Logo Design Love

For graphic designers and all who love logos.

Finding success as a self-employed designer

365 typography

In this guest post, Duane Kinsey shares a few tactics to help you become a success as a self-employed designer.

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If there is one thing we can all probably relate to is that finding success as a self-employed designer is very tough.

Having been an avid reader of Logo Design Love for a while now, I know there are many of you in the same position I was only six months ago. You’re struggling to secure clients, and finding it difficult just to make ends meet.

Here I am going to share with you how in just six months, you can turn things around and run a profitable and growing design business.

So, how can you do it?

Well, its a lot of hard work, so get ready for that, but at the heart of the focus is your efforts in building an effective online presence.

You REALLY need a blog

As a designer, a blog is absolutely the best platform for you to share your ideas, showcase your work, talk about the industry, and most importantly, build authority for yourself online. While I am not really saying anything new here, it still really surprises me how many talented logo designers I meet, who don’t have or are still not interested in starting a blog.

I strongly recommend you start blogging now.

If you don’t have aspirations to be the next wildly popular design blogger, that is completely fine. It is your blog, and you can aspire for it to be as big or as small as you like. The most important thing is that you are in some way unique, and consistently provide valuable content to your audience. Valuable content can be anything from articles, to detailed tutorials, to just some simple snapshots of a logo that you are currently working on.

How you go about blogging is really up to you. Its success will directly correlate to the amount of time and effort you invest into it.

For many designers their blog has become the absolute cornerstone of their business. As more and more business goes online, those who have the largest and most effective profile will benefit, and those who already have established a blog will have a huge advantage.

Use social media wisely

While having a blog is critical, just having a blog is simply not enough. To build a successful online presence, I would argue that having a strong social media presence is also an absolute must. For designers, this usually means being active on both Twitter and Facebook, as a minimum.

Social media is much the same as blogging in that to be successful the most important element is to provide valuable content. I truly believe that it is as simple as that. Apart from focusing on quality content, a few additional tips for using social media are;

  1. Focus on promoting the work of others – Your colleagues will appreciate that, and in general what goes around comes around. Don’t only promote your own content.
  2. Choose your platforms and completely own them – Don’t spread yourself too thin across too many social media platforms. Choose 2-3 and try to dominate them. For me personally, I focus on Twitter, Facebook, and StumbleUpon.
  3. Set time limits and stick to them – social media can literally eat hours out of your day, so it is important to set limits to stay productive. I try and batch social media usage to 30 minutes in the morning, and another 30 minutes in the evening.
  4. Study what is working for others and see how you can apply that to yourself – Everyone uses social media in different ways, however by observing successful strategies others are using, you may find yourself a shortcut.

It is possible to find clients as a direct result of social media interaction, however that is not really the point. Social media use for designers is about engaging with the community as a whole. Do this wisely and this can lead to opportunities to secure new projects, or perhaps to collaborate with someone you admire.

It helps to have an SEO strategy

In an ideal world, search engines would rank every designer according to the quality of their work, sadly however, that is simply not the case. While blogging and utilising social media will pay dividends, unless you can achieve a fairly high level of visibility in the Google search results, finding sustainable success as a self-employed designer is going to be difficult.

Competition in SEO for design related keywords is extremely tough. While your blog will be great for SEO in itself, to have a chance ranking for potentially lucrative design related keywords, such as “logo design” you will need to have an SEO strategy to identify how you are going to get there.

There are all sorts of resources out there to teach you the fundamentals of SEO strategy, so I am not going to go into any detail about it in this post. Just remember, while it can be a frustrating journey and cut-throat game at times, there are still opportunities for those who are both savvy and committed.

Sometimes you just need to look hard enough.

There are still opportunities abound

With literally hundreds of websites selling outsourced sub-$100 logos and crowdsourcing continuing to grow, some would argue that the future for a self-employed logo designer is pretty bleak.

However, I am still optimistic.

Although it is certainly competitive online with lots of hard work, with the right plan you can still carve out a successful niche for yourself.

