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One of the best things about being human is our ability to make choices. If you’re in the mood for a hamburger but also in a rush, you still have options. Do you go to Mcdonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s or one of the other fast-food burger joints?
If you’re in the market for a new car, do you look at Ford, Dodge, Toyota, or Honda? Need a new computer? You can choose one of the many models of Pcs or go with a Mac. Regardless of your choices, the ultimate decision is still up to you.
But how do you go about choosing?
You do so by looking at what makes each option different and how those differences appeal to you.
We all know that not all hamburgers are equal. McDonald’s has consistently stated that “Great Taste” makes them different. I know, that’s very subjective. But it is a recurring marketing slogan they’ve used over the years. Burger King claims it’s the flame broiling that makes them different. At Wendy’s, it’s the fact that their meat is never frozen, so it taste’s fresher. Ultimately, you decide which one of these differences appeals to you the most. And that’s where you get your burger.
This same concept of what makes something different can equally apply to designers. What makes you different from the other designers in your town? What would make a client choose you over one of them?
If you can figure out this question and use it to your advantage, you may outpace your competition with more work than you can handle. So what makes you different?
Culture and Heritage.
Maybe your culture or heritage makes you different. People find it easier to deal with people similar to them or who understand them.
It’s currently the middle of May, which is Asian Heritage Month. As a white person, I would never expect someone to hire me to design a campaign for Asian Heritage Month. It’s not that I don’t think I could do a good job. It’s just that I feel that an Asian designer is better suited for the project. After all, they can relate to the subject matter better than I ever could.
Whatever your heritage or culture is, you should embrace it and find a way to use it.
A member of the Resourceful Designer Community is an indigenous Canadian woman. She’s using this to her advantage by marketing her design business to companies, organizations and groups run by First Nation people. And she’s killing it. She had to halt a recent marketing campaign because her available time quickly filled up for the rest of the year. Wouldn’t you like to be booked entirely for the rest of the year?
She’s become so busy that she’s in the process of hiring another designer to help with the workload. How is this possible? Is it because she’s terrific at marketing her services? That may be part of it. But her marketing message alone isn’t what’s bringing in so many new clients. It’s who she’s marketing to.
First Nations people, just like everyone else, need help when it comes to design and branding. And when given a choice, they are more likely to choose someone like them who is a member of a First Nation. Someone who understands their culture doesn’t need to be educated on what works and what doesn’t for them.
In other words, it means they are comfortable working with her because she understands them. And this makes it easy for them to choose her over another designer who isn’t a member of a First Nation.
Perhaps you can apply a similar strategy. Are you Hispanic, Asian, or a person of colour? Have you ever thought of marketing yourself to people of the same ethnic background? It may give you an advantage over others in your field as clients may prefer you over someone who isn’t of the same ethnicity as them. It’s worth a try.
Gender and Orientation.
There has never been so much discussion over gender and orientation as there is today. And that’s a good thing. The more we talk about it, the more it will become accepted. And when it comes to your business, your gender and orientation could be an excellent opportunity for you to attract clients.
If you are part of the LGBTQ community, you have an advantage over those of us who aren’t. Like-minded people prefer to deal with like-minded people. It makes them feel safe and understood. And it’s no different when it comes to business.
I know it’s not design-related, but I recently heard of a podcast editing company that only deals with LGBTQ clients. They’ve created a place where LGBTQ podcasters can feel safe and unjudged for the podcasts they make.
The same concept can be applied to a design business. An LGBTQ entrepreneur may feel more comfortable working with a designer from the same community. The manager at the print shop I used to work at is gay. And I know we had many LGBTQ clients because they felt comfortable dealing with him.
And when we talk about gender, it could be as simple as a female designer opting to work with women-led businesses. I’ve heard of several designers who do just this. They only work with companies that are run by other women. And they have plenty of work to keep them busy.
