What separates good designers from great entrepreneurs (which are you?)

Since I am a designer, I’m not afraid to make the following statement:

Designers are a dime a dozen.

There are millions of us.

Some of us are good at what we do, some are pretty mediocre, and other are just terrible.

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But if a potential client only cares about price, it’s not hard to get undercut by someone who charges pennies on the dollar compared to your rates.

The problem

And the problem is, you can’t always compete on price.

You can’t always be the best deal for your clients.

And that’s ok.

Because there’s a difference between being a good designer and a great entrepreneur.

Here’s the difference

If you’re a pretty good (or even great) designer, but can’t seem to reach the business goals you set for yourself, pay attention: this post is for you.


See, there’s a huge difference between being a good designer and being a great entrepreneur.

Take a look at what I mean (and then leave a comment and let me know where you fall or what I left out):

  • A good designer stays updated on the latest design trends; a great entrepreneur redefines current trends and sets new ones.With this strategy, your clients are always the ones who get the most forward-thinking designs instead of cookie-cutter designs that look like everyone elses.
  • A good designer meets deadlines; a great entrepreneur exceeds expectations.By providing a “surprise” factor for your clients, you show that you’re willing to go the extra mile for your clients. It sets you apart from all the low-budget designers who compete only on price
  • A good designer answers emails and phone calls from clients immediately and politely; a great entrepreneur anticipates concerns or questions and calls their clients before small concerns become problems.If it’s been more than a week or so since you’ve talked to your client, don’t keep working hard on their design hoping they don’t call you until you’re done. Give them a call and let them know the status of the project. Even if you’re a little behind, they’ll appreciate the update and the honesty.
  • A good designer completes the project as asked without quarreling; a great entrepreneur avoids quarrels but steps up to act as a consultant as well.When industry knowledge tells you your client is making a poor decision, a great entrepreneur finds a way to let them know. It’s actions like these that make you more valuable than your incredibly cheap counterparts.

Which are you?

So which one are you? Are you a good designer or are you a great entrepreneur? Leave a comment on this post and let me know where you stand or what I’ve left out of the equation.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this so interesting post! I really want to be thankful for the way you have putted it here.

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  3. Well said…and I personally think that another distinguishing quality of an entrepreneur is to rise with his/her clients measures of evaluating a design and measuring its feedback so he can possibly appreciate the return on his investment in your designs…designers always feel underrated because of their inability to communicate with their clients the true value of their work…

  4. I’m with Derek and Joe. I think the desirable characteristics you ascribe to great entrepeneurs would be better positioned as the requirements of good design business people.
    Entrepeneurs are a different breed again.

  5. I agree with many of the comments above… You’ve made some valuable points, but if you replace all occurrences of the phrase “great entrepreneur” with the phrase “great designer” this post would be much more accurate.

  6. Yeah, not so sure the qualities mentions would constitute an “entrepreneur” but a “good designer”. Regardless, some good points.

    Preston, here’s a blog post idea that I’d be interested in….how do you get your articles to appear in LinkedIn’s design feed?

  7. My start was offering to design a logo for free for a friend of mine. I let her put me through the coals, I listened but learned more from her than I would have from a client who walked off the street. It’s great practice. The final result was great, and I now see my first logo splashed across their food truck around town!

  8. I agree with what you say but the idea of ‘entrepreneur’ is wrong, entrepreneurs are out only to make money usually risking everything for the sake of profit.
    Doing these things you listed will not earn you more money in less time, especially doing more than the client asks or is willing to pay for. ‘Going the extra mile’ usually means unpaid hours unless your also a dapper salesman and can bill for it.

  9. Beautifully written Preston. I meet ALL those objectives and I guess that would classify me as a good designer. Your point about getting back to clients right away and providing them with updates is a crucial factor as a designer and in fact that’s one of the reasons why clients hire me. I struggled for many years as I was too shy but through perseverance I finally because a freelance graphic designer and illustrator as I knew I could help my clients out as I really cared about their business needs. I have the knowledge, practicality and I keep up with the latest trends. This is a great article and it needs to be read by all designers no matter where they are in their careers.

