Dear Design Doctor
I graduated 2 years ago in Graphic Design. I have been able to get some freelance work, but it has been hard financially. I have done some illustrated card designs, and sold these at local craft fairs last Christmas. Should I do more of that this Christmas? How can I make a living with what I do love most?
Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust, answered this question as The Design Doctor in Crafts Magazine September/October 2012 under the title The easy guide to finding your focus:
“It feels to me that you are a bit lost, and don’t really know what to do or what to focus on. You probably feel overwhelmed, and have lost direction.
The problem is that if you don’t know what you want to do, then it’s really difficult to find potential clients.
The first questions I would ask are:
- What are you really good at? What are the specific skills that people often compliment you on? Write down a list, and be as specific as you can be. You really need to dig under the surface here. For example: ‘I am really good combining unusual colours with hand-stitched drawings, and drawing people.’
- What are you really passionate about? What are the things that really matter to you and that you can’t stop talking or thinking about? Your answer here could be very specific ‘I love vintage, especially the 1960s’ or it could be more about the bigger picture such as ‘Design needs to be sustainable as there is too much waste.’
- Who would pay for your products and services? Who would your ideal clients be? Write down a list of 10 specific potential clients (e.g. Liberty’s, Mary Portas) and describe why and where they would buy from you. Combine specific individuals with potential retailers, trade shows or craft fairs. What do they like about your work? Where do they shop? Start thinking about potential routes to market such as selling with existing online retailers, creating your own online shop, and exhibitions to ensure sales throughout the year.
After you have answered each of the 3 questions separately, start looking at what the commonalities are.
Where they overlap you are hitting your ‘sweet spot’!
Can you go more daring with your colours and combine people and vintage clothing into new higher value products (e.g. prints, large scarves)?
Could you become a specialist graphic designer for fashion designers and vintage shops?
What about an exhibition in a fashion boutique?
Could you illustrate a catwalk show?
Could you run workshops or start a blog about up cycling?
Think about specific products or services you can offer.
Get a friend or colleague to help you. Be bold and brainstorm lots of ideas what you can do, and then identify five goals or actions that you can start working on.
To survive as a freelancer it is essential to identify your niche market.
Your niche marketis the combination of your best skills with your ideal target market. You can learn how to identify your niche in this blog post.
If you know what makes you stand out and truly unique in the competitive world of graphic design and illustration, then it will be much easier to get specific ideas about where you can promote or sell your work.
Another good exercise to identify your uniqueness is to look in detail at your role models:
Who inspires you?
Who do you look up to (both in a creative and business sense)?
Identify 5 creative people who are 5 – 10 years ahead of you, and one role model who is way ahead of you. For example you might have artist Grayson Perry, textile artist Alice Kettle and photographer Mario Testino. Very different creative entrepreneurs, but each of them is relevant or inspiring to you for specific reasons.
Then write down for each of your role models:
- What they do specifically
- What inspires you about them?
- What are their creative themes?
- Where do they sell or show their work?
- What can you learn from them?
You can find out this information by checking their websites, CVs and reading interviews.
When you have finished researching them, try and answer the same questions for yourself.
This role model exercise can help you to look afresh to your own work and business, and will help you to identify what makes you different, and how to position yourself in the market.
When you know in detail what is special about you, then you can communicate this more clearly and confidently to potential clients.
Instead of being a small pond in a very big creative pond, you start creating your own smaller pond!
It will become far easier where to promote and sell your work, for potential clients to find and recognise you, and for others to recommend you.
I hope this answer has given you lots of food for thought. This isn’t a quick solution, but I hope you’ll find out what makes you special and where to focus, so that your work gets a new direction and creative and financial energy.”