Design insights & tutorials.

Land Bigger Jobs: Appear “bigger” than you actually are

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designer-growing150.jpgOne thing that Go Media has done ever since we we put our first site online back in 2003, is tried to appear bigger than we were. This can have its pros and cons, but to the designer just starting out, it has more pros. Let me explain. The idea of looking bigger simply means that by portraying an attitude of success and professionalism, you will earn those high paying jobs with bigger clients.

Lofty Goals

Most designers just starting out have lofty goals in mind. They want to be doing the “big” projects and get the “big” clients. They want their name to be synonymous with the term “design.” Go Media started out just the same way. There are always the designers that start small and want to stay small and have no desire to attract bigger clients or higher paying work. But for this post, I’ll focus on the majority that want to get bigger and more successful. I’ll offer a quick rundown of the pros and cons of looking bigger than you actually are.

Pros of Looking Bigger

1. You get bigger clients and bigger jobs
2. You get treated with more respect
3. You become the envy of all your peers
4. You attract other successful people

Cons of Looking Bigger

1. You may get more work than you can handle
2. You risk disappointing your client if you cannot live up to your expectations
3. You risk appearing dishonest if you aren’t truthful in how you describe yourself
4. You may be perceived as “too big” and scare off some nice projects

So How do I “appear bigger?”

There are a few things you can do. I’ll speak from my personal experience. I discovered Go Media in 2004 after I saw their site. I looked on their contact page and they had a map of the USA with markers in a few major cities and multiple phone numbers. I thought to myself, man these guys are the real deal! I want to work there! They have offices in southern California and New York? They must be doing something right. So I sent them an email and eventually met up with the owners. It surprised me that it was just literally two young guys working out of their apartment.

oldgomediasite.jpg

So were they lying? Not exactly. Those other numbers were friends of theirs acting as sales reps in those other cities. Someone could call them and request work and then Bill and Chris would eventually hear about the job and follow up with the lead. Their buddy would get some cash for helping them out. However, one downside to this might be that your friend isn’t always going to answer his phone by saying “Go Media, this is ______” and may be taken off guard. It could backfire.

Answer your Phone Professionally

Speaking of answering the phone, if you post business hours on your website, make sure when you answer the phone you answer it with your studio name. If you don’t have one, make sure it’s professional. Like “Good afternoon, this is Jeff Finley, can I help you?” Or “Thank you for calling Go Media, this is Jeff…” Your callers, even if they’re your best friend calling about getting together that night, will take you seriously. This helps make the smallest studio or freelancer “feel” bigger than they actually are.

Speak and Write like a Pro

Another effective tool to appear “bigger” is language. The way you speak on your site, on the phone, or in an email, really shows off how professional you are. If you speak in conversational English and ignore grammar, people will assume you’re small time and not capable of handling bigger projects. You can be overly technical and “commercial” on your website, but you run the risk of being too “salesman-like” and can turn off potential clients. It depends on the people you’re talking to. A lot of bands would be turned off if I kept calling them sir or madam. But the trick here is just to not act like an idiot. Be mature and know your client.

Client List

For most designers, putting up a client list of people you worked for seems like a no brainer, but if you list bigger clients, you’ll attract bigger clients. Usually of the same breed. If you list lots of bands, you’ll probably attract bands. If you list some major Web 2.0 startups, you’ll probably have tons of new Web startups emailing you for work.

So these are some ways to compete with the “big boys” while staying small.

Precautions

Don’t lie about anything. Be honest.

betruthful.jpg

Avoid using “we” if you’re a solo designer. If you’re a solo act, one thing to avoid are the words “we” or “our company.” I’ve seen countless individuals try to act bigger by claiming they’re some big company with multiple employees, when in fact they’re not. For one, that’s dishonest. You can avoid it by saying “Studio X can help you by doing this…” or “Studio X can handle almost any project…” Don’t say “we can handle any project.” That’s not right.

Posting “pitch” work in your portfolio. The next “trick” to looking bigger is a bit questionable. You might see a freelance designer’s portfolio loaded with work for big name clients. Some fancy illustration with Reebok’s logo on it. Don’t be fooled. A lot of times, that designer wasn’t actually hired by that client. It gives off an impression that Reebok hired this designer when in fact they were not even aware that this work was ever done. Now some people would say that’s not ethical to put work like this in your portfolio. On the other hand, the designer DID spend the time to create the design and is most likely proud of it. It’s cool that he wants to show it off. However, if you’re going to do something like this, you should make it clear that the project was just a personal experiment.

Mislabeling Clients is a no-no. This is a bit of a grey area. When you get hired by an Agency to do an illustration for a large corporate brand like Nike, list your client as the Agency and not Nike. I can see the temptation that by listing Nike as your client, you give off the impression of being bigger and more important. But try not to do that. We’ve been in trouble for listing the brand as the client, when in fact it was NOT them who was paying us, it was the Ad Agency. The Ad Agency was upset that we listed their client as ours, when in fact they were simply subcontracting the work to us. So our client is technically the Ad Agency. A good way to figure out who your actual client is to ask “Who paid me?”

