Gah! Internet cut out on me on this great call. A side effect of traveling while working and my affinity towards fun, trendy coffee shops over co-working spaces.
Today, I had the great pleasure of chatting with Lauren Smith, communications design experience expert. He’s a graphic/web designer who has learned much about branding and more. A master since freelancing since 1981. His site is over here.
Here are some questions I asked him and my notes about his answers. I’m going to highlight three of his best tips …
What kind of work do you do?
He’s not strictly a web designer. His focus is on branding businesses, coordinating all their communications. To make sure their brand story is straight and communicated consistently in word and visuals presentation – all of the stuff that reaches the public.
How’d you get your first client?
He started out in graphic design back in 81 … that’ s 1981, before many of you were born. He worked for a publisher and made contacts through that experience. This served as his foundation when he went out on his own. After getting work from those contacts, he sought more clients and work the old-fashioned way: with some cold calling to agencies in area and companies who might be interested in what he had to offer. He picked up clients that way.
He also did some networking through local organizations and got more clients that way. And, after the first year at it, referrals started coming from the clients and work he was already doing.
Now, he doesn’t do a whole lot of marketing. Most just comes as repeat business or through referrals. There have been ups and downs in the economy, but for most part, things pretty steady.
I was curious how he evolved into branding and if expanding your skills is a must for enduring more new work. So, I asked, how did you get into branding?
He always had an interest in bigger picture of design, which back then was called “corporate identity”. Gradually, he expanded his experience from the projects he was doing. When the world got digital, he jumped in early, as one of the first designers that got a computer. He was real conscious about keeping up with the latest technology.
Being in Silicon Valley, this is was where it all happened. You had to be tech savvy.
What was your biggest learning lesson over the years in getting clients?
He tried to grow organically. I haven’t been real aggressive about targeting, except to focus on “branding” types of work – but branding is still quite broad.
The most important thing is to do consistently good work, be easy to work with and develop good relationships with your clients. They just keep coming back to work with you and they tell other people about you. That’s the best way. It’s far easier to get repeat business than new business. Keep customers happy.
What advice would you give a newbie?
There are a lot of things to do. Know what you’re doing when it comes to the work. Build up your track record. At the least have a portfolio of projects to demonstrate that you can do the work.
The main thing is putting yourself out there – social media is a huge component. Person to person is best, but online is also important. Let people know you are there and what you do.
I think it’s harder these days, but it’s important to reach out and contact people, and have a conversation to let them know what you have to offer. See their needs, and see if it’s a good fit. Be persistent.
You know, it takes a while. No one is ever an overnight success, even fi they look like it. They’ve been working at a while. Be persistent, patient and not get discouraged. Keep plugging away.
If you have talent, and work well with people, you’ll get there.
I always enjoy seeing what my fellow designers and freelancers are up to. Lauren has worked with some big name clients like Google and PayPal. And to sum up his top three tips for new freelancing web designers, they are:
- Do great work for clients, referrals and repeat work will come.
- Put yourself out there and let people know what you do.
- Be good with people. Be easy to work with and talk with them.