11 ways to grow your design business in less than an hour

grow design business in less than an hour
Whether you are working as a freelance designer, in a design firm, or otherwise, it’s important to be able to help your design business grow on a regular basis. But let’s face it, marketing your design business frequently becomes the “project you’ll get to when you have time”. Since no one is directly paying you for the time you spend building your business, it often gets pushed aside.

This article covers 11 simple tips that can build your design business in less than an hour. If you can’t find an hour this week to try out one of these tactics, perhaps you should hire a secretary.

Give a free presentation or speech

When I was working at a small advertising agency, we began to be in need of some new clients. One of the best things we did was to give a free presentation for a local group of business owners. The presentation explained our purpose, displayed some of our best work, and concluded with a call to action. Many local businesses approached us after the presentation and asked for more information.

Write a business plan

Yes, writing a business plan can happen quickly—with the right template, it can happen in less than an hour. You don’t need hundreds (or even dozens) of pages worth of business plans in order to be successful as a freelancer. All you need is a succinct, but powerful, one page business plan.

Experiment with new online media

People connect with others online in a million different ways. If you are partial to twitter (which most Millo readers tend to be), give facebook, delicious, foursquare, stumbleupon or some other social media a hearty try. It takes less than an hour to sign up for any of these services.

Market your specialty

Specialization is key to a designer’s success. Are you the best logo designer in your community? Maybe you’re the best at building web sites using a CMS like wordpress. Perhaps you’re just the quickest and most reliable designer in town. Whatever your specialty is, take time to market it heavily.

I have recently found a new pool of clients simply because I noticed that most web designers in town were offering static XHTML web pages. Clients were getting frustrated because they could never get a hold of the designer to change the content. Enter me: I started pitching to small businesses in the area and offering to build them a custom site powered by wordpress. All it took was 5 minutes to show them how easy it is to use, and they were sold.

Write a book

I know what you are thinking. “Write a book in less than an hour? That’s impossible”. While this task might be difficult, I would hardly say it’s impossible. Imagine if you wrote a book titled “10 mistakes your business is making on the web” or something (perhaps a little more catchy). The book could contain 1500 words of advice for small businesses in your area about having a better business web site. Then you could give these books away to small companies in your area with your contact information on the back cover.

As clients read the book, they realize they are committing some simple mistakes and when they need to hire a new designer to fix their web design problems, who do you think they will turn to? The brains behind the operation. The person who helped them discover the mistakes they were committing. You.

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Perfect your sales pitch

When was the last time you actually worked on your elevator pitch? If you only had thirty seconds to explain to someone what your company does, would you be well prepared? Practice what you should say, how to best explain your company, and how to invite them to act on what you say. Then next time you are in the grocery store line, in an elevator, at the print shop, or anywhere else, you will be prepared to land a new client.

Connect with old acquaintances or former clients

It’s odd how we tend to be the best of friends with our clients during the design process but once we have completed a project, we lose contact. Sometimes clients for whom you have done good work are your best allies. Be sure to stay in touch with old acquaintances, former clients, and others. You never know when someone will need a new logo, web site, etc.

Update your online portfolio

This one’s a no-brainer. If you want to land new clients, you must put your best foot forward. In order to put your best foot forward, you should showcase your best, most recent work. I know updating a print portfolio is extremely time-consuming, but updating an online portfolio can happen in a matter of minutes. I suggest creating some automated system where you can frequently and quickly add new projects to your online design portfolio.

Offer a seminar or free consultation

In addition to a presentation that explains the your design company’s abilities, offering free seminars or consultations is a great way to bolster goodwill. Even if you don’t land new clients right away, these opportunities give you a chance to show people what you know which makes them more likely to call on you in the future or refer you to a friend.