  10. Sorry Preston but to imply a graphic/web designer in a traditional sense is an entrepreneur is COMPLETELY WRONG.

    The designer you loosely describe is someone who is exchanging their time for money. This is not entrepreneurial behaviour.

    If your article was about what makes a good designer then yes I agree with the spirit of your article.

    However an entrepreneur is someone who can create a business or more importantly a multiple number of businesses that can generate an income for the owner. With the important part being the income isn’t generated on the service trade of ‘time for cash’.

    If you’re article described graphic designers who created blog sites that generated income through advertising, or a designer who created saleable assets such as books, resources or products then this would be a good example of an entrepreneurial designer.

    You have just described a good designer who trades their time spent serving a client in exchange for cash.

    It’s an important difference to know and can’t believe so many people are blindly congratulating you for this misinformed blogpost.

    As I say I agree with what you’re trying to say, but you seem to be misleading the sheep.

    1. I agree with Sam. This article is excellent, and I appreciate every point. But it more accurately describes what separates good designers from great *designers*.

      The points in this article will help me gain and retain more clients who pay me for my time (and I’m taking each point to heart, believe me). But different skills are required to move from a one-man-show to a business that generates its own income.

  11. Great article and some equally great comments.

    I think there are a lot of awesome designers out there who perhaps don’t have that much consistant work on as they’re service isn’t as well rounded as other designers who perhaps aren’t as good.

    Being a successful designer is definitely about being creative and offering design that exceeds the client’s expectations, but it’s also about offering a fantastic service.

    I’m currently putting together questionnaires tailored towards two types of client I have with the goal of finding out how I can serve them better. Looking forward to reading the results!

  12. Great article! Looks like I’m on the right track to being a great entrepreneur. 🙂

  13. I am a good designer on my way to becoming a great entrepreneur. As someone else said, though, being an entrepreneur is like having a whole other profession and I’m slowly learning the ropes.

  14. One thing that drives me crazy is the clients poor design decisions. If I can’t politely sway them to see the design differently, I will take it upon myself to create a design with the thoughts they have and a design with the ideas I have. It takes a little extra time, but in the end the customer is happy to have the choice. I usually don’t charge for the extra work, because I would rather have the customer satisfied than charge them for something they didn’t ask for. Sometimes they stay with their own and sometimes not, but at least they are given the option. I don’t really my name associated with something that is less than stellar. That kind of word of mouth isn’t what I want.

    1. I agree with you 100%. I’d rather do extra work than to have my name associated with work that isn’t as good as it could be.

  15. What a refreshing find – brush away the cobwebs and get passionate about what you love and aspire to be REALLY great at it. We’d all be quite irresistible – wouldn’t you agree… Thanks Preston for the wake up!

  16. Hi Preston, Nice insight! I have been doing this for 29 years and still I am amazed at details and perspectives like this that make us all sit up and take notice. Up and comers need this kind of advice to know they are doing thing right and to stick with your convictions. Thanks.

  17. Super insightful, Preston. I especially love the point of connecting with your client while you’re hard at work on their project, something I need to do more. As you point out, they’ll appreciate the update and it allows more opportunities for relationship-building.

  18. This article is totally awesome! Being a great designer means your gifted and talented, and great entrepreneurs are gifted but skilled. Thanks!

  19. This was a terrific piece! I love the way you differentiate between the two. I find my clients need some of this convincing when I present an innovative design..in order to make them see the vision..of breakthrough design..some do, some don’t…but when one of my clients chooses an “out there” groundbreaking design…it’s glorious!

  20. Hey Preston,

    I’ve been following your posts for a while. In fact, it seems like your articles were perfectly timed for me as I went through the long process of deciding to leaving full-time, paid ministry to embrace what I’ve been created to do…design with greater excellence every day! My official resignation date is a little over a month away (May 14th), and I continue to gain confidence in my entrepreneurial tendencies because of what you share! Thank you!

  21. That all sounds great, but after 2008 (beginning of the economic downturn) you can be a great designer, hardworking, meet deadlines it means nothing….
    It’s all about money these days and connections…who you know that can recommend you to a lucrative client.

