How I Built A Six Figure Graphic Design Business in 4 YearsHow I Built A Six Figure Graphic Design Business in 4 Years https://logosbynick.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/make-six-figures-as-a-graphic-designer-1024x602.jpg 1024 602 Nick Saporito Nick Saporito https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/d9a1bc4f29b2352da1ce14ad033328ab?s=96&d=mm&r=g
When you think of professions that pay in the range of six figure yearly earnings, graphic design typically doesn’t come to mind. In fact, the average graphic designer in America makes roughly $43,507 per year. Making six figures as a graphic designer means doubling that and then some. It’s an ambitious goal, and it’s a lot of work, but it’s certainly not impossible.
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|In summary, my path to making six figures as a graphic designer was to offer my services on a freelance basis, promote them with content marketing, and use that content to create supplemental income streams.|
I don’t talk about the business side of Logos By Nick very often — mainly because it hasn’t drawn much interest when I have in the past — but it’s something I’m really passionate about and love discussing, and it’s my website after all, so I’m going to discuss it anyway. If 1 person reads this post and finds it interesting then I’ll consider it a success.
In this post I’m going to outline how I built a graphic design business that pays me six figures, and what I would recommend doing if you’d like to do the same.
Since salaried positions for graphic designers don’t typically pay anywhere near $100,000 per year, the best approach is to take matters into your own hands and go the freelance route.
Being a freelancer is a double-edged sword. Your earnings potential is unlimited, but the entire burden is on you. You could end up making less than minimum wage (or nothing at all) if you don’t understand the nuances of business and digital marketing.
In 2015 I launched LogosByNick.com with a $15 budget ($10 for a year of domain name registration and $5 for my first month of hosting,) and just 4 years later it’s already bringing in six figure earnings. If I knew then what I know now though, I probably could’ve accomplished it a little quicker.
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Develop A Strategy
The biggest challenge I had was not having a clear plan of action. I didn’t know what was effective and what was a waste of time, so I was kind of just feeling my way through the dark and learning on my own. You can see this in a post I wrote back in 2016. Some of the things I was considering trying turned out to be a complete waste of time, and I wish I would’ve known that back then (this post is somewhat of a followup on that post.)
I’d like to elaborate on this some more and share some of what I’ve learned over the past 4 years that put me in the financial position I’m in now. The entire blueprint is too complex to cram into a single article, but what I’m going to do is break it down into a few general pieces of advice for new freelancers to set them on the right path. This is basically what I wish I knew back in 2015.
Raise Your Prices By Raising Demand
If you’re going to make good money as a freelancer, you have to charge high rates. But in order to charge high rates, you need to have customers who are willing to pay those high rates. This is where the concept of supply and demand comes into play.
A product’s value correlates with its availability in relation to how many people want it. If a product has an abundance of supply but very little demand, it’s not worth very much. However, when there’s a lot of demand and a limited supply, it becomes very valuable.
As a freelancer, the product you’re selling is your time. It’s not a logo design or a zip folder with a bunch of files in it. When clients hire me, they’re purchasing blocks of my time. The logo is just the result of buying it. So in order for you to charge higher rates, you need to make your time more valuable. And since your time is already a limited supply, all you have to do to make it more valuable is increase the demand.
The way that I increase demand for my services is with content marketing — videos and written articles that solve specific design-related problems for people searching for solutions to them.
Create Demand with Content Marketing
I create demand for my graphic design services by creating lots of content that catches the attention of thousands of people every day. Because of that I regularly find myself in a position where I have more inquiries than I can possibly handle at a time, forcing me to raise my prices even more in order to ward off some of that unmanageable demand. It’s a really good problem to have!
If you build your demand up so high that you regularly have clients willing to pay you $1,000 per project, you only need to acquire 9 of them every month (or 2.25 per week) in order to make six figures as a graphic designer.
Ditch The Freelancing Platforms
I know I’ve been an advocate of sites like Upwork and Fiverr in the past, and I still am, but I need to make it very clear that these platforms should be treated like stepping stones and nothing more.
Freelancing sites are great if you need to gain some experience and get a feel for what it’s like to manage client expectations and meet deadlines, and maybe even make some supplemental income. But once you’ve sharpened your skills and gained some experience, and you’ve established that you’re capable of doing this and would like to pursue it further, it’s time to take the training wheels off and build your own brand.
