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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business

Offering resources to help streamline your home based graphic design and web design business so you can get back to what you do best… Designing!
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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business
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Now displaying: October, 2017
Oct 27, 2017

Do you service a design niche?

According to Lynda Falkenstein, author of Nichecraft: Using Your Specialness to Focus Your Business, Corner Your Market and Make Customers Seek You Out. “Many people talk about ‘finding’ a niche as if it were something under a rock or at the end of the rainbow, ready-made. That's nonsense,” she says “Good niches don't just fall into your lap; they must be carefully crafted.” 

Back in episode 54 of the Resourceful Designer podcast, I talked about what a design niche is and the benefits of working in one. If you haven't listened to that episode yet I suggest you do before continuing. But just to elaborate a bit more on the subject, a design niche and a field are not the same things.

If you specialize in designing for the medical industry you are targetting a field. However, If you specialize in designing websites for dentists, you are targetting a niche within the medical field.

There’s nothing wrong with focusing on a field instead of a design niche. I just want you to know the difference.

And remember, you can do both. Even if you specialize in designing websites for dentists, there is nothing stopping you from taking on a chiropractor as a client. It's ok to have more than one niche or to branch out and take clients outside your niche. It’s your business after all. All of this is discussed in greater detail on this episode of the podcast. Please listen to get the full story.

Now you may be wondering, "If I can work with anyone even though I'm targeting a niche, what’s the point of even having a niche?"

I discussed this in episode 54 but here are the main points of why you may want to have a niche.

  1. It’s easier to identify potential clients.
  2. You become a sought out expert in the niche
  3. You get better referrals within the niche
  4. There will be less competition in the niche
  5. You can have more focused marketing material
  6. Increased chance of repeat business

So how do you choose a design niche to target?

Determining your niche.

What type of client do you want to design for? Be very specific. Identify things like geographic areas, the types of businesses or customers you want to target. If you are not sure whom you want to work with, it will be a lot harder to make contact with them.

The smaller and more focused the design niche is the better your chance of succeeding within it.

Targeting Startup companies may be too broad a niche. But aiming at startup companies that create green, eco-friendly products out of bamboo is a better goal.

Keep in mind that it’s always best to find a niche that you are familiar with and possibly have a passion for. Look at your interests and hobbies. Maybe there’s something there you could target.

Marketing to your niche.

Marketing to a specific design niche is easier than marketing to a non-niche. All of your marketing material, be it your website, brochures, Facebook ads, business cards, can be designed specifically to appeal to that niche, which will make them easier to spot by people within that niche.

Look to see what type of visuals and wording is already being used in your target design niche and structure your marketing material to follow suit.

Present relevant work in your portfolio.

The best way to win over a client is to showcase work that appeals to them.

If your target niche is yoga studios, you don’t want your portfolio to showcase the website and poster you designed for a monster truck show.

If you're going after a niche within the design space such as Logo Design, then you better have some good logo designs to show off. And perhaps remove any unrelated projects such as car wraps and websites from your portfolio. Anything that distracts from your skills at logo design should be minimized.

Remember, you can have more than one design niche, so save that other work for a different portfolio on your website, or better yet, on a completely different website.

You’ll have a much better chance of being hired if you showcase projects that are similar to the niche market you want to work in.

Start promoting yourself.

Now that your marketing material is in line with the design niche you’re targetting it’s time to start promoting yourself.

This is the grunt work that will lead to your success.

Create social media accounts that are consistent with the niche you are targetting. Drop by and introduce yourself to related businesses in your area. Do some research, Invest in some stamps, and mail out brochures, postcards, business cards, to anyone who may be a potential client. This is a great opportunity to use a virtual assistant as I explain in Episode 62 of the podcast: How to use a virtual assistant for your graphic design business.

Find out where people in your target niche meet up and go see them face to face. Imagine a convention for restauranteurs. Everyone there owns a restaurant and is there to learn ways to grow and improve their own restaurant. They may be interested in other attendees but there's little they can actually gain from them. Now imagine you introduce yourself as a graphic or web designer who specializes in marketing for restaurants. That might just garner a bit of attention for you. Especially if your marketing material follows suit.

Start hunting for clients.

There are potential design clients everywhere. In your hometown, across your state or province, and across the globe. All you need to do is look for them.

