April 5, 2024No Comments

Career paths: how do you qualify?

There are so many ways to get a career in design, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that you just need the formal qualifications to be a good designer. It’s absolutely possible to be good at design without any qualifications at all. Like with everything, everyone learns differently, and I think it’s important to find the right path for you, whether that’s traditional or not.

With this in mind, I wanted to explore how graphic designers can start a career – whether they choose university or not.

Embrace Your Creativity and Passion

I’ve often tried to explain to people that the bottom line is that you just need to be a good designer. It doesn’t matter what official qualifications you have or what other jobs you’ve had—if you’ve got a passion and willingness to learn, great, and if you’ve got ‘that thing’ too, you’re already halfway there.

Many successful designers have started their careers simply because they love to create. It just starts with that spark and grows from there.

Take time to explore your creativity, experiment, put ideas on paper, and try something different. The more you immerse yourself in the creative process, the more you refine your skills and develop a unique style.

Build a Strong Portfolio

Let me share how often I’ve been asked for evidence of my formal qualifications. None. Most people don’t care about that—instead, they’re looking for something to show I can do the right job for them.

Your portfolio is your resume. It showcases your skills, style, and creativity to potential clients. The key is to showcase your best work, the kind of work you love, and give potential clients an idea of how you could do the same for them.

Like me, most designers nowadays have an online portfolio on their website, making it easy for people to see what they’re about. If your client projects are scant or you’re just starting out, I’ve seen plenty of designers use personal projects to great effect. I did something similar with my book TenYrsLater and am still doing it with a new set of projects underway.

Network and Collaborate

Something I always advocate is getting to know other designers. There’s often this belief that creative people must carefully guard their circle, for fear of their ideas and work being stolen. That rarely is the case, and in fact, I think it’s important to network and collaborate with other designers. Sharing ideas and supporting others has huge benefits and works wonders for your mental health during tough times.

If you work alone, as many creatives do, just having a few trusted peers to call on for guidance is always helpful. Don’t think of them as competitors but as a support network.

Embrace Continuous Learning

Graphic design is constantly evolving, with new trends, technologies, and techniques emerging all the time. To stay relevant, we must embrace lifelong learning. Whether mastering new software, checking out design trends, or honing our skills in specific areas, always seek knowledge and improvement.

If you find online resources, workshops, webinars, or even formal courses beneficial, take advantage of them. Stay curious, adaptable, and willing to step out of your comfort zone to grow as a designer.

Remember, your journey as a graphic designer should be unique; don’t be afraid to break the rules.

January 10, 2024No Comments

How to build a great graphic design portfolio that will get you noticed

The portfolio is one of the greatest tools in a graphic designer’s arsenal. It’s probably the most challenging piece of work you own – above your initial online branding, social media, and website content – and provides solid proof of your work to date, insight into your processes, and personal perspective.

Your design portfolio tells your prospects what value you can add to their brand and why they should work with you above your competitors.

Having said that, it can be easy for designers to overlook the importance of their portfolio and end up with a bland and generic document that falls flat and puts the hard work of prospecting back on us. If you spend the whole meeting explaining your portfolio, then it definitely needs work. Your portfolio should speak for itself and do the hard work for you.

So, what should be in your portfolio, and what should you do to make sure that it’s as functional and tailored as it needs to be? I’ve gathered some information from advice I’ve been given and personal insights I’ve learned over my career.

Treat your portfolio as a project.

How many of us have been guilty of this – completing a project and ‘bunging it in’ to our portfolio? We end up with a mash-up of past projects, not particularly in any order, shoehorned in, and with no proper narrative or context.

So many designers end up frustrated because their portfolio simply isn’t working for them. After all, they haven’t put the time and effort into making it good.

We should spend a decent amount of time curating a working portfolio that can be updated with our best work and easily tailored to each prospect. Our portfolio is (and should be) an ongoing, evolving project that needs time and effort to make it work hard for us.

As with all of our marketing efforts, our portfolio should be an actual project; treat your design business as you would a client and put care and time into it.

Present your best work – leave the rest.

