So You Worry That Companies With an In-House Designer Won’t Hire You? Don’t!

When I started my freelance career, I marketed my services to every business I could think of. Many times, I’d get a response like this: “We do all our marketing design in-house. Thanks anyway.”

So I’d scratch that business off my “contact in the future” list. After all, if they already had a designer on payroll, they didn’t need a freelancer like me, right?


Three things can happen.

First: Times and circumstances change.
While it’s nice for a company to have a designer (or a group of designers) on staff, if the business starts generating less design work, they may not be able to continue justifying the cost of equipment, health benefits, and a host of other employee-related costs. Instead, they may decide to start outsourcing their design – and even copywriting – work.

If that happens, you’d at least like to be in the running for future projects. But you’re not going to be in the running if the company doesn’t know you’re available. So when you run across a company that has an in-house designer, keep them on your contact list. Every six months or so, send a postcard or some other reminder to let them know you’re available.

A well-respected copywriter once asked, then answered, the following question: “How long should you continue to contact a potential client who doesn’t appear to need you? Until they tell you not to contact them anymore!” (And I can tell you from my experience that rarely will anyone tell you to stop.)

Second: Businesses can get … busy.
Another reason to keep sending companies regular reminders that you’re available is that, even with in-house designers, they can be overwhelmed with work from time to time. And when that happens, they’ll bring in a freelancer for the overflow work.

Working on a temporary basis gives you a chance to make a great impression … and get paid for it. The person you do the job for might give you a testimonial in addition to a check, and might even recommend you to other people in his industry.

Plus, there will come a time when an in-house designer quits. Though the company may be looking for a replacement, there’s likely to be a period of time when they have to outsource projects to a freelancer. Or they just might decide to add a dependable off-site freelancer like you to their design team.

Third: They may need a fresh vision … yours!
This opportunity may not seem as obvious as the first two I mentioned, but it comes up more often than you might think. To illustrate, let me tell you about a job I’m working on now.

The company is based in Washington, D.C., and works on a variety of marketing projects for various businesses. (By the way, I live in Washington State … clear across the country from them. Never restrict your self-marketing to your local area.)

Because of the amount of work they do, they have their own in-house designers. So why did they call me? Because they wanted a totally fresh perspective on one of their marketing efforts. It’s not that their in-house designers aren’t talented. But when you’re in the same trench week after week, year after year, you can lose the ability to look at the same client in a completely new way.

This company’s solution to this problem is to bring in someone from the outside – in this case, me – and say, “We’d like to have you look at this from a different angle and come up with some ideas.”

Now here’s the secret: An idea you’ve seen a dozen times in other projects may, in fact, be a fresh idea for this client. You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. Since you’re coming at the project without the baggage of what has been done in the past, even an old idea may be the perfect “new” one.

As I looked at the company’s current control, I could see things that I wanted to change. In talking to the marketing director, I found that some of my ideas had been tried and failed. But others hadn’t been tried before. They were ideas I had seen applied elsewhere, so it wasn’t like I was coming up with anything brand-new. But by applying them in a new way for this client, I was bringing something fresh to the project. And that’s what they were hiring me – an outsider – for.

So when you’re self-marketing, don’t ignore companies that have in-house designers. Their situation can change in the snap of a finger, and you want to position yourself as the first one who gets the call when it’s time to bring in a freelancer or a designer with a fresh idea.

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Published: May 8, 2008

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