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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business

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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business
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Now displaying: April, 2023
Apr 10, 2023

It’s the beginning of spring here in Canada. And with spring comes a desire to put all the messes of winter behind us and clean things up as we prepare for summer. That’s where the term Spring Cleaning comes from.

However, today, I’m not talking about packing away your sweaters and pulling out your shorts. Nor am I referring to cleaning the yard or washing the grime off the windows. Although, it is time to do all of those things. No. I’m talking about doing some spring cleaning of your design business. More specifically:

  • Cleaning Your Computer
  • Cleaning Your Office
  • Cleaning Your Business
  • Cleaning Your Branding

Cleaning Up Your Computer.

Spring is an excellent time to review your computer and see what you can clean up.

Clean up your Backups.

The first thing I suggest is examining your backup strategy. Are you doing everything possible to ensure your important files are adequately backed up? Do you have a good in-house as well as an online backup strategy? The price of hard drives is one thing that doesn’t seem to be affected by inflation. You can get large-capacity hard drives for great prices these days. Paired with Time Machine on Mac or an equivalent solution for Windows or Linux can ensure you always have your backups on hand.

I recommend Backblaze, a much more reliable backup system for online backups than Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive. And priced as low as $65US per year makes peace of mind very affordable.

Speaking of backups. When was the last time you double-checked to ensure your backup files were backing up? You’d hate to have something happen only to discover your most recent backup is months old. Whatever backup strategy you’re using, take a few minutes to ensure the backups are functioning and are current.

Clean up client files.

Clients come and go. So do design projects. After a while, you tend to accumulate a lot of outdated and even redundant files on your computer. Take some time to review your client files and see if you can get rid of anything.

Delete or move files off your computer for any client who isn’t in business anymore. If you want to keep something for nostalgia, keep the finished files which are often smaller. There’s no reason to keep large working files for something you’ll never use again. The same is true for old projects from active clients. If you don’t think you’ll ever need them again, get them off your computer.

And all those stock images files you accumulate. Did you know that once you acquire them from a stock image site, you can re-download them anytime without paying again? So there’s no reason to keep them on your computer.

Clean up your Client List.

One thing that can get out of hand in our business is our client list, especially if you do a lot of one-off projects.

Depending on the system you use to keep track of your clients, you may want to divide them into Active and Inactive categories. It makes managing it much easier if you don’t have to scroll through dozens or hundreds of inactive clients to find the one you’re looking for.

Clean up your email mailboxes.

You may not realize how much hard drive space email takes up, especially in our field, where attachments weigh in at multiple megabytes.

Chances are you save any attachments you receive to their respective client folder. It’s the smart thing to do. But that means you have two copies of that attachment on your computer. One is stored in the client folder, and one is still attached to the email message.

The same goes for attachments you send to clients. On a Mac, a duplicate copy is stored in the Library folder for your mail client. You can easily clean this up by highlighting a group of emails and telling your email client to delete the attachments.

Clean up your Mail Lists.

Another thing you may want to clean up is the email lists you’re subscribed to. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t enter your email anywhere online without being subscribed to some email list. Take a few minutes to see what’s in your inbox that you don’t need, and unsubscribe from them.

If you want to make it easy, look at unroll.me. Sign up to quickly unsubscribe from email lists you’re no longer interested in. And get an easily consumed digest of the ones you want to keep.

Clean up your Fonts.

The next thing you may want to do is clean up your fonts. As of last year, Adobe software no longer supports PostScript version fonts.

If you’ve been in this business for a while, you’ve probably accumulated many PostScript fonts. Since they’re no longer usable, either get rid of them or convert your old PostScript version fonts to OpenType fonts using TransType 4 from FontLab.

Clean up the rest.

You can clean so many other things this spring on your computer. Take a few minutes to review your applications folder and delete any you don’t use. Remove seldom-used icons from your Dock. Cull down your bookmarks. And update any passwords that need updating.

And although it’s not your computer. When did you last take inventory of the apps on your phone? If you’re anything like me, there are probably a few you can eliminate.

Cleaning up your Office.

This one is probably the easiest since it’s mostly visible. Although, in my case, not necessarily the quickest. Look around your office space and see what you can clean.

What do you have on your desk, shelves, and other exposed surfaces? Do you need all of it? There’s a fine line between well-decorated and cluttered. I know. I cross it all the time. That’s why one of my biggest spring cleaning projects this year is cleaning my office.

But it’s not just about what you can see. How well organized are your closets, cabinets and drawers? Do you toss things into them to get them out of sight? If so, now may be the time to go through and organize what you need to keep and get rid of what you don’t.

And, of course, once the clutter is taken care of. A good dusting and maybe washing of windows can help keep your office space as a place you enjoy being in.

Man o man, just looking around my office. I have a lot of work to do this spring.

Cleaning up your Business.

