June 13, 2024No Comments

From here to…

Things to think on as a design graduate

Starting a career in design can be both exciting and daunting. In truth, even those of us who have been here for a long time find it tough going sometimes—things are always evolving, and new trends and tech mean that we always have to stay ahead of the curve.

At this time of year, I often get messages from new graduates asking for advice. What should I do next? Where do I start? How do I stand out fresh from uni? These are not easy questions to answer because every designer is different, and my path is not the same one as you might want to choose.

That said, though, there is some great advice that I’ve picked up along the way – some of which I still look on to this day when I feel like I’ve lost direction or just need inspiration to get going when things are slow.

Here are some key pieces of advice (that I wish I’d known) for design graduates entering the field:

Build your portfolio

Your portfolio is your most important project.  Rather than treat it like a catalogue of everything you’ve ever worked on, focus on quality over quantity. Showcase your best work. It’s better to have fewer, well-executed projects than a load of mediocre ones.

Make it attractive and cohesive, showcasing your narrative through the work that you’ve done. Be personable rather than presenting just another portfolio. No jargon.

Build your connections

Reach out to as many people in your field as you can, both online and offline. Attend industry events, join design communities, and connect with professionals on social platforms. Networking can open doors to job opportunities, collaborations, and mentorship. Every connection counts.

Share your work consistently on social platforms. Engage with industry professionals and people who might help you. Amplify your narrative and expand your network.

Get out and go to events. Turn up. Create connections everywhere you go.

Find a Mentor

Having a mentor can provide guidance, feedback, and industry insights that are invaluable at the start of your career. Find someone willing to offer sound advice and constructive criticism when you need it.

Learn to be resilient and persistent

The design field is competitive, and rejection is part of the process. Stay persistent and keep refining your craft. It’s not easy, but don’t fall into negative outlooks. Nothing great is ever easy, so expect to have to put the work in – it will be worth it.

Get practical experience

Look for paid internships or freelance work. These experiences can provide practical knowledge and make your resumé more attractive to potential employers.

Try to work on real-world projects; this can be a significant portfolio booster. Don't work for free.

Stay focussed, keep learning

Try to avoid ‘scattergun’ tactics. Instead, use your energy and time wisely and remain focused on one or two things instead of burning yourself out trying to do everything.

Design is a rapidly evolving field. Stay updated with the latest tools, technologies, and trends. And invest some time in continuous learning. Online courses, workshops, and design communities can be valuable resources.

Use any downtime you have to create new things to show in your portfolio and on social media. Anything you can do to stay fresh and visible will go a long way toward building your reputation and keeping your portfolio interesting to potential employers.

Look after yourself

This might be my most important piece of advice, yet one that is overlooked by all of us – maintaining your mental well-being is the single best thing you can do for yourself at any point in your career.

Make time to step back from things once in a while and do something for yourself and only yourself. When you’re relaxed and mentally positive, it shows through everything you do, and you are much more likely to enjoy your experience, whether that’s job searching, freelancing, or building your design career in-house.

Don’t take rejection personally

It’s a harsh truth that a proportion of the people that you reach out to won’t respond. It’s not you; people are busy. They might not have the time to respond right away (or at all), you might not be a good match, or they might pin the message to respond to at a later date – I’ve had people come back to me after several months, so don’t lose hope.

If you’ve approached someone who you really want to work with, don’t be afraid to follow up after a week or so. You won’t annoy them – it’s just a reminder. If they still don’t respond after you’ve followed up once or twice, then perhaps they simply can’t offer what you’re looking for. It’s not personal – move on to the next thing.

Starting your career in design requires a balance of creative skills, professionalism, and the ability to continuously learn and adapt. Embrace the journey, stay curious, and keep pushing your creative boundaries.

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?

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 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.

©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.