A great piece of advice I was given recently is this: your portfolio is not a slideshow. It is a narrative.

I love that. Sure, you can absolutely show your story through your portfolio – but you don’t need to show every piece of work, and in my experience, you shouldn’t. Only showcase the projects that stand out to you and highlight the work you want to be known for. Many of us have the ‘bread and butter’ stuff that, while it is more than worthy of note, is rather generic. Some of that stuff can be left out to make space for the real show-stoppers, which will absolutely wow the prospects we are targeting.

Choose pieces with a reason to be there and show your perspective and what value you brought to the project. Let people see your thought process and what went into making it. If the piece is too hard to write about or doesn’t inspire you, then it won’t inspire your prospects, either, and it’s likely that it doesn’t belong in your portfolio.

If you haven’t done the work you love, create it.

How often do we actually assess our design careers and think seriously about how we want to progress? Often, we get swallowed up in the day-to-day busyness, and we become stagnant. That can be a hard place to be.

Sometimes, our portfolio no longer reflects our ambition, and we find that the projects we are doing no longer inspire. So, what happens if we discover that the path we are on isn’t making us happy? What if we want to work on different types of projects from those we are doing, but we can’t show that through our portfolio because we haven’t done those projects yet?

If you’re at the start of your career or are looking to move in a different direction, this could be the best way to do it.

What about you? Is your portfolio up to scratch? Does it work in bringing you new projects? Let me know.

November 14, 2023No Comments

If nobody knows you’re there, they can’t hire you.

Practise what you preach as a design agency.

It’s common to feel a bit stuck in business sometimes – I’ve experienced it recently, and it can be difficult to see your way out of it. I often find that I get lost in the client work I’ve got on my desk, and when I look up from my screen, I realise that the pipeline has dried up because I’ve put off doing any form of our own marketing. I’m sure that sounds familiar…

On the wall of my studio, I have a list to help me focus. The first item on it is ‘nobody has heard of us’. We often overlook this point, don’t we? But it’s possibly the one thing we need to remember to get ourselves to focus again. By getting around the problem of visibility, other elements often fall into place from that.

The fear of visibility

If nobody knows you’re there, they can’t hire you. But the thought of showing ourselves online (or offline) can make us feel vulnerable. We’re told all our lives, aren’t we, not to show off, to blend in, to conform…but in business, you can’t afford to hide behind that. As hard as it is, getting in front of new people is essential. By hiding, we are simply trying to run a shop with the lights off. And people will pass us by.

To remind ourselves that ‘nobody has heard of us’, our minds can start to think of ways out of it. How can we make sure that people do get to know about us? How can we be visible…today…right now?

As designers, it’s strange that we spend our working days creating stuff that makes other people more visible – yet many of us are terrible at doing it for ourselves!

Research other designers

I first wrote ‘research competitors’ on the list, but that’s wrong. Thinking of other designers as our competitors can be a huge mistake – I’d like to think of them as ‘peers’ (though ‘collaborators’ would be better). Other designers are important to our success, whether we realise it or not. We’re all in the same boat.

Even if you are not in the position to speak to industry peers (I can strongly recommend you do), a really useful exercise is to have a good look at how they’re making themselves visible. What social channels do they use? Do they post every day? How often do they comment on other posts? How often do they blog? Do they have a mailing list? All of these can serve as inspiration and get the ideas flowing.

To take that a step further, reach out to them and ask! I can guarantee many of them will happily tell you what’s worked for them and give you some pointers.

Let your work speak for you.

I used to feel nervous about this – but a lot of my clients are happy for me to share some of the work I’ve done for them online. Sure, you can put it in your portfolio, but people might not get to see it unless you’re asked for it. Sharing it on social media or via a newsletter can really push it so that people can see firsthand what you do.

Some designers like to share images or stories of works-in-progress, another good way to share the value you give to your current clients. Something different like this can also make you stand out and get great feedback.

‘Consistency’ is a bit of a buzzword at the moment, but I think it’s essential to keep some momentum going. If you allow yourself to get too busy and stop being visible, people forget about you.

