3 Tips to Jumpstart Your Design Career

Beginning freelancers spend a lot of time overanalyzing and worrying about a lot of things. Top on the list is “where to find clients.” And this fretting takes up time that should be given over to taking specific action.

When I started, my head was spinning with all the tasks on my to-do list. I often wished I knew a seasoned designer who could help me put things in perspective.

Now that I have clients and quite a few layouts under my belt, I’m going to get you pointed in the right direction.

Let’s look at three questions to ask yourself to get your career rolling.

Who’s producing the type of work I want to do?

Let’s say your passion is fundraising. Google, your local phone book, and other resources have thousands of addresses of organizations fitting your “fundraising client” profile.

Even better is to take advantage of the Who’s Mailing What! Archive. https://www.awai.com/whosmailing/. With the Archive, you can do a search for fundraising mailers. You can even get a look at some of their actual mailings. This allows you to see if the quality of your work matches what various companies are sending out.

The Archive doesn’t provide contact information for every company in their database. But you’ll at least have the name of the organizations doing the mailings and can do your own research for their websites and contact information in Google.

When I searched for fundraising mailers in the Archive, I generated a list of over 2,800 mailings!

Do I have the skills to produce quality work for clients?

One reason you want to know what your ideal clients are mailing is to see if you fit their needs. I’ve often told the story of going to my first direct-marketing job fair. I had a portfolio. But when I saw the type of work the job fair vendors were producing, it was clear I didn’t have all the skills I’d need to work for them.

Was I depressed? On the contrary, I was thrilled. I now knew exactly what these companies needed and had a clear idea of where my skill-set needed to be.

So how do you improve your skills? First, go through the entire Design Success program and do all the exercises. Then search for websites offering free tutorials in the design software of your choice. Sign up for a service like Lynda.com that provides online video training.

The iTunes store offers free podcasts (video and audio) in InDesign, Photoshop, and other Adobe products. And you don’t need an iPod to play the podcasts. They play on your computer.

You can also buy books on your design software. The Visual QuickStart Guides from Peach Pit Press, for example, are specifically for beginners.

And, of course, you should take advantage of AWAI seminars, trainings, and other resources. AWAI knows all about the niche you’re going to use to build your design career – direct marketing. Take advantage of their free tips and tools at www.thedesignerslife.com.

Here’s another suggestion. Copywriters are often told that one way to get a feel for great copy is to write out great sales letters by hand. The designer’s equivalent is to recreate great designs.

Take a well-designed piece you get in the mail and copy it as best you can, matching fonts, colors, and everything else in the mailing. Since you won’t have the same graphics, use placeholders. It’s okay to use fake text, but format it exactly as in the mailing. The more you do this, the better you’ll get with your design tools. And you’ll start to notice very similar patterns in the way successful direct-mail pieces are laid out.

How will companies know I’m available?

Being a talented designer doesn’t mean much if no one knows you’re out there. Your career will take off a lot faster if you do some active self-marketing.

Active self-marketing means contacting potential clients instead of passively waiting for them to find you. Putting up a website and hoping people will find you through Google is passive self-marketing. Calling potential clients and talking about their needs and how you can take care of them is active self-marketing.

You probably don’t like cold-calling, but if you’re serious about success, you’re going to have to do some things that are a little out of your comfort zone. But let me give you a few other options:

Send postcards to your target clients. (As I said above, a good place to find them is in the Who’s Mailing What! Archive @ https://www.awai.com/whosmailing/. But don’t stop there. Turn this into a really active self-marketing effort by making follow-up phone calls.

Go to local networking events. There’s more to networking than attending Chamber of Commerce meetings, so check your local paper for other possibilities. A friend of mine landed business at a meeting between Canadian and American businessmen who were discussing cross-border trade issues. She was the only writer/designer in the room.

Cold-calling, postcard mailings, and networking are three effective success strategies for beginning designers. Give them a try.

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: March 13, 2008

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