(10 Musts for a Thriving Career)

By guest poster Dennis Salvatier of Salvatier Studios.

So you’ve decided to join the design army by starting your own design services. You’ve got the computer, the Wacom tablet, the home office and, of course, the talent. Now what?

Well, it’s not going to be simple: 9 out of 10 small businesses fail in their first year. What the following list will do is tell you what I’ve learned in the last 10 years of being a creative services provider. Some things have been left out, but that’s to emphasize how important these 10 are.

10. You Are More Than a Designer

You’re great at what you do and anyone who is calling is talking to you for that reason. First and foremost stop thinking of yourself as just a designer. You run a business now and to be taken seriously you have to find your own work and service the clients that you already have.

You are now a salesperson and a customer service rep until you get bigger, so you can’t afford to turn down work that you feel is beneath you and tell off those that don’t see your vision.

Always state what you do, how you do it and what the client can expect; exude knowledge in what you do and close the sale. And when things go wrong, listen to the client and find the best way to serve them. Then design.

9. Brand Yourself

Yes, you may be providing logo and branding services, but first brand yourself with an attractive and effective logo. Many use their own names or a clever name. Whatever it might be, design something special and if you feel too close to it, hire a fellow designer to assist you.

Invest in your own business cards and don’t print on glossy stock… please. Remember, you make the first impression when meeting someone new, but your cards (and brand) help them remember it.

8. Don’t Forget the Website

Some will argue with me on this subject. Some designers feel a web presence other than a Behance portfolio or any number of free portfolio sites will do.

Invest in a nice and clean website that gets the point across on what you do. Make sure to put time and effort into the About Me/Us page. This is quickly replacing the resume. Don’t tell your life story. People aren’t looking to date you; they just need to like you, which leads into the next point.

7. You Are Not a Freelancer

If you want to be taken seriously, never use the word “freelance”. You are now a business owner and therefore a businessman or woman.

Freelance has a negative connotation to it and varies on who you’re speaking to. Some people have told me it makes a person sound like they can’t hold a regular job or they’re bad with people. Regardless, stop using the word.

A business associate is someone you keep. A freelancer is someone you can easily replace. Learn to value yourself, because no one else will until you do.

6. Go Out Into the World

There’s nothing better than waking up at 10am and sitting in your PJs all day. But if you want to run a business, this will surely kill it.

Most designers all fail at one thing…socializing with strangers. They don’t want to go somewhere they don’t recognize somebody and they certainly don’t want to talk to anyone when they get there. They’d rather blend in with the décor and fade into the wall. You must network if you want to strive. Talking to new people over a few drinks and some appetizers goes a long way. Each person you meet is one more circle that you have a chance of getting into to create business relationships.

A word to the wise; when you get to the meeting or mixer, don’t start selling. Just listen and be pleasant. Then watch the seed grow.

5. You’re Not Good at Everything

Chances are you can’t do everything creatives are asked to do. Perhaps you’re not a web programmer or an illustrator. Find what your weaknesses are and accept them humbly and find someone who can fill that role when a client asks for that service.

There will be a level of failure that you have to be prepared to deal with on a daily basis when running a design business. Don’t focus on the failure. Instead capitalize on it and do better.

4. Manage Everything

Remember when I mentioned that you’re not only a designer, but also a salesperson and customer service rep? Add the title of Project Manager to the list. Yes, there is freedom in working for yourself. You can come and go as you please, but managing your time and projects will surely make the difference.

I know setting a routine and sticking to it sounds restrictive and not good for creativity, but it actually allows you to be more creative more of the time. If you set a time for emails, phone calls, design, and prospecting business, you will always be more efficient. You will also be able to schedule in time for yourself.

3. Take the Time

Nothing kills creativity more than working way too much. Getting burned out not only hurts you, but it hurts the client and therefore the work you do for them.

Take time every week to do a happy hour with friends or family and try not to talk about work. Go for a run, hike, walk…whatever helps you to center yourself – do it. Make sure to schedule a couple of weeks off as well and take a vacation/holiday. Never neglect those that care the most about you, because you’ll regret it. In the end, this is just work, not our whole life.

2. Work On You

Working for yourself still means working for others, so you need to work on projects that you care about. It doesn’t matter what it is, just that you love it and are passionate about it. It will help you to stay on top of things and balance your life between all the many client projects you’re going to take on.

I suggest using a site like and finding others who share your same interests. The more the merrier.

1. They Won’t Care How Cool You Are

Yes, I am going to end this list in the most unexpected way you can imagine. When you consider yourself a business person you have to look the part. Don’t show up to appointments or meetings looking like you’re the coolest guy in the world.

Dress appropriately. I don’t mean walk into the place looking like Mad Men’s Don Draper. Just wear a nice shirt with some nicer jeans and comb your hair. A casual jacket wouldn’t hurt you either, if you’re a guy. Women usually know how to do this better than men, but I say this because appearance is important when you’re a designer. When people invest their money in your services they’re actually investing in you. Give them peace of mind. And when you get back home feel free to relax and work in your underpants.

If you have any suggestions on any of these points or feel I left out important ones, feel free to talk about that in the comments section. And if you have any questions or need advice, feel free to reach me. Best of luck in your new endeavor!

Happy Designing

Dennis Salvatier

Dennis Salvatier is the founder and Art Director of Salvatier Studios. He specializes in graphic design and illustration for branding, marketing, print and web. He has over a decade of experience bringing clients' visions to life and believes that great and effective design is the product of creativity, knowledge and information. He lives in Los Angeles, CA with his Wife and enjoys "mom & pop" restaurants, movies, music and collecting comic books.

Contact him at if you'd like to say hello!

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