If the subject of visibility has been something you’ve struggled with as a designer, let me know. How did you get out of it?

October 3, 2023No Comments

A future for the design industry?

Whether you’re already in the design industry or are a design student, you must have come across the news about government cuts within the arts sector. It’s been rumoured for a couple of years, although right now, as we’re in the midst of it, there’s more and more concern over what this will mean for us and the future of design.

In short, courses for the arts will be subject to a massive 50% cut in funding. That will mean that the variety of courses will be diminished, and resources will be harder to come by – and many colleges and universities will be forced to remove classes from their curriculum altogether.

While the future of design may be uncertain, all this did get me thinking about how things have already changed – design is constantly evolving, and perhaps this is just another change we will need to adapt to? I wanted to share some of my views – and experience - about where my design journey began and where things might be heading.

How designers used to work 

‘Online’ wasn’t really such a big deal when I started in design. It existed in some alternative, far-off way, but not many businesses were up to speed with it. People used to fax each other, which was about as technical as things got. Back then, we spoke on the phone.

Running a design studio before the internet was a different animal. If you wanted people to see your work, you had to have a physical portfolio, which you took to meetings. It took a lot of time and effort but also made building a rapport with clients much more straightforward. In that respect, we’ve both gained and lost something.

The truth is marketing and the design process, in general, have been made much more efficient since those days. Still, the changes in technology have also made the industry much more saturated, easier to access to most people, and made it seem ‘easy’. But this also means that design has been somewhat lost as a professional skill and appears to be more of a hobby, something that everyone can learn to do. And I think that’s a dangerous thing.

The internet years

Undoubtedly, the introduction of the internet has changed a lot for our industry over the last couple of decades. Before the ’90s, when I was in university, most design was print-based. Most marketing was done via printed advertising, flyers, posters, etc. And that’s a very different skill to designing for online media.

A large proportion of a designer’s time now is spent on websites and digital media – and that’s reflected in the types of higher education courses available. Perhaps that’s why more students are opting for the arts and less in the sciences now – is it perceived as the attractive, easier option? Everyone has access to the online world, making design seem so much more accessible to people. There are plenty of new programs and apps to aid design – and marketing – it might seem like easy money.

We can showcase our work online with a ‘set it and forget it’ web page and manipulate it to serve our needs.

What technology isn’t able to do, though, is come up with real, human ideas. We still need our brains to do that – and that’s the skill formal education is vital for. And that brings us nicely back to our original point, right? Those pending government cuts and what they could actually mean for us.

How could the cuts affect us as designers?

According to government statistics, our country needs more people to do jobs like nursing, science, teaching, and other skills to keep the economy (and humankind) running to its best. To address this problem, they need to put more resources into attracting new students to study for those jobs, taking resources away from more oversaturated courses, arguably the arts. That includes music, classical arts, photography and film, and, of course, design.

I’ve visited a couple of universities over the past couple of years, and I was astonished at the number of design students that will be released into the industry. I saw the sheer oversaturation for myself, so I can appreciate the issue the government are facing. Still, while the cuts will solve that in the short term, over time, it will mean that we will have a massive shortage of people who can do those jobs well.

Will AI triumph in that case? I certainly hope not! Perhaps we will see an influx of ‘imported’ design, done fast and cheap. What a grim thought…

Of course, these are just my ramblings. Your view may be different. But things are set to change, and I don’t see it being for the better. Feel free to share your thoughts on the subject – let’s hear your views.

August 9, 2023No Comments

Stop Comparing Yourself To Other Designers

Since rebranding the studio, I have to admit that we’ve fallen into a bit of a rabbit hole…

There’s no shortage of advice – online and off. First, Let me share some of the gems I get into my inbox and social feed daily.

‘How to pick up 10 clients in 10 minutes.’
‘Funnel your social media.’
‘How you should be engaging on LinkedIn.’
‘Daily posts for your social media.’

It’s so easy to get sucked in – and I’ve been in the design game for years. I can only imagine how overwhelming it can be for someone just coming into this industry.

The trouble is, though, with so much conflicting advice, which elements should we believe? Is there even a correct path when it comes to marketing a design agency? I’m not so sure.

