The 2018 Ultimate Income Goal Planning Guide for Graphic Designers

My Fascination with Money Began Innocently Enough with a Clean, Empty Mayonnaise Jar and a Dream.

A dream to save up enough money to own the feminist nightmare of a movie, The Little Mermaid on VHS in 1990 at the tender age of 9.

I mean, Ariel (the only Disney princess that we know of who’s a hoarder) literally trades her actual voice, friends, family, and world as she knows it for a Prince she’s never even spoken to. What’s worse? She’s a child bride at age 16, and that doesn’t seem to conflict with any sort of laws on land or sea. What kind of message is that to send to little girls everywhere, Disney?!

Anywho, I didn’t get an allowance growing up, and since I brought my lunch to school, I didn’t get lunch money either, so building a savings account on my own was a challenge at best.

There was always the possibility of getting some cash for birthdays or Christmas from the occasional grandparent, although that wasn’t guaranteed.

The Tooth Fairy was always promising, but terribly inconsistent. After all, one’s income goals shouldn’t rest on one losing their teeth. Generally speaking.

And sometimes, if I offered to do a particularly nasty chore beyond the ones that I was already in charge of, there may have been some spare change or even a dollar bill in it for me.

So one day, with my mayonnaise jar and a pad of paper in hand, I drew up a chart of how much money my sister and I needed to find/earn/save every day so we could eventually afford the VHS tape.

Some days were better than others, money finding-wise.

Sometimes I’d find a quarter on my way to the bus stop in the mornings. Other times, my sister got $0.75 for losing a tooth. One day, we opened a Kool-Aide stand in our cul-de-sac, and that yielded a few dollars, too.

Though we rarely met our daily income goals, eventually, over six months, we had enough to confidently walk into Kmart and buy that glorious VHS tape that we would watch over and over and over again all summer long while singing “Part of Your World” at the top of our lungs.

Something my sister and I still do pretty much any time we get together, no matter how much alcohol we’ve consumed, much to both of our husband’s protesting.

Little did I know how much this experience would shape the way I look at money, nor did I realize how much this small act would be a spark of the tiny budding business owner I had lurking inside of me all along.

Though that mayonnaise jar is long gone, and I’ve traded paper charts for digital spreadsheets, I still plan my income, albeit in a slightly more sophisticated way. And since it’s officially 2019 and we’re all ass-deep in planning the year, I thought I’d share what that income planning as a web designer running a web design business looks like for me.

Oftentimes as we Run our Web Design Businesses, we Randomly Pick a Magical Number and Proclaim it Loud and Proud, “I Want to Make $100K this Year!”

And that’s great–ain’t nothin’ wrong with that!

But without context and a real understanding of where that money is going and how much you actually need to live on, you can’t form a real attachment to that number. Furthermore, you may forget to factor in taxes, expenses, savings, etc… Until you do the math you may be surprised to learn that you actually need much less to survive and pay your bills, or you may actually need much more. But you never know, until, ya know… MATH.

How to Figure Out the Minimum Income You Need to Make Each Year:

  1. Add up all of your minimum personal monthly expenses. You know, things like your rent/mortgage payment, utilities, food, pet bills, you get the idea.
  2. Add up all of your minimum business monthly expenses. Things like office space, contractors, software subscriptions, theme licenses, office supplies, hosting, etc.
  3. Add your minimum personal monthly expenses total + your minimum business expenses total and multiply it by 12 months to find out the minimum you need to make in the year to pay your bills. Next, since you’ve gotta account for taxes, add about 30-35% to the total depending on where you live.

BAM. That’s the minimum you need to bill each year in your web design business.

Being the saver that I am (after all, those Little Mermaid tapes aren’t gonna buy themselves!) I like to figure out what my dream income would be. Ya know something that would equal a bit more luxury.

For you, now is the time to get dreamy and think about what more financial security and stability would look like. Think, extra money in the back, trips lined up, donations to your favorite charities… what would your life look like with a little more cash to support the things you wanna do and the way you want to live?

