Collaboration / Design Community / Inspiration

How having a local creative hub can help designers get more work

I’ve spoken before about the lack of creative support in my town – there is little here in the way of events for designers, and that’s something that I’d love to rectify. I think there are a great many benefits in creating a community, or hub, for creatives in my town, but they seem to be reserved for larger towns and cities. It’s important that as an industry, we are able to call on each other for advice, support, and inspiration.

So this article is more for the benefit of my fellow designers, who, like me might be struggling to connect with like-minded people, and wonder how we can better support each other in creating such a community and share resources in searching out and getting more paying clients.

Firstly, I’d like to explore some of the ways we might get clients, because we all do things very differently. There is no right or wrong way, but in sharing ideas, perhaps we can help each other to try new avenues, and get more of the types of clients we really want to be working with.

When I created my design agency, I did so because I believe that being part of something gives a professional edge. I decided to open as an agency for that reason.

I don’t really know whether the way that I market my agency should differ very much from the way that a freelancer might, perhaps being an agency means that my marketing is a little less personable, in that my brand is The Severn Agency rather than myself, Tony Clarkson. So whichever method I use to market, I’m doing so as ‘us’ and ‘we’, rather than ‘me’ and ‘I’. It kind of sounds a bit more professional to the kind of people that I want to be targeting, but you might think differently.

Sharing resources

A lot of us get overwhelmed when it comes to looking for new projects, especially in the beginning. Although in time, we find our own methods, it can still be difficult – the current climate has proved that. It’s important that we explore different ways of marketing, and building a design community can once again be so helpful in that. When we get stuck in a rut, as we all do, it’s useful to be able to call on others for support.

In that, I’d like to be able to share a few ideas here with you about methods that you might already use, or that you might not have thought of but want to try.

My methods

In my experience, the best work comes through referrals. Getting your name and face around as much as possible, talking to people about what you do, and not being afraid to network face-to-face is by far the most effective way you can grab people’s interest. If you can get even one client to refer you to a few of their contacts, it tends to have a ripple effect, and you can build quite a decent portfolio this way.

When you’re at the beginning of your career, I think the most important thing you can do is to create enough samples of the kind of work you want to be doing and sharing it across your website and social media platforms. The great thing about graphic design is that it’s visual, and can easily grab people’s attention. If you’ve got a specific style, people will begin to recognise it as yours and look out for it.

If you do want to approach people ‘cold’, it’s vital that you address any emails or letters to a specific person. Get a name, and do a bit of research about them. There’s no harm in stalking someone you want to work with on LinkedIn, and this can then lead you to their other social platforms and websites, where you can learn so much about their businesses, helping you to approach them in a more personal way. Rather than a ‘Dear Sir, I’m a designer, please hire me’, you can be saying, ‘Dear Tom, I see you are creating a great brand through your Instagram – I really think I could help you with that…’

Can people find you?

It stands to reason that if people don’t know you exist, they’re not going to seek you out. Something I see time and time again when I’m asked to help businesses with rebranding and web design is that they’re not making any effort to share what they do. It’s all very well having a beautiful website, but it will just sit there if you fail to use it.

Your aim should be to lead people to your website, and make it clear what you want them to do when they get there (i.e. hire you!) Make sure that all your best work is on your website, and share it around social media. Update people about the work you’re doing right now. Create a blog and drive people to it via a newsletter or sales funnel.

The more content you create through your website, the better you will rank on Google, and the more you will be found.

Be visible, and pool your resources

Rather than seeing others in your industry as competition, start talking to them. This again comes back to the original subject here of building a design network – other creators are not the enemy, and we can and should help each other out.

If you see a piece of work by another designer that you admire, there’s no reason you can’t reach out to them through social media – tag them publicly telling them and others how much you love their work. Spark a conversation, and get to know them.

If you don’t yet have a design community in your area, like me, look at ways you can create one. This is where I’m at right now. I want to make that happen, so that myself and others in my town and surrounds can have our own ‘hub’ to call upon.

Photography / Web Design

Why you should be using professional images for your website

Used effectively, images can do much more than make your work look pretty. They can help gain more traffic, and therefore more conversions. So it’s vitally important that the images you choose for your website are of the very best quality. In this article, I’d like to share with you some tips and advice on what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to placing images on your website.