Why all advice isn’t good advice

There are a lot of ‘experts’ online who are more than willing to share their opinions with you. And across social media – particularly on LinkedIn – people know that most people on the network are there to try and get more business. It’s a natural hunting ground for those who have established themselves as experts in business growth, and those people will quite happily churn out post after post giving advice on how you should market your business and why you should hire them to help you do it.

Yes, everyone’s got an opinion, but although some might be really good (or at least well-intentioned), it might not necessarily be the right advice for you.

We’re all different – a quick search will show you the sheer diversity of designers online. We have completely different styles, skill sets, client types, design ideas, software preferences, and levels of introversion… so none of us can fit into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to our marketing.

Some designers thrive in face-to-face networking events, and some hate them. Some designers do social media beautifully, while others don’t really ‘get it’. The trick is to find a marketing style that works for you – and excel at it.

How to find your own path

Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on your own strengths, achievements and goals. Only you know what you’re good at – that might be creating great stuff online, or it might be networking in person. If you’re uncomfortable in networking, no matter how much you force it, you’re never going to get clients from doing that. But if you’re naturally good at persuading people that you’re the best designer in your niche, then that’s what you should focus on.

Something else to consider is where are your perfect clients? This is particularly important if you’re marketing online – you might be chucking everything at posting every day on Twitter (or whatever it’s called these days!) when your clients are all over on LinkedIn, or they might not be on social at all, but be favouring local networking events in your town or city. Maybe they are looking for designers via an online directory for your industry, or they might be sitting there waiting for you to email them so they can hire you for their new website design or rebrand. Find common ground between your preferred marketing techniques and where your perfect clients will most likely be searching for you, and you’re onto a winner.

Show, don’t tell.

Here’s a little bit of advice that really is useful, though. Remember to let your design speak for itself, whatever approach to marketing you choose. You can tell people what a great designer you are until you’re blue in the face, but they won’t believe you unless you can show them your work. So don’t be afraid to do that.

How do you stay calm when thinking about your own marketing?

July 31, 2023No Comments

Freelancer vs Studio

Marketing yourself as a freelancer vs a studio/agency

Here’s a question: how did you decide whether to run things as a freelancer or a design studio?

This is something I’ve often pondered, and the subject was raised again recently by a friend of mine, where we discussed the pros and cons of both options. Perhaps you’re reading this because you are trying to make the decision yourself or thinking about changing your growing business. For what it’s worth, here are some of the thoughts and ideas that emerged from that conversation.

How building a studio is different to freelancing

&Something Studio, and its previous incarnation as Severn Agency, were born due to a breakdown in partnership of an earlier business I owned with a friend. When we went our separate ways, I decided that I wanted to protect my ‘agency’ status – partly because it felt safer and more familiar, but also because I believe that it gives me more freedom in many ways.

But I’m skipping ahead – let me explain what the differences I see are between the two.

As a freelancer, you’re pitching yourself as an independent consultant. This means that when people hire you, they hire an individual designer and know they are getting a bespoke and personal service from one person who can get under the skin of their brand. If a designer operates as a freelancer, generally, they can have more freedom to pick and choose the kind of work they take on, be a specialist in a niche role or that safe pair of hands who can deliver, handle clients, understand how things work and help relieve the pressure in someone else’s busy studio.

However, while the studio set-up can be operated (like in my own case) by an individual designer, it also allows you the freedom to create an entity. I suppose it’s more a case of consumer perception, but marketing yourself as a studio, or an agency, gets more kudos from some people. When I introduce myself as &Something Studio, the initial perception is that I’m part of a bigger team, which gives the impression that I’m a ‘proper’ business and not just one person who designs websites and stuff.

Is a studio better than working as a freelancer?

I don’t mean to downplay the freelance option by any means – and I’ll openly admit that I have pitched myself as a freelancer, even under my current guise on occasion, if the brand I’m pitching to determines it. I never pretend to my clients that I’m anything more than an individual designer. My decision to brand as a studio is more about how I wish to market my business, work directly with the type of client I seek, and the opportunity to grow and bring in additional help when the need – or the scope of my business – arises.

