Here are the first results from my graphic designer’s business survey. I am so grateful to everybody that participated.
I surveyed designers that were mostly working from home and running their own businesses. Participants were from every continent and were spread over different design disciplines. They represented every level of experience – from people who were just starting out to people like John O’Nolan, Deputy Head of the UI group for WordPress, and David Airey, the author of Logo Design Love, a designer whose blogs attract over a million monthly page views.
What exactly do graphic designers do all day?
You may well ask. Well, one thing’s for sure, they don’t spend all the day designing. In most cases, they don’t even spend half the day designing…
On average, how many hours a day do you spend actually designing?
Bear in mind the question didn’t specify the separate stages of the design process. For web design there’s the visual stage and the development stage, for print design there’s the design stage and the artworking stage. So even the designing hours may not be spent doing creative work.
So what are we doing if not designing? My next two questions were about social media. And I got some unbelievably honest answers…
How many hours a day do you spend on social media/web browsing unrelated to your marketing (Facebook, Twitter, networking with friends and family, and general web surfing)?
Yes, you saw it right, the designers surveyed spent an average of 1.6 hours a day on social networks unrelated to work (above) and only 1 hour a day on social networks related to their work (below). Naughty, naughty!
How many hours a day do you spend on social media/web browsing specifically related to marketing yourself (Facebook, Twitter, voting for your blog posts, forums, liaising/networking with designers)?
I was expecting designers to spend a lot of time tweeting, etc., I know a lot of us get work that way. But, even I was surprised that we averaged at 2.6 hours a day on social networks!
How many hours a day do you spend writing blog posts, responding to comments on your blog(s) or general work on your website?
Bear in mind these are mainly designers that have a website (usually with a blog) and run their companies. For us, the website is the hub of our professional world. So, no surprise that they spend an average of an hour a day on it.
How may hours a day do you spend liaising, meeting, talking or writing emails to clients?
We all know how the most simple client job can involve much time in communication. Look how much time is spent in client communication and remember it next time you give a quote!
So is there anything else you spend time on? A few designers added these comments:
- “Parenting! ”
- “Travel to and from meetings.”
- “It seems as if I spend a lot of time e-mailing and talking with clients as I design. The automatic feedback is great!”
- “I didn’t include coding/debugging websites in the “hours actually designing.” Maybe I should have? That would bring the total up.”
- “I spend a lot of time doing research for clients in order to come up with the best solutions.”
- “Accounting, emails, consulting, freelance writing, ad management, SEO.”
- “Market and Trend Research. Learning new techniques online.”
- “I do spend quite a bit of time educating clients. I do small spot seminars by phone or in person for SEO basics, CMS overview, etc.”
- “Studying – 2 hours a day.”
- “Bookkeeping, live networking, professional groups.”
- “Some other aspects of running a freelance business, for me, are also compiling quotations, sorting invoice and statements in Billings 3 for Mac and continually tidying up my desk!”
- “An hour a week on accounts maybe?”
Graphic designers and their income
I wondered how our designers were earning their money. Asking about the income source split brought some interesting results.
What percentage of your annual income do you receive from clients from the country you operate in?
I wanted to know how much our home-based designers worked internationally. It seems despite the global nature of what we do many clients still prefer to employ local designers. Some US-based designers worked only with clients from their home country. However, others had a totally international clientele.
Roughly how much of your annual income do you receive for something other than client work (product sales, advertising, affiliate links, etc.)?
Here I wanted to see how many were employing tactics from The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss and earning money while they slept. It seems, though a lot of us have other sources of income, these are still a very small in comparison with client work.
Roughly how much of your annual income do you receive from your single biggest client?
According to the Pareto Principle or 80:20 rule, you will receive 80% of your income from 20% of your clients. With this in mind the answers here came as no surprise.
Graphic designers and their clients
How much client work do you outsource to others?
Graphic designers live on their reputation and can not afford to outsource too much so that the quality of work or personal interaction with the client suffers. I suspect our designers only outsource to companies like oDesk and crowdSPRING when they don’t have the skills necessary to complete a particular job.