Engage in conversation

There are a million sites out there where people ask questions about a number of different topics in hope that someone knows the answer and will respond. Although, this tactic may be a long shot, joining in on conversations regarding topics such as small business marketing, advertising, or graphic and web design could be the key to finding your next design client. As they see that you know what you’re talking about (there’s the catch–you actually have to know what you are talking about) they will begin to trust you and when/if they need a designer in the future, hopefully the seeds you planted will be ready to reap.

Learn a new marketable skill

As the competition gets more and more saturated, it is important that you can deliver services that other designer may not be able to deliver. Learning new techniques can be something that sets you apart from your competition. Take time to learn wordpress, HTML5, CSS3, Social Media, Internet Marketing, etc. Make sure to choose something that will set you apart from all the rest. (For more on this, read “How to stand out and get noticed as a designer“.)

Brainstorm new ideas (& then share them)

Sometimes you need to focus on building your business. As designers, we often get so into our design work, we forget that our design business needs attention as well. Sit down for forty-five minutes or so and brainstorm some new ways you can build your design business. Write down anything and everything and then narrow down your ideas to the top 10 ideas. Make goals and plans to carry out those top ten tactics within the next few months.

After brainstorming your ideas, we’d love to hear them here at Millo. Add any ideas or tips you might have to this list by kindly leaving a comment.

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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.


  1. Great post! Lots of good ideas here, thank! Question: Is it easier/better/less expensive to write a “book” and publish as white pages? I haven’t done a lot of research into this yet but it seems a viable option. Thanks!

    • @Lisa Raymond,
      That seems like a great option to me, Lisa. Thanks for adding it. The only downside I can see is that people who are less tech-saavy might not be able to access it as easily. But definitely a viable option!

  2. Nice ideas here, great read!

  3. Another great article. I think the key to success is to have short term goals and work hard at achieving them. There is so much to do and so little time but picking a few short term goals is easier to achieve than bigger ones. Once they are done new ones can be added. I like your idea of brain storming. Choosing a numbering system works best at giving priority to each task. Small goals can add up to big results.

    • @Behzad,
      Planning and setting goals is perhaps the most important thing about building a design business. Thanks for sharing your comments. Also, do you go about planning and achieving goals in your design career, Behzad? Any tips you’d like to share with us?

      • @Preston D Lee, I follow the same rule with my design career. It works well. I make sure not to be hard on myself and stay positive even when things fail. Persistence is very important in good or bad times. We are just humans and not machines 🙂

  4. Hey Preston,

    Speaking has been a really big one for us. It positions you as an expert and puts you right in front of a crowd of potential clients. Plus you get to help people by educating them, which is great too.

    I think another important thing to mention is to think big. I know a lot of designers and freelancers of related professions who don’t approach big organizations or corporations because they are too intimidated and afraid of rejection. But I say go for it! Approach businesses that inspire you even if they’re massive and scary. After all, even big organizations are comprised of individual people who are fathers, mothers, uncles… plus, after enough no’s, you’ll eventually get a yes.

    Thanks for the tips!

    • @Atlanta Graphic Designer,
      Some great tips here, Lou. What do you guys do to make the speaking experience the best it can be? What kind of events do you speak at? How often? etc.

      • @Preston D Lee, I think the most important element of speaking is mastering the art of storytelling. It’s one thing to tell someone something in theory… it’s another thing for them to be able to hear a story and relate to the experience. Plus, stories have a way of enchanting people and really making them feel like they got something out of your talk, and you can promote yourself without actually promoting yourself (just by telling success stories and the lessons they can apply to their business).

        We really love inspiring people and making them feel like their businesses can succeed regardless of the economy, as long as the owner is passionate about what they do and is open to trying new, out of the box ideas.

        There are plenty of speaking opportunities – local chambers of commerce are a great one, also different meetups and other local groups…any event you can get your hands on I would recommend speaking at as often as possible. It helps you get better, and eventually you can start getting paid for it. Also contacting radio stations and getting interviewed. That helps get speaking gigs because, again, it positions you as an expert.

