How to become a successful Graphic Designer

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably a talented, but frustrated, Graphic Designer who works too much and earns too little. If you’re lucky enough to be in a good company or agency, then this article won’t be as relevant for you.

My name is Chris De Bruyne, and I’m a qualified Graphic Designer that’s been working in the South African Graphic Design industry for almost a decade. South Africa is a tough economy with tougher clients, all trying to scrape by with the little they seem to have. Prices are going up as the government goes down, and you’ve got rent to pay and a future to build. I figure if we can succeed in this economy then we can succeed in any.

I got tired of working myself into insomnia and begging clients to pay their (small) invoices. I looked around one day and realized that I didn’t know a single freelancer or small Graphic Design company that was actually thriving.

So I set out to better myself and researched like Hermoine Granger with a case of Red Bull. I signed up for a Udemy course on how to run a successful Web Design business, read some great blog posts from, watched webinars, experimented with methods and discovered some GOLDEN advice from Foxley.

Below is a collection of what I have learned from the experts.

So, how are you, as a logo-spewing Graphic Designer, going to buy a house one day?

Here are some of your options once you’ve graduated:

  • Work for a Graphic Design agency

    Graphic Design Agencies handle huge clients and bigger accounts.
    Upside: Experience. Downside: Hard work.

  • Work for an indie Graphic Design company

    Their name usually involves [Colour] + [Unique/Random Noun]. Go ahead, try it lol.
    Upside: Usually relaxed environment. Downside:Possibly low income.

  • Go Corporate

    Work as the designer for a specific corporate company.
    Upside: Steady. Downside: Repetitive.

  • Become a Freelance Graphic Designer

    Not cut out for being bossed around? Freelancing can be a fun.
    Upside: Complete freedom. Downside: Highly unstable income.

The options above are all good and well, but the Graphic Design career path, like many others, has one major issue: You earn money based on how many hours you put in, and you will likely struggle from month to month either way.

Well, shit. What now?

There are two very valuable lessons I learned over the past few years that changed my perspective, and ultimately changed my career direction.

1. Figure out what makes the most money, and focus on that.

This lead me to one very easy conclusion: Doing R2000 logos and cheap ass business cards Isn’t going to buy me a house one day. Neither is chasing cheap ass clients who don’t take me seriously.

The answer for me: Websites.

Here are some examples:
1. Logo Design – 6 hours spent – R2000 profit
2. Brochure Design – 12 hours spent – R2500 profit
3. Website – 12 hours spent – R16,000 profit.

2. Become more than just a Graphic Designer.

Let me ask you something.

How much money do you think your designs have made your clients? Good designs don’t directly convert into profit. A great design in the hands of someone who has no idea how to market it is as good as a cheeseburger at a vegan festival.

The secret is this:

You don’t need to just give your clients good designs. You need to make them more money. If you can make people money, you will become far more valuable than any normal (or even amazing) Graphic Designer. You need to become a Marketing expert.

But I know nothing about Marketing?

Neither did I. In fact, I disliked the idea entirely. “I don’t want to get into Marketing. I want to hide in the corner and make pretty things.” The cool thing is that I discovered some very simple ways to increase my profits, decrease my work load and start creating steady monthly income that works for me.

Strategy: Automate & repeat

The way I am seeing out of my financial struggle is to create automated systems that generate money without my constant attention. Imagine making R20,000 a month without lifting a finger? That’s what I’m talking about. THAT is how we are going to buy that house.

Deserves a mention

Creative Market is one of many extremely successful online stores that allow you to create Graphic Design resources like icons, textures, fonts etc. and sell them online. I have not tried this myself, but there are many success stories coming out from that direction. Recently they featured a South African lady from P.E that hit her first $1,000,000.00 in sales. *Quacks in surprise*

By applying everything I’ve learned and experimenting like a mad scientist, this is the system that is working for me.

My 3 winning services

Website Development

I design and develop custom WordPress websites for my clients using expertly created Themes purchased from

Maintenance Plans

Wordpress websites are living organisms that need a bit of TLC to work smoothly. I sell my clients on Monthly Maintenance packages that give them: Hosting, Tech Support, Security, Backups and more.

Online Marketing

I create Google Adwords campaigns for my clients that gets them FAR more website traffic, calls and contacts than they could hope for.

Why this works

It is the digital age. Websites are a must have for new businesses, and websites upgrades are a must have for old businesses. I create a high-end website with SEO, and offer online marketing that makes their website the CENTER of their business where work and clients come to them.

This works great for me because every website is a nice chunk of money, and the monthly maintenance + Google Ads are largely automated, meaning that I make that money every month without spending more than a few hours managing them.

The key is to become specialized.

My 3 most powerful tools for success


Wordpress is a God-send for all Graphic Designers, simply because you don’t need to know any code to develop the most amazing and valuable websites.

WordPress Tips:
  1. Use paid themes – my favorite is the X THEME.
  2. Charge a Monthly Maintenance Fee that includes hosting, security, backups and updates.

Google Adwords

Google Adwords, and Adwords Express is a Pay Per Click (PPC) platform that allows you to setup Google Ads that will bring your clients more business and make them LOVE YOU.

Adwords Tips:
  1. Make use of Google’s FREE online training.
  2. Use a minimum monthly budget of R1000 (ZAR) / $100
  3. Charge your clients a minimum of R500pm to manage their ads.

Facebook Ads

Facebook Ads is the other, very powerful, advertising platform that can reach huge audiences and bring in great business, page likes, brand awareness and more for your clients. It also appears to be cheaper.

Facebook Tips:
  1. Google things like “Creating an effective Facebook campaign”.
  2. Experiment with what works best according to your clients goals.

Final thoughts

I quit my job and started my own company in 2016, and by December I already have some very steady retainers, at least six Maintenance plans and around 5 Google Ads campaigns running on a constant basis. I am constantly learning, growing and getting new ideas – and it’s paying off. Don’t give up and just keep learning.

Become more than you are, and you will become more valuable by the day.

“Nobody kills a man who’s gonna make him money.”Jason Statham - Revolver