If I’d chosen to work as a freelancer, my feeling is that my growth would be (perhaps) a little more stunted, as if in my future I wish to expand and bring in more people, then having a studio name makes that process much more straightforward. They’d become employees of &Something – and I wouldn’t have to completely reinvent myself or start from scratch under a different name.

I’m also an introvert by nature, so the ability to shelter myself behind the wall of my studio feels much safer.

All that being said, though, I enjoy the flexibility of the protection from my studio name while connecting with my clients on such an individual and personal level. Despite my brand status, in the day-to-day, I often think of myself as a freelancer, and I like the additional opportunities my situation affords me.

How does marketing as a studio differ from freelancing?

It’s all about perception. A studio or agency can operate under a protective umbrella, using ‘we’ in its branding. ‘We’ sounds like you’re part of a bigger team, giving clients the impression of an established, bricks-and-mortar business.

Like it or not, freelancers are sometimes seen as less knowledgeable, less professional, or jack-of-all-trades and often work much harder to establish themselves and build trust. The confidence and ability to build a solid personal brand is essential; they must be the face of the business and be able to show themselves as an individual personality.

What are your thoughts on the freelance vs studio debate?

July 4, 2023No Comments

Designers: What’s your pitch?

When I started out, marketing ‘online’ was still in its infancy. We didn’t really have any of the social networking sites that are abundant now – Facebook was for students, we chatted people up on MSN or spied on people from school on Friends Reunited; most business was still done the old-fashioned way. Print and traditional advertising were still kings.

I’m not talking very long ago here, but even up through the ’90s and early ’00s, much of the online space, as far as business was concerned, was untapped. It was emerging, but most companies weren’t really switched on to it.

All of the initial information we had when we set up our businesses back then came from Prince’s Trust, NatWest, the FSB etc. – guidance was as dry as yesterday’s toast, extremely generic and already becoming a tad outdated. And besides, we were young, vibrant new business owners – we didn’t want to be told how to do things. There were already clients on our books – we didn’t need to promote ourselves. That was until we did…

How marketing a design agency has changed

In my last position, we had no online presence – from 2000 onwards, we managed for over 12 years without a website! We relied on return business from just one client and word of mouth now and again for others; things just plodded along. I was starting at the very beginning this time, and I needed to build from nothing.

If you think about it today, every purchase we make is first researched online. We seek out reviews before we go and see a film. We rely on stuff we see on our Facebook feeds to tell us which brands to trust. Online stores like Amazon back up every single item with a host of reviews – and if those reviews are negative, we can easily walk away and find a better option.

Pretty much every brand relies on having a strong online following to do well – and if you don’t have a website or at least a decent social following, you simply don’t get seen. But more than that, you need to present your brand with confidence – and to do that, you need to be able to answer the question…

“What do you do?” (What’s your pitch?)

It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at; this question will come up frequently. And whether that happens at a business group or a social event, you’d better have an answer because you never know where a new client might come from. That guy you meet in a coffee shop who asks what you do might seem like a casual encounter – but he might own the business down the road and be looking for your services. Having a quick, snappy pitch ready to go can be the difference between winning business and not.

I’m not exempt – I’ve fallen into this trap a million times myself. That rabbit-in-headlights response of “Oh, I design websites and stuff…”, which falls out of my mouth and makes me feel like an amateur. Becoming clear on what I do, who I serve, and my experience makes me unique (and you, too!); delivering the words confidently is the hardest part.

The secret of a good mission statement is not to think about what you do but how what you do helps people. Telling someone that you design websites, for example, while truthful, sounds generic. If you can find a way to phrase it to showcase the value of what you do, then people will see what’s in it for them.

On the surface, yes, you design websites, but from the client’s perspective, your knowledge of how to create websites that will convert and bring business and money through their door is what will grab their interest.

Focus on your unique offering – that might be that you have specific knowledge of their industry or that you specialise in a niche style. Use that in your mission statement, and the next time someone asks what you do, you can easily answer without stumbling.