    1. I agree. It’s not so much about doing the work as it is about getting the work. As a freelancer, it’s really difficult to be good at everything. Most of us probably tend to be the weakest at the functions that fall under entrepreneurship (selling, accounting, bookkeeping…etc.). Once you gain experience, you can tell quickly if you’re going to be the right fit for a new prospect. If I sense it, I’ll graciously decline bidding on the project. I’ve always liked this statement “price, quality or speed – pick any two”.

  22. Thanks for the post. I need to read things like this all the time to keep me going. Have a great day!

  23. I think another thing that separates great entrepreneurs from good designers is being able to disentangle the need to satisfy one’s own creative and artistic desires from the need to meet the client’s brand and business objectives.

    Reining oneself in to to be creative but also develop or work within a clear, strong, defined brand & visual identity seems to be an understimated and underappreciated quality in the creative community. But if we’re going to be mature professionals (or great entrepreneurs), we should understand that design and communications are part of a company’s strategic operations–and aligning creative to the larger strategic picture and building/maintaining a strong brand & visual identity is vital.

    1. I have worked with many clients freelance, and and department heads at my full time job site, what I find is that it is easy to feel out those that will allow you to create concepts while others set definite limits, my advice is: Be both great entrepreneur and great designer by separating the roles accordingly, that way you keep everyone happy and your have a point of reference to show both what you are able to accomplish.

  24. Wow, haven’t read such a well-written article like this one in a while!

    Thank you! A nice and short reminder!

  25. I feel I could be a better entrepreneur if it wasn’t for also working a full-time job. It’s hard to be great when your client’s business hours and your business hours don’t mesh. All of my communications take place via email out of necessity. Very few of my clients are available to me in the evenings or on the weekends.

    Any tips, previous posts or resources to address this?

  26. Hello Preston, thanks for your article, it´s really valuable for me, as well as the articles before. I work a long time in print factory, but a few past months I´m freelance newbie. Your advices are great motivations for me, to grow to better designer. Once again thanks!

  27. point 1 – good
    point 2 – great
    point 3 – great
    point 4 – great

    sadly I think point 1 out weighs the other 3, so regardless if I scored 3 greats and 1 good, I feel I am on the side of good designer, however I am always trying to improve my own skills and tastes to become that great designer that I know is inside of me.

    thanks for the article

  28. So far I’ve been just a good designer, The Enterpreneur metamorphosis is starting right now…

  29. Thanks for this valuable write-up. I would say I’m in the transition between a good designer and a great entrepreneur. My 2 cents would be you first have to be a good designer before you can turn into the great entrepreneur. If you can’t even meet deadlines, then definitely you won’t be able to exceed your clients expectations.

  30. There are some really great distinctions made in this article. It was recently demonstrated for me when I received a truly wonderful compliment from one of my long term clients. He confessed that he had been using another designer for small projects like fliers, but said “I come to you for world class design that needs to be truly professional. And if it’s something that needs to be produced as well, I know I can rely on you to get it done without any complications.”

    Knowing that clients recognize the distinctions mentioned above, it is easier to promote yourself as a high-caliber professional, and a step above the competition.

  31. Again, your post was right on time. I have too many times encountered clients that want you to battle with other designers for their business solely based on price. Seems to me that they may get the better deal but for the quality work…they will be back!

  32. Preston – as usual – a very good article – btw – i keep every article you’ve done for reference. However, this one really made me think twice about something i thought i had a firm handle on. I thought i was doing really well serving my clients but your article helped me to push it up a notch – that’s really what it’s all about in the end – serving our clients with design that not only looks good and follows marketing/demographic strategy while really taking good care of our client’s needs. Being a good entrepreneur is like learning a whole separate profession.

    If i put myself in my clients shoes, i would find it quite anxiety provoking wondering how my project will all work out in the end. Designers often have to literally pull something out of the air. Clients often have to risk thousands to make it all happen – especially in this overly cost driven, depressed market.

  33. Thanks. I know the difference, but I think I need to have this written on my mirror.
    It’s definitely the difference between pretty good and WOW!.

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