How to Stay Alive As Freelance Designer
The thing is, if you’re one of the millions of people attempting to make a living in the freelance world these days, you’ll likely have noticed that competition is more fierce than ever. There are literally millions of freelance designers around the world and with the advent of freelancing websites such as ODesk, PeoplePerHour.com and many others, a vast chunk of these freelancers (whatever country they might happen to be from) are technically your competitors.
So how do you stand out in a crowded marketplace? The answer: create a brand for yourself (and your business) that is superior to your competitors. Now, contrary to popular belief, creating a brand is more than just designing a logo, although that is a big part of it (check out this logo design guide if you need help designing your logo). It’s about creating an entire visual entity that stands the test of time.
It’s certainly not an easy task, but here’s how to get started.
One of the mistakes that so many freelancers make is failing to refine their offering and instead, spreading themselves too thinly. What do I mean by your offering? I mean the actual services you’re going to offer to clients.
When you first start out in the freelancing world, it can be tempting to work on any project that pays, even if it’s not particularly your area of expertise. Although this might be a good tactic for short term success, it’s certainly not a good long term strategy as being known as the ‘jack of all trades’ means you won’t have a USP. Therefore, you need to define (and refine) your offering from the beginning.
As a designer, chances are that you enjoy some areas of design more than others. You might prefer website design to print design, or perhaps UX design to UI design. Whatever it is that you like doing (and that you’re particularly skilled at), you should make sure to focus your brand around it (i.e. make sure to advertise yourself primarily in regards to that particular skill).
Create Your USP
Let’s assume that you’ve refined your offering and decided that you’re going to primarily focus on web design (as opposed to web designer/developer/coder/UX designer/UI designer/whatever-other-type-of-designer-your-client-wants). The problem is that there’s still likely to be hundreds, if not thousands of other web designers out there, so how do you stand out?
The answer is to create a USP (unique selling point). Now, your unique selling point can be pretty much anything you want it to be, so long as it’s something you know there’s a market for.
Even a blog needs to have its USP. So, if you are planning to launch a blog to promote yourself as a web designer, you need to make sure that the design of the blog is unique and innovative.
You might have a particular design style (e.g. a passion for minimalism, like the designer in the screenshot above) that you can utilise as a USP. Alternatively, you might use price as a USP; if you’re incredible at what you do and you can prove it, set your prices high. If you plan to aim your services at the small business market, set your prices lower than the competition.
Another common USP is to primarily serve a particular industry. For example, you might choose to specialise in web design for restaurants (like the company pictured above) or another industry.
Ultimately, your USP is down to you, just make sure there’s a market for it.
Create Your Visual Identity
Now we’ve covered the technicalities, it’s time to actually design your visual identity. As a designer, you’ll probably be the most passionate about this stage of the process, which is always a positive thing.
It’s important to remember that as a freelancer, your visual identity will likely revolve around you (unless you plan to expand into a fully-fledged design agency in the near future, but it’s best not to get ahead of yourself). This means that your visual identity should reflect your personality, USP and design style to a certain extent. You might even want to utilise an illustration of yourself like the web designer pictured above did.
The creation of your visual identity is ultimately down to you and being a designer, I’m sure you’ll make a great job of it. However, there are a couple of things to remember.
Firstly, don’t try and design your visual identity to make you appear bigger than you actually are. Be proud of the fact you’re a freelancer as that in itself is a USP; a lot of companies prefer working with freelancers as it’s more personable. This means that you should use words like “I” rather than “we”.
Secondly, if you’re designing multiple marketing mediums (e.g. website, social media profiles, flyers, business cards etc), make sure your visual identity is consistent across them all. Although you don’t want to appear as though you’re a huge company, you do still want to look professional, so consistency is key.
Lastly, your visual identity should be a perfect example of what you do. It should reflect your design style, personality and so forth. Use it as a showcase for your talents. At the same time, make sure it appeals to your chosen target market. Don’t create a cartoony visual identity if you’re aiming your services at high paying corporate clients, and vice versa.
If you want to ensure your success in the increasingly competitive freelancing world, it all boils down to being unique in some way. As mentioned, it might be the quality of your work, your price, your style or even just your personality that makes you unique, but whatever it is, you need to make sure that your brand revolves around this selling point.
It’s also worth letting potential clients know all about you via an “About me” page on your website; often clients will want to know who they’re trusting with their project, so make sure to make a good impression and reinforce your brand values.
Your brand should tell a story; your story. Don’t forget that.