I made $100K as a graphic designer within 10 months of quitting my job

Joana GalvaoJoana Galvao.Courtesy of Joana Galvao

  • At 22, Joana Galvão started her own graphic design business.
  • Using old-fashioned approaches like face-to-face networking, she pulled in $100,000 in revenue within just ten months of going solo.
  • One key piece of her advice for other would-be entrepreneurs: Don't be afraid to reach out to people a few steps ahead of you to express admiration, ask a question, or offer something of value.

You hear lots of stories about people who had big dreams of starting giant companies and building huge audiences with innovative strategies. I am not one of those people.

I stumbled into starting a business when I was just 22 years old. I began with incredibly low expectations, and used old-fashioned approaches like face-to-face networking to grow my business. Still, I managed to pull in $100,000 in revenue within just ten months of going solo. I'm living proof that a groundbreaking idea and a ton of cash aren't necessary to transform your life.

How I went from just covering the rent to a six-figure income

Five years ago, I was just like most 22 year olds. I had recently graduated with a degree in graphic design and was slogging it out as a junior designer at a London agency. But just like a lot of young professionals, I dreamed of a more exciting, flexible lifestyle where I could work from the beach. (Reality check from 27-year-old me: Working on the beach is actually the least practical thing ever.)

Then one day, I stumbled on videos from coach Marie Forleo about the upcoming launch of her eight-week marketing course, B-School. One showed a former waitress turned successful entrepreneur. Another asked viewers to finish the sentence, "Wouldn't it be great if …?" Inspired by the waitress-turned-business owner I'd just watched, I wrote, "Wouldn't it be great if I magically started getting freelance clients, so that I could quit my job and make enough money to join B-School." That was my first entrepreneurial goal - to make $2,000 in ten days to join a course.

It was a small start, but a woman saw a comment I had left on one of Forleo's videos and messaged me to say, "I don't have $2,000, but I have $800, does that buy me a logo?" At the time, if someone had asked, I would have charged $100 for a logo. I had no clue how things were priced. But I played it cool and replied, "Normally I charge $1,000, but sure, I'll do it for $800."

Read more: 'I'm working on it right now' and other workplace white lies we're all guilty of telling

That was my first client. I went above and beyond for her, and she ended up posting in an online group of 17,000 entrepreneurs about my work. That led to a flood of inquiries for more design jobs. I put in crazy hours for a few days to finish the work during nights and weekends, but I made my goal and joined B-School. I also learned that owning my own business could be more than a daydream.

After just two more months, I had quit my job to go freelance full-time. Still, my expectations were low. All I wanted to do was cover my old salary. I figured a couple of logo jobs and teaching a few Zumba classes would do it. Then, on my first month out on my own, I made more than double my previous salary.

Because I had expected so little from my business initially, I didn't immediately upgrade my lifestyle when my income went up. Instead, I decided to fly myself to New York for a one-week internship with an entrepreneur I had followed and admired for a long time. While I was there, I also attended networking events. The price tag for the trip was steep for a new freelancer, but the investment turned out to be worth it. At one event, I met online marketers Derek Halpern and Lewis Howes, both of whom became clients, raising the profile of my business. Later in the year, I spent another $5,000 to go to another conference. Again, meeting potential clients there accelerated my business.

New isn't necessarily better

By the end of 10 months, I had pulled in six figures in revenue and hired my first two employees - and all this success was from someone whose biggest hope less than a year before was not to have to teach too many Zumba classes to pay the rent.

Why tell my story? There are three takeaways I hope to pass along to other would-be entrepreneurs from my journey.

Dream bigger

My own entrepreneurial dreams were sparked by videos of people who had even less of a business background than me who had become successful. They showed me that you don't need decades of experience or a particular or some special personality to make it as an entrepreneur. If a waitress could do it, so could a girl from Portugal with a design background and low rent. Perhaps someone else will see themselves in me and understand that they are dreaming too small for themselves, too.

Read more: 7 things successful people tell themselves on a daily basis to stay ahead

A huge audience isn't required

You don't have to build a big audience to be successful. I don't have millions or even thousands of Instagram followers. Instead, I built my business through in-person networking. Doing things the old-fashioned way might be less trendy these days, but it's still a very effective option.

Reach out to those a few steps ahead of you

People like to do business with people that they know, so don't be afraid to start conversations with people who are a few steps ahead of you in their careers (super successful people, on the other hand, probably won't have the time to respond). Reach out and express admiration, ask a question, or offer something of value. I'm now finding out how effective this is for myself. I like it when someone messages me and says, "I've been following your path, and you inspire me. Can I ask you please, how do you do this or that?" I hate to admit it, but it's a nice ego rub, which also makes it an incredibly effective way to build relationships.

Joana Galvão is the co-founder of Gif Design Studios, an award-winning design agency specialized in brand identities and conversion-obsessed design. Based in Porto, Portugal, with a team of 10 designers and developers, Gif Design Studios offers a full range of print and digital design services to industry leaders in seventeen countries on five continents. Joana speaks internationally on the power of design and creativity and her work has been featured in the Guardian UK, Brand Brilliance, and Digital Arts magazine.

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