My 5 Personal Secrets to Becoming a Successful Graphic Designer

When I was at this year's Bootcamp, many of the participants asked me if I had any personal secrets to my success. Not design secrets, but secrets that helped me emotionally and psychologically deal with my transition to becoming a freelance graphic designer.

The answer is “Yes!” So, here they are:

  1. Don't ever let the rough days win.

    Unless you are Superman/Superwoman, you will have your share of bad days. I certainly do – because, of course, I'm human. But no matter how difficult a project or situation might be, I always remind myself of my passion to do art. Then I think about how lucky I am to be able to make my own hours, not have a daily commute, and make enough money to do the things I want in life.

    PLUS – and here's the extra BONUS – when you own your own graphic design business, you can fire your clients if they are not a good fit for you. There's so much of this type of work out there that when a client is cranky and/or unorganized, I make sure to find a replacement and move on to someone who is FUN and exciting – a client who ADDS to my life and business, not one who drags me down.

  2. Prepare for obstacles before they arise.

    One of your most valuable assets as a freelancer will be the network you form with other professionals, including copywriters, photographers, illustrators, other designers, and business owners in unrelated professions. Surrounding yourself with a variety of successful people helps you choose the right path to overcome obstacles.

    So send yourself to classes and seminars. This will keep you on the right side of the eight ball. Read all of the time: trade books, the Internet, The New York Times, whatever. Listen to the news and keep up with current events. Knowing what's going on outside of your immediate “bubble” is really important. That's how you hear about trends and possible new clients/contacts … and keep up with what's going on in the world.

    Investigate new things. Talk to people. Ask questions. Even though you might work alone in your studio … don't let yourself get stale and tired. Keep fresh by learning to invite new people and things and experiences into your life.

  3. Don't let frustration derail your dream.

    Stay positive and believe in your dream. These are the key factors to your success. I had to work hard to get my own company and make it what it is today. The school of hard knocks toughened me and made me a stronger person and a more successful professional. Look at adversity not only as a challenge, but also as an opportunity to learn and grow.

  4. Always act professionally … but remain true to yourself.

    In your career, you're going to have to make decisions that might not make a client happy. I'm talking about decisions like choosing not to work with someone because they are difficult to work with or they take way too long to pay.

    I've made these types of decisions, because I knew they were right. It scared me to do it (and it still does) … but you've got to go with what you feel is right.

    However, do not ever burn any bridges by being rude or talking poorly about those clients. This is a very “small world.” You never want to hurt someone's feelings. If you do, you could ruin other opportunities for yourself. Stay professional at all times

  5. Never give up. Get support from important people in your life … and offer support to others.

    Don't give up! You can do it. If I can make this happen with 3 young children and a regular life, it's for sure people in the AWAI program can. AWAI's sessions and projects teach you WHAT you need to know.

    I also make sure I keep lots of people around me as my support group – students, my parents, husband, children, friends, neighbors, women in my coffee group, copywriters, people at my church. Do the same. Everywhere you look, there are people who have their own dreams and desires. Reach out to them and be there as a good listener for them. Both they and you will be richer for it.

Finally … write down your goals (being honest with yourself.) Network and it WILL happen!

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Published: November 3, 2005

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