There’s no time like spring to look at your business and see where you can tidy up.

Clean up your Resume.

If working for yourself isn’t your goal, then refreshing your resume is something you may want to look at.

Clean up your Portfolio.

What about your Portfolio? The one on your website, or perhaps Behance or some other online platform? Are the projects you’re showcasing up to your current design skills? If not, take them out and replace them with newer work.

Clean up your expenses.

Is there anything you’re paying for that you don’t use? Now is a great time to look at your expenses and see if you can cut back on unneeded expenditures.

Do you need to pay for all of Adobe Creative Suite if Photoshop is the only application you use? What about your web hosting? Are there better options out there you can move to? BTW, feel free to use my SiteGround affiliate link if you decide to move there. It’s where I host mine and all my clients’ websites.

Look at what you’re paying monthly or yearly and see where you can save money.

Clean up your Branding.

It’s pretty standard for designers to neglect their branding. After all, you spend all day working on other people’s projects. You don’t always have the energy or desire to work on yours. But if you neglect your branding, you may lose out on potential clients.

Take time to review things like your website. Besides the ordinary things like updating themes and plugins, you may want to check for broken links and ensure you’ve done everything you can for SEO.

It’s also an excellent time to review your content. Does the wording need refreshing? Read Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller. It’s a great book to help you compose your brand story.

Is your about page giving the proper impression? For more on creating a great about page, listen to episode 52 of the podcast.

What about your social media profiles or profiles on Upwork, Fiverr or any other platform? Does your profile photo need updating? What about your description? Sometimes a minor tweak can make all the difference.

You’ll feel better after you clean.

So there you have it—Spring Cleaning for Your Computer, Office, Business, and Branding. Of course, there are many more things you can clean. And everyone’s environment is different. But you get the idea. Spring is in the air, and the desire for freshness comes with it. And that can start with a little bit of cleaning on your part.

Ensuring your workspace is a clean and enjoyable place to work and go a long way in helping you succeed. So get cleaning.

Apr 3, 2023

Have you ever thought of turning your design style into a niche? You’re lying to yourself if you say you don’t have one. Every designer has a design style. Even if your design style resembles many other designers, I bet something unique makes you different.

Have you ever thought of how you came by your design style? Did you go to school for design and develop your style from what your teachers taught you? Did you learn your style by following design influencers? There are tons of great designers out there you could follow and learn from. Have you studied the history of design? You know, the Industrial Revolution, Art Nouveau, Bauhaus, Art Deco, Postmodernism, etc., have these periods in design history influenced your style?

Did you come by your style from another artistic endeavour? I know of graphic and web designers who have fine art degrees. I bet that influences how they think about design. Do you sculpt, make pottery, paint, sew, craft or express yourself in any other creative outlet that may appear in your design style? Or maybe something else from your life is reflected in the projects you produce.

There are so many things that can influence your graphic design style. And since no two people are the same, it is understandable that no two designers design the same way. And if you can figure out what makes your style unique, you can carve out a very lucrative business based on it.

What is a design style niche?

I got the idea for this podcast episode after Lauren joined the Resourceful Designer Community. Whenever someone joins my Community, I look at their website and portfolio. It helps me learn where they are in their design journey and how the Community can help them.

Lauren told us when she joined the Community that she has a background as a creative director. So it’s no surprise that her portfolio is top-notch. But what I loved most about perusing through her work is how different it is from mine.

Reading Lauren’s About Me page, I learned that she grew up on the streets of New York City and loves punk, emo and metal music. And I could see that influence in her design style. There’s something edgy and wild about her compositions. And I found myself not just admiring them but studying them, trying to figure out how she did certain things. And trying to imagine her thought process as she worked on each design.

You see, Her design style is foreign to me. It’s not a direction I would ever take on a project. It’s not that it’s wrong, far from it. There’s nothing wrong with her creations. It’s just not in my design repertoire to do something similar.

Sure, I could probably copy it if I needed to. But even though I consider myself an excellent designer. If you gave me a blank canvas, I couldn’t develop something in that style without reference material. At least nowhere near as well as Lauren can. Lauren’s design style is unique to her. And that individual style is something she could niche into.

Creating a design style niche.

I’ve talked about niches on the podcast, but mainly from the point of the clients you target or the work you produce, such as targeting the school branding niche with Craig Burton, where he shared how he’s built a very lucrative business designing logos and other branding material for schools in New Zealand and beyond.

Or how some people, such as Ian Paget of Logo Geek, specialize in designing logos. That’s his niche, and he’s widely known for it in the UK.

I’ve shared how I knew a designer who designed websites exclusively for dentists and was killing it. I know another designer who only designs rock and metal band T-Shirts, and he’s in high demand. These are all niches. And as the saying goes, the riches are in the niches.

