4 essential steps before you launch your design startup

By Paul Boag Posted May. 05, 2015 Reading time: 4 minutes

Many of us dream of being our own boss, being able to set our own hours and choose what kind of work we take on. But achieving this aim takes years, and even the first step can feel intimidating. Giving up that regular paycheck and setting up on your own is a big step. That is why it is important we prepare beforehand.

Before you consider leaving your existing job take the time to build your business so that on day one you have the basics in place: things like a reputation that will bring in work.


1) Build a reputation

In our industry, reputation is everything. If you have a good reputation then people will think of you when they come to hire. It will also increase the chances of you winning work. Whether you are planning to go independent soon or in several years, it is never too early to start building your reputation.

Despite what many say, reputation is not just about producing good work. Relying on word of mouth recommendation alone will leave you wondering where the next piece of work will come from. To build a reputation, you need to put yourself out there. You need to be entering awards, blogging your experiences and networking at conferences.

Most importantly, you need to find yourself a niche. You need to be able to express what you do and who you do it for.

Before you launch your business, people need to already be aware of you. They need to know you as ‘that guy who does amazing iOS interfaces’ or ‘the woman who has done all those great charity websites’. Focusing on a particular area increases the chance that somebody hears of you, if looking at that specific area. If you try and be a jack of all trades you will spread yourself too thin to have much impact.

Not that the quality of your work is unimportant. That is what helps you build a loyal client base.


2) Build a client base

One of the hardest parts of setting up your own business is finding those first few clients. This is not something you want to do when you are desperate for money. This will lead you to accept work from bad clients or reduce prices to ensure you win. Instead, the best time to win your first few clients is before you set up the business when you have a regular salary still coming in.

Some people reduce the number of hours they work at their day job so that they can build up a separate client base. You may not have the luxury of being able to do that; so instead you will need to work weekends and evenings for a short while to get those initial few clients under your belt.

These clients are important because they may well lead to repeat business and recommendations. At the least, they will look good in your portfolio and give you something to talk about on your blog (you do have one of those don’t you?)

But taking on a few clients while still paid by the day job has one more benefit: it allows you to earn some extra money.


3) Build your reserves

It is hard building a client base in the evenings and weekends, while still holding down a full-time job. You may think you are due a reward. You may want to spend some of that hard earned cash to treat yourself. Resist the urge!

No matter how well you prepare to launch your new business, some months will be better than others. The chances are you will not always break even; and that means you will need some cash reserves behind you. Not only will these cash reserves help you pay the bills, they will also stop you getting too desperate and stressed. If you’re worrying about money, it will undermine your productivity. It will also damage the chance of you winning quality work because you will be desperate to close a deal.

You will also need those reserves to help pay some initial setup costs for your business. They will also help cover the inevitable unexpected costs that will crop up in the first few months of work. No matter how well you plan, you will always miss some expense. There will always be some surprise. That is why you need reserves and time to build up experience of running your business before going full time.


4) Build your experience

Many people are ill-prepared for striking out on their own, even when they think they understand what is involved. Too often we believe ourselves capable of running a business because we think we will be doing the same work we’ve been doing for years.

But there is so much more to running a business than building websites. Or offering any kind of digital service. There is:

  • the financial side to the business, from chasing invoices to paying taxes;
  • the paperwork involved in founding the company;
  • purchasing the software and equipment to operate daily;
  • the client and project management issues.

The list could go on…

None of these areas are particularly difficult to master, but they will take time. The problem is that you need to hit the ground running with your new business. To be profitable from day one you will need to be earning revenue within the first month. This means you cannot waste time learning new skills or dealing with the logistics of setting up the business.

That is why it is important to have this already in place by the time you go full-time. As you build your client base in the weekends and evenings make sure you treat this part-time business as if it is the real thing. Set yourself up properly so that when you do finally go full-time everything is already in place.


Give yourself a break

Setting up by yourself is a pressurised experience. So give yourself a break and make the transition as easy as possible by preparing beforehand.


Featured image, ready image via Shutterstock.