Archive: Jul 2015

  1. The Most Effective Exposure

    2 Comments 6 min read

    If a graphic designer makes an amazing logo in the woods and nobody is around to see it, does it attract new clients?

    There is a lot of talent amongst the Design Range community. When you follow the Design Range on Facebook or Twitter, I always try to take a bit of time out to look through your portfolio and see what your deal is and you guys really do create some awesome work.

    For a lot of us though, the quality of our work isn’t the reason we’re not rolling in client requests. It’s because nobody knows our work is even out there.

    When you sign up for the Design Range newsletter (like you can do by entering your email address at the bottom of this article), I ask you to tell me what problems you’re having with your business, and recently Chris R got in touch to ask me how to gain more effective exposure for his design services.

    Exposure is a huge part of running a design business and it’s something that I’m always trying to find new ways to approach.

    The thing is, I think I’ve always approached exposure as exactly that – exposing potential clients to my work through my portfolio or social media accounts and just expecting them to be bowled over and hire me immediately. In reality that’s probably a bit of a romantic expectation (it’d be nice though right?).

    What I should have been doing is not approaching it as exposure at all, but as marketing.

    Exposure vs Marketing

    Aren’t they the same thing essentially?

    Well, yes, they are very similar and it’s true that both terms are often used interchangeably, but marketing is different from exposure in one very vital way. It asks the question; why?

    Why should the client look at your portfolio?

    Why should the client consider hiring you?

    Why does the client even want what you’re selling?

    Be the Research

    Say (god forbid) your computer blows up right now. Just “pffft”, the screen goes blank and the fan dies. What do you do? Do you run straight to the nearest shop and buy the first computer you see? I doubt it.

    What you, and any rational person would do is hop online (probably on your phone I’d imagine if your computer has just died) and do a bit of research on computers. You’d look through articles and advice, and educate yourself on precisely what you required.

    Why would you bother doing all this?

    Because a computer is important to you. It’s a vital part of your business. It’s worth spending the time to get right.

    To a client, their next website, next logo, next photo shoot is an important investment. It’s something worth spending the time to get right. So surely their first port of call would be to do some research?

    I know it’s not always the case, and on occasion clients will dive straight in to a project with no real idea of what they want the end product to be. But more often then not when a client approaches me, they have a rough idea of what they want and maybe a few examples.

    That’s because they’ve done the research.

    Now here’s where the exposure part comes in. What if you are providing that research? What if the client comes to your website trying to get a better idea of what they want? If you can answer their questions successfully and provide value to them, and then on top of that you offer to actually do the work for them, why would they even bother looking for another designer?

    My Mistake

    I’ll let you in on a secret here, and please don’t judge me too harshly.

    When I very first started the Design Range, this was always in the back of my mind. Perhaps not quite so well thought out, but the rough idea was certainly there. If I wrote about design, then clients might find my articles and hire me!

    Ultimately though I made two very fundamental errors.

    Firstly, I created the website entirely separately from my business. It had a different name, was at a different URL and although they’re similar now, at the time the Design Range first launched, the design of the website was very different too. There was absolutely nothing linking The Design Range to my business other than my name at the end of the articles (this is in a time too when AlexanderSingleton.com didn’t exist, and HuntingTownDesign.com was my only business presence).

    av dr

    Secondly, the articles I wrote about, as I’m sure you’re aware, were about actually running a design business. I thought that just by writing about design very generally, potential clients would see it. In reality I was putting up a wall to keep them away. Yes I was writing about design, but it wasn’t any part of design that a client would ever be interested in. Why would a client that needed a logo or a website design ever read an article on how to set up a graphic design shop?

    In the end I decided to abandon the Design Range for almost six months (long time readers may remember the huge gap in posts).

    In my perceived failure, I didn’t realise that what I had in fact created was an incredibly valuable resource for people just like me; needless to say I’ve realised my mistakes and I’m committed to continuing to offer advice to anyone who might find it useful.

    Also, I want to point out, that even though I’m calling this approach a ‘mistake’ (in terms of attracting clients at least), there is every chance that with a large enough audience it could still work, and there are designers out there such as Sean McCabe of Sean Wes and Preston Lee of Millo who have used this approach with great success.

