Best business ideas for 2024: Graphic designer

The graphic design industry has grown by 18 per cent in the last five years and demand for graphic designers has ‘swelled’ from advertising agencies

Are you creative and have an eye for visual design? Graphic designers are much in demand currently and allow you to start with relatively little set-up costs. If you have a laptop and the right design software, you can start building your portfolio and client base.

Graphic design is also something that can cross borders. It is quite possible to have clients globally.

In fact, freelancing is something more and more people are turning towards. Of the UK’s 4 million self-employed, around 1.9 million are freelancers and according to IPSE, they contribute up to £139 billion to the UK economy.

Offering greater flexibility and work/life balance, freelancing is also a field more working mothers are turning to, with a 55 per cent increase in the sector since 2008 and a 4 per cent increase since 2021.

The sector has however been hit by IR35 reforms and government tax policy, which have both impacted freelancer income.

Jump straight to the relevant section or read on for the full details on starting a graphic design business.

  1. Why start a graphic design business?
  2. Graphic design growth trends
  3. Business opportunities for graphic design
  4. Who else has started a graphic design business?
  5. Small business expert opinion

Why is it a good idea to be a graphic designer?

The UK currently has a shortage of graphic designers according to the Shortage Occupation List published by the Home Office, so this could be a good option to explore in 2024. It’s a business which can also be carried out on a freelance basis, so can be a flexible option, too.

Graphic design has been listed as one of the most in-demand jobs in the UK, with businesses up and down the country looking to improve the design of their website, branding, UX and apps.

It is also a profession which is ever evolving, with lots of different specialisms to dip into, including illustration, typography, web design, advertising solutions, accessible design and heatmapping to name a few.

The traditional way to start out as a freelance designer is through a graphic design degree, but this is by no means the only way. “College and university are good places to get started, but don’t wait until you’re fully ‘educated’,” designer Lucy Rigley advises. “The learning continues as platforms, tools and skills are constantly being developed. Always have side projects on the go, getting work out into the real world will hone your skills and boost your credibility. Trends come and go, but the basics stay the same, so keep your eye on the industries you’re interested in.”

Graphic designer growth trends

According to the Department for Culture, Media and Sports, the graphic design industry has grown by 17.8 per cent in the last five years, with the industry’s market size standing at £3.6 billion in 2023.

What’s more, data from IBISWorld shows demand for graphic designers has ‘swelled’, particularly from advertising agencies, and the market size is expected to increase over the next five years.

Globally, the graphic design market was valued at $57.5 billion in 2030 and is expected to rise to $78.25 billion by 2030.

What graphic designer business model opportunities are there?

Linked to graphic design is content creation. More companies want to maximise their content across different platforms for a smaller cost, and you could help fill that demand.

Content can be fun or easy to make and it’s a cheap way to build your very own audience, which can then be utilised later on if you want to go down the affiliate marketing or merchandise route. And you don’t have to make the big numbers to have a high-quality, ready-to-buy audience.

You could also consider helping businesses create more disability-friendly website content – whether it’s Alt text, accessible PDFs or font which can be enlarged, there’s a lot businesses can do to make their websites more accessible.

The amount you can charge differs depending on speciality and experience, but an hourly rate can be anything from £20 to £100. Typically, a mid-level graphic designer will charge a minimum daily rate of £250.

Alternatively, you can set up a design agency as a limited company, but this should only be explored if you plan on employing as it will involve paying corporation tax rather than income tax.

There is, however, some concern from graphic designers about what role AI will play in the industry and many are ruing the decline in print publishing which was a lucrative and secure option a few years ago.

Who else is running a graphic design small business?

There are around 30,000 graphic designers in the UK, and a large proportion work on a freelance basis. “It’s not the easiest route, but it’s extremely freeing and rewarding,” freelance graphic designer Micah Purnell says. “Nothing beats seeing people enjoying the brochures you’ve designed or admiring your work on the sides of buildings.

“The great thing about being freelance is being able to manage your own time according to your own commitments, but work can be sporadic, so you need to budget.”

Another graphic designer is Lucy Rigley. “It’s a lovely and creative job with so many sectors to explore – and it’s lovely to see clients really positive when they get something they love and are proud of,” she says. “I think you need to be able to take criticism, accept that you are always learning, and delegate tasks that you may be not that confident in.”

Small business owner opinion

Freelancer Andrew Wicks says that although he’d recommend going down the freelance route, but to remember what that entails – the good and the bad.

“If you love design and have a few years’ experience then yes I would very much recommend going freelance,” he says. “But don’t think that being self-employed means you can be too flexible with your working hours. My work/life balance has certainly improved but you must remember there is no holiday cover and if you’re not working you’re not getting paid so sometimes it can be hard to ‘switch off’.

“Thirteen years ago, a lot like today, a lot of companies were looking at ways to save money and one way was to move from using a design studio to using a freelancer and this is how I marketed myself. Over the past 13 years I have gained loyal clients that give me regular work. It’s this ‘bread and butter’ work that keeps me going. I then have much larger projects that come through either from existing or new clients, and my workload has been steady from day one.

“My background was in printed design but it soon became clear that I would have to move some way into digital design such as website and email design. This now probably equates to 50 per cent of my work, so being freelance means you have to be flexible and move with the times to offer what the client needs. The design side is great, but being freelance means you also have to do all the day-to-day admin, from organising projects to invoicing, so it can be a real juggling act at times.”

Dom Walbanke

Dom Walbanke

Dom Walbanke is a feature writer for Growth Business and Small Business, focused on matters concerning start-ups and scale-ups. He has also been published in the Independent, FourFourTwo magazine and various...