20 Questions to Ask Before Lighting Up Your “OPEN” Sign

From December 2007 to December 2009, the United States alone reported a loss of over 7 million jobs according to the Small Business Administration report in March 2010. According to the United States Department of Labor, only 323,100 graphic designers will be employed by companies by the year 2018.

With these kind of numbers staring us in the face, it is no wonder that more and more individuals are attempting to start their own business and begin anew. And why not? It's a chance to finally live life on your own terms. It's exciting and fills you with purpose and it can make a person very eager to get started and open shop.

20 Questions to Ask


However, I have sometimes found that the excitement of this new adventure can trip up designers and artistic freelancers more than others. Time after time, I have seen designers and photographers jump in without first doing their homework and closing down within a year of lighting up their "OPEN" sign as a result. They just can't wait to make the world a more beautiful place to live in; and let's be honest, for a designer, surrounding yourself with art and technology is FUN and can sometimes feel more like play than work.

The 20 Question Checklist

So when is a good time to announce to the world that you are ready to light up your "OPEN" sign, and let everyone know that you are ready for business as a freelancer? I have put together a checklist of 20 questions that need to be asked, and answered before this event takes place.

Ask Yourself
Image credit: ::Linz::

Ask yourselves these 20 questions:

  1. Have I talked with those I trust to get feedback on my ideas and are they supportive of my plan?
  2. Do I know the limits of my capabilities and am I being realistic about them?
  3. Do I know my equipment and/or computer program/s well enough, that if an unforeseen problem arises I will know how to troubleshoot it with confidence?
  4. Do I own, and not just have access to, the proper equipment and/or computer programs needed in order to do my job?
  5. Do I have a written budget in place to cover my start-up expenses, including hiring additional people and website development if needed?
  6. Have I figured out how much income I will need to make per month in order to pay my bills and still live comfortably?
  7. Have I spoken to a tax attorney in order to be more informed about how my new business will affect my taxes?
  8. Have I researched issues like incorporation, business, or Doing Business As (DBA) licenses and how they might affect me or my business legally?
  9. Have I researched and written my Business Plan?
  10. Do I know what the current copyright and Federal Trade laws are and how they affect my business?
  11. Do I have a client work-flow plan developed for the area I wish to target? (I.E. If a client is looking for a logo, do I have a process that I will follow along with the client to make sure we are both happy and that time is not wasted for either of us?)
  12. Do I know specifically who my target audience is and how to market to them?
  13. Do I have a brand identity in place that people will recognize on sight?
  14. Am I willing to further my education on my own time and money, in order to keep up with the ever-changing world of technology?
  15. Am I protected from design theft/plagiarism by having proper work agreements or contracts in place?
  16. Am I ready to devote the time and energy needed to promote myself in order to obtain clients?
  17. Have I developed a project management system so that I will not become overwhelmed with too many projects at once?
  18. Have I developed databases to keep track of client contact information, receipts, and invoices?
  19. Do I have an "escape plan" written into my client agreements that will protect myself and my work, should I or the client decide that the project needs to be stopped before it is completed?
  20. Do I have a backup plan for supplemental income should I lose out on a project I thought I had?

Ready to Open for Business?

Without a doubt, these are just a few of the questions that professional designers ask themselves on a day to day basis. If you can wake up every morning and answer a loud and proud "YES!" to each item on the check list, then congratulations! Go ahead and light up your sign with pride. However, if your answer to most of these questions is "No" or "I don't know", then you have some work to do.

After all, it's not only about turning your sign on, it's about keeping it lit for a long long time.