The reason why you should avoid freelancing sites if you want to make six figures as a graphic designer is because the supply and demand equation is stacked against you on these sites.
Think about it: 1 person posts a job; 50 people bid on it. It’s a tiny bit of demand against an abundance of supply, so it naturally drives down the value of the service.
My freelancing career got started on Upwork (known as Elance at the time,) but I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t launch LogosByNick.com and start building my own brand instead of Upwork’s.
Build Supplemental Income Streams
I wouldn’t rely solely on freelancing income. Freelancing is great, but it’s a lifestyle of peaks and valleys. Sometimes you have more work than you can handle and the money is flowing like a river; other times you’re at your desk with nothing to do and twiddling your thumbs while your bank account bleeds out.
Having additional income streams can carry you through the slow times and leave you with extra in your bowl during the good times. This is why I recommend using your design skills to create systems that make money for you while you’re busy making money. This is what’s called recurring income.
With freelancing, you do the work once and get paid for it once. But when you a create a digital product that generates recurring income, you do the work once and get paid for it over and over again. I’ve been able to accomplish this with all of the courses, templates, and design guides that I sell on this site, as well as my YouTube channel.
I could make a logo for a client and make a one-time $500 profit from it, or, I could make a YouTube video demonstrating how to make a logo and instead make $50 per month from it indefinitely.
This is exactly what happened with a logo design tutorial I made nearly 4 years ago…
This was a video that took me maybe 20 minutes to record and edit, but so far I’ve made over $1,600 since uploading it, and it’s not done yet! This video will continue paying me for the foreseeable future, and it’ll do so quietly in the background while I’m busy designing that $500 logo for a client.
Taking that into consideration, just imagine what could be possible if you had over 300 videos uploaded to YouTube, all bringing in search traffic and generating ad revenue every day. Granted not every video is going to pay off like this example, but all you need is a small percentage of them to hit and you’ve got yourself an extra $20K per year coming in on top of your freelancing income.
Making six figures as a graphic designer becomes a lot easier when you have recurring income streams that make money for you while you’re busy making money. Between YouTube, the affiliate products I promote on this blog, and all of the digital products I sell here as well, I could shut my computer off for the next year, do no work at all, and I’d still make enough money to live comfortably.
Recurring Income VS Freelancing Income
In my experience freelancing income doesn’t pay in perpetuity, but it is easier to obtain and it provides larger upfront payments. Freelancing income should be your primary focus when starting out because it’s going to be what pays the most in the beginning.
Recurring income is more difficult to achieve and pays off in small, steady drips, but once you’ve obtained it, you get paid in perpetuity. Since recurring income streams take a while to materialize, I would recommend making this a secondary focus.
Both sources of income are valuable in their own regard though, and I still pursue both to this day. The more diverse your income profile is, the more income stability you’ll have. Eventually you’ll reach a point where you have more income stability than you would with a salaried job. A job could fire me at any moment and I’d be left with no income, but it would be nearly impossible for me to suddenly lose all 5 of the bona fide income sources I currently have.
Another benefit of having these additional income streams is that they give you leverage to be more selective of the freelance jobs you accept — you can even choose your own working conditions. I’ve found this to be particularly useful whenever someone tries low-balling me on my prices.
The person with the most leverage is usually the person who can afford to walk away. The great thing about my position is that I don’t have to take on any freelance work at all if I don’t want to! I make enough money to live comfortably just from this blog.
Needless to say, if I’m going to take on client work, I’m only going to do so on my terms. I’m very comfortable with politely declining a job offer if someone isn’t willing to pay my rates (although I do make exceptions for clients I’ve worked with in the past because I value that long-standing business relationship,) or if I get the impression that they’re going to be difficult to work with. This gives me an incredible amount of leverage.
When clients low-balled me on price 4+ years ago I usually accepted it because I was in a position where I absolutely needed the money and had nothing else going on. Now that my financial needs are less dire, I don’t budge at all.
Focus On Indexable Content; NOT Social Media
As of right now, 100% of my business is generated from YouTube and Google search. My business grows when people search for a design-related problem they’re having and land on my videos and articles. This just doesn’t seem to happen on social media.
I have over 10K followers on Facebook, and can you guess how much business Facebook generates for me when I’m not running ads? Literally zero.
I’ve wasted countless dollars and hours over the past 4 years building up my following on Facebook, and it was all in vain.