How to Figure Out the Maximum Income You’d Like to Make in Your Web Design Business Each Year:

  1. Figure out how much money you want to put in your personal savings each month for things like emergencies or surprise medical/vet bills. Before I got married and bought a house, I also saved up for my wedding, and the down payment on my house, too. Not sure how much you want or should be saving? Here’s a helpful article about the 3-6-9 guideline for emergency savings.
  2. Figure out how much money you want to be saved in your business savings account each month should you hit a dry spell with client inquiries, have a client be slow to pay, and just have a general good cash flow so you can pay yourself every 2-weeks like any other job. I like to have 6-12 months worth of savings in my business savings account to feel secure knowing that if nothing comes in, I can still pay myself before I’d have to dip into my emergency savings, but you may have different limits than I do, which is fine.
  3. Figure out how much money you want to save for fun stuff, like vacations, which would include flights, hotels, transportation, food, entertainment, etc.
  4. Figure out how much money you want to save each month for retirement. For me, I have a target-date Roth IRA which has a contribution limit of $5,500 each year, so I’m sure to max that out every year taking advantage of compound interest. That means, I put about $500 in it each month. Not sure how much you should save for retirement? Here’s an article about how much money you should save based on your age.
  5. Last, add up how much you want to save each month for emergency savings, business savings, vacation fund, and retirement, and multiply it by 12 months to find out the maximum you need to bill in the year to feel and be financially secure. But, since you’ve gotta account for taxes, add 30-35% to the total.

BAM. That’s the maximum you need to bill each year.


Free Bonus!

To help you out with this, I’ve designed this handy-dandy worksheet you can download and fill out for yourself that walks you through everything I just described above. Simply save the doc to your Google Drive and start filling this puppy out!



Let’s Address the Elephant (or Mermaid) in the Room…

By now, some of you might be thinking, “Holy f*ck is this stuff hard. And draining. And scary.”

In fact, you may already have headed for the hills, burying your face in the sand, terrified to look at your web design business finances in this way. Or maybe you feel like you’re so far behind, you’ll never make enough, so why even try.

Or maybe you’re lost in a YouTube binge of The Little Mermaid sing-a-long clips, in which case, um… why was I not invited?!

If that’s how you’re feeling, I want you to know that none of this shiz happens overnight. It takes years, and countless small choices and investments here and there that’ll take time for you to figure out what works for you.

To be 100% transparent it took me three years to build up a 6-month emergency saving account, and 6-month business savings. It took one year to save up enough money for my intimate 35-person wedding in a small restaurant, and it took five years to save up enough money to have a down payment on our house in the booming real estate market in Portland. And, in case you’re wondering, during this process I was able to pay off my car loan, and my husband’s $30,000 student debt, too.

But because I knew what my numbers and my goals were (being debt-free, having emergency savings, retirement, a home, etc.) I was able to invest and save what I could thanks to my web design business. Sometimes that looked like putting $100 in savings in one month or putting an extra $50 on my old car payment. Fast-forward 5 years, and I can’t believe how many of those small decisions paid off.

Maybe Doing this Exercise has Gotten you Thinking About how you can Better Reach your Financial Goals. Sometimes that Looks Like:

  • Cutting expenses that you really don’t need
  • Eliminating services or products that aren’t profitable
  • Getting more customers to fill your schedule
  • Raising your rates
  • All the above

If you want to have an extra set of eyes on your web design business, so you get some help reaching your financial goals, and have some accountability when things feel hard, revenue planning and money management are just one of the pillars I tackle with my Designer Mentorship clients.

In fact, in just one session I had a mentee recover $1,200 in banking fees and unpaid client invoices she didn’t even know she had until we looked at her revenue from the past 12-months together. What would having an extra $1,200 do, not just for your web design business, but your life? How about an extra $5,000, or $12,000?

I’m currently enrolling Graphic Designers into 6-month 1:1 Designer Mentorship program designed to help you move from barely surviving in your business to become a strong, stable savvy business owner. If you’re ready to grow your web design business in 2019 with a strategic partner who gets where you’re from and where you want to go, simply contact me to book a free 60-minute Zoom call to discuss how I can help and support you on your entrepreneurial journey.

Natalie McGuire is a Web Designer +  Coach for Graphic Designers looking to level up the business side of their design business by showing them how to manage clients, balance projects, master their design process and workflow, set income goals, and more. 

You’re just one step away from a business of your dreams.

Contact Me Now

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