        I would recommend only speaking about a topic you’re really excited and passionate about. When you talk about a topic like that, you can help but become an animated and exciting speaker. The best rule of thumb is to speak about what you FEEL is right as opposed to what you THINK you should.

        • @Lou Levit, I agree with the whole storytelling idea. I think it comes down to making what you’re speaking about interesting, entertaining, and easy-to-understand. Thanks for the tips.

    • Ramachandra Halaki says

      Yes I agree I am also a Graphic Designer and 3D Animator, Started my own studio, I am very good at work but i don`t like to interact with the people regrading my design and skills. And i have started a studio in a town place its not a big city. But I have targeted the industries and organizations of cities, How can i get their attention, and how can i convert them as my clients? Please leave your ideas..
      Thank You

  5. Lots of good info here, but I’m most intrigued about the idea of going out and speaking. Lou lightly touched on this topic, but its something I would love to learn more about. How do you get invited to speak at events? How do prove your creditable to those you are speaking to? Many other questions, seems like this could be a good blog topic on its own. Thanks for all the good tips!

    • @Jason Graham, A lot of times, speaking engagement invites involve being in the right place at the right time. I know a guy who has maybe one year less experience than I, similar educational background (until I started my Masters), even worked at some of the same places. But, he’s done some speaking gigs, while I haven’t. The only difining difference I can see is when I was taking a lunch he’d take a power lunch – and go explore local events message boards, library postings, and even design forums. Then he would talk to those running these events, and put his resume in front of them and discuss trends and best practices. Then the event manager had his info, knew what he was proficient in, and had already heard him speak on the subject.

    • @Jason Graham,
      An excellent question here. I have only spoken at a small number of venues and events, but I would say that if you want to speak at a seminar just get out there and do it. Perhaps you can organize something for free with your local Chamber of Commerce or something. I think you’d be surprised how many business owners would attend a free seminar on boosting business online or something like that.

      In addition, you could be the coordinator and could bring in a number of other speakers to supplement you.

      I think if you are passionate enough about wanting to speak, you can find ways to do it.

      Anything else come to mind for you? How would you go about trying to get a speaking gig?

  6. @Ryan & Preston

    Good stuff guys, thank you for the replies. I checked out my local Chamber of Commerce and found they have a luncheon tomorrow that non-members can attend. So, I RSVP’d for that and plan on going and talking to some people there and see what I can do to speak at a future event. I’ll be sure to let you guys know how that turns out.

    • @Jason Graham, Hey Jason, and everyone else,

      We recently created a short video series about public speaking for creative professionals (how to get started, how to get gigs, what to talk about, how to make your speech profitable, etc.)

      If you’d like to check it out, just go here:

      and opt-in on the form on the right (the video page will come up immediately once you do that).

      Hope it helps! Good luck at the meeting.
      – Lou

  7. Great Post !

  8. Great post. Thanks for the ideas. I found out there is another site that might provide some information on ideas or guide in logo creation.
    They bring to the table more than 50 years of experience in seamlessly designing a company’s visual identity, print, web, and animation design projects of all sizes.

  9. I’m usually not the guy to write my opinion on other’s sites, but for this article I just needed to do it. I have been searching in your blog a lot nowadays and I am super impressed, I think you could really emerge as one of the main opinions for your market. Not sure what your free time is like in life, but if you began commiting more time to posting here, I would guess you would begin seeing a lot of visitors eventually. With advertisements, it could emerge as a great passive revenue stream. Just something to think about. Good luck!

  10. Great post but less than an hour…?
    I really liked: Learn a new marketable skill
    This can be social media management, social media engagement specialist, social media competition expert or animated presentations creator.
    Keep up the awesome work – there is valuable tips here for many other freelances – not on;y designers

  11. Great article. Nice to see some real advice that could actually work after reading tons of other articles that only states the obvious. I’d also suggest, and this would be related to giving seminars, using facebook to connect with potential clients by running an ad campaign. Once you have some new fans be sure to post regularly and try to post tips, tricks & ideas your fans could actually use…I’d even go as far as posting some simple lessons on setting up their social media etc. This is a service we offer but not the most profitable so by giving your fans some useful free info you could actually end up landing new clients.