Over the last year what percentage of income did you receive from clients you had worked for before?
Your best clients are your current clients…
Over the last year what percentage of income did you receive from recommendations?
Doing a good work results in recommendations. I’ve seen this again and again.
Over the last year what percentage of income did you receive from new clients that weren’t recommended to you from someone or some company?
Given that a lot of the designers questioned have only been in their current roles for 1, 2 or 3 years this is a staggering statistic. Only just over 20% of our designers’ income is from new business.
Where did you get most of those new clients from?
This is something I get asked again and again – “how do you get new clients?” I suspected the website would be the best source but I had some great other answers. There’s some fantastic advice here:
- “I get my clients from a combination of cold emailing twice yearly, one print postcard mailed per year, my website, my blog, social media (LinkedIn and Twitter, particularly the latter), and commenting on others’ blogs and on various online forums.” Stephen Tiano
- “Cold calling, but to people who are past or present colleagues of current clients in similar fields.” Lynne Venart
- “Person to person marketing in associations and leads groups.” Michael King
- “Through my blog I’ve made connections with other designers and developers and I receive work from them many times. Some of my best clients have come to me because other designers are too busy and hand off their new contacts to me!” Lauren Krause
- “Recommendations from friends.” Kyle Richardson
- “90% of my clients I get from word of mouth referrals. I occasionally get queries for work through my website. I don’t advertise.” Karen McDade
- “Most of my business comes from referrals and business contacts. I market my design services through networking groups and I do a quartely mail peice to current and potential clients. When I finish a job for a client I ask them if they are happy with the results and the service. If they are, I ask them to keep me in mind for future projects and ask for 2 or 3 names of people I might contact for more work.” Justin Miller
- “Word of mouth recommendations” Carmia Cronje
- “I meet most of my clients through attending networking events, or attending classes at my local Small Business Development Center” Anne Swanson
- “I get most new clients from my website, with much of new work coming from churches, as my site ranks highly for the term Christian graphic designer in Google. I also produce work directly from client recommendations, too.” Andrew Kelsall
- “I would estimate a roughly even mix of via my website, recommendations and repeat business.” Andrew Keir
A huge thank you to everyone who participated. I learned a lot from this. I know some of the questions were difficult to answer – it’s hard to guess how much time you spend doing certain tasks in a day, especially when no two days are ever the same. So, heartfelt thanks to the following:
Lucas Tetrault from Phoenix Wave Portfolio
Lynne Venart from The Art Monkey
Matthew Harpin from Freelance Web & Logo Design
Michael King from Black Swan Image Works
Mike Smith from GUERRILLA
Randa Clay from Randa Clay WordPress Design
Ryan Scherf from Ryan Scherf
Stephen Tiano from Freelance book designer, page compositor & layout artist
Derek Kirk from creative web design
Andrew Keir from Melbourne graphic designer, Andrew Keir
Andrew Kelsall from Andrew Kelsall Design
Anne Swanson from Anne Swanson Graphic Design
Bob Raynor from Bob Raynor – Graphic Designer
Carmia Cronje from Clementine Creative
Chris Metzner from data visualization graphic designer
Craig Wilson from Craig Wilson
David Airey from David Airey, graphic designer
Douglas Bonneville from freelance graphic designer
Hernan Valencia from The Construct Creative
John O’Nolan from John O’Nolan
Jon Phillips from SpyreStudios
Justin Miller from Magnum Creative Group
Karen McDade from Omega Red
Kyle Richardson from Enrich Design
Lauren Krause from Creative Curio
Liam Swift from Attract Love to Your Brand
More to come
That’s not it! More questions about our designers’ equipment, software, billing, contracting and more great advice to come!
What do you think?
Are you a graphic designer who runs their own business or thinking of becoming a self-employed work-from-home type? What did you think of this survey? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And, if you enjoyed the article, please consider tweeting or voting for it on your social network of choice!