When you niche down, people automatically start viewing you as an expert in your niche and are willing to pay more for that expertise. That’s precisely what I’m doing with my Podcast Branding business. I specialize in the podcast niche, and people recognize me.

But what if you turn your design style into a niche instead of going after a specific target market or focusing on a particular design project? Lauren could easily promote herself as a designer specializing in punk/grunge-style design. I don’t know if that’s the right word for her style, but you get the idea.

Maybe you like creating futuristic-looking designs, something very robotic or technical. You could embrace that style and promote it. Or what if you have a very illustrative style? Andrew, another member of the Resourceful Designer Community, is a great illustrator, and it’s reflected in his portfolio.

These days, strong yet feminine styles are in high demand. And although I’ve created some strong feminine pieces before, I’m probably not the first designer people think of for that design style. What about specializing in a country-western design style? There’s a big call for that in certain areas.

I mentioned Craig Burton earlier of School Branding Matters, he’s based in New Zealand, and the New Zealand culture surrounding him heavily influences his design style.

How about retro? There are always people wanting a 50s, 60s or 70s style look.

And sure, clients could always ask their regular designer to design something in one of these styles. I’ve done country-western, robotic-tech, 1960s and 70s looks, and even strong feminine designs. But none of them are a specialty of mine, and I don’t feel natural designing in these styles. If a designer isn’t comfortable with a style, they won’t produce work as good as someone specializing in it.

But what if the client doesn’t have a regular designer and is looking for one online? Imagine someone typing “country-style graphic designer” into Google. Or “Retro vintage designer.” If that’s your niche style, there’s a good chance you can rank for that term, and that client will find you. And when they realize you specialize in exactly what they’re looking for, they have no reason to continue their search.

What I’m saying is if you can figure out your unique style and it’s something you want to lean into. You could start marketing yourself as a specialist in that design style. It’s another way of niching.

Combining Niches.

What if you combine some of my previously discussed niche ideas with this one? Imagine setting yourself up as a logo designer specializing in retro-style logos. Or a web designer who specializes in punk or grunge-style websites? What about a poster designer who specializes in a country western look?

If you can corner a particular niche, you can find yourself in high demand and could charge prices reflecting your specialty. By segmenting yourself, you automatically become an expert in your niche to those seeking your skills.

You may be saying, but Mark, I don’t want to be pigeonholed into one niche. I want to be able to work on different types of projects. To that, I say nothing is stopping you from doing that.

If a non-school related client approached Craig Burton saying they admire his style and want to hire him, he wouldn’t say, “you’re not a school, so I can’t work with you.” Of course not. I know Craig, and I’ve seen him create some amazing non-school-related pieces.

Just because you target a niche doesn’t mean you are stuck doing only that type of work. Look at me. I started Podcast Branding in 2019 as a side gig to go after the podcast niche. However, I’m still running my other business, Marksman Design which isn’t niched.

And even within the Podcast Branding side of my business, I’ve done non-podcast-related projects. One of my biggest Podcast Branding clients is a podcaster. That’s how they heard about me. But he didn’t need anything regarding his podcast. Instead, he hired me to design a website for his company that is entirely separate. In this case, a client heard of me through the podcast space. He liked what I did and trusted me enough to work on something non-podcast-related.

So you can always create a second company for a particular niche. Or start a second brand and work as a DBA as I do. I run Podcast Branding as a division of my other design business Marksman Design.

How to attract clients in a niche.

So let’s say you decide to pursue this option of entering a niche. Be it a target market, particular design pieces like logos, posters or t-shirts, or a niche using your design style. How do you go about attracting clients? It all comes down to portfolio 101. Showcase the type of work you want to work on.

If you claim to be in the country-western niche, you’ll confuse clients if your portfolio contains high-tech and art deco-looking projects. No matter how well those projects turned out, they have no space in your portfolio.

I mentioned how my work for my biggest Podcast Branding client isn’t about podcasting. That’s why you won’t find any of it on my website because it’s irrelevant to clients looking for someone to help with their podcast’s visual needs. If you want to start a niche in the retro logo design space, all your portfolio pieces should be logos with a retro look.

The next thing to do to attract clients is to network within your niche. Let people in that niche know who you are and what you do.

I go to podcast conferences because that’s where my target market is. I talk and hand out business cards to as many people as possible. The more people in my niche who know what I do, the better my chances of getting clients.

On my order form, I ask clients how they heard about Podcast Branding and me. On an order I received this week, the client mentioned hearing about me from someone I’ve never heard of. That can only happen because of networking.

Remember, it’s not who you know that will help grow your business. It’s who knows you. And in this case, someone out there knew enough about me to pass my name on to someone who needed my services.

So if you’ve ever considered niching but didn’t know what direction to take, you may want to consider looking at your design style. Embrace whatever makes your design style unique. You may be sitting on a great niche idea people seek.

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