  12. Really nice article – Focus on a niche and dominate that niche is another way to grow…


  13. I’m trying to build a logo designing brand and I know how hard it is. I believe that a right partner who can get sales is the key. I have been banging my head to find someone I can trust and do business with but I haven’t found anyone yet. I will surely try your method and hopefully it will help. Please do take a look at my logo design portfolio if you have time. I will really appreciate it.

  14. I have been in the design business for well over 7 years now since i restarted my own firm,. building a design business is always a challenge (its unlike any other business where people are selling wares/goods), below is a list of things that has helped me to sustain, grow and do interesting work. though some are pretty basic..

    1. One must a good website, if not great, with striking visuals associated clear crisp relevant text which will talk abut the high point of the design & design intent

    2. A nice/ smart creative looking business card.. a business card of a creative person is a reflection of his capabilities.. it should stand out from the run of the mill stuff

    3. Promotions using google adwords or like helps a lot..for a very small money u could get great leads

    4. updating/adding news /articles on your website keeps interest alive as well a shows you r active.

    5. Of course networking always helps.

    6. Join Linked-In

    7. Most important: In most successful firms 60-70 % of their business comes from repeat business, this can only happen if you do quality deliverables, most clients prefer to work with the same person if his or her work has resulted in success for them.. i always ensure that i do every thing (even if it is not written in the contract) to ensure success of their product. (note if there are any monetary implications then either talk to client to compensate) or charge n next project.

    8. Always advise the client to the best of your ability.. never advise if you r not sure of something. (better to cross check and then advise). be honest, and don’t hide facts.

    9. Always treat the clients well, the way u expect to be treated.
    10. In design business nothing is more re assuring than word of mouth advertisement, the reason why this is important is because the client will be investing huge sums based on your deliverables, so he would rather go with known devil than unknown

    my two pence….

    all the best

  15. Gilbert Silva says

    Great article thanks for this. Gonna try this. 🙂

  16. Really great post, brilliant ideas, I am not good in marketing, but this article help me a lot to understand

  17. Thank you Preston. Very kind and helpful.

  18. abdulquadri Bimbo says

    This is really amazing and good article wch contain a lot of business ideal about graphic designer.

  19. These are very good ideas. I think one of the best ways to get more clients is to write and give out free ebooks. This shows the authority one has and also gives potential clients an idea of what your company can offer.

  20. nice and important information here

  21. Great article!

  22. Hey guys,
    I need your advice. 🙂
    Am am currently preparing to leave my job in the economic field and I want to work in my parents design firm. They lost track of their goals and are incapable of pushing themselves out of this situation.
    I have to say that I have always been passionate about design and I learnt a lot from my father who is a design teacher at our towns university.
    I studied economy because I wanted something safe.
    What do you say? Is it a good option to go and change the situation in their firm?

  23. Very insightful. Jack

  24. Sometimes going back to the foundations is a great idea. Solid advice here!

  25. Great advice!
    Thanks for sharing.

  26. Thanks very much for that advice. It’s hard to find the time, while juggling current clients, to be active to get new ones, but these are good tips.

    The comments are super-helpful as well!


  27. If I may add. Ask for critics. This way, you’ll know what to improve.

  28. Great ideas! Thanks!

  29. Hi , this is really a great and useful information.I like brainstorming idea.

  30. Great Post! I really love the ideas you shared. Writing your business plan surely help you in managing the things effectively. which will add productivity.


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  3. […] 11 ways to grow your design business in less than an hour – Whether you are working as a freelance designer, in a design firm, or otherwise, it’s important to be able to help your design business grow on a regular basis. But let’s face it, marketing your design business frequently becomes the “project you’ll get to when you have time”… […]

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