Talent Is Not Enough—Business Secrets for Designers

Project management, business development and business planning/strategy are important skills for any designer looking to move into a management role, as well as senior-level staff. At the inaugural 2018 SEGD Management for Designersevent, attendees will have the opportunity to learn from leaders in business and participate in dialogues with each other. Graphic designer, management consultant and educator Shel Perkinswill be leading two of the sessions at the event: Business Planning and Contracts for Designers.

Shel provides management consulting services to a range of creative firms in both traditional and new media and has more than 20 years of experience in managing the operations of leading design firms in the United States and the United Kingdom. He has written the Professional Practice column for STEP magazine, the Design Business newsletter for AIGA and the “Design Firm Management” column for Graphics.com.

The revised and expanded third edition of his best-selling book, Talent Is Not Enough: Business Secrets For Designers,is available from New Riders. Here, Shel shares an excerpt from the book’s chapter on business planning.


Many of us ease into business based on project opportunities that come our way. A few big projects and a few loyal clients can enable a freelance career to gradually expand into a successful small office. Often there’s no pressure to produce a business plan. If you’ve been freelancing for a while, you might already own most of the equipment and software required for the company, and start-up capital needed for other purposes may be minimal. So, if your design firm is already operating successfully, why would you want to write a business plan after the fact? The answer is that the document itself is part of a larger strategic planning process.

Planning process

Writing a business plan involves asking yourself a series of hard questions about the work that you’re doing and the direction in which you’re heading. Young firms tend to take shape in a reactive way, accepting any project that comes along. Eventually, though, you’ll decide that it’s time to become more proactive and exercise greater control over the evolution of your firm. The business planning process is an opportunity to evaluate your situation, think through every aspect of your operations in a thorough and systematic way, and bring everything into alignment. You’ll analyze recent trends and then project them forward in order to set realistic goals for the next three years. Most importantly, writing a business plan is not a one-time effort. It’s just one part of an ongoing strategic planning process that can help your firm reach its full potential.

Business plan contents

The structure of the business plan document reflects the logical sequence of issues that need to be considered. It starts with a very broad-brush description of the company, gradually becomes more specific, and ends with detailed projections of financial activity. The exact details of the document vary somewhat from industry to industry.

For creative firms, the outline usually looks like this:

•    Executive summary
•    Values statement
•    Vision statement
•    Mission statement
•    Goals
•    Description of services
•    Business environment and market trends
•    Client profile
•    Evaluation of your competition
•    Sustainable advantage
•    Marketing plan
•    Operations plan
•    Human resources plan
•    Technology and physical facilities plan
•    Financial plan for the next three years


Want to know more about business planning? Join Shel at the 2018 SEGD Management for Designers event, April 27 in Chicago. Register now!