But what if you’re someone who can’t embrace your culture or heritage, or your particular gender or orientation doesn’t help? Then maybe you want to look at niching. Choosing a niche makes you different than other designers who don’t specialize.
Take Craig Burton, for example. I interviewed him back in episode 174 of the Resourceful Designer podcast. Craig’s design company is called School Branding Matters. And you guessed it; he designs brands for schools. That’s what makes Craig different. That’s what makes him stand out. And it’s helped him land clients around the globe. Not bad for a solo graphic designer from New Zealand.
But any time a school needs new branding searches for a designer, there’s a good chance they come across Craig’s website. And when given a choice between a generic designer and one who specializes in school branding. The choice is pretty simple. After all, chances are they won’t have to explain to Craig the intricacies of the school ecosystem and how a brand would be incorporated.
Other ways to be different.
Are there other ways to make yourself stand out from other similar designers? Sure there are. Take Ian Paget, for example. You may know him as Logo Geek. He’s a logo designer from Manchester, the UK and has a popular podcast of the same name as his business, Logo Geek.
Ian specializes in Logo Design, but so do a lot of designers. So how does he stand out? I just mentioned he has a logo design podcast. So that gives him some authority in the space. Ian has also judged logo design competitions. And he’s written articles about logo design for some well-established publications.
All of this gives Ian credibility and has earned him some prestigious clients. He’s been hired to design logos for universities, big corporations, large conferences, etc. His credentials differentiate him from all the other logo designers around. So he uses it to his advantage. And it’s working.
Small things can make a difference.
Finally, I want to mention that you don’t have to do much to be different. The things I just talked about are significant steps. But there are little things you can do to set yourself apart.
Take me as an example. As you may know, a few years ago, I started a second design business called Podcast Branding, which specializes in podcast cover artwork and websites for podcasters.
Other businesses in this niche specialize in podcast cover artwork beside me. Even though I know I’m priced higher than most of my direct competition; I have a thriving business.
So what did I do to make myself different?
For one, I established that not only am I a designer, but I’m also a podcaster. I’ve been podcasting since 2013, and that lays a strong foundation for my credibility in the space. I get podcasting. Any designer can design a square piece of art. But the fact that I’m familiar with the podcast industry helps me stand out.
The other thing I do that makes me unique is offer a one-on-one meeting with every client. Most of my competitors provide a questionnaire for clients to fill out. They then take the client’s information and design a podcast cover.
On the other hand, I get on a Zoom call with every client to discuss their podcast. I ask why they’re starting a podcast. What do they hope to accomplish with it? What format will it be? Will it be just them, or will they have a co-host? Will they interview guests?
I find out everything I can about their new show. I do this for two reasons. I need to know about the show if I’m going to design artwork for it. And I want to get a feel for who the podcaster is. Their personality will affect what I create for them. If a person is very serious and formal, I may design their cover one way. However, if they come across as joyful and bubbly, I’ll probably create it differently.
These 15-minute meetings make a massive difference to me. And I’ve been told over and over it’s the reason why a client chose me over someone else. Even when I’m the more expensive option, they felt my way of doing things is more personal than a questionnaire.
We all know that finding new clients can be difficult, especially when you’re just starting. We also know that word of mouth is the most common way designers get new clients. I talked about this in length in episode 281 of the podcast.
Word of mouth spreads quickest among like-minded people. Why is that indigenous member of the Resourceful Designer Community doing so well? It’s because indigenous people talk to other indigenous people, and when she does a good job with one, the word spreads.
The same applies in all communities, whether it’s an Asian or coloured community, an LGBTQ community or even a school or podcaster community. Like-minded people talk to like-minded people. And when you do a good job helping one of them, they’ll spread the word. Especially if they know you specialize in people of that community.
So what’s unique about you. What can you do to make yourself stand out from the competition? What can you do differently that will make clients choose you?
Figuring the answers to these questions can mean the difference between looking for your next client and being completely booked for the rest of the year.
Worth thinking about, isn’t it?
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I want to help you.
Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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