Valuable Success Advice

Between building your graphic-design skills, juggling projects, and finding new clients, don't be surprised if you sometimes feel discouraged. It's not uncommon for people who make any career change to hit a low – no matter how disciplined they are and how hard they work.

To help you get over the inevitable “humps” when you're just starting out, we asked master designer Rob Davis for some advice and encouragement. Here's what he said:

I think the best advice I can offer to folks trying to break into direct-mail design is to stay committed to your dream and don't give up. Period! Achieving long-term success in this business is a real and definite possibility, but it takes time, dedication, and perseverance.

So here are a few words of wisdom I'd like to pass on, based on my own early years as a freelancer:

  1. Don't Quit Your Day Job!

    Real success in direct-mail design is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. You will need a consistent source of income while you learn your craft and build your client base. Worrying about how you're going to pay your electric bill on your freelance income will definitely hamper your creative energy.

    I worked for a company as an art director before I went freelance, so I had access to their computers and design software. This was good, because I was too broke to afford my own computer! During the day, I would work for them for a salary. However, I worked out an arrangement with my employer whereby I would use their equipment after work to do freelance assignments – and split any income I received 50/50.

    Even if you don't have such an ideal set up, it's important you keep your current job until you are able to make a clean and relatively stress-free break.

  2. No Job Is Too Small.

    At this point in your career, it's all about learning the business. In my early days, I took any job I could get my hands on: logos, T-shirts, whatever. This approach led to some pretty weird assignments, but it was great experience.

    I didn't make much money, but I learned how to use Quark, Photoshop, and Illustrator, and deal with deadlines, people, service bureaus, and printers. If people like what you do, if you're pleasant to deal with, if you work hard and fast, they'll remember you and recommend you to their associates. And the next time, instead of a logo, they may give you something a bit more complex with a higher paycheck.

    Don't stop learning. Read books, talk to people in the business, get to know some copywriters. In short, become a professional, so once you're given that big opportunity, you'll have the knowledge and the tools to make the best of it. Do that and the money will follow.

  3. Use the Internet.

    Back when I started out, we didn't have the Internet. It was difficult to get the things I had done in front of potential clients. Today, with the Internet and Adobe Acrobat, you can send PDFs of your work to prospects all over the world in a matter of seconds. You can establish a website, where interested individuals can log on and look at your portfolio. It's an incredible tool that shouldn't be ignored for generating workflow.

  4. Stay Positive.

    There IS a demand for freelance designers. I currently have a completely full schedule of design jobs and I get emails every week from publishers who want to get on my schedule.

    Newsletter and book publishers are an absolute goldmine for freelance designers and copywriters. Publishers must mail constantly to stay alive. They are on a never-ending quest to beat their current control, which results in aggressive mailing schedules and lots of work for freelancers. Most publishers have in-house design staff, but they are generally devoted to producing and maintaining the editorial side of their publications. There's just too much work to be done for in-house designers to cover both the editorial and promotional schedules – thus the need for outside designers.

    Publishers love freelancers because they pay us our fee, we do a job, and we go away until they need us again. No insurance, no overhead, no workers' comp. It's a win-win situation for everyone and it's the wave of the future.

    Becoming an established design source for just one direct-mail-savvy publisher can make a career. Hook up with three or four of them and you've achieved your dream!

    You've taken the first step. Now keep walking … and keep your eye on the prize!

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: September 8, 2005

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