Last year Facebook altered their algorithm so that your posts won’t reach the overwhelming majority of your followers. This soured me on Facebook so much that I’ve pretty much abandoned the page and now rely solely on my mailing list to notify followers of new posts. This also reinforces the importance of building your own assets, like your website and mailing list, as opposed to relying on someone else’s.
Social media does have its uses (Facebook is still excellent for running paid ads for example,) but my content is built around solving problems for people, and the truth of the matter is that social media is a not a great medium for problem-solving content. It’s great for advertising, community-building, and personal branding, but that’s not what my business is built around.
The Social Media Treadmill
Another problem I have with making content for social media is that it’s only seen for a day or two, then it dies, never to be seen again. This puts you in a situation where you constantly have to be posting and interacting with people in order to keep the plates spinning, because business will come to a screeching halt the second you stop. This is what’s called the social media treadmill — you’re just running in place day in and day out without any kind of cumulative benefit.
When I upload a video to Facebook, it gets a bunch of views within the span of a few days, but nobody watches it again after that. When I upload that same video to YouTube, it also gets a bunch of views, but people continue to watch it for weeks, months, and years to come because it’s indexed and searched for.
The same can be said for blogging. I’m not going to waste my time writing a long post on Facebook or LinkedIn, or start a lengthy Tweet thread, when I can write a 400 word article on my own website that brings in 100 visitors per day from Google search instead. Why would I work to build someone else’s platform when I can build my own?
Back in 2015/16 I had this idea that I was going to use social media to find clients and generate more business, but it just never panned out that way. My time was much better spent writing articles and making YouTube videos that people discover organically.
Please don’t take this the wrong way though — I’m not saying that you can’t build a wildly successful business with social media — you most certainly can. My message is that it’s not the only way. I know we’re currently in the era of everyone and their dog wanting to be a personal brand, but you don’t have to be a charismatic social media celebrity in order to build a successful freelancing business. Being a regular old problem-solver still works.
How Much Work Does This Take?
Since 2015 I’ve recorded and edited 340 videos and written 192 articles, and that’s in addition to serving freelance clients on a full-time basis. When you do the math, 532 pieces of content divided by 208 weeks (4 years) comes out to 2.56 pieces of long-form content per week on average.
Make no mistake, this is by no means easy and it will not happen overnight. It takes a lot of work and requires a lot of patience. The first few years that I did this felt like a whole lot work for a little bit of reward, but the bright side is that it can now be a little bit of work for a whole lot of reward.
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I came out of art school unable (& frankly not good enough) to get work in my field. Someone offered me graphic design gig and, knowing very little about it, but desperately needing the bread, I took it. That was 6 years ago and I’ve been doing graphic design ever since. It’s been more like mountain ride than a rollercoaster – steep up & precipitous, prolonged downs. At my lowest, I could no longer afford the Adobe subscription had to find an Open-Source option. Thank the gods for Gimp & Inkscape. That happened to be a good year & big paydays came pouring. I plodded through being unfamiliar with software, constantly wishing it was Illustrator.
Then, I came across your YouTube channel; your tutorials increased my workflow by 50% easily and I cannot thank you enough. This article is also a great boon. I’ve hit a hard plateau bringing new clients and I’m experiencing at lot of start-and-stop clientele. This article isn’t just great advice for designers, it’s excellent advice for any entrepreneur, freelancer or person looking to build business.
Thanks Manassa. I still have client work coming in waves til this day. I think it’s just the nature of the business. That’s why it’s great to have those additional income streams. I think every freelancer should aspire to have side projects that tie in to their freelancing.
I really appreciate this article, I would welcome any future article expanding on your different proffesional stages, including how well you were doing financially.
I have one question though: how many hours did you spend working on your design business at the beginning? Was it a normal 40 hous workweek, or you went all in to 60 to 80 hours just to take it off the ground?
Nick! I just found you last night and I’m already sold on everything you do. I signed up for your mailing list, and I’ll probably buy several if not all of your courses.
For many years I’ve dabbled in graphics, and being a hobby I always went for the open source options – Inkscape, GIMP, and Blender. Blender has been the hardest to master (I’m not there), and I’ve had more success with GIMP although I’m a novice at it. For Inkscape, I’ve been using it for 6-7 years for various projects and so I’m definitely not a beginner, but far from pro (yet).