If you keep producing great quality work, look after your clients, and focus on building an effective online presence, the opportunities will find you.

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Duane Kinsey is a self-employed designer and founder of Australia-based design studio Logobird Designs. You can read more of his thoughts over at the Logobird blog, or follow him here on Twitter.

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Shameless editor linkdrop: Self-employment advice for designers (on davidairey.com)

Image courtesy of upscale typography

Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities

39 appreciated comments

  1. Excellent article.

    Agree with all the above especially using social media to build an online presence. I myself did underestimate the power of social media, twitter alone works well for me together with a good targetted SEO strategy.

    Need to pull my finger out and get blogging though!

  2. Good advice Duane. Like you pointed out, it’s important to have a strategy when building up a blog and to be consistent with social media, which can be really hard work and time consuming at first until you get used to it. It’s taken me a while to get into the swing of it, and even now, I still feel there’s so much more to learn.

  3. Joshua Hurtado

    This is a great post, and very inspiring for new designers. It’s all about hard work, it truly is.

    Josh Hurtado

  4. As a designer who recently started trading this does offer hope. I’m a fan of using Social Media to promote myself and actually got my first job from Twitter, of which I am a huge fan.

    A trap I must admit I have fallen into is not blogging about Design, I repeatedly blog about Social Media instead, although I must admit I do follow a number of design blogs for their excellent content!

    Excellent article!

  5. Blogging isn’t the be all and end all, but it is important.

    It gets your message and work out there for people to see. I don’t even have a website yet and I’m busy as hell just fron networking, blogging, going to trade shows and and getting the work we do out there via as many channels as possible (getting published on other blogs is a great way of driving traffic to your site).

    I’m sure David will chip in on this subject, I’d be interested in what he says. David, did you start this blog before you joined the old My Space graphic design group or after? It’s so long ago now, I can’t remember!

  6. Authoring a blog shows levels of competency in a number of areas.

    For instance:

    The design shows your style-preference.
    The spelling and grammar shows your attention to detail.
    The consistency shows your dedication and passion toward the subject.
    The way you converse shows your personality.

    So if you’re looking for employment, a blog can clearly be a valuable tool in the arsenal. Likewise, if you’re looking for clients. They can see exactly the same as any potential employer.

    On top of all this, there’s SEO gain, community-building, the ability to receive help from readers, but perhaps greatest of all, authoring a blog helps you to generally learn more about the profession you’re in.

    Of course, like you say, Lee, it’s by no means the be all and end all. There are many other actions we can take to further our interests and skills.

    In answer to your question, I started this blog in 2008, two years after my first: davidairey.com. I was part of that old MySpace graphic design forum a year before I learned what a blog was.

  7. I highly agree on the fact of setting time limits with social media, in this crowded information of society we live in. It is easy to get distracted.

    Great post.

  8. Thanks for the great response everyone.

    @Anil Amrit
    Glad you enjoyed the post Anil. Sounds like you are on the right track using Twitter and targeted SEO. Starting a blog would certainly help. For all the reasons David mentions in his comment below.

    @Paul Galbraith
    Hey Paul, it is tough balancing client work with social media. Especially if you are doing pretty much everything on your own. To tell you the truth I don’t know what the perfect balance is myself. I probably dedicate 3-4 hours to blogging and social media, however I am also fortunate enough to also work with my wife, who is a talented designer and can help out with a lot of projects.

    @Joshua Hurtado
    Keep up the hard work Joshua. Thanks for commenting.

    @John Walker
    Hi John, I also tend to blog about social media a bit as well, probably because I enjoy it so much. It is important however to also make sure you are doing enough posts relevant to your industry and showcasing your own work.

    @Lee Newham
    Hi Lee, it is definitely not the be all and end all, but a very important piece of the puzzle.

    @David Airey
    Hey David, Thanks again for the opportunity to guest post on Logo Design Love. Brilliant comment…I have nothing to add the that really. Spot on.

