The Challenges Facing a Small Graphic Design Company

May 16, 2013
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Small graphic design companies, consisting of one designer or a few people working together, face significant goals and challenges. They can respond to clients in a very personal manner, executing work individually tailored to each client’s needs, but in order to flourish they need the skills and experience to meet certain basic challenges.

You have to be a jack-of-all-trades

Whether a designer works alone or with a small team, he or she has to be a talented juggler, good at keeping several balls in the air all at once. Marketing ability doesn’t always come easily to artist types, but developing a web-design project or a printed graphic package requires full use of business skills as well as artistry. Furthermore, of course, the web designer has to be expert at basic HTML and CSS as well as various other tools needed for site-building, image-editing and video, sound or animation.

You need great people skills

While most customers are delightful to work with, if you’re in the business for long enough you’ll inevitably run into the ones who aren’t so delightful. As a small company, it’s sometimes tempting to simply make oral agreements and let the billing slide, assuming that payments will naturally materialize once the client has the work in hand.

Unfortunately, every independent graphic designer comes to the realization, sooner or later, that clear contracts are needed. Even with the best of intentions, clients can overlook payment, or decide halfway through a project that they don’t really want to go through with it after all. In the course of developing a job with clients, it’s crucial that the designer ask for a down payment of at least half the fee, and (with complex, multi-part projects) set specific mileposts so that the client understands the steps clearly. Revisions that are welcome early on can create havoc if parts of the design have already been incorporated into a larger piece.

You have to decide between local and online vendors

When Blue Barn Graphics, a small website design company in New York, offers printed products (such as business cards, catalogs, brochures, etc.) they realize they need to find a printing vendor to work with. Generally an established design firm will have numerous contacts for each type of job, it just takes a while to build these up. There are numerous online sources of printing, usually for lower prices than local printshops. Each of the two options has advantages and drawbacks, and the designer has to weigh these individually for each job.

In the case of a client who’s looking for the lowest price, and whose order doesn’t involve large-format or high-quality images, online printers are often the most cost-effective choice. For design clients who have a high-end or large-format project, where attention to quality details is more important than saving a few dollars, it’s a pleasure for the designer to be able to consult in person with a trusted local printer. But the online vs. local question doesn’t stop with the printer.

Small design companies that create websites as well as logos and printed products may well have artists whom they contract with for some of the logo design or image sourcing. Many excellent logo artists offer their services through online crowd-sourced platforms, and the advantage of using these platforms is that the client may be given the opportunity to choose between a dozen or more logos in order to find the one they like best.

On the other hand, if the web designer has a relationship with a local graphic artist or photographer, it may be possible to discuss jobs ahead of time in such a personalized way that the two or three possibilities that the artist produces will all be very high-quality and appropriate for the client’s needs.

You have to produce social content for SEO

The success of a small website design company depended on how well they get their name out in the online marketplace. With the increasing shift from traditional advertising to social media marketing, it’s necessary for someone in the company to spend a good amount of time keeping the company’s blog and Facebook Page updated. This is still another situation in which a local employee can be hired, or a remote vendor can be contracted with.

In the course of developing a successful business, the small designer will end up as an accomplished juggler, capable of deftly sliding between the artistic, social, technical and business worlds.

Photo Credit to Jeremy Levine Design

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Stefan is a website designer at Blue Barn Graphics, Long Island, New York. Find Stefan on Google+