Why do I need images on my website at all?

As humans, we are hard wired to respond to visual stimuli. Without even realising, our brains process the images we see on screen, and then make the decision based on that image, whether or not we want to read the text. So having a website that’s purely text, with little or no imagery, means that our visitors will be much more likely to ignore the text and click away in search of something more stimulating.

This is especially important to remember if you’re an e-commerce business – people will make their decisions based on what your products look like, before they even read the description or check the price. And if your images don’t appeal to them, or spark a need in them, they simply will not buy.

Emotional response

Your website is your biggest sales tool. And it’s worth remembering that all sales are based on emotion. Therefore, every piece of content on your site should be able to appeal to your customers emotions, in order for them to trust you and buy from you.

The images you use are a big part of this. When you select the images for your website, ask yourself what story it is telling, and how that story will make your customers feel.

For some industries, that might be harder than others. For example – what if you’re selling access platforms, or manufacturing computer components?

Well, the key in these kinds of products is to gloss over the actual process of manufacture, and instead think about the end product, and how it will aid your customers. Who will you customers be? And what will they gain from using or buying your product? Those are the images to focus on. People actually using your end product, and being satisfied with the results they bring.

Using images can help you to make your customers feel – and create a desire for them to buy. They’re shouldn’t just be there to look pretty, as with every part of your online marketing, they should be doing a job, working towards turning your browsers into leads.

Good photography

I’m going to say something rather controversial here; when it comes to taking photographs for your website, mobile phones can be the enemy. Yes, I understand that phones right now have fantastic cameras, and are capable of taking high quality images – but that doesn’t make you a photographer, there’s much more to consider than just whipping out your phone and shooting a few product images. If you take photos in this way, they will simply not be professional enough to use on your website.

Of course, they do have their place – they can be great for candid shots for your social media, in telling your story on Facebook or Twitter, and vital for platforms such as Instagram. In these areas – knock yourself out! You should absolutely be taking advantage of your phone’s technology for that.

But if you want to make an impression with your website, put your phone away. It really won’t benefit you.

Image subject

If you’re sourcing your own images, taking them yourself, or hiring a photographer to do it for you, it’s worth spending some time thinking about the subject of the image. Whichever option you choose, you will likely need some sort of monetary outlay, whether that’s for equipment, stock image purchase, or professional photography costs, so getting it absolutely right is essential.

If you are a service-based business, your needs will be very different than if you’re selling actual products, as you’ll have to be more imaginative in the type of image you are using. A music teacher, for example, might want to use images portraying the teaching process, and include photographs or videos of him and his students in a lesson. Whereas a specialist guitar shop (just to keep to a theme here!) would want great quality images of the instruments they are selling.

Your own images

If you know your way around a camera, or know someone who does, then you might feel confident in taking them images yourself – but it’s important that you learn the correct techniques for photographing your products, as you could potentially damage your whole brand if you get it wrong.

Some things to consider are:

  • Choosing the right subject to shoot
  • Getting the background right
  • Setting up lighting to make the best of your subject
  • Image editing

You will also need to make sure that your images are consistent throughout the site, as following a basic theme will help your website flow.

Stock images

If you’re not looking for product images, and are not in a position to take them yourself or hire a photographer, you could think about using stock images. As a rule, stock images are useful, but if you get it wrong, they can look pretty awful. But, used right, they can work for some types of industry very well, so don’t dismiss them altogether.

Bear in mind that if you are going down the stock route, you can either choose a free site, or a subscription site. If your website is image-heavy, you might benefit by paying for a better choice of high-quality images. And beware of using images which have been heavily used elsewhere – your readers will notice!

A designer’s view

As a graphic designer, the subject of images comes up a lot in my work. It’s often a big part of a branding project, and feature heavily in many websites, as well as printed brochures and material. I try to advise my clients to the best of my ability on how and where to use photographs (although I don’t always get listened to!), and would be happy to chat to you about your particular needs, including the types of photographs you should be using, and the best way to source them. Please feel free to talk to me if you’re not sure which direction to take.