Points to cover in your mission statement

I’m not talking about writing a long, 10-page report here; a mission statement should convey what you’re about in a short and concise way. It might just be a couple of sentences or one or two paragraphs. However you choose to present it, try to find a few highlights that best describe what you offer so that you can refer to those when talking to prospects.

Here are some points to get started with:

  • Your purpose – what do you do, and why does it matter?
  • Your USP – what makes you different from other designers/agencies?
  • Your Goals – where is your business heading? What does the future hold?
  • Who do you serve – do you have a specific client or industry in mind?

I hope this article was helpful. If you would like guidance on anything design-related, drop me a comment.

February 3, 2023No Comments

Into 2023…

…the year of change

My last post inspired me to talk more about my goals and plans for &Something going into 2023. In truth, it's easier to give advice than to follow it – and that's something I'll try to focus on much more this year.

You see, for a while now, I've felt like I've hit a plateau in my design business. While I recognise that I've worked on some amazing projects over the past few years, I also need to step up and allow the business to move forward somehow. I've outgrown the current model, but I've been trying to figure out the next logical evolution for a long time.

I've got myself stuck in a cycle of taking jobs that I feel comfortable with, the kind that I like and know. It's a dangerous place where my mind is telling me, "It pays the bills; you need this." It's where I feel safe, but it doesn't always excite me.

It wasn't until I spoke to a designer friend about my thoughts that I realised that this feeling of stagnation ran so deep. I started questioning myself, and then I sat down with him and asked him what he thought I should do about it. That meeting was a game-changer. A giant neon lightbulb flashed on, and I felt optimistic for the first time in ages. And now, I have a plan.

The story so far

I live and work in a fairly small, well-established market town on the English-Welsh border. I've mentioned in several of my posts before that it can be challenging to have a creative agency in a place like this because it's not a city, it's not near London, and there are very few, if any, large corporate businesses here.

Despite the issues, though, I like the sense of community here. And I enjoy the opportunity to work so closely with the businesses that thrive here. Many of the businesses I've worked with over the years have become friends, and I've been able to get involved in all sorts of things that I wouldn't necessarily have done anywhere else.

For a small town, it is diverse. There are a lot of little boutique businesses, as well as the better-known high-street brands, and so I've been lucky that I've got to work with some interesting people.

But the downside is that it's difficult to break out of this community. No one gets to hear much about a small studio like mine in places like Birmingham, Manchester, or London. That's where the bigger places are, and there are much bigger fish in their pools.

So my bread-and-butter tends to come from the businesses around my location, and they are predominately looking for branding projects such as logo design and websites. And while I enjoy getting involved in those, it's hard to find stuff that stretches my wings.

Getting good advice

Those already following me might remember that I changed my business name last year. Looking back, that was another sign that I was craving something more. I'd already started to recognise that I needed to evolve, and this was the one thing I could control – by rebranding.

I also knew that I couldn't make any serious changes on my own. I've always tried to maintain relationships with other designers, but asking for help? That's a whole different ballgame, isn't it? Though I knew that's exactly what I'd have to do if I wanted to make changes. I needed help deciding how to use my marketing knowledge to promote my own business growth. So I took a deep breath, and I reached out to someone I knew and trusted – more so, who I admired – and had already achieved some of the growth I wanted for my own business.

He was good enough to listen to my woes and willing to advise me on how he'd approached things from the start. He talked me through the obstacles and how to push through them. The most important advice was to be patient. Marketing, the way he'd described it, is a long game. Things aren't going to happen today or next week. Probably not even next month. But you have to remain consistent, and, in time, you will get results.

Patience and consistency. That's the hard part, isn't it?

Moving forward

There's a lot of noise online about knowing your audience and niching and all that stuff. Yes, I recognise that marketing has changed – it's no longer about the hard sell (which is great because I dread that) and more about being where your ideal client is and giving consistent value. It's all about building community and sharing. I know all that – but how do you do it?

My first task is to find the right platform. My focus will be LinkedIn because I already have a following, and I realise that the type of people I want to connect with are there, too.

