How I took my design hobby to the next level and created a business

Last year I knew I wanted to take freelancing as a career more seriously. Not for just work on the side or for extra cash, but to actually call myself a freelance graphic designer and make a living off it.

I knew I had to think big. Make a real business out of what I wanted to do: design!

So here’s how I took design from a hobby to a full-time profession:

💔 Falling out of love with your clients? Trade some of your worst clients for the best companies in the world with SolidGigs, our premium weekly freelance job list & course library. Love your business again. Learn more »

Established a new (consistent) look

I use “look” instead of brand, because my business is just me. I don’t have a clever business name; it’s just my name.

For my “brand”, I use a simple branding method—I keep the same feel in design with a specific color scheme and font choice on everything.

Establishing a brand doesn’t necessarily have to be an entire branding kit with a logo, brochure, letterhead, and envelops.

All you’ve got to do is create a look so that you’re recognizable no matter where your clients are viewing your online profile.

Enter your email. Grow your business.

Submit your email below and join 45,000+ creatives who get our most helpful content via email every week. 100% free. Unsubscribe anytime. Privacy protected.

For example: If a potential client is on your Facebook page – your cover photo should use the same colors and fonts as your website header and Twitter background.

(This obviously isn’t a strategy for every business; it’s just my current business decision. Who knows… maybe a year from now I could have a business name with a specific logo and brand.)

If you’re just one person or a small team, creating some sort of identity for yourself is important.

Figure out what you plan to do and who your target audience is. Take a look at yourself – are you elegant or edgy? This could help describe you as a brand… so apply it into your look!

The key is to stay consistent.

Finally got my business organized

Running a business can seem daunting, especially if it’s just a one person show like myself—Responding to emails, taking phone calls, sending contracts, invoicing, marketing, and designing… The list goes on!

I knew that if I wanted to take my business to the next level, then I’d have to get organized!

I created all of the necessary documents following my new “look”, and setup an easy to understand filing system for all of my business files.

Here’s an example of how I nest my files:

Documents > Invoices, Document Templates, etc.

Client Projects > Client Name > PSDs, Website, Inspiration, etc.

Resources > Backgrounds, Textures, Code Templates, Themes, Icons, etc.

Staying organized should also translate over into your actual projects: Naming your Photoshop layers, comments in your code, name of files and images.

Created a design blog

One of the biggest additions to my design business was the creation of my blog.

I’ve built a blog before, but not like this. I organized and planned for months! Establishing the look, purpose, and of course – the content!

I like to think of my website as my own online “hub”, because it’s a place for me to connect, learn, and stay creative.

Always creating stuff for my blog isn’t only going to help keep my creativity kicking, but over time it will generate traffic.

With my portfolio tied to my blog (which is generating traffic), it gives a better opportunity for increasing views to my work!

For me personally, running a blog is just an overall win-win situation!

If you think blogging can be a win-win for your freelance design business, find something you love that you could talk about endlessly and then start!

Tacked on a new service without having to learn any new skills

It makes complete sense – if you offered additional services, you’d have the potential to earn more.

Am I right?

I looked at the services I already offered and thought, “How can I make more with what I already know?”

It’s something I’ve completely over-looked this whole time… printing services!

Now wait…

I’m not going to go out and buy commercial printing equipment just to print my own work out of my garage.

Here’s what I did: I signed up for an affiliate account with a popular online printer. They offer me discounted prices so I can use their printing for my design services.

This is great for two reasons:

  1. I can personally be in control of getting client work printed without them having to worry. (Basically making me a “one-stop-shop” for my clients.)
  2. I make a little extra cash, because I get a tiny percentage of all my own sales through this affiliate printer.

Look at your own skill set and services—Maybe there’s something you’re over-looking as well… Cutout the “middle man” and make a little extra by offering those extra services yourself!

I’d love to hear other examples like this, where you can offer an additional service without having to necessarily learn any new skills. Leave a comment and let me know!

Are you taking it to the next level?

No matter what your business is, you can do the smallest of things to help take it to the next level.

If you’re thinking of taking your business to the next level, leave a comment on this post and share what you’ve got planned!

If you’ve already taken your business to the next level, I’d love to hear about your successes too!

Keep the conversation going...

Over 5,000 of us are having daily conversations over in our free Facebook group and we'd love to see you there. Join us!

  1. Hi Brent, I feel too inspired after reading your ideas. I am also a sort of multimedia designer, working as a graphic designer for last 10 years. Yes, this can be considered as a jack of all trades. But, true saying, it is useless if you are not able to utilize your caliber. I loved reading your suggestions and ideas and looking forward to use them on myself. Now, I am also thinking of starting a blog and working on ‘look’ of my work. I am thankful to you for this great idea sharing. Please keep posting such great ideas that can inspire and encourage the designers to take dip in freelancing.

  2. Hi there. Very interesting read and great article. I would like to know what your views are on crowd sourcing websites for graphic design,etc. ?


  3. Hey good article Brent. I’d say that in the end it all boils down to how much you love what you do. That’s what gets you to work harder and take your hobby to the business level.

  4. Hi John,
    Just wanna know that what kind of change you have experienced in you websites after writing articles? My websites were growing but just in the start of December the rankings moved down a lot. Although I am still writing blogs for different platforms.