Find businesses in your targetted design niche that are in need of a rebrand or a new website and approach them. Drop by in person if you can or introduce yourself by phone or email. Explain how you found them, who you are and suggest some ways you could work together to benefit their business.

Don’t alienate them. Focus on what you think is working well with their current material and then suggest ways to improve upon it.

If you start off by critiquing what they are currently using you may turn them off before giving yourself a chance. Especially if they are very attached to their current designs.

Show your interest in your chosen design niche.

To succeed in the niche game, you have to have the knowledge and a general interest in your chosen niche. If you don’t, it will quickly become transparent to your clients.

Remember that one of the benefits of choosing a design niche is to be viewed as an expert in that niche. To be viewed as an expert you need to be able to show your knowledge to potential clients. That’s why choosing a niche you are already familiar with is often your best choice.

Clients would much rather pay premium prices for a specialized designer that already understands their business, their hurdles, their competition, and their target market, instead of having to educate a different designer on all of that.

By showing potential clients how much you know about their industry, you automatically start to align yourself with the company, and they will immediately start viewing you as a valuable asset they want to work with.

Be patient but persistent.

You know the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” well neither will your portfolio of dream clients. It will take time an effort on your part. But if you persevere you will have a much better chance of success.

Just because a client turns you down doesn’t mean it’s the end with them. Some companies, especially very large ones are always changing and developing new strategies and ideas. Keep reaching out to them every few months by showing them projects you’ve done for other clients and asking if they have any projects they would like to discuss with you.

You never know. The time may come when they decide your services are just what they need.

Niche marketing is a constant flux.

Niche marketing is not a fixed approach. There are many different ways to go about finding those dream clients.

Stay flexible for opportunities and listen to client feedback, and then fine tune to discover more and more about what you are passionate about and the best at.

One last thing...

If you are a new designer or a recent design school grad, don't’ worry about it. Create some sample designs within your target design niche that show off your creative skills. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t specifically designed anything in that niche before. As long as you're passionate about it it will show through in your designs.

Do be honest however and indicate that you are showcasing sample projects to show your skills, then replace your sample projects with real ones as you produce them.

How do you market to your design niche?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Florida-Boy

Thank you for all that you share. It helps encourage us that are looking to forward our own business's growth. I'm personally looking to venture into my own business.

I was wondering, you mentioned in a previous podcast that you use a virtual assistant, and they can be used for whatever kinds of tasks you may need them to do...To what extent do you think a lone designer/business owner should be answering the phone or using the virtual assistant to take your calls and/or messages?

Also, how do you balance working/designing with marketing yourself to new clients and taking care of business paperwork all when you are the only person to do everything?

Thank you so much for your response!

To find out what I told Florida-Boy you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Resource of the week Four Week Marketing Boost.

I put this guide together in the hopes to encourage you to look at your own brand and image. The daily tasks in my guide require only 15-30 minute of your time and focus on the parts of your marketing material that are often overlooked or neglected.  After completing this four-week plan you will be in a better position to present yourself to, and win over new clients.

You can download the Four Week Marketing Boost by visiting marketingboost.net. Or, if you are in the U.S.A. you can text the word MARKETINGBOOST to 44222.

Improve your business' image and create the best first impression possible to attract more clients.

Subscribe to the podcast

Subscribe on iTunes
Subscribe on Stitcher
Subscribe on Android
Subscribe on Google Play Music

Contact me

Send me feedback

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

Oct 19, 2017

Is your design life and personal life balanced?

Face it, being a home-based graphic designer is challenging enough without having your design life interrupted by the personal life that surrounds you each and every day.

Not only do you have to deal with clients and deadlines but you also have to deal with family and friends who for some reason think that since you work from home, you must be available whenever they need you.

It’challengingng to say the least.

The problem is When you work from home, not only are you always at home, but you are also always at work. So keeping that work/life balance is not an easy task.

I go into greater detail about all of this in the podcast so be sure to listen. Here are the four tips I discuss to help you maintain some semblance of balance.

Set Boundaries between your personal and design life.

No matter what your family and friends may think, the fact of the matter is even though you are at home, you are still at work. You need to set boundaries for them, so they recognize the difference and ask them to respect your workday.

That means limiting phone calls, pop-in visits, social nudges, requests to go out, etc. Everything they do that can become a distraction from your work.

Divide your living space and workspace

I talked about having your own workspace in episode 88 A Designer’s Home Office Essentials, and I’m going to talk about it again today.

