1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

From a young age, art was so fascinating to me. I could sit down and draw for hours and hours at a time and never bat an eye.

After starting a lawn care business at 14 years old with about 10 clients, I’ve always loved the idea of being an entrepreneur. With my mom being an art teacher and my dad a business man, I’ve always felt like each of them gave me a piece of their passion.

Coupling my love for art and business into a design company seemed to make the most sense.

2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?

I was newly married, moved across the country and had no job. The Courtright Design website was up by early 2011, but customers were nowhere to be found.

Working low paying nine-to-fivers was an obvious necessity while trying to build up the business on the side. Life consisted of McDonald’s dollar menu dates with my wife and even grabbing free WiFi from our apartment complex office.

After work, I would come home, eat dinner, spend time with my wife and then begin working on the business from about 10pm-1am. Sleep was too quickly followed by a loud beeping at 6:30am for my full-time job. Then, just rinse and repeat.

The biggest hurdle was figuring out how build a design business with no client base and limited experience starting out.

3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?

SEO. Optimizing my website to get found in Google was a game-changer for my business. Almost every day, I would read up on the Quicksprout and Backlinko blogs to learn more about implementing a sustainable, organic SEO strategy.

At its highest point, I had about 75 new client inquiries coming in each month as a direct result of SEO.

Here are a few SEO quick wins you can easily implement today:

  • Add H1 and H2 tags on your home page with specific keywords like “your city + graphic designer”. You can use a plugin like SEO Yoast, add the code yourself via FTP, or, you can hire a dev on a platform like Codeable or Dribbble.
  • Set up your title and description with keyword specific phrases optimized for Google search.
  • Have at least 300-500+ words on your home page with phrases specific to your design niche and/or city (without keyword stuffing).

There’s obviously more to it as Google’s algorithm now has over 200 ranking factors from the time of this post.

Here’s the scenario we’re going for: Once you have your SEO rolling, you’ll eventually see an influx of traffic to your site, build up a larger client base and then rely on word of mouth marketing, the highest converting, cheapest and least risky way to bring in more clients.

If we fast forward to today, about 80% of my clients are from referrals/word of mouth as a result of the cornerstone of clients hinging from that initial SEO campaign. If you’re willing to put in the time to learn SEO, the impact can change the game for your design business.

4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?

Before working with each client, I clearly communicate the idea of coming alongside and partnering with them to reach their business goals. I articulate that I design logos, but I’m not a just logo maker. Develop websites, but not just a web designer.

In the end, I show them that I genuinely want to help take their business and brand to next-level growth. That’s the secret sauce.

I’ve also come to realize that it’s the pursuit of excellence that clients are drawn to. Going beyond the call, communicating with detail, listening more than you talk, hitting turnarounds and thriving for a high level of design quality are just a few to mention.

Each of these factors will give you an added level of distinction that’s magnetic to clients and in turn, will want to refer and/or hire you many times over down the road.

Here’s a 75 point designer’s checklist I created with proven tips to help designers attract, win and keep clients along the way.

5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?

No doubt about it. I’ve been fortunate that a very small percentage of my clients tend to pay late.

Before any work can begin, I ask for 50% up front, then 50% when the project’s complete. Making sure these terms are clear and concise in the initial contract/terms is the ticket.

If payment hasn’t been received within a reasonable time period from the final 50% payment request, I will send a follow up email and everything is typically sorted out at that point.

6. What does your typical work day look like?

I tend to wake up around 7am – 7:45am each day—my 1 year old and 3 year old sons are my alarm 🙂 Then I spend some time with my wife and sons, feed our dogs and start work around 8:30am.

I’ll get back to emails, post on social media and work on a few client projects.

Lunch is at 11:30am with my wife and kids, then back to work around 12:15.

More emails, client projects, invoices/accounting, Logo Wave outreach, eBook/Logo Wave affiliates and more emails/projects.

All is said and done at 5:15pm on the dot as I hold tightly to time with family and friends in the evening.

7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?

  • Discover the design niche that you’re (truly) passionate about and pursue it with
    excellence.
  • Never stop learning. The best designers are well-read, soak up inspiration from others
    and continually honing their craft.
  • Set lofty goals. Dream for what seems impossible.

Kyle Courtright is an independent designer who runs Logo Wave Awards International, a logo awards platform rewarding and recognizing designers to bring positive career impact.

He’s worked with brands like the Detroit Lions, Entrepreneur, American Cancer Society and National Parkinson’s Foundation. He also created the Logo Inspiration Generator Tool and authored The Ultimate Guide to Logo Design.

Chris Green

Chris Green at This Design Life
Chris Green is a designer and marketer. He runs an agency called Calloway Green and is also the founder of This Design Life.

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