  5. Creating a design blog was a good idea. I bet you get a lot of work from it too, as Google ranks blogs very highly, especially when they’re full of useful content as yours is.

    1. Gaining more exposure through Google is just one of the many reasons why I created a blog. It’s still very much in the growing stages, but I’ve definitely seen a change in traffic since I’ve started! It’s fun to do, and it’s a great way to grow your business – so I’d recommend creating a blog to anyone!

      Thanks for the comment, Peter! : )

  6. Great Article, just read this and the “making the jump” article you mentioned above. I have been freelancing for about a year, but am also looking to step it up a level. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Vic! Best of luck taking your freelancing to the next level! : )

  7. Thanks Brent! I’ve been trying to get my own Design Business going for the past two months. Thanks for the helpful hints!! For sure i’ll be following your blog! 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment and the follow, Jenny!
      I really appreciate the feedback and kind words! : )

  8. Hello Brent,
    I must say that this is a great article for people like me who are about to enter this business and take it more seriously !
    I would like to share my story.
    I am currently pursuing MBA degree. Few months back I started a fast food business with a vision to have chain of restaurants all over the world 🙂 🙂 but guess what ! I went broke in just 2-3 months due to several reasons (It was a very tough time for me) ! but fortunately it exposed me to a new field of GRAPHIC DESIGN (as i myself designed everything for it ) and then i came to know about graphic design contest sites ! these sites are indeed blesssing for amateurs like us ! I started with very little knowledge in softwares like photoshop, illustrator,etc however within a month I started making money. I not only covered my losses of previous business but also got myself a small fixed deposit and my own systems to work at my convenience that too in short time span. I think I have found what i am meant for !

    I want your advice!! I l be getting my degree next year and will be getting a routine 9-5 job ( which I dont wish to do) what should i do ???
    should I do routine job for some years and then quit ?
    or should I first get a job in some design firm to get good exposure and learning??
    or should I begin freelancing full time ??

    Thanks 🙂

    1. First off – thanks for sharing your story, Jay!

      Sad to hear you went through some tough times, but it’s great that you were exposed to the field of graphic design! And sounds like you’re enjoying it! : )

      Choosing to take a 9-5 position or to freelance full-time is definitely a scaring decision to make. I think the best thing you can do is to take a step back, and look at the pros and cons for both situations. Just last year I made the jump to freelance full-time, and although it can be a bit frightening financially, I absolutely love it! Maybe try to get a position at a design firm just to get some experience with working in the field professionally, and slowly build up your freelance career on the side until you feel comfortable enough to make the jump full-time!

      You can read about my experience with making the jump to freelance here:

      Thanks again for your comment! If you ever have any questions, feel free to contact me: mail [at] brentgalloway [dot] com or @BrentGalloway

  9. Hey,

    Great post, Brent! Everyone has to start somewhere, and you’ve provided some great tips for freelancers to get serious. I really like your advice about being consistent with your presence.

  10. Josten,
    You’re welcome! Thanks for the kind words.

    Starting a freelance business can be a bit daunting at first, but you’ll get the hang of it and learn along the way.

    Millo is a great place to read about the business side of freelancing – You can start here and read through 50 of the best design business posts:

    Good luck and thanks again for commenting! : )

  11. This definitely is some great advice. I have started my freelance design business and I had no clue how to go about doing everything besides the design work. Thanks for this post.

  12. Hello.

    My name is Debora and I’ve been following graphic design blender for more than a year! Thanks for great posts and suggestions – always very insightful and helpful. I was wondering if you could disclose the popular printer you have an affiliate account with?

    1. Debora,
      Glad to hear about how much you enjoy the posts here on Millo!

      Although I can’t disclose the exact online printer I have an agreement with, I can say that there are many different online (or possibly in-store) printers that offer a reseller or affiliate program. Take some time to search around – find a printer that offers the best options and services for you personally.

      Thanks for your comment! : )

  13. All good points, I think its also vital to set you an email address at your own domain name, anything else looks a bit unprofessional.

  14. I started web design when I was 11, I’ve always been very eager. I worked alongside a design company from the age of 11 upwards and slowly gained more experience, that was until I was ready to expand. By this point, I was 16 and had picked up a variety of new languages, totalling 25+. With my speciality at this point in PHP, all being self-taught, I developed my own CMS software, my own online game and started planning my own social network. Years of development went by, design after design and hours of dedication took its course as I expanded, completing a variety of software to help me develop other things in a rapid development environment. I got hooked up with 3 large design agencies and I work for companies such as Dyson.

    It all started with having a small interest and a desire to want to push myself to my own limits, to never give up on what I may of thought at the time was impossible and to drive forward. I’ve recently developed the social network and I’m revamping it to PHP5 standards with a complete re-structure for caching and key optimisations on the distributed server aspects (it’s called Swoova, free and always looking for feedback). I’m currently working in a restricted environment in hope to save up my money to expand and push the products I’ve developed forward. It’s always something that, for me, has been a personal goal and something that I’d love to excel forward, to get other people like me interested and to get more people involved and contributing.

    After all, it only takes an idea and self-motivation to truly drive yourself forward.

    1. You’re absolutely right – all it takes is an idea and self-motivation to push yourself towards success!

      Thanks for sharing your story, Lewis! : )

The conversation's still going in our free Facebook group . Join us there!