    The Best Approach

    To approach this method of exposure in the most effective way you need to think about this.

    What would a client want to know? You need to get inside the head of your ideal client (this is easier if you’ve presented yourself as a specialist like I talk about in 5 Ways to Give Yourself a Pay Rise) and pre-empt what kinds of questions they would type into Google. We all try to maximise our SEO for searches like ‘Graphic Designer in the Manchester area‘ (see what I did there?) but that’s a secondary search term. The client will only type that into Google once they’ve already done their research. By then it’s too late.

    You need to get in on that first search term. Say for instance you design logos, your clients might be searching terms like;

    Things you need to know when designing a logo
    Best logo designs for 2015
    Most effective logos for online businesses

    You get the idea.

    What you need to be doing is answering questions like this on your website. You need to be telling Google that if someone wants to know about logo design, then they should to be sent to you. You are the logo design expert. You need to create a blog right next to your portfolio and start writing articles that provide valuable content for your clients.

    Not for you.

    Not for your peers.

    For your clients.

    Then at the end of every article you need a contact box that says “HEY – guess what – I know my shit. Hire me and I’ll make you a kick ass logo. If you literally make any other decision then you are dumb”, or maybe just “hire me” will do – by this point the rest should be obvious.

    What you should do right now is come up with 100 questions you think your ideal client might want to know. That’s 100 articles you can write. If you write an article a week, that’s almost two entire years worth of content.

    If that all sounds like a lot of work, then good.

    It fucking is.

    You will have to spend a lot of your free time thinking up, planning and writing this content. It takes a lot of effort, and you absolutely, 100% will not get paid for it. This information, this valuable font of knowledge that you’re creating is available to absolutely anyone for absolutely nothing. Which is precisely the reason that it will work.

    Make yourself the obvious choice.

    obvious choice

  2. How to Level Up your Creative Skills

    2 Comments 7 min read

    As I’m sure many of you do, I harbour a love for computer games – particularly RPGs – that moment when you level up and watch the golden sparks fly is addictive. Perhaps I’m revealing too much of the geek in me, but seeing those numbers next to my various skills tick up is just… moreish. Often I’ll find myself engaging in an utterly mundane task just to get better at it. In Skyrim I’ve been known to follow six inches behind an enemy for twenty minuets just to level up my stealth.

    stealth

    Seriously – if there was an option to make spoons just so I could get an ability point or two for my blacksmithing I’d have done it. So I got thinking – how useful would that attitude be if I could apply it to my career?

    Don’t get me wrong, I do a fair amount of practising and try to keep abreast of changes in the industry, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. If you try and apply that to game terms, then it’s just one never ending experience sink and you’ll only level up… well… never.

    It’s not a revolutionary concept, and chances are that the vast majority of you are already doing this with your client projects, but dividing one big task into lots of smaller steps is a hugely productive exercise. Projects seems to fly by when we’re constantly ticking off tasks and passing milestones, but when it comes to ourselves and our personal development, we don’t seem to bother. Or rather we have things on our to do lists like learn coding, or get better at illustration. What use are tasks like that? That’s the Skyrim equivalent of escaping from prison at level 1 with a rusty dagger and one shoe, and then being asked to slay Alduin the World Eater, King of the Dragons and Nordic God of Destruction.

    It’s just not playing fair is it?

    Last week I asked on the Design Range Facebook page when the last time was that you sat down and made a concious effort to improve was, and Scott D told me that although he made plans and gathered resources together he still didn’t always find time to focus on improving. I believe that’s true of a lot of us, me included, but I also think it’s because we don’t always define what ‘improving’ is.

    Define Your Levels

    The first step you need to take is defining what a level actually is for you. Take a solid look at your services and pick a skill that you want to improve in, then break that skill down even further into various disciplines and pick one, so what you should have is something like this:

    The ServiceThe SkillThe Discipline
    IllustrationDigital PaintingPainting metal
    Web DesignCSSCSS animations
    BrandingLetteringCompositional Hierarchy
    WizardOffensive SpellsFireball

    Once you’ve focused down into the discipline you want to improve on, you need to decide exactly where you want to get to. I’m not talking about end goals here, nobody is expecting you to go from finger painting to Da Vinci, all we’ve done here is define the category you’re going to be ploughing those experience points into. Think realistically about where you are now and then think about what the next step is. Again – this is not where you ultimately want to be, all you want to be aiming for is the next step, all you want to do is go up one level. So take a look at your peers and at artists you admire and try and find someone who is only just better than you at this very precise discipline (you may have go back a few years in their portfolio if they’re particularly good). That’s the next level, clear and defined.

