Freelance Graphic Designer Tips

Choosing Gifts for Clients

Come holiday time, some freelance graphic artists send gifts to their best clients to reinforce the relationship and spread good feelings.

This gesture can go wrong in a number of ways, though. Avoid gifts that:

• Are too expensive. No one wants to feel bribed.

• Are too cheap. Who needs another keychain, really?

• Have any kind of religious connotation, unless you’re absolutely sure of the recipient’s affiliation.

• Cause inconvenience for the recipient. (No live animals, for example — and yes, it’s been done.)

• The best gifts are those that reflect a real relationship — knowing an executive’s favorite chocolates, providing low-calorie snacks to an office where everyone’s on South Beach, etc.

Failing that, though, you may be better off spending your time creating a truly memorable and delightful card that reinforces your design skills.

Common Graphic Designer Mistakes

Virtually every freelance graphic designer has a story of the client who got away, or the partner who stole their ideas, or the project that cost them more than it paid. Of course, many of them won’t admit to making these mistakes! Here are some common errors you can avoid:

• Doing work for nothing — if you work for free, let it be for something you believe in, with rewards in the form of testimonials and publicity.

• Showing mockups to clients before a contract is signed (so they can “adapt” your ideas and pay you nothing)

• Showing the client too many ideas (so they wonder why they’re paying you since they have to do the work of sifting through them)

• Showing the client only one idea (makes it easy for them to reject you along with the idea)

• Doing presentations over the Internet (people don’t take you seriously and aren’t as willing to sign contracts)

• Working without a contract

• Taking stock in the client’s company instead of cash fees (if the company dies, your stock is worthless)

• Not proofreading your work

Don’t Trash the Competition

When you are selling your services for graphic design jobs, or working on a project for a client, you may hear about competitors who are supposedly cheaper, faster, or more successful than you.

Resist the temptation to explain to the client just what was wrong with XYZ Agency’s last three campaigns, or how So-and-So’s brochures were so ugly they peeled paint, or tell the story about the competitor’s logo that looked regrettably like a piece of women’s underwear.

You’ll look far more professional and confident if you keep things positive. “Of course, there are many good designers in this area,” said with a knowing look, can convey a certain meaning without making you look petty. What you want to imply, without saying it in so many words, is that clients who use those other designers deserve what they get.

Interviewing Potential Clients

When you interview with clients for potential graphic design jobs, bear in mind that you should be asking questions, not just answering them. Of course you want to sell the client on your fantastic skills. At the same time, though, you need to find out whether the job at hand carries a sufficient promise of reward for it to be worth your time.

Benefits of a job might include networking, portfolio-building, skill-building, or simply the chance to work on a fun project. The primary reward, though, is money, and it’s important for you to establish yourself as a professional who expects and deserves to be paid.

Questions to ask include:

• What are the business goals of this project?

• How do they fit into your goals for the business as a whole?

• Who are the decision-makers on this project?

• What is the budget for this project?

• What is included in that budget?

• Does the budget include revisions?

Your network may also be a useful source of information about the prospective client, and you should also do a little basic web research on them. Use your intuition as well — if an organization doesn’t seem legit to you, or if they seem to be making shifts to survive, take action to be sure you get paid, or seek another client.

Successful Brochure Design Tips

A freelance graphic designer working on a business brochure must first understand the target audience for the brochure, and create designs with that audience in mind. This can be as simple as using larger type to appeal to older people. Here are some other tips for you to use when designing a brochure:

• Understand the specific goal of the brochure. Is it to get customers in the door? To attract mail or Internet orders? To enhance the client’s standing in the business community? To make a price list available to prospects?

• Use your design to highlight the benefits of the client’s product or service.

• Avoid using pictures or bios of the client’s staff. (That means having to redo the brochure when the staff changes, an expense the client won’t appreciate.)

• Unless the brochure is part of an overall branding project, be sure your product harmonizes with the existing logos, templates, and letterhead the client uses.

• Use photos and graphics to reinforce a message, not just to look pretty.

• Use color to attract the reader’s attention to your most important points.

Consider completing your brochure several months ahead of time and having it printed at the printer’s convenience. Most printers are slow in January and February, and this step can help you get a good deal on printing.

Teaming Up for Freelance Success

A freelance graphic designer in a difficult market may need to get creative when it comes to finding clients. Fortunately, designers are already creative!

One of the best ways to build your clientele is to join forces with someone in a related field. A designer and copywriter might market themselves as a team. A graphic artist and a programmer might help each other out on projects, allowing each to market the other’s skills and look like a more vibrant business. A web designer might market services through a local copy center, allowing the copy center to offer a service not available at big box stores while reaching new markets.

The important thing in all these arrangements is money. Sit down ahead of time and talk through as many possible scenarios as you can. If the web designer brings a new client to the copy center, is she entitled to a fee? If the graphic artist and the programmer create a game together, who will market it and how will they split the money? If the copywriter is supposed to get half the money for team projects, but the job required twice as much design time as writing time, what happens?

Even if you have a trust relationship with another professional — even if that person is your spouse or your sister — communicating ahead of time about financial issues will help things go more smoothly.

The Value of Good Design

Especially when dealing with smaller or less sophisticated clients, a freelance graphic designer will probably need to do some work to sell the client on the idea that professional training, high-end software, and experienced visual sense are worth reasonable fees.

One experienced designer offers this idea: Create a full-color brochure for a fictional company. At each stage of the process — logo design, color correction, copywriting, final document design — take screen shots. Then incorporate these into a PDF selling tool that makes the case for skill and knowledge as essential ingredients in effective design at every phase of the process, from concept to prepress.

Label a CD-ROM with your logo and load the PDF onto it. If a client seems to need this level of education, invite him or her to go through the process with you and see the final result.

Tools like this give you a chance to shine at marketing yourself — and thus impress clients with the idea that you can market them as well.

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