I agree 100% with your article here – that it’s most important to focus on content like articles and YT videos. I’ve been around digital marketing for 15 years and I know this is the best pathway to success. I work at home so I have a bit of flexibility to learning more graphics skills and creating content, and I’d like to at least START on this path.
I plan on getting your courses and following your videos (and others’) until I get more confident in my abilities. A full-blown website of my services is probably not possible yet (I mean technically I can have one up in 24 hours, but I don’t have the portfolio or experience yet), so would you suggest Upwork? It’s not about the money but more of the experience at this point.
Or maybe I just watch, learn, and create so I can get good at designing logos/etc and then use that for a portfolio for a website. It might be 2-3 months or even 6, but then at least I’ll have something to show people. Anyway, EXCELLENT article and I plan on following you and your blog/videos from now on!
Hey Rob, Upwork would be great for putting together a portfolio and getting some experience. Some clients are also great contacts. I have a few clients that I met through Upwork/Elance as far back as 2013 that still give me ongoing work and refer business to me to this day. I think it would be a good starting point considering your situation.
I’d even go as far as suggesting 99Designs if it’s more about the experience than the money. It takes time to get hired for your first job on Upwork, but with 99Designs you can start designing today if you want to. I’m normally against design contests (because I feel that designers should value their time and seek compensation for it,) but everyone’s situation is different, and if building a portfolio and gaining some experience is more urgent for you than making money, then it’s a great option.
Good luck with everything.
Thank you for writing this article! It’s very useful to me because working in the graphic design field is something I wish to do. I had my doubts about the efficiency of social media as a marketing tool for utilitarian services, thank you for confirming that it doesn’t really work.
One thing I noticed about your business and other similar businesses is the lack of really advanced graphic design tutorials. Most of the content seems to be aimed at beginners. Do you think it’s something that would be worthwhile to offer on your website in the future?
Thanks for the feedback Pierre. What would be your idea of an advanced tutorial? Personally, I just focus on creating things that I’m really proficient with, like logos and branding. These coincidentally tend to be fairly beginner-friendly. Things like detailed illustration, animation, web design, etc. are outside of my wheelhouse.
If by more advanced you mean more thorough explanations – as a content creator there’s a thin line you have to walk between being informational and keeping things relatively brief and succinct. One criticism I get a lot is that in my tutorials I explain how to do things, but I don’t explain why I take those steps. I can’t help but wonder how many of those people would’ve clicked on the video in the first place if it were an hour and a half long though, because that’s how long a video would typically be if I explained each and every step. This is part of the reason why I created my video courses — to explain all of the workings of the software so people can better understand why things are done and not just how.
Thank you for your answer!
For advanced tutorials, I meant detailed illustrations. If it’s not your expertise, then I think it’s probably better staying off this sub-field of graphic design.
I think your current videos are thorough enough, they helped me learn Inkscape and later on Gimp fairly quickly.
awesome article! Thank you for allowing us an insight into your path!
I’m very happy you decided to write about your journey and I nudge you to write this kind of articles more.
It’s so important to hear not only the steps but primarily the mindset of a successful person. I admire what you’ve accomplished and hope to be where you are now in a few years.
What I love about today’s world is that there is a place for everyone (as it always was) and giving first, generosity and authenticity has so much space in business. Seeing all these amazing people like yourself doing awesome work and making a great living is truly inspiring and broadens the view, I might say, even in how I parent my kids.
Knowing, as a parent, the opportunities we and our kids have in this digital and online world, the freedom and the “world on our palm” the internet has provided us with – it’s just wow! And for our kids to know they do not ever have to rely on any system but their own skills, work ethics and focus and they are safe and covered – who could ask for more! It’s all in our own hands 🙂
Thanks, Nick for all the work you do! Rock on!
Thanks for the feedback Marina. I think today’s world is connecting us all so well that the gatekeepers have been eliminated, and because of that we’re now in the midst of a content renaissance where people are allowed to flourish on their own merits. It’s exciting, and it’s great to be a part of it. There’s so many YouTube channels and blogs and podcasts I follow now that I might not have known about in the past. It’s a great time to be a creator and to build a livelihood around it.
Love reading your articles.