One Last Note: Your Portfolio

None of these “tricks” will work unless you have a portfolio that backs up what you say. Your portfolio of work must be comparable to the “big boys” if you ever want to start obtain work like they do. You aren’t going to get those jobs if your portfolio is filled with school projects. People like to see real work for real clients.

So just to recap. If you’re small-time, you must start acting bigger to get bigger jobs. The way you speak to your website visitors on your portfolio site is a major indicator of how “big” you are. One important thing is try to avoid lying for the sake of looking bigger. It’s one thing to tell a big client you can handle their large project (if you know it will be a struggle for your small company) but to blatantly lie about your capabilities or the clients you worked for is going to bite you in the ass. Don’t overstate what you can do unless you plan to back it up 110%.

Some Final Tips

1. Get high quality business cards, letterhead, etc.
2. Network with leaders in your industry
3. Go to Trade Shows and schmooze with the big boys
4. Copy the techniques that the big boys use in their marketing (don’t flat out steal, just see what they’re doing that works and do it yourself)
5. Read Freelanceswitch.com. It’s got a ton of great articles for small time designers looking to get bigger.

About the Author, Jeff Finley

I'm a partner at Go Media, a Cleveland web design and development firm. We also specialize in print design and branding. I started Weapons of Mass Creation Fest and wrote the book Thread's Not Dead, teaching artists and designers how to start a clothing company. In my spare time, I write songs and play drums in Campfire Conspiracy. I'm a happy husband and an aspiring b-boy and lucid dreamer.
Discover More by Jeff Finley

Discussion

We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • PG

    Nice article. Very informative for any freelance designer out there. Thanks.

  • PG

    Nice article. Very informative for any freelance designer out there. Thanks.

  • http://www.designerpluseditor.com Matthew

    Very nice write up. I think one thing to emphasize is it’s hard enough to make it in this industry. All you have is your name and reputation, so be truthful. The right clients will respect you more for it.

  • http://www.designerpluseditor.com Matthew

    Very nice write up. I think one thing to emphasize is it’s hard enough to make it in this industry. All you have is your name and reputation, so be truthful. The right clients will respect you more for it.

  • Jeremy

    It’s always nice to get real information from someone who’s in the industry…what seems like a no-brainer or common sense sometimes isn’t. Thanks Jeff!

  • http://www.brusheezy.com Shawn

    Another great article Jeff! You guys are definitely the real deal. I look forward to more articles like this in the future. Thanks!

  • http://www.brusheezy.com Shawn

    Another great article Jeff! You guys are definitely the real deal. I look forward to more articles like this in the future. Thanks!

  • Jeremy

    It’s always nice to get real information from someone who’s in the industry…what seems like a no-brainer or common sense sometimes isn’t. Thanks Jeff!

  • http://www.keithics.com keith

    love it! one of the best article and very practical!

  • http://www.keithics.com keith

    love it! one of the best article and very practical!

  • http://www.blogthememachine.com Mike Smith

    I like the map and phone number idea. I wonder if there is a way to purchase numbers in these cities but have them forwarded to your house/cell phone? Something like vonage, but different area codes.

    You can also use http://www.kall8.com or another 1-800 service so you don’t give out your personal number but also appear larger because “hey, they have an 1800 number”.

    Great article.

    Mike

  • http://www.blogthememachine.com Mike Smith

    I like the map and phone number idea. I wonder if there is a way to purchase numbers in these cities but have them forwarded to your house/cell phone? Something like vonage, but different area codes.

    You can also use http://www.kall8.com or another 1-800 service so you don’t give out your personal number but also appear larger because “hey, they have an 1800 number”.

    Great article.

    Mike

  • http://takeouttees.com matt

    Thanks for the great article Jeff. It really helps to know that not everyone is completely out for themselves in this industry.

    You GoMedia people are awesome.

    Matt

  • http://takeouttees.com matt

    Thanks for the great article Jeff. It really helps to know that not everyone is completely out for themselves in this industry.

    You GoMedia people are awesome.

    Matt

  • bryan

    Excellent article Jeff. It’s great that you guys are willing to share your experiences with the little guys trying to make their way up the ladder.

    thanks…B

  • bryan

    Excellent article Jeff. It’s great that you guys are willing to share your experiences with the little guys trying to make their way up the ladder.

    thanks…B

  • http://www.twistedtease.com Laurence Dabek

    A very insightful article. It certainly hits on a number of do’s and don’ts that every designer should be aware of.
    It is good to have solid, positive information allowing people to avoid some pitfalls that can befall someone new in the business.
    Nice job!

  • http://www.twistedtease.com Laurence Dabek

    A very insightful article. It certainly hits on a number of do’s and don’ts that every designer should be aware of.
    It is good to have solid, positive information allowing people to avoid some pitfalls that can befall someone new in the business.
    Nice job!

