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.

Design Strategy / SEO / Web Design

Reasons why you should update your website

Almost all business is done, at least in part, online these days. When people are in the market for a new product or service, it’s highly likely that the first place they will turn is the internet. They will use Google, or they will consult their social media platforms for reviews and advice.

For this reason, I always stress to my clients that getting their website right is vitally important. Nowadays, there are so many free sites that you can use to DIY a website, it makes the design process seem perhaps a little too simple. But I believe that if you want to stand out and be noticed, there are elements that need to be considered, that a standard, free template, won’t provide.

But I’m not going to talk too much about that here. What I am going to talk about is, going back to my original point, why it’s so important to keep your website updated, and relevant.

A large part of my work, whether I’m doing a complete rebrand, working with a start-up business, or just looking at improving a company’s online image, is website design. It’s often one of the first things a client will want to discuss, because a website forms such a big part of the marketing strategy.

But it always amazes me how some businesses put so little thought into their website. There tends to be a thought process that once the website is up and live, it will just sit there and attract loads of new customers. But it really doesn’t work that way.

Websites are no longer just ‘static’

Since the introduction of social media, the way businesses and consumers use websites has drastically changed. They’re no longer just a ‘shop window’ for people to view your products and services. They are now much more interactive. Everything online is linked – we have easy access to social platforms, blogging, video, and so much more. And people expect to see elements of that across your website.

If you think about how people use the internet now, compared to even just ten years ago, the technology alone has completely changed. We are no longer tied to a desktop in order to consume online content. We can use our smartphones and tablets, which are with us most of the time. And this means that we can, and do, access our online world from wherever we are.

Because of this, online content has become much more fleeting. People need to be kept engaged, and are much less likely to spend so much time on each page or element they see on-screen. By nature, they flit between pages more quickly, because there is much more content to get through.

So unless your website has enough fresh content to grab and keep their attention, they’re just going to bounce, and read something else.

Google Ranking

Something that I find is often overlooked by businesses is Google ranking. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve launched a new website as part of a rebrand, only for the business owner to come back to me a few weeks later to ask why they’re not appearing on the first page of Google.

What they fail to understand is that maintaining that website takes work from them, after the site goes live. If you just let it sit there, it won’t do a thing.

Google favours sites which consistently publish fresh content. That can be in the form of blogs, new product information, image updates, news sites, events calendars, and inbound links via social media etc.

To get on that front page, a company needs to be constantly reviewing and updating the right elements of their website.

Return visits

As well as enticing new visitors to your site, you’ll also want people to want to come back. Give them a reason to want to do that. If your site never has anything new to offer, people are only likely to visit once, in order to get the information they need.

Return visitors are important to your business, and your website needs to have something fresh and new for them to see when they do.

Hopefully, this article has served to inspire you to look at your own website. Does it pull in new customers for you? Does it look good enough? How could you improve it?

If you’d like to chat through some ideas for your website, or another part of your corporate branding, we’re happy to help.

Branding / Graphic Design / Logo Design / Rebranding

Branding – it’s more than just a logo

Some people think that when they start a business, they just need a simple logo, a half decent website, and customers will come in droves. However, there’s so much more to it than that – these days, competition between businesses is sharp, and in order to stand out, and to succeed, your branding needs to be strong.

Since starting the Severn Agency, I’ve seen my fair share of branding, and in fact, when I’ve had the opportunity to work with new businesses in creating their branding as a whole, that’s when I’ve been able to create some of my best work. I talked about this a bit in my last article, where I told you about how I came to create the branding for a local wine bar.

So, let’s think about this in a slightly wider sense – how, as a small business, or a start-up, do you begin with creating a brand?

What branding isn’t

People often mistake the logo for a brand. They believe that by designing a simple logo, choosing some pretty colours and an image that vaguely represents what they’re about, their work is done, and they can sit back and wait for the customers to come.

Sorry to say, that won’t cut it. Your logo is just one tiny element in the whole branding process – and even that is so easy to get wrong.

I’ve seen so many mistakes made by companies who have put their logo on the top of a website, their social media outlets, and their printed material, and then have failed to recognise that the rest of their image is so shoddy and inconsistent that it just ends up falling flat – and when it does, any potential customers are turned off and take their money elsewhere.

Branding takes thought. It needs to reflect who you are, what you do, and what you stand for. And all of those things need to be apparent to anyone who reads your content online, sees your social media posts, or receives an email or brochure from you. If they visit your premises, they should immediately know where they are, because they recognise your branding.

What branding is

If I had to sum up what branding is in one word: consistency. Your brand should be instantly recognisable, whether you’re seen online, in print, or on the high street.

As a branding agency, I consider the whole business. What do I mean by that? Well, I mean that learning about the personality of the business, who you are, and what you represent, is always my first priority. Because without that, I can’t imagine what your brand will be.

I need to know the essence of what your company is, and only then can I start to put together what your branding should look like.

So, what do I mean by branding? The logo, although it’s an element, is not necessarily where I begin. Branding encapsulates the entire image – and that includes many elements, from the colours that you use, the fonts and image styles, the tone and voice portrayed in all of your content. It’s all of the visual elements, the corporate style, even the materials you use for your printed content.

Branding and design

Design is more than just an image – it’s the ambassador of your brand. As such, your branding should communicate your message, and that’s really where a branding designer comes in.

A good branding agency will be able to establish your brand personality, and pull everything together to make it visually beautiful, appealing, and most importantly, consistent.

And in doing so, no matter what medium your customers choose to find you, it will be immediately obvious by your branding who you are.

© SEVERN AGENCY LTD