    Get Experience Points

    Now you need to actually start improving and clocking up those experience points. The first port of call should be a straight up google search – “how to get better at x”. The internet is full of tutorials and courses, so chances are your top few results will yield something useful, especially if the discipline you’re focusing on is technique based. Learning CSS animations for example is a straight forward process of getting to grips with and understanding the code, so a tutorial for something like this would be perfect.

    However – what if the discipline you want to level up is style based? Personally I’ve been working on levelling up my illustration, so say I did a google search for “how to get better at painting metal”, I’m going to struggle to find exactly what I need. Not only do I need to specify that I want to be able to visually paint a metallic texture, but that I want to do it digitally, and in my own style… tricky.  What you need to do in an instance like this is go back to the artist who is at the level you’re aiming for, and then start to look through everything they’ve ever said. A lot of the artists I follow have written a tutorial or two at some point in their career, or maybe they’ve filmed the process of creating one of their illustrations – you can get so so much help from something like this.

    Failing that, you could try reaching out to them directly. People are friendly, and so long as you’re respectful of their time then I’d wager most people out there would be happy to help you out. If you’ve defined your level properly, then your email to them should be super short and precise allowing them to be able to respond in kind, offering the precise advice that’s exactly what you need. Think of it this way – if you got an email from a client you had recently built a website for saying “how do I schedule a blog post?”, you are far more likely to respond right away with the exact advice required than if you received an email that says “can you tell me how to use my website?”.

    Another tip by the way, if you’re not having any joy from that person is to look at people they follow and that follow them. Chances are that they’ll also share a similar style and are at varying levels that might be useful to you.

    If all else fails, it can be a very useful practice just to sit and look, really look, at that artists work and try and figure out for yourself where you’re styles differ and what you need to do to change and improve.

    One last thing I will mention on this style business is that you don’t want to imitate someone else. You may look at another artist or photographer or designer, and think they’re amazing, but if their style is not a natural progression of your own, then they’re no use to you. Levelling up is not about changing your style, it’s about fixing the parts of your style that are letting you down.

    For example, I’m happy right now with the progress I’m making with illustration, but I feel like my cloth textures are really letting me down, so I’ve looked for an artist that has a similar style to me and does cloth far better, in this case an artist called Charlie Bowater. I’ve then gone back in her portfolio to try and find an image that’s where I think my next step is, and that’s what I’m trying to aim for.

    My cloth texture that sucksCharlie’s amazing cloth texure
    charlie_bowater

    Level Up

    Now that you know exactly what you’re aiming for and exactly how to get there, you should know exactly when you level up. Congratulations. Down side to this is that games do it far better than real life. In a game, you’ll see a banner declaring your new level spread across the screen as golden lights dance around your character. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, then just watch the video below (my personal favourite is at 0:36).

    So make sure you have something ready. Perhaps you could put a load of balloons and confetti up on the ceiling and then when you pull the ‘level up’ lever they all fall down and music plays and stuff… Or maybe you just make sure you have a cold beer in the fridge. Whatever you do, don’t let it go unannounced. You’ve worked hard and earned this step forward, so make sure you have something, some little treat that you can truly say you’ve achieved.

    Show off your New Skills

    The way I’ve described this process makes it seem very incremental, but in reality what often happens is even when you’re focusing on one disciples you may actually improve several by accident. After all, if you focus just on being able to do 50 pull ups, you’re probably going to get better at push ups too, even though that’s not what you were working on.