    @Skyler Bradsby
    Hi Skyler, thanks for commenting. You really need to set limits on social media usage. As I mentioned to Paul above however, I don’t know what the perfect balance is yet.

  9. Great post, Duane! I love the tip about setting time limits for the social media,and it’s so true; literally it eats time away from my productivity before I even know what’s going on! My coach had a good suggestion for this and any other media that’s a time-eater (for example, e-mail): set a kitchen timer to whatever time limit you’re allowing for that particular activity. When it goes off, no matter what, you stop the activity and go on to the most fun part: the creativity for your client.

  10. What a great article, thanks!

    I do have a blog (its new, just started it in August!) but it has not been a source for new work at all, which is totally fine – I never intended for it to be! I like having it mostly as a way to network with other designers. I think that is another important reason why it is good to have a blog – because networking is very important in being or becoming a successful web designer or graphic designer, etc.

    Good point also on not only promoting your own work with social networks! I totally agree with you on that!

  11. I definitely think optimism is an important key too. Anyone who ever succeeded in a big business of any kind, had to believe they would get there before ever trying. If people see that you are not confident/optimistic, they will pick up on that and naturally won’t want to work with you.

  12. Ed

    I need to start doing most of these things.

    Since I’m an avid stumbler, I have noticed that it is not the best idea to stumble yourself. Be found and let them stumble you.

    Great post…

  13. So I must blog and use social media. You don’t say why. You don’t say why you do. You just tell me what I must do to succeed. This is starting to sound like the game of post office, where the meaning of the original message has gotten washed off in the long chain of re-telling, and soon the message itself will get garbled. I’d like to hear your reasons for blogging. Direct, money-in-the-pocket reasons. Not commenters. You, Duane.

  14. What a nice article, Duane !! I enjoyed reading this :)

  15. Chris

    I agree with Rick Wolff – you don’t really say anything of real substance in this article. Just blanket statements such as “you need a blog”, which have been said a hundred times before. We need specifics.

    No offence intended.

  16. And more to the point (and to Chris’s point), I’d like to hear more about why you seem to prioritize blogging over, say, expertise in your craft, or keeping up-to-date in the industry and in design trends, via other sources besides other blogs, lest your subject matter be nothing more substantial than echoes of echoes. I don’t mean to pile on here; I just think there’s more to it than blogging. Someone is credited with a “law” that bears his name, stating that 90% of everything is crap. There are a lot of crappy design blogs out there. I think an argument could be made that it’s better not to blog at all than to add to this 90%.

  17. Chris

    ^ As an experienced designer I have considered starting a blog myself, but came to the same conclusion.

    I wouldn’t want to add to the mass of copycat content such as ’93 Amazing Coffee Shop Websites that utilise Shades of Brown’ and ’10 Vague Tips on how to win Freelance Clients’.

    Quality over quantity IMO.

  18. Chris, I think that gives you an extra reason to start a blog. Others can learn from your experiences. There’s nothing that says if you start a design blog you need to post lists or vague tips.

  19. Chris

    @David – I just feel that most key subjects have been covered by someone, somewhere. There’s only so much to write about!

  20. ^ I agree with Mr. Airey. I blog about whatever I want. You shouldn’t feel limited when it comes to writing a blog. A blog at the end of the day is like a journal, its about what you want to write, what you’re thinking, feeling, etc. You don’t need to write it for others, but more for yourself.

  21. No-one has written about your experiences, your thoughts, how a certain project affected you.

    Just because someone else is doing something, doesn’t mean you can’t. Competition is healthy, after all.

  22. Chris

    @David

    “No-one has written about your experiences, your thoughts, how a certain project affected you.”

    ^ Maybe that’s what the blog world needs; more personal accounts of real life projects and experiences.That’s what I like about your posts.

    I have doubts on whether many ‘design bloggers’ have actually worked in the design industry (beyond a few student projects).

  23. Personal stories always hold my interest for longer than any third-person account. It’s like the difference between a biography and an autobiography. If given the choice, no-one would choose to read the biography.

