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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: Page 1
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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