Sometimes, I reflect on how lucky I am to be able to do what I love to do – and do it on my own terms. The road to owning my own business didn’t happen overnight. There is no perfect formula, but to those starting out and looking for your first clients, here is what I would say:
Meet people. Lots of people.
When I first picked up freelance projects, I was actually looking for a job. I was meeting anyone and everyone to try to get a foot in the door. This brought me a few of my very first clients, but it also taught me an important lesson – you never know who you will meet and how you may be able to help each other. Maybe someone doesn’t have work for you right away – that’s fine – it is still worth taking the time to connect with them.
Don’t be discouraged. There are GOOD PEOPLE out there.
Sometimes, it will feel like people are trying to dull your sparkle. Realize it isn’t always about you. Keep your head up and seek out the people who are good. Let them inspire you and hold on to them as clients and/or colleagues. The good people far outweigh the bad in the long run.
And in that vein…
Do right by people.
In the same way you want clients and connections to do right by you, you should do the same. People will remember it, and respond in kind.
Do your best work.
It may seem obvious, but always strive to do your best work, regardless of the client or the budget. In a lot of ways, the work will speak for itself, and if clients are happy, they will come back or refer other clients to you. A small budget project may lead to a huge contract later. You just never know.
Utilize social media.
I have met a few wonderful clients on social media. It is a great and inexpensive way to show people who you are, and to get your name out there. Have conversations, share tips, interact… It will help keep you top of mind when that project DOES materialize.
What do you wish you had known when you first started your business?
Let’s get personal for a minute. It has been almost a year since I took the plunge into full-time freelance, and the year has been a ride. Here are 5 things I’ve learned as I took the leap into self-employment.
1. You will work harder than ever before.
As a freelancer, you get a lot of freedom. Want to wake up at 9am? Do it. Want to go to the store in the middle of the day? Done. But like they say on Once Upon a Time – “Magic comes with a price.” In freelancing, that price is that only you can get the work done. Sick days? Days off? They only sort of exist, because if you are on a deadline, there is no one there to pick up the slack for you. You will work harder than ever before. But…that brings us to number 2.
2. It will be more rewarding than ever before too.
I work harder than ever before, but because the work is mine, I want to. I love my clients, and I love the feeling of satisfaction finishing up that job that I’ve been striving toward for ages. I do a bigger range of work now, and I find that extremely rewarding. Instead of an employee, I am a partner – helping people achieve their business goals. That is an incredible responsibility, but it also comes with a lot of satisfaction.
3. There will be quiet times. This is ok.
I am still working on this one. There are times when all your projects are out for review, and the work is…well, done. You sit down, and you stare at your inbox, and you wonder what the next email will be. It is scary – but it is ok. I consider these days “forced days off” – days to recharge my batteries and work on the projects that keep my business running, like updating my website, writing blog posts, etc. And tomorrow, either I will find work or work will find me.
4. Everyone will say, “It must be so nice. You can turn down work you don’t want.”
One of the first things I hear when I tell people I freelance is – “I wish I had the courage to do that.” The next is “It must be so nice to turn down the projects you don’t want.” While this is nice in theory, it isn’t the reality, at least not for someone building their business. I want to get my name out there – I am hungry for projects. And while I won’t devalue my work or take less money than I deserve, I will rarely turn down a project because I “don’t want it.”
5. You are not alone.
Sometimes, freelancing is isolating. Not everyone understands how it works. People will think you are between jobs. People will think you are taking this monumental risk. Maybe you are. But there are many, many other people out there like you, who are waking up every day and setting their own schedules, and they are hungry to connect. Freelance DC has been a huge resource for me this year. I’ve found clients, and I’ve found friends. Find your group – they are looking for you too.
Here’s to another year of learning, growth and partnerships with great clients and friends.
This week, in honor of “back to school” season, I thought I’d share some of my favorite business and graphic design books. For those who don’t know me, I read. A lot. I particularly like reading about entrepreneurs and designers, and how they got started in their industry. Below are a few favorites that you might want to add to your reading list.