    Although that sounds good, it can actually cause a bit of an issue professionally. If your style has noticeably advanced then it’s going to look different to the previous work in your portfolio, and until you start getting contracts for your updated style, that portfolio isn’t going to change. Do you see where I’m going with this? If a new client contacts you, it’s because they want the style that’s in your portfolio, and although you may see that as inferior to what you can do now, the client will have every right to be upset when you turn in work that looks like nothing they’ve seen before. I’m going to talk about this a bit more in the future as there is actually a fair bit of advice you can use in a situation like this and I think it warrants it’s own article, but for now, just make sure you’re aware of it, and make your new clients aware in turn.

  3. You will Never be the Best, and that’s Fantastic

    Comments Off on You will Never be the Best, and that’s Fantastic 4 min read

    We all love being good at what we do don’t we? It’s nice to take pride in your work and in the level of quality that you produce. I love being good at what I do, and I want to get better, but let me tell you something that may shock you; there is no way I’d ever want to be the best. I love striving for that next stage, that moment when you’re able to do something that last year you thought you could never achieve. I love being inspired by other people’s work, seeing what’s possible and scratching my head as I try desperately to figure out some morsel of their process. I love the fact that I will never be good enough to stop learning.

    The drive to keep improving is one of the things that I love about being a creative freelancer. It’s the reason that once I’ve finished a client’s work for the day, I then start on one of my own illustrations even when my hand is cramping up. It’s the reason I own around 15 domain names for cool websites that I’m in the process of building. It’s the reason I’m writing this very article right now. I love that I’m good, but I want to get better.

    Have you ever stopped and just appreciated all the talent that surrounds us on a daily basis? Hopefully you have a twitter feed filled with talented artists, and are involved in communities on Dribbble, Behance or DeviantArt. It’s stunning to see the work being produced on a daily basis and to know that you are amongst all of that, in the thick of it.

    Maybe you’re happy too, but I’m willing to bet that you’re not.

    I imagine it’s no doubt quite easy to get complacent in your skills when clients are constantly happy with your work, and maybe you’re happy too, but I’m willing to bet that you’re not. The creative industry doesn’t attract money hungry go getters, eager to game a way to earn the largest wage whilst doing the least work. We want to do what we love, and we want to be the best we can be. If you’re anything like me, the fact you get paid is just a bonus.

    Sherlock

    Think about Sherlock Holmes for a moment. I love the character of Sherlock, I love the fact that he has no equal in terms of his intellect. He is the best, and he is the best by quite some way, and that’s impressive. I sit in awe, as though his mental acrobatics were a super power akin to flight. But at the same time I’m filed with a melancholy, in a way I find it quite sad.

    He has no equal.

    No peers.

    The thing that makes Sherlock the best is also what isolates him. Sherlock has a brilliant mind, but what use is that if it’s never truly challenged?

    “The Best”

    In any case, design is subjective – there cannot be a ‘best’. It’s just like being a chef – you can master the most advanced culinary skills, and source the finest organic ingredients from the far corners of the earth, but if the person you’re cooking for doesn’t like eggs, then they’re going to think your omelette sucks. Your style cannot appeal to everyone – in fact, if that’s what you’re aiming for, then you’re heading in the wrong direction entirely.

    Monotony is dull – and thankfully the creative industry offers none of it.

    Even if you became the best (if such a thing is even possible), we work in an industry that has no walls or boundaries or rules. That is the nature of the creative industry. For every person there is that manages to perfect their craft, there will be someone who approaches it in a way that’s entirely new. They’ll attack it from the side, and out of nowhere the whole game will change and the process will start over. Web design is a solid example of this, just as you think you know everything some new bit of technology rears its head and suddenly your life’s work is antiquated in an instant – and that is just so much fun. Gamers are constantly pining for new expansion packs and sequels because they love change, but moreover they love the challenge that comes with it. Monotony is dull – and thankfully the creative industry offers none of it.

    loving the run(Pin it!)

    I suppose that’s what it all boils down to; the fact that whilst all of us strive to be the best, the joy of it isn’t in achieving that goal, it’s about everything in between. It’s not about winning the race – it’s about loving the run.

    Next Tuesday I’ll be publishing an article on how to level up your creative skills. It’ll be a guide for those wishing to make a genuine a definable step forward in their skill set, a way to look back and see a difference in ability between then and now. If that sounds like something you could use (and remember, you will never be good enough to stop learning) then make sure you sign up to the Design Range newsletter below, and I’ll send you over an email once it goes live.