Can I ask for an advice on this matter? I’ve been wanting to jump into graphic design for a long time. My goal is to work for myself like you did. I settled for a tedius office job that is killing my soul and burning my creativity away every single day. 🙁 So much that some days I cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve always wanted to work with something creative and something for myself where I don’t have to respond to bosses. At the moment I cannot pay for the whole creative cloud, would Inkscape be sufficient for a graphic designer starting out until they are able to pay for the adobe subscription? I’m not sure where to start in order to get my first clients. I like working in photoshop and vector apps (at the moment only have inkscape). I know that if I figure this out I will be able to someday quit my day job and just working for myself doing that (which at the moment is my ultimate dream), but I have no idea where to start, what all skills do I need to have (I’m not yet strong with vectors), and how to get my first paying clients to get my feet wet and build me confidence that I can do this. I’d be immensely grateful if you have some pointers to help me in the right direction.
Honestly it’s really tough when we dedicate a huge portion of our lives enslaving away to others in a profession that we don’t enjoy. It’s been very tough to keep my head up. I’m 29 but feel like I’m 60, a big portion of that is because I’m not following my passion, but I feel very encouraged and motivated when I see others doing that. I’m hoping to resolve this soon because my tedious job and the financial struggles are taking its toll on me.
One last thing: how did develop the confidence that your clients will be satisfied with your creation? I am always afraid that people won’t like what I create. Have you had this problem? If so, how did you overcome that?
Thank you sincerely.
Love the content on your channel and site.
Hi Viviane, I know the struggle quite well. I was working a soul crushing job myself in 2012 and spending my down time doing gigs on Elance. Once I was consistently getting hired and making enough money to replace my job’s income I walked away and never looked back. That might be a good starting point. I would check out platforms like Upwork and Freelancer and look at the kinds of jobs that get posted there, see which ones interest you the most, then focus on developing those skill sets.
Regarding open source software like Inkscape – yes, Inkscape is absolutely sufficient for design work that requires vector software. In fact I used Inkscape exclusively for the first couple of years that I started freelancing.
Good luck with everything, hope you eventually find your way to greener pastures.
Hi, Nick! Great article, thanks for your insights and advises!
I’ve been a Software Developer for 10+ years now, but working the 9 to 5 kind of job. I’ve grown quite tired of this 9 to 5 life in big companies. Unfortunately, I didn’t have this article when I was starting off. So, even though I’ve got my domain registered, I never really blogged much or created any kind of online presence.
I’ve been following you on YouTube as I’ve been trying to learn Inkscape and Gimp (FOSS enthusiast kind of guy) and even bought your courses recently, got the package with Inkscape and GIMP. They’re great!
I’m in the process of trying to create an online presence by blogging more often and maybe creating a YouTube channel as well, teaching about the computer languages I know and sharing a bit of my experience. This post will be very valuable to me, as well as the Inkscape skills I’m learning from you, in order to create my logos and so on (Being a back-end developer for most of my life hasn’t really taught me much about graphic design)
Anyway, please, do keep posting about these kinds of subjects, I’m sure many people are as interest in it as they are in practical tutorials.
I want to say thank you so much for this article. I am running my design business and this advice is so on the nose, it’s all true.
One of the mistakes I’ve made in the past was Marketing for my clients, and not taking time to market my own business.
I’ve since stopped that, and create Marketing Campaigns periodically to get more leads and convert them into clients.
I have to raise my prices as well. I’ve recorded a lot of videos, but haven’t edited most of them yet…it’s part of my plan as well.
I’m also updating my website to narrow my focus on which services to offer, Scaling down.
I agree with what you said, build your own platform, and use Social Media Paid Advertising to get leads. I smile when I see you utilizing your system they way it should be done.
I got this article in my Email Inbox, hot off the press.
Hey, fantastic article, it has giving me a real good insight! I was just wondering, do you think that because you use Inkscape and decided to do tutorials & articles about Inkscape, it helped massively in gaining views and followers because there wasn’t as many tutorials etc for Inkscape a few years ago? Do you think your recurring income would be so high if you had used Illustrator as your main software instead (I know you have done a few tutorials etc on illustrator) ?
Thanks Andy. That’s actually one of the secrets to my success – identifying subjects that people are interested in but haven’t been addressed yet. I do the same thing with this blog if you look at the subjects I write about.
If I started out doing Illustrator tutorials I think it would’ve taken me longer to get noticed, but once I did I think I would’ve progressed faster because there seems to be a much larger audience for Adobe software.