If you've always pictured yourself as a commercial artist but your drawing style is closer to stick figures than Cézannes, then graphic design might be just the business for you. With the great software available today, you can conjure up logos, letterheads, brochures, product packaging and mail order catalogs--just about anything that needs a distinctive graphic ambience for the business client. Graphic designers work on a freelance basis, creating materials for corporate clients, advertising agencies, public relations firms and publishers. But they do more than merely sketch designs--they often provide visual solutions to specific problems like company identity crises or image changes. The advantages to this business are that, provided you have a strong design and color sense, you don't need to be able to draw, you can work full time or part time and you can do it at home. Hours are flexible--so long as you meet clients at reasonable times and meet your deadlines, you can work 'til dawn and sleep 'til noon if you want to. You should have a good working knowledge of your design. A degree in graphic design or fine arts is a plus but not necessary; ditto for on-the-job experience working in an ad agency or for graphic designers. In addition to all that creativity, you'll need to have good listening skills so you can understand what your clients want, plus a good sense of marketing to help them sell themselves through the projects they bring to you.
Your clients will be other businesses--ad agencies, publishing companies, small magazines, product manufacturers and others, from startups to old standbys who need a smart image to start with or a snappy redesign of their aged chestnut. Find these firms by placing ads in trade publications like those read by ad agencies, mail order companies and the giftware industry. Send direct-mail pieces to these same companies--let them see your work firsthand. Network in your community and keep your ear to the ground for hints of new businesses. When you hear of an opportunity, make an appointment to present your portfolio and discuss how you can be of service.
You'll need a high-end computer (most graphic designers use Macs) with a Zip or Jaz drive, a top-quality color printer, a scanner, a fax machine and the software itself. Talk to graphic designers to find out what programs they use, then haunt computer superstores to see what's comparable and what's the newest on the market.