I was recently interviewed by a graphic design student from a near-by University and a few of her questions made me think more about my career as an owner of a creative design and development studio . It also made me think about how it was to start out in the design industry…the things I did to get myself known, and the jobs that I took to gain experience.
One question the student asked me really struck a note; "What is the main thing you would tell a design student / freelancer starting out in the design industry?". ONE THING!? I can think of about a thousand things they need to know. My immediate answer was "Find a different career, designers are never fully satisfied with their work, life can be easier! :)"
So, I took a few moments to think about my actual serious answer and here it is:
Always strive to further your skill set, your experiences, your knowledge and your overall "sellability". What is "sellability"? – well, it’s not an actual word but I like to use it when I speak with students and freelancers trying to get a career in design going, and "sellability" seems to perfectly group all aspects of what I think are extremely important for designers trying to make a living out of playing with pixels and vectors.
"Sellability" is your ability to make money from being a designer. The higher your sellability is, the more successful you will probably be. How do you increase your sellability? Well, you do every thing you can to be ahead of the competition; the guy or girl sitting next to you in University,;the local freelancer down the road.
Here are some ways to do this: (not easy ways, but this isn’t an easy business. Those that think it is are in for a rude awakening.)
- Increased Skill Set : do you only work with print design? Guess what, you are missing out on more work than you actually receive. Everything is online now, and if you don’t understand CSS and HTML, you need to. Right now. Understanding website coding gives you the ability to not only create and control your own online marketing, but it also gives you the ability to provide this as a service to potential clients. When my company receives a new client, they rarely just come to us in need of a newspaper ad design. They almost always require some work online, whether it is a new website, or some touch-ups to their current site.
- Be Likeable/Interesting : obtaining clients and projects is very similar to dating. (no, seriously!). Just like single people looking for someone at a bar, clients look around for different companies/freelancers to do business with. They eventually pick one to move forward with, just like that single person in the pub. A girl can get chatted up by 50 guys in one night, and guess who the one guy is that gets her "real" number….the interesting guy that is likeable and is different than all of the other 49 suiters.As a freelancer/design student/business owner, are you likeable and different than the average designer? What makes you interesting? If you are not sure, you need to figure it out. This will help you to increase the percentage of leads you receive that turn into actual conversions.
- Be Confident : confidence plays a huge part in the success of an entrepreneur. I cannot speak enough about how important it is to be confident in every part of your life. Confidence displays strength, lack of confidence displays weakness. Guess who survives in the jungle….the strong. You may not be the best designer in your area, but then again, who is? Why do you think that? When you speak with potential clients, make them think that you are the best choice for a number of reasons. Especially if you are a design student, you now have the official education to back it up. That should give you the extra confidence to really present yourself and your skills well. Confidence builds trust and when people trust you in business and your career, you will be successful.
- Folio, Folio, Folio : do you feel like your portfolio of design work is a little bare? Invest some hard work and time into increasing the number of pieces in your portfolio. Create fake companies, design things for real companies etc. Anything to get your portfolio more stacked is great, and allows you to really display your ability. Some designers seem to like the No Spec stuff on sites like 99designs.com where they compete in design contests , in the hope to win $100 or so. This will give you real life (sort of) experience, and it will boost your portfolio if you take part in these contests, but many experienced designers do not agree with these contests and what they promote in our industry.
- Be Dedicated : do whatever it takes to get projects completed, and completed well. For the first year of starting my own design company, I could count the hours of sleep I got each day on one hand. Now when I look back on it, I am proud to say that I worked extremely hard to get where I am and to set myself up with a career that I love and always dreamed about. Drive and dedication are key to success. Almost everyone wants to work for themselves, but it is only the ones that have this exceptional passion for success that ever achieve it.If you are trying to make it as a freelancer, or entrepreneur, can you look back at your last year and think to yourself, "Man, I worked my ass off"?
- Be Organized : organization makes it easy to move forward with your goals. Do you have a "To Do" list each day? If not, start doing this each morning, and you will be shocked at how much your productivity will increase. Once the day is over, you will look back and see that you got a lot of work done, and you will feel great knowing that you accomplished the entire list.
- Look for Help : I’m not saying that my own site is a great help for freelancers or design students, but all of the blogs and tutorial websites provide a ridiculous amount of information and guidance to really help you along. Seeing as you found my site, you are probably on the right track with reading information online to do with your career.Here are a few sites that provide excellent information, often relevant to beginners, and freelancers.Spoon Graphic Blog : Chris Spooner | Abduzeedo | CSS Globe | PSDTuts | Web Designer Wall | N-Design Studio | David Airey | Randa Clay | Just Creative Design | Six Revisions | Tracey Grady
Always make sure that when you look back over the previous year, that you can truly and honestly say "Wow, I learned and accomplished so much! I can’t believe how much I have progressed."
Experienced designers, entrepreneurs and successful freelancers, what would be the single most important thing you would tell a design student ? Add your comments below!