The next challenge is to make more effort to interact…

This part I've always found hard – posting valuable content. I'll put more effort into sharing my work, views, and vision about the things I'm interested in. For example, I'd love to be involved in larger projects – not just on paper or screen but actual places, environments and exhibitions, etc., and more or the enjoyably challenging jobs that came in last year.

I already have experience on a smaller scale that I can talk about. Perhaps I haven't pushed those projects enough? How much is too much?

This is a reminder to myself – but I hope you can find value in it too. Now I have this roadmap to follow; I'm hoping that I can maintain it:

  • Keep things simple by using one central platform.
  • Connect with the right people.
  • Be useful with my content – post stuff that lets people learn about what I do and who I am.
  • Build community – make an effort to talk to people, like and share.

What about you? Can you add anything to this? I'd love to hear about your experiences (and pick up more tips).

January 10, 2023No Comments

Using goal-setting to get the right work

I don’t want to sound like a cliché here, but as we start a new year, it’s hard not to think about goal-setting. Of course, it’s important to set and review our business goals at various points in the year, but it feels kind of fitting to align new goals with the start of a new year, doesn’t it? So, cliché or not, I’d like to put some thoughts on paper about how I’m setting new goals to focus my marketing efforts as a graphic designer. Sharing some ideas on how and why I think it’s important to set goals so we can get more of the work we really want to do and less of the work we don’t necessarily enjoy.

I’m sure you can relate to this, particularly if you’ve been in graphic design for as many years as I have – feeling like you’re at a crossroads. A point where you’ve spent so many years taking any viable project that comes your way and being convinced that you have to do that because you need it to build a well-rounded portfolio and get enough money rolling in.

Is that the point of this gig, though? I know from my experience I had something else in mind. I want to win projects that excite me. Yet it never quite ends up that way. I’ve been here long enough to know which projects I’ve done that have really got under my skin. I can so easily tell you about the designs that have been so perfect that I’ve enjoyed doing above all others. So why am I not chasing more of those perfect projects? And why aren’t you?

Why bother with goals?

I know – creativity is mainly about spontaneity and creative inspiration. It seems to go against what we do to; make plans and goals. And yes, in the creative sense, it does, but I’m talking about setting future goals to get the work that allows us to tap into our natural creativity.

We’ve all had those jobs, haven’t we? The ones where it feels as though we’re wading through treacle. The inspiration is hard to cling to because we’re, in all honesty, not that passionate about it. And that’s not what we signed up for, right?

By setting goals, we can pinpoint those ideal jobs and find ways to seek them out.

Steps to finding the right projects

  1. The first goal to consider is the type of projects we want to work on. I think the simplest way to do that is to look back at your current portfolio and reflect on what’s in there. Which projects stand out? What was it about those projects that made them enjoyable? Was it the style? The client? The niche industry?

This will give you clues about who you want to target to get more of those jobs.

  1. Secondly, go back and find out where those clients came from. Did they find you through your website or social media? Did you contact them? See if there are any patterns to where those people came from.
  2. Now you’ll have an idea of the kinds of projects you’d like to do more of and the type of clients you’re most happy working with. 
  3. Now, you’ll want to think about exactly where you need to focus, given the information you gathered in points 1 and 2. If most of those ‘perfect’ clients seemed to come from LinkedIn, double your efforts there. If they seem to trickle through from your email newsletters, then that’s where you need to put most of your energy. On the other side, if you’ve been doing loads of work on one of those or on something else with no return – stop doing it!

Relationship building 

One of the things I’ve become aware of is that I need to focus on looking for people rather than projects. Because although I have a good idea of the types of projects I want, I know from past experience that it’s most often a particular type of client that makes my work most interesting.

Although I do a fair bit of cold marketing, I often get good results from online sources, such as my website, blog, social media, and LinkedIn. From my perspective, putting more effort into those going forward makes more sense. It might be different for you, so it’s a good idea to dig into it.

But throwing out social media posts and blogs, while important, is only part of the whole picture. Because what we really need to be doing is building relationships on our chosen mediums. For me, that means actually seeking out and talking to the kinds of people I want to work with via LinkedIn etc. I’m now starting to spend more time reading people’s posts and taking the time to reply and comment – striking up conversations. Sometimes, that’s potential clients, and sometimes, design and marketing agencies that could potentially outsource or collaborate.