When you are working from home it’s imperative you have a workspace that is separate from your living space. Your dining room table isn’t good enough unless that the only thing it’s used for, and everyone in your household knows it.

Having a separate room with a door is even better. Choose a room or a section of a room specifically to use as your design studio and only use that space for your work.

This is especially important if you have children.

Having a dedicated workspace will accomplish two things:

  • Whenever you enter your workspace, you will know you are at work. You’ll instantly have that work mindset that allows you to focus on the projects at hand. And then, when you get up and leave your workspace you will know you are no longer at work.
  • Having a dedicated workspace will teach your family members to respect your space and your time.

If you’re sitting in the living room with your laptop on your lap, your family doesn’t know if you are working or simply checking out the latest gossip on social media. But if you go into your designated workspace there’s no question about what you're up to.

Even young kids can be taught not to disturb mommy or daddy when they are in their workspace.

Take Breaks

If you worked at an office or agency, you would be reminded to take regular breaks, and you would be given a designated time for lunch.

Don’t forgo these perks just because you’re working from home.

Sometimes, working in isolation can be a distraction in itself for the important things. I’m guilty of this as well. The fact of the matter is, It doesn’t matter how busy you are at work, it's important that you take breaks. Stop for lunch, stop for snacks, stop just to stretch. Get out of the house if you can. Take your dog for a walk. Stand on your front porch or balcony and breath in some outside air. Go out for a coffee if that’s your thing.

Taking breaks is good for you both physically and mentally. It get’s your blood flowing, and it clears your head which helps your creativity.

Enjoy family time outside your design life

Family time is very important. It doesn’t matter if you are still living with your parents, you bunk with a boyfriend or girlfriend or you’re married with kids. 

It’s important that you spend time with the people that are important in your life.

When you’re working from home, it’s very tempting to hunker down and spend as much time as you can on that big project you’re working on. It’s easy to ignore everything that is going on around you. The problem is, it’s not healthy to do so.

You need to leave your office space and live a life outside of your design life.

My working hours are from 9-5, just like if I was working for an agency or design studio. I suggest you do something similar and let your clients know these boundaries. If you have clients in different time zones or around the world, clearly define to them what hours you can be reached by phone or email.

Yes, there will be times that you'll need to burn the midnight oil, and being a home-based designer makes that very convenient, but it should be an exception, not a regular occurrence. Plus, there is no reason for your clients to know what time of day you are working on their projects.

There you have it, balancing your design life and your personal life.

Set boundaries with family and friends, define your workspace, learn to take breaks, and be sure to enjoy your personal life outside of your design life.

If you can remember these four things, you will be a much healthier and happier designer.

How do you balance your personal and design life?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

I don't have a question of the week this week, but I would love to answer yours in a future episode. Submit your question by visiting the feedback page.

Tip of the week Two Factor Authentication

Two Factor Authentication is a simple way to add valuable security to a website. Two Factor Authentication adds one extra step to the WordPress login process making it that much harder for hackers to gain access to the website.

I use iThemes Security Pro for my Two Factor Authentication coupled with the Google Authenticator App (available on IOS and Android). Every time I log into one of my client's websites I'm asked to input a time-sensitive authentication code. I open the App on my iPhone, choose the appropriate client website and retrieve the six-digit code to complete my login. Each code has a lifespan of only 30 seconds so if it takes me too long to enter it on the login screen the login attempt fails and it asks me for another code.

The time sensitivity of the activation codes is what makes Two Factor Authentication so secure. Hackers only have 30 seconds to try and guess a 6-digit code before they have to start again. And that's only after they have successfully guessed the username and password for the site. Hence the added security.

If you have a WordPress website, or you manage your client's websites, I highly suggest you look into some manner of implementing Two Factor Authentication.

Subscribe to the podcast

Subscribe on iTunes
Subscribe on Stitcher
Subscribe on Android
Subscribe on Google Play Music

Contact me

Send me feedback

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

Oct 13, 2017

Have you heard of the Zeigarnik Effect?

I read an article recently about the Zeigarnik Effect. The article I read was aimed at writers and not graphic designers but I found a lot of it relates to what we do as designers.

Here's a quick background on the Zeigarnik Effect in case you've never heard of it before.