Delivering Happiness – Tony Hsieh
Delivering Happiness is a great read about how Tony Hsieh founded Zappos. Lots of interesting insights into their company culture, and their dedication to customer service. From offering money to employees to quit, to the yearly culture book, this true story will make you a loyal Zappos customer.
Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business – Barbara Corcoran
As a former Jersey girl, I couldn’t resist Barbara Corcoran’s autobiography about rising up to become a powerhouse entrepreneur. She shows how being intuitive and thinking differently can bring success to your career.
Start Something That Matters – Blake Mycoskie
Start Something That Matters is by the founder of Toms, and is a great read on alternative business models and giving back. As many of you know, Toms is based on the “buy one, give one” model. This book will inspire you to find a way to bring charity to your own work.
The Art of Looking Sideways – Alan Fletcher
If you buy one design book for inspiration, buy this one. Alan Fletcher is one of the great graphic designers of our times, and his books are full of hand drawn sketches, typography, etc. His designs are clever and will give you plenty to think about. I guarantee you will open this book again and again.
How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul – Adrian Shaughnessy
From inspiration, we now move on to practical advice. How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul is about how to have a graphic design business. So many design schools gloss over the business side of design, and yet so many designers end up being freelance business owners. This book is full of information you need for contracts, writing briefs, etc.
Elegantissima – Louise Fili
Another inspiration book – lately, it seems like hand drawn typography is all the rage. Since 1989, Louise Fili has been delighting us with her typographically driven design solutions for restaurants, packaging and more. Many of her designs are inspired by signage that she has photographed on her many trips to Italy. This book showcases her work, and is sure to make you want to try your hand at some new typographic ideas.
Now that you know my favorite books, what are some of yours?
At Stacy Kleber Design, LLC, we love working with start-ups and small businesses to help get their dreams off the ground. Not only do we get to help them grow, but we get to help them establish their brand personality. For entrepreneurs, choosing what materials they need can be overwhelming. To get you thinking about what your business needs, this week we’re listing some of our most common requests and recommendations.
If you are just starting out, the first thing you will need is a logo. Your logo is going to be one of the most used and visible pieces of your brand, so you should definitely invest in something that really embodies your business. For some, this will mean just text. For others, this will mean text and imagery. Think about how you want it to feel – fun, casual, formal, etc. This will help your designer create something that is a good fit for your brand.
Once you have a logo, you will likely want to invest in business cards. Business cards are important because you will be telling people about your business and networking. You will want to make it easy to give them something so they can contact you. Though people often recommend oddly shaped business cards to help yourself stand out, I recommend going with the standard size and shape. This will make it easier for people to carry them in their wallets or save them in a rolodex.
Another thing you will likely need up front is a website. You don’t need to go for the full nine-yards right away, but at the very least you want to have something online that explains the basics of your business and allows people to contact you. You will be able to put the web address on your business cards, and therefore can drive traffic to your site while networking as well.
Once you have your logo, business cards and website, what we recommend would be based more on your individual needs. Some other common collateral are as follows:
Rack Card or Brochure
A rack card or brochure is a good way to hand out more information about your business. A rack card is is generally 2-sided, while a brochure is generally a trifold. Both should include succinct text and dynamic photos that help sell your business to the customer.
Letterhead format usually depends on your intended use. You can have it preprinted or have a digital letterhead set up in Microsoft Word. Most businesses like to have both. Preprinted letterhead allows for full-bleed printing and high quality paper. Digital letterhead allows for your business to send branded Word documents or pdfs through email.
Custom Social Media Banners
Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets allow you to brand your marketing channels to reinforce your business with the general public. Having a professional branded social media channel helps build continuity and trust with your customers.
If you will be giving a lot of presentations, a branded Powerpoint template might also be useful. If done correctly, you can reinforce your brand on each slide. This will help customers to remember your brand, and gives them an opportunity to write down your contact information.
We hope our top 7 design recommendations for starting your business will help you get your business off to a great start. Please contact us if we can be of any assistance as you begin your journey!