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You dream of becoming a successful designer. When you scroll through your Behance feed late at night, you think: “I could do that!”
… But something’s holding you back. It’s that sneaky feeling inside that says, “Maybe I’m not good enough.” It’s that voice that tells you you’ll never be as good as those other designers. Especially the ones who have a degree.
Well, I’m here to tell you the truth: You do NOT need a design degree (or any degree for that matter) to become a successful designer.
In this article, you’ll discover 11 ways to become a successful graphic designer … with NO qualifications at all.
Can it really be that easy? Yes!
There are a million and one different design tutorials on the internet today. You can learn how to pair typefaces, how to structure a layout, how to edit a photo, how to use Photoshop and Illustrator, and so on.
You name it, you can learn it.
So if you feel like you’re lacking skills, get out there and find a tutorial that can teach you.
Some good places to find design tutorials are Envato Tuts+, DigitalArts, and CreativeBloq.
Legendary graphic designer Bob Gill once wrote a book called Forget All the Rules About Graphic Design. But you can’t forget something unless you learn it in the first place.
A successful designer knows how to use design principles like balance, proximity, and visual hierarchy to communicate ideas and feelings through a design. They know how to manipulate principles to create a professional look for a doctor or a whimsical look for a children’s center.
They also know when to “forget” the rules and make something completely new.
Knowing design principles gives you a set of tools that you can use to breathe life into your ideas. Plus, they’ll allow you to explain your design choices to the client.
You can learn design principles for free in Udemy’s course Introduction to Graphic Design, in CalArt’s online class Fundamentals of Graphic Design, or with the self-study course outline at Envato Tuts+.
“But wait, I became a designer so I wouldn’t have to think about business.”
“I don’t want to be a sleazy salesperson. Those guys are awful.”
A lot of people feel this way about starting and running a business.
But the truth is, you’ll only be a successful designer if you can earn enough money to keep the lights on. And that requires building and maintaining a successful business.
Charging good money for what you do allows you to give the best service possible to your clients. And that’s not a selfish thing at all.
Learning how to run a business includes how to set your prices, how to win and maintain clients, how to manage your finances, how to market yourself, and much more.
The Futur has a great YouTube channel and website with both free and paid resources about the business of design. Lynda also has a suite of paid courses about Design Business.
You know the cliché proverb: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
And it’s true … Sometimes getting started on the path of success is just as simple as jumping in.
No matter how your first client experience goes, it will teach you valuable lessons about design and business. Lessons you can use right away for your very next project.
Don’t get stuck in the “trap of perfection”—tweaking your website and social media endlessly without getting any real clients. Just jump in with your first and start learning from the real experience.
If you’re not sure how to find your first gig, copywriter Neville Medhora advises first-time freelancers to reach out to their friends on social media to see if anyone needs their services. It’s a good way to get your first project, especially if you don’t have experience.
Repetition is a great way to get used to a new skill. Challenging yourself to make one design a day for 30 days is a great way to sharpen your skills and build your confidence.
Sometimes designers, agencies, or design publications announce public challenges or competitions. You may feel more motivated to finish the challenge knowing that hundreds or thousands of others are working alongside you. And you can learn from other designers’ submissions at the same time.
LogoCore hosts a 30-day logo challenge through email. You can see other submissions to the challenge marked with the hashtag #LogoCore on Instagram.
Or get inspired by this 30-Day Illustration Challenge and 30-Day Poster Challenge on Behance.
Here’s a business truth: The moment someone hears your company name, they’ll probably Google it.
So you want to make sure you have a professional website ready to prove that you’re a real and trustworthy business.
Your website is also a great place to prove your expertise and authority by hosting a digital portfolio of your work.
And if you write a blog, you can begin to attract potential clients by writing SEO-friendly blog posts.
Finish it off with a simple contact form that lets clients get in touch with you for new projects, and you’ll be getting new work in no time.
You can create a free website with Wix, start with professional-looking templates at Squarespace, or design your website from the ground up with WordPress.
First impressions are important, especially for us who work in the graphic arts.
That’s why having a spot-on feed on Instagram, Behance, or Dribbble is so crucial.
But you don’t want to throw just anything onto your feed. Make sure to curate your portfolio so it showcases only your very best work, the stuff you’re proud to show to clients.
And don’t forget to link your social media profiles back to your website (and vice-versa).
Even if you know you’re capable of doing a good job for your client, you’ll want to have some good reviews from previous clients to prove it.
Just like you read reviews when you buy something on Amazon, a new client is going to want to see your reviews to know if you can really deliver on your promise.
After you finish a project, don’t be afraid to ask your client to write some words about the experience.
You can encourage them to write:
Now when a new client comes to your website for the first time, they’ll be greeted with a series of positive reviews from satisfied clients. It’ll be the final piece to convince them to hire you.
And a great way to get over-the-moon happy reviews is to…
The secret to satisfying your client after every project is to under-promise and over-deliver. Amateur designers will do exactly what the project requires and no more, but professional designers will give the client some kind of extra value they weren’t expecting.
You may not need to do this for every project, but nailing your first project with a client by giving them extra value is a great way to start the relationship off well. Plus, they’ll be likely to write you a 5-star review for your exceptional service.
Some examples of added value are:
At some point in your business you’ll hit a wall. You’ll feel like you can’t make the leap to the next level of success, even though other designers seem to be earning more money or doing more exciting stuff.
In those times, you might benefit from the advice of a veteran in the business. You can look for a mentor who can help you break through to the next level.
One way to start is to reach out on social media to designers you admire and simply ask them to be your mentor.
Some designers will be excited to share what they’ve learned. Others may be interested in having you work for them in exchange for coaching. Others may just want you to pay them for their advice, which is a good option if you can afford it.
Whatever makes both of you happy is the best choice, because you’ll want to continue to relationship over the long-term.
If you don’t know where to start, paid services like RookieUp, MentorCruise, and re:create match up designers and mentors online.
At the end of the day, the key to success in business is having good relationships with people.
And the more you network and meet new people, the more you can increase your capabilities, find new ideas, and get exposure for your work.
You can meet new people by attending local networking events and meetups, joining online forums and groups where like-minded people gather, and even reaching out on social media to your friends to see if anyone is interested in working with you.
You never know who you’ll meet. Someone could feature you on a podcast, interview you for their article, or ask you to work for them, and you might find your first big break.
Find an event in your area by browsing graphic design meetups on Meetup.com.
Just promise us that when you move into that multi-million dollar mansion, you’ll remember the little guys. 🙂
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