The point is if we don’t think about our goals, who we want to work with, and the direction of our business, we can so quickly end up just…plodding.

How about you? Have you set any new goals recently? Are you using those goals to grow your business, find more niche projects, or maybe change direction altogether?

November 12, 2022No Comments

Pitching; yes, no, maybe sometimes…

Pitching for work, when/how/should you do it?

I recently saw an interesting ad on Facebook asking spot of pitching to be made for a rebranding project. It was for a cultural organisation currently undergoing a refurb and seeking designers to help them rebrand once they re-open to the public.

The organisation asked designers to ‘pitch’ for the project, providing a written response to the brief, along with some background and budget. It got me thinking about how often designers seek out pitching opportunities rather than firing shots in the dark – which is what cold pitching feels like sometimes.

My questions then, I suppose, are: when should designers pitch for projects, should we be seeking the opportunities out, and when should we say no?

What is pitching?

Pitching has always been around in design, and if we’re not careful, it can mean getting ripped off if designs need to be submitted from the off. I always avoid those like the plague, especially if they expect it for free.

What I’m talking about here, though, is when designers are asked to submit an outline for the project, as was requested in the ad I mentioned above.

From the organisation’s point of view, they’re seeking several ideas as to what a designer might be able to bring to their rebranding. They ask for ideas that represent the direction they want – thinking about structure, tone, and overall voice of the place – as well as the type of demographic of their audience.

By having many designers submit their ideas, they get a taste of what those designers can bring to the project and can select the one that they feel will be the best match for their brand going forward.

When pitching goes wrong

The ad that inspired this post (for which, by the way, I am (a little in two minds) putting my own pitch together…) is, I believe, a strong and responsible one. But I’ve experienced situations, both from myself and others I’ve spoken to, where sending that pitch has not gone well.

I’m well aware that some unscrupulous businesses will be more than happy to take advantage of the pitching process. Here’s something that I witnessed during my time at an agency years ago – it’s stuck with me, and I’ve heard that it’s happened to other people, too.

They had been asked to pitch for a job by a business that wanted ideas for a branding project. The pitch was sent, and after several weeks, nothing had come back. Assuming that we’d been unsuccessful, we kind of forgot about it. That was until we discovered that another agency they’d employed had, in fact, a scarily large proportion of the same ideas – too many to be purely coincidental.

This scenario isn’t uncommon. A business will ask another, cheaper agency to follow the structure and ideas of someone else. It’s not the designer’s fault – they have no idea. They’re simply being given a brief to follow.

It can be off-putting, and to be honest, I don’t really know how this situation could have been avoided. I’d like to say, look for warning signs, but they’re not always there. How can you possibly prove it after the fact? It can be complicated.

The only advice I can give is to do your research. If it’s a local business, ask around. If something feels off, trust your instincts. Should you avoid pitching? That’s a hard one to answer. Would you be missing out on some fantastic opportunities? Maybe. Is there a chance you’d take a loss? Sure – but if you don’t play, you can’t win, right?

Is there a right way to pitch?

You really have to dig down into what the job is asking for. How much information do they want? Do they want samples of actual designs? Or, like in this case, is it just a written outline or initial thoughts?

Remember – if you’re doing actual designs to show them, you’re essentially working for free. If they were to go ahead and use them, then you’re the one who loses out. They might be asking for samples of past work, which is better, but never give up your time and talents for nothing.

I like the sound of the ‘written response’. It lets me think about the ‘how’ without revealing anything in an obvious way. It allows me to tell the client where I’d like to take the project, why, and how I’d go about it. It kind of inspires and forces me to think beyond the design work in a visual sense.

What are your thoughts on pitching? Have you any experiences or advice? Any horror stories – or big wins? I’d be really interested to hear them.

©1973–2023 Tony Clarkson
&Something Studio is a design studio based, but no way trapped, in Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury has trains and roads which lead both in and out.