Business of design? What the basics look like?

I got this question from my Ask Me Anything session in my class. Full inquiry: “I have been a designer for 2 years. However from what I’ve observed, as compared to other professions, a graphic designer’s earnings are lower, and the increase rate is very low. What should I do to raise my future income?”

This is really a question I had no intention to answer. Because the majority of my followers are junior designers who are tertiary students, so the focus on monetary issues at this point can easily lead to mindset deviance. Yet, as I have reconsidered, I believe it’d be good for you to grasp an overview on the finances of a graphic designer, but again, never let your over-indulgence in making money eclipse your upgrading of knowledge and workmanship.

Graphic Design (G.D.) is a relatively novel field in Vietnam, which has been taking off only in recent years. For that reason, it’s quite inevitable that many consider it as a highly sedentary profession (from Vietnamese: company’s ass-grinding work) – with salary paid every month-end as per usual. In reality, the nature of G.D. differs greatly from a mere salaried worker.

First off, to say most Vietnamese designers’ earnings are low is not entirely wrong, mostly due to the the variation in skill set. Then again, a designer should never depends only on monthly salary. Each graphic designer should treat him-/herself as a business owner, and look for other income sources to increase the amount earned. Treat yourself simply as a wandering swordsman with a visual-elements sword, who’s on a journey to help mankind communicate messages better, for the graphic design world is immense with very high demand. Simply put, any business that opens in this era will need marketing, and for marketing to be effective, the first aim must be brand identity – website, facebook page, instagram, etc. This basically offers graphic designers a multitude of potential jobs; why would you forgo it over a mere salary? One more colossal advantage is, G.D. is met with no geographical barriers whatsoever. We can work with the U.K., U.S., Brazil, Africa, etc. while staying home-bound; good or bad a work is completely up to your skills, as geography hardly matters.

A designer’s income relies on the quantity and quality of leads he/she acquires, so grab the possible relationship-building opportunities and nourish those ties. The first lead is direct clients, who contact us without any agent. A designer can work with a client once and that’s it, or better yet, try to keep that client for long-term business. A business having acquired a branding package will also need designers for daily Facebook posts, for brochures every fair/event, for posters to introduce new products, etc.

The second lead is partnerships with agencies. It’s very common that agencies produce jobs in surplus during a certain period of time (e.g. Tet), so they will try to outsource extra designers. They can pay based on time (2-3 months) or pay on a project basis. Partnerships with agencies often generate insignificant, low-quality jobs, which nevertheless come at a stable rate, and are necessary for those who wish to build relationships with agencies.

The third lead – my most favourite – accounts. The relationship between accounts and designers in a company usually doesn’t go well. But aside from terrible accounts, talented ones are present, and they are searching for external leads like us. They are the middlemen who communicate and manage clients well, and have plenty of relationships with major clients, etc., which gives designers a no-brainer on anything but how to produce a fine design. We can live well on only 1-2 accounts.

With the buildup of experience by the year, good designers often have and produce a certain amount of leads – that is when monthly salary is nothing but trifle to the overall revenue. Having read thus far, you’ll probably ask: “Then where to find those leads and how?” The answer is: Networking, Networking, Networking. However I’d like to discuss this matter later, as the post has been long enough.

Hope this helps!

Huy Ta