Back in the 1920's Psychologist Kurt Lewin noticed that a waiter at a local restaurant remembered all the orders from each table until the bill was paid. Once the bill was paid, he couldn't remember the orders anymore.

Bluma Zeigarnik, a student of Lewin, studied this phenomenon. Her research explored the idea that a task that has been started but not completed creates a task-specific tension in our mind and allows us to focus more clearly on it.

In other words, when you start a task, your mind is set in motion and a tension builds until that task is completed.

This explains why we feel good when we finish some tasks. Finishing things like crossword puzzles, a good book, an exercise routine or a design project brings us a sense of joy and satisfaction.

Get started on that design

You may have never heard of the Zeigarnik Effect, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that when it comes to designing, starting the design is often half the battle.

If you want to design something, the most important thing you can do is start designing it. Even if your ideas are not concrete and you don't know what direction you want to take. By simply putting things down on paper or on a computer you get your mind thinking about it in different ways. This is when the Zeigarnik Effect kicks in, by creating a kind of tension that your mind wants to satisfy so it devotes more power to it, boosting your ideas and creativity. Simply get the ball rolling by jotting down anything and everything you can to start the design process.

Tension accumulates

Sometimes, when we have a lot of design projects to work on we start to feel overloaded. The Zeigarnik Effect states that that overloaded feeling comes from too many unfinished tasks that your mind wants to finish and forget about.

Your brain doesn't really distinguish between the amount of time a task takes. Whether it's emailing a client, finding a stock image, updating a name on a business card, or designing an entire website.

Your brain doesn't know one task requires more time than another, it just knows you have a bunch of things that are not done.

In episode 66 of the Resourceful Designer podcast, I discussed how to Tackle Your To-Do List With Tasks and Projects. In it, I explained how every project can be broken down into either smaller projects or individual tasks. By completing those individual tasks you are able to check off more items from your To-Do list and feel better about yourself. At the time of that episode I hadn't heard of the Zeigarnik Effect, but in hindsight, it's exactly what I was talking about.

Completing a task eliminates the tension associated with it and frees up your mind for other things.

Eliminate tension

If you find yourself with too many things to do, one solution is to simply eliminate some. Get better at ditching, delegating and doing the little things quickly so you have the mental space for the important projects. Tackle the quick items first. Delete unimportant things from your To-Do list. Hire someone such as a Virtual Assistant to take on some of the work for you.

And remember the Zeigarnik Effect. Once a task is completed, or no longer on your To-Do list, your mind is free to forget about it and concentrate its creative juices on the remaining tasks at hand.

Did you know about the Zeigarnik Effect?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Sunil

This is Sunil from India, I have started a design consultancy as a soal-pruner currently. I have boldly dropped my regular job as a senior graphic designer after 12+ years of experience with handling top notch brands on a large scale, from design to execution.

Here’s my question.

Even after serving as a senior Graphics designer and having 12+ years of experience, there is some kind of fear in me that is stopping me to move ahead. Kindly help me in removing/getting out of this barrier of fear to move ahead and also when meeting the clients?

To find out what I told Sunil you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Resource of the week Paparazzi!

Simply put, Paparazzi! is a simple application (Mac only) that allows you to take screenshots of an entire webpage, even the parts not visible in your browser window. Simply enter a URL in Paparazzi! and save the page as a PDF, JPG, PNG or TIFF file. It's as simple as that.

Subscribe to the podcast

Subscribe on iTunes
Subscribe on Stitcher
Subscribe on Android
Subscribe on Google Play Music

Contact me

Send me feedback

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

Oct 6, 2017

What peripherals do you use for your design business?

Peripherals, often forgotten until they are needed, are an essential addition to any graphic design business. In episode 88 of the Resourceful Designer podcast, titled A Designer's Home Office Essentials, I covered some items you should have in your home office. This is kind of a sequel to that episode with a few more things to consider.

I go into more detail on the podcast for each of the following items so be sure to listen for the full story.

UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply)

An Uninterrupted Power Supply, also referred as a UPS is an essential peripheral for your business. A UPS provides a constant steady stream of power for your electronic devices through the use of a rechargeable battery. Think of it as a glorified power bar. Because your computer and other devices are powered via the UPS's battery you don't have to worry about power dips or spikes that may harm your equipment. Even a power outage is not an issue. The battery gives you sufficient time to save your work and power down your equipment in a safe manner.

