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A new dress for the wedding?

I found the perfect dress to wear to my friend’s wedding in Maui. Except that it’s $70. I’ll have to think about it, because that’s a lot to spend and I’m already going all the way to Hawaii. I do have another dress that could work, but it’s really plain and not in the least bit dressy. It also has spaghetti straps, which I don’t like wearing to weddings (prefer wider straps for more coverage).

That being said, this week I should bring in about $450 from selling my shoes on eBay and from a contract assignment. So I technically could afford it, but I should use that $450 and change it into US$ for Mexico/Vegas spending money.

Decisions, decisions!

My design business: this is not a how-to article

I don’t like posting how-to articles on this blog, because I don’t feel like I have the knowledge to tell anyone how to do anything relating to personal finance. That being said, over the past few months I’ve had a few people ask me how I’ve gone about setting up my graphic design business. I’m not going to tell you how to set one up, but I will definitely tell you how I got mine started.

So to be honest (and I’m sure you’ve all noticed), I’ve got a pretty lazy business going, and I am very much reactive in terms of trying to get clients. Basically I don’t do any advertising or marketing. All of my work is from ongoing clients, referrals, and previous employers. I know I could get more business if I tried, but everyone is a designer these days. I’d rather work with what I’ve got, and that keeps my creative side satisfied. It’s more about keeping up to date with current trends, making sure all of my skills are sharp, and working on my existing relationships, than making money. The fact that I get paid for doing something fun is just a bonus.

Here are some things that I’ve learned over the years which might help you out (again, these are in no way a reflection on how you should start your own business, this is just how I’ve gone about with mine) …

  • Volunteer. I knew that without a design portfolio, chances are I wasn’t going to get any contracts. At least not any paid contracts. So while I was in college, I volunteered with non-profits all the time, offering up my design skills. I created, designed and maintained websites, logos, did radio commercials, wrote articles, took photographs … basically did whatever I could to at least pad my portfolio with items that weren’t just created in college.
  • Work with industry-standard software. Chances are, nobody was going to hire me if I wasn’t using Adobe Creative Suite. That’s just a fact. I knew that I had to keep up with ever-changing software, and I needed to be prepared to shell out thousands of dollars for the right set-up. I don’t have a digital SLR, but I am working with a Canon G-10 which is a great point-and-shoot camera. Should I get more into professional photography with my clients (I’ve been professionally trained as a photographer, but haven’t really practiced the skill since college), I would definitely consider investing in something better.
  • Design a logo & all appropriate collateral/templates (business cards, letterhead, quote/invoice templates). I created a logo and went about creating a visual identity for myself. Because it’s just my side business and I don’t have a GST #, all cheques are made payable to me. I include tax into my quotes, so come tax time I claim all of my income made from contracts.
  • Create a website. I spent weeks and weeks on my website, and it looks fabulous. Well, it looked fabulous. It’s not online anymore, but I do hope to get it back online sometime this year. Not so much for potential clients, but to showcase my portfolio to potential full-time employers. None of my current clients have ever asked to see my portfolio.
  • Keep all receipts! I mean EVERYTHING. I write-off a portion of my rent, my car, my gas, my household bills, etc. … along with all design software, electronics, furniture, etc. Since my business is run out of my home, I can claim a portion of just about everything as a business expense. It may not be a lot, but it all adds up. If I go out to dinner with a colleague, and we discuss potential clients/contracts, etc. I’ll keep the receipt for the dinner. It’s a business expense. Those graphics I bought off of iStock? Business expense. The gas & ferry I had to pay to meet up with ongoing clients? Business expense! In fact, I was technically in the red for the first 3 or 4 years of my business, since my expenses outpaced my business income. Which is fine by me! I also went to an accountant to do my taxes. Through him, I learned a lot about what I could and couldn’t claim. It was pricey to take it to an accountant (anywhere from $100-300), but I learned a lot and now I can comfortably do my taxes on my own.
  • Claim all income. I don’t try to cheat the tax man. I claim everything that I earn. I send out official invoices with real statement numbers. I claim all of my design contract money, as well as all money that I make online and through my blog. I guess I’m lucky because my blog can be considered under the umbrella of my design/marketing business, so it’s simple just to group all the advertising money I make off the blog into my design income.
  • Contact previous employers & network. I think it’s really important to let people know that you’re for hire, but not in an obnoxious way. I created a LinkedIn account, and contacted previous employers that liked my design work. I let them know that I’d be happy to discuss contract work if they’re ever in need of my services. I also bid on contracts when I don’t have anything on the horizon. I’m lucky because 2 of my previous jobs were with government agencies, so I can charge a decent fee for my services and they always let me know when contracts are up for bid. Other than that, I really don’t do much networking.
  • Design for fun. Have you ever seen ridiculously unattractive packaging before? I re-design things just for fun! It’s good exercise, and it’s something you can put in your portfolio. I also am really glad I got into blogging because social media is kind of the new marketing fad and every company is looking for someone who at least possesses the knowledge of how to set up a company with a presence on the internet (that’s not just a website).

Other than that, I really don’t do anything to maintain my side business. I have all the essentials in place, and I know that in the future if I wanted to take my business to the next level, I have the marketing skills to do so. And for those who have suggested I take my side business and try to turn it into a full-time job so that I could be my own boss? The answer is a huge hell no. I do not want to work for myself as a designer. I would much rather work for somebody else when it comes to designing, marketing and communications. That being said, I think I eventually do want to own my own business (something sports-related, haven’t quite figured it out yet), and the fact that I can do all of my own marketing is really going to save me a ton of money.

So that’s that! Sorry I couldn’t be more help. I’m really not a great resource when it comes to starting a side business, because I kind of suck at it in terms of making steady income. But it works for me and what I need.

Adobe CS5?

OMG. I NEED to have this new Adobe Creative Suite. What they’re doing in this video is ridiculous. It’s so crazy that it just blew my freaking mind. Hours and hours of Photoshop work can now be reduced down to a click of the mouse? I’m dying over here. Right now I’m running CS2 on my home computer (I worked in CS4 at my last 2 jobs), and I desperately need to upgrade. Not just for my side business, but also to stay current and up-to-date with the industry standard design tools, since that is part of my career training too.

But that also means a new computer, since mine barely runs CS2 right now (as a reference point to my computer’s performance, it doesn’t run The Sims 3 smoothly either). So Adobe CS5 plus a new Mac is going to set me back thousands of dollars. NEED A JOB!

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