  • http://www.bartondamer.com barton damer

    great advice… i have often thought about offering a cut to friends of mine who get clients for me as an incentive to drum up freelance work (sort of like the map idea)

    maybe offer % of the the final project the client pays me for… any thoughts on that or what a fair percentage is? obviously it’s not a huge incentive to someone and i don’t expect someone to go nuts trying to send clients my way… but maybe it’ll spark enough interest to pass my info along next time they think of it???

  • http://www.bartondamer.com barton damer

    great advice… i have often thought about offering a cut to friends of mine who get clients for me as an incentive to drum up freelance work (sort of like the map idea)

    maybe offer % of the the final project the client pays me for… any thoughts on that or what a fair percentage is? obviously it’s not a huge incentive to someone and i don’t expect someone to go nuts trying to send clients my way… but maybe it’ll spark enough interest to pass my info along next time they think of it???

  • http://www.gomedia.us Jeff

    I think a good percentage is 20% – 30%

  • http://www.gomedia.us Jeff

    I think a good percentage is 20% – 30%

  • http://www.bartondamer.com barton damer

    DANG! Jeff… i’m gonna send people your way from now on so i can get the 20-30% cut. i was thinking like… 10%

    for real though, that seems pretty high considering all the overhead that would need to be covered if you are in business for your self. by the time you cover cost of office space, equipment, insurance, personnel… you probably barely profit 30% for doing all the work, no?

    just curious, you would know way more about this than i do, i’ve just been freelancing and haven’t had to really cover a lot of those costs that i mentioned.

  • http://www.bartondamer.com barton damer

    DANG! Jeff… i’m gonna send people your way from now on so i can get the 20-30% cut. i was thinking like… 10%

    for real though, that seems pretty high considering all the overhead that would need to be covered if you are in business for your self. by the time you cover cost of office space, equipment, insurance, personnel… you probably barely profit 30% for doing all the work, no?

    just curious, you would know way more about this than i do, i’ve just been freelancing and haven’t had to really cover a lot of those costs that i mentioned.

  • Water

    Good stuff, I just wanted to add as a freelance designer, the skill of BEING ON TIME!. It may sound obvious, but because everyone is busy, deadlines may get pushed back nonchalantly. So delivering when you INITIALY say is one of the constantly looked over things but perhaps the most important. I found even if your designs aren’t up to par (like my own) people, especially clients with big money appreciate on time delivery more than anything.

  • Water

    Good stuff, I just wanted to add as a freelance designer, the skill of BEING ON TIME!. It may sound obvious, but because everyone is busy, deadlines may get pushed back nonchalantly. So delivering when you INITIALY say is one of the constantly looked over things but perhaps the most important. I found even if your designs aren’t up to par (like my own) people, especially clients with big money appreciate on time delivery more than anything.

  • http://www.pexcel.net Frokem

    I have to agree with Jeff on the appearing bigger part about having friends act as your marketing team. I personally live in Kenya and I have friends in different parts of Africa as well as the UK sourcing out work for me.

    In order to make it even more professional, I offer to provide my friends with business cards, e-mail address accounts and an opportunity to design any of the products in line with my work. Although it does not work like magic, it brings in work that you would not have had otherwise. It will also be a good idea to e-mail them with updates on new projects that you have completed and possibly share with them some of the new skills that you keep bagging.

    To answer Barton Damer, I normally offer a % of between 10% and 15%. Sometimes I have no qualms offering a 20% commission depending on the final cost of the project. This usually acts as an encouragement to the sales team (my pals) and would either get them to be more active or just sit and wait for an opportunity.

    All in all, this was a good read Jeff, keep em coming……

  • http://www.pexcel.net Frokem

    I have to agree with Jeff on the appearing bigger part about having friends act as your marketing team. I personally live in Kenya and I have friends in different parts of Africa as well as the UK sourcing out work for me.

    In order to make it even more professional, I offer to provide my friends with business cards, e-mail address accounts and an opportunity to design any of the products in line with my work. Although it does not work like magic, it brings in work that you would not have had otherwise. It will also be a good idea to e-mail them with updates on new projects that you have completed and possibly share with them some of the new skills that you keep bagging.

    To answer Barton Damer, I normally offer a % of between 10% and 15%. Sometimes I have no qualms offering a 20% commission depending on the final cost of the project. This usually acts as an encouragement to the sales team (my pals) and would either get them to be more active or just sit and wait for an opportunity.

    All in all, this was a good read Jeff, keep em coming……

  • NINJA

    oh domo aregato , i was needed this informations to do may design works.
    here, in brazil , the things are very complicated in this area!

    G.B.Y
    sorry for the grammatical errors.

  • NINJA

    oh domo aregato , i was needed this informations to do may design works.
    here, in brazil , the things are very complicated in this area!

    G.B.Y
    sorry for the grammatical errors.

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  • Dan

    Excellent job..
    dizi izle