For Maximum Success …
Avoid Playing It Safe

Recently, Master Designer Peleg Top sent a message to the subscribers of his excellent online newsletter eTopic ( Its message is one we can all benefit from:

“In my regular morning ritual of reading the newspaper, an article in a recent USA Today column caught my attention. Craig Wilson wrote about a friend who was afraid to travel to Washington, DC, to visit Wilson. She was convinced, irrationally, that the city was just too dangerous. Wilson listed all the things his friend was missing by not making the trip: the cherry blossoms, a favorite restaurant, a wake-up lick from his dog. He wrote, 'A high price to pay, I'd say, for playing it safe.'

 … Playing it safe means letting safety concerns always guide our decisions, even at the expense of other important values … ”

To that, I would add that playing it safe comes at the expense of success.

When you're willing to make bold choices and step outside your safety zone, you set yourself apart from competitors. You stand out from the crowd. You get the assignment instead of the other guy.

But—and this is crucial—you must make those bold choices carefully and with an eye to success … not just to be different.

The Graphic Design Success program is proven successful. Don't abandon those strategies, but rather make bold choices by incorporating them. Here are some ideas how to do that:

  • Outside-the-Safety-Zone Strategy #1: When you're first building your portfolio, the best place to start is with local businesses. They're steppingstones to larger, better paying clients. But don't stand on these steppingstones too long. Very soon after you reach out locally, take your self-promo efforts further out. Contact bigger potential clients with samples. Make sure your samples are compelling, which brings us to …

  • Outside-the-Safety-Zone Strategy #2: Don't wait to build your portfolio based on real work assignments. Design sample packages you aren't being paid for. For example, design a package for a potential client who's never used a magalog to show him what it could look like. Or do a design for a fictitious product. Your portfolio's purpose is not to show what you've done. It's to show what you can do.

  • Outside-the-Safety-Zone Strategy #3: Don't eliminate potential clients because they're too big … or too small. Don't talk yourself out of approaching them because you're sure they wouldn't want to see your work. Or they've never used a graphic designer before.

    Be bold. Look at every sign, every ad in magazines, every web promotion as potential clients. All you're risking is hearing “no.” That “no” doesn't mean you're not a good designer (or a good person). All it means is “we don't need your services … yet.”

  • Outside-the-Safety-Zone Strategy #4: Don't let “no” responses keep you from asking again. We're trained almost from birth that “no” means that's it. No more. Don't try again. Truly successful designers know this isn't true and keep trying.

  • Outside-the-Safety-Zone Strategy #5: You'll hear this all the time from clients: “We've always done it this way. Our customers expect our newsletters to look like this.” When you hear this, politely suggest that a new, bolder design may just capture customers' attention better and lead to more sales. A client for one of GDS's associates recently commented about their first magalog promotion:

    “Wow! That is so different than anything we would have done and that's a good thing. We were in a rut, doing the same type of thing over and over with diminishing returns.”

Be bold. Suggest new approaches, new designs … even something as simple as a new color scheme can make a huge difference in customer and client response. But only if you're bold enough to refuse to play it safe.

But when you leave playing it safe behind and give yourself permission to be bold, there's something you have to guard against. Don't let the urge to be “artistic” overcome the solid, successful strategies you're learning in the GDS Program. There's plenty of room in those strategies for boldness and creativity. … and your ultimate success.

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: October 3, 2006

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