. EVER. When you find yourself working with someone who is incompetent it literally ends up spreading and infecting too many areas of your life.

        What do you outsource?

  4. Thinking and building the business is the E’s task. Lots of our freelance designer friends do everything (manager, technician) on their own. Like meetings, communications, design, finding and searching for the information, design inspiration, new learing … etc.
    Finding special time to think about the business is quite difficult, it need discipline and focus.
    This is helpful article. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Great article…What you said in here and obviously what everyone else agrees with is that it is the little things in the business that make it run. And its so amazing to me to think of things to do but it doesnt really sink in, until someone else tells you to do it. Like hiring out, or stop procrastinating, and the routine thing is HUGE!

    Something that I myself have learned and you kinda touched on it here in the article is that of asking for help. All to often we (small business) get caught up in the jealousy or “dick measuring” thing where we compare to other companies or get jealous or envious of what they have or what client they just got. And the truth is they probably are feeling the same towards your or someone else, or better yet, as some articles I have recently read state, that most of the designers and companies really would love to help and be there for eachother. Freelancing or a Firm, its still the design “family” and we are all here for eachother!!

    Great article and conversations ya’ll


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Preston D Lee, Millo blog and Paul Galbraith, Laura Earley . Laura Earley said: RT @prestondlee: New blog post: Are you taking enough time to build your design business? […]

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  3. […] Are You Taking Enough Time to Build Your Design Business? – Graphic Design Blender […]

  4. […] This article got to me because somewhere in the middle of it, I thought they were talking about me. Do you spend so much time crunching numbers and chasing down payments that your blood starts to boil? Don’t you wish you could spend more time designing? Preston is here to help! […]


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