  24. Very good article. Solid simple advice.

  25. @Rick Wolff
    I blog to share my work, my personal experience and build trust with my peers and potential clients (to name a few reasons). Blogging also helps to attract traffic and links to my site, which in turn leads to a high search engine ranking and more clients (or money in the bank).

    In hindsight, perhaps I should have gone into a little more detail in the post. Something to think about for next time.

    I would appreciate if if you would head over to my blog and take a look if you have time. Hopefully, you will see that I value my work. Cheers! :)

  26. Hi Rick and Chris,

    As Duane said he has his very personal reasons for blogging and it has worked for him. I don’t believe it works for everyone especially if they apply a broad brush approach.

    The decision to blog, tweet or use social media is complex as you both point out and it can impact on productivity.

    I agree that there is no point just blogging for the sake of it you need to have a very clear idea of how a blog will fit into your strategy for how you position yourself as a designer. You also need to have something YOU want to say and share.

    Yes Chris, there is a lot of sameness in content amongst bloggers and not just in the design arena. That’s why it’s important to find a niche and make a unique contribution which reflects the kind of work you do.

    One of the great things about blogging is it forces you to think with clarity about your industry and your role in it.

    Here’s an example you wouldn’t aspire to but it’s different http://www.horriblelogos.com/

    More on this topic for Seth Godin here http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2010/05/do-you-have-a-media-channel-strategy-you-should.html

  27. I know we are meant to comment on the article but the picture of the work is really good, its nice and simple.

    Really caught my eye.

  28. This is a bit misleading for newbie designers.

    There is no doubt that a blog is a great SEO tool for any business, but it isn’t something that is required to be a good designer; and it isn’t something everyone can do.

    Lets remember that blogging is writing, it’s as far removed from designing as building is from plumbing. It’s acomplelety different skill and profession.
    If your not a natural Wordsworth a blog could even damage your website.

    The heart of a solid online presence should be an outstanding body of work, not a blog as suggested by the author of this article.

  29. Hi Jonny,
    Why can’t anyone start a blog? Being a natural “wordsworth” is not a prerequisite for having a blog. I am not a natural myself when it comes to writing but have done just fine until now. If someone is not comfortable with expressing themselves through writing, there are also other options such as video and audio posts. Blogging is in fact something absolutely anyone can do.

    It a given that all designers should be focusing on producing an outstanding body of work. I am not disputing that. If nobody knows about your work however, you are quite unlikely to have any success if self-employed.

    From my personal experience, blogging is simply the best vehicle to find success as a self-employed designer.

  30. Hi Duane –

    Your article implies that you “really need” a blog to be a successful designer. My post was to balance that viewpoint with my own which is that a blog is not as vital as you have made out.

    I still stand by that, and I think a lot of fresh out of school designers would be better off passing their hours by honing their skills as a designer rather than penning words on a blog.

    In essence, the article is simply stating “blogging is good SEO” which is a statement that I am in 100% agreement with, but it’s nothing to do with being a designer – that is (or rather was) my point.

    It’s worth reminding newbie designers that the internet isn’t the only source of work – and search engine rankings are not the be all and end all of success, if that were true – there would only be a handful of people making a living out of design.

  31. Maciej Wróblewski

    Hi
    Do you recommend any platform or any templates to do a blog? Or a website where I could find some tools to do a good blog? I mean somewhere where is possible to change columns and whole look of the blog (to be unique and simple)?

  32. Maciej Wróblewski

    btw here’s my current blog – http://maciekwr.blogspot.com/ . I’m not contented about it…
    I’d like to have something different, on such level like yours David (or almost…)
    Do you have any tips or someting?

  33. Hello Maciej, I recommend WordPress as a blogging platform. I use it for this site, for davidairey.com, and for identitydesigned.com. Hundreds of templates available, or you can code your own with a little practice.

    Here are some of my personal blogging mistakes to learn from.

  34. Rick Clark

    Pure and simple… thanks. You got me off my ass, previously something only my parole officer could regularly accomplish.


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