Surge Protector

If you are not plugged into a UPS, then a surge protector is an absolute must. Most power bars have built-in surge protectors but double check before purchasing one. Surge protectors act as a buffer between a power outlet and your electronic devices protecting them against power surges. Should a surge occur the fuse or breaker in the surge protector will trip saving your devices from harm.

Pantone Color System

A Pantone colour book is essential for a print designer. The ability to choose and match colours is an integral part of our business. Recognized worldwide, using the Pantone colour system ensures you get the perfect printing results every time from every printer.

External Hard Drives

External Hard Drives are another great peripheral to have for your business. They allow for easy backup and storage of less often accessed files. External Hard Drives should not be your only solution for backups. For off-site backups I recommend Backblaze.

Tablets

Many designers use tablets such as iPads, Microsoft Surface, or those by Wacom in their business. If you are a designer who enjoys the hands-on feel of designing then a tablet may be the perfect peripheral for you.

Webcam

Many computers and laptops come with built-in webcams. However, these cameras are not always practical. A USB webcam such as the Logitech HD Pro C920, the one I use, allows you to position the camera at the ideal spot for best picture and lighting.

Powered USB Hub

Peripherals are great, but most computers can only accommodate so many at a time. A Powered USB Hub increases your USB port real estate so you can connect more devices. I suggest a powered port to accommodate multiple devices that draw their power via the USB connection.

Line Gage

A Line Gage can refer to many different tools. The one I'm talking about is a clear piece of mylar or plastic with useful measurement tools printed on it. A line gage allows you to measure things like font size, line spacing (leading), stroke thickness, etc. I designed my own Line Gage years ago and use it on a regular basis. If you want to see what I'm talking about you can download a PDF of my Line Gage and have one made for yourself.

CD/DVD Burner

Sure DVDs are going the way of the dinosaurs, but until they do it might be a good idea for you to have a way to read and burn disks. Some computers have a CD/DVD reader/burner built in, but companies such as Apple have done away with them. USB CD/DVD Burners are not very expensive and are a great peripheral to have on hand should you need it.

Dedicated Phone Number

I talked about phone numbers in episode 7 and episode 14 of the podcast. The fact is, if you are running any sort of business from your home, be it full-time, part-time, or just doing casual freelance jobs, you should have a dedicated phone number for your business. Contact your phone company or look into services such as Google Voice or eVoice and get a business number.

Extra Cables

Don't throw out those old cables when you upgrade your devices. you never know when you may need to connect something to your computer and require one of them. I personally have a box containing many different kinds of connector cables that I can pull out should a client supply me with an external hard drive or camera or whatever.

Computer Glasses

If you wear glasses for reading you may be pleased to know you can get special computer glasses that are specifically adjusted to the distance you sit from your computer screen. These glasses will reduce eye strain as well as back strain from having to lean in towards the screen in order to see it clearly.

You can also get a special coating on the glasses to prevent eye strain by the blue light emitted by computer monitors. This blue light can cause headaches as well as interrupt your sleep if you look at your monitor too close to bedtime.

Inquire wherever you get your glasses if computer glasses are right for you.

What peripherals do you use?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Joseph

I'd like to hear your option on mobile creative devices like the iPad Pro 2 and Microsoft Surface tablets? Do you use one of them and if so how do you use them for design work?

To find out what I told Joseph you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Resource of the week Grammarly

I first purchased Grammarly on a whim over a year ago during some ridiculous sale they were having. It was probably one of the best purchases I've made in recent years. Not a day goes by that Grammarly doesn't help me out.

What is Grammarly? Simply put, it’s a spelling and grammar checker for your computer and web browser. But it’s so much more than that. As they say on their website, Grammarly leaves outdated spelling and grammar checkers in the dust.

Grammarly helps me whenever I fill out online forms, when I'm designing in WordPress and when I'm posting on social media. Anywhere I write, Grammarly is there to make sure I write well.

Grammarly doesn’t only correct, it teaches. It tells you if you are using repetitive words, warns of things like weak adjectives, and so much more. According to their website 85% of people using Grammarly become stronger writers. I've seen it in my writing.

It can be set for American or British spelling and is available for both Mac and Windows.

Subscribe to the podcast

Subscribe on iTunes
Subscribe on Stitcher
Subscribe on Android
Subscribe on Google Play Music

Contact me

Send me feedback

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

 

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