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How to successfully discover your niche as a freelance designer.

As an aspiring freelance designer, I am often trying to find new ways to reach out to potential clients and raise myself above the competition. If you’re anything like me, your skills probably range across a variety of design software. You may have a portfolio that includes examples of 2Dimensional Design, 3Dimensional Design, Graphic Design, Web design, Interior Design, Animation and so on and so forth. Although having a number of skills will allow you to keep your options open, it is also important to realise your target market and the services that you intend to offer them.

Personally, I have lost count of the amount of times that I have re-created my portfolio. When creating a portfolio, be sure to check that the work is relevant to the client, for example, will a company that develop websites really be interested in seeing the engineering drawings you once did for a cabinet? Perhaps not…

Make sure you read up on the company first. It can be an embarrassing experience to offer a client a service that doesn’t relate to their sector of work.

It’s probably best not to apply for work that your skills don’t cater for or that you are unable to do at a particularly high standard. Not only will you be wasting your own time, but the clients also. You want to make a good reputation for yourself, right?

Personally, In order to realise the kind of work that I wanted to be achieving, I made sure to concentrate on answering five questions before aimlessly applying for work:

Question 1 – What am I best at?

Rather than show that you have dabbled here and there in loads of different software packages, it might be worth considering what you are best at. Why not try and become a professional in two specific design software packages rather that an amateur in eight?

Figure out where most of your experience lies. Personally, I have worked for a number of signage companies and am aware that this is a strong area for me. When looking through your portfolio, perhaps you come to the realisation that you have some impressive examples of photography. So why not apply to work alongside companies that specialise in this specific field?

Take a look through your portfolio or try to remember an old job that you may have once excelled in. Looking through your old work may provide yourself with a clearer insight into what you are best at. Perhaps you excel in poster design or 3Dimensional CAD renders. Whatever work seems to shine above the rest, do more of it!

Use the skills that you have learnt from old jobs to boost your own credibility and move forward.

Personally, I found that whilst working as a 3Dimensional CAD designer I was the fastest in the office at creating production drawings. I used this strength and now utilise it as a freelance designer.

Question 2 – What do I enjoy doing?

The beauty of working as a freelance designer is that you get control of what type of projects you apply for.

If you are a freelance designer, the chances are, you love designing. Perhaps you enjoy creating posters more than generating technical drawings? If that’s the case, then why not make this your basis for applying for work!

Question 3 – Which pays better?

You may find that the work you enjoy doing the most, isn’t necessarily the work that you are best at (And vice versa). Ideally, many of us want the best of both worlds, but realistically, that isn’t always the case. If after the first two questions, you are still struggling to find the type of work you wish to be applying for, perhaps consider the money on offer. Research the competition. Find out what other designers charge. You may discover that the work you are best at pays well or that the work you enjoy doing pays even better!

Question 4 – Is there a gap in the market?

With almost any type of work, there will, without a doubt, be competition. Try not to let them phase you, just work hard on getting yourself noticed and let your work speak for itself. 

However, perhaps you are lucky enough to have found a gap in the market and feel ready to take the leap? A service that you believe should be offered, but for some reason, nobody is offering? Do you have the ability to pull it off?

Before going into it all guns blazing, I would make sure to research well and perhaps even ask prospective clients on whether they also believe that your idea could be a service well sought after. Don’t rush into anything, after all, preparation is key.

Question 5 – Who is my target market?

Hopefully by now, you have come to realise the type of work that you wish to be applying for. Whether it’s work you are good at, work you enjoy doing, work that pays well or all of the above!

I would recommend deciding on whether you wish to target the general public, small startups, large companies or all three! Where do your specialised skills
fit best?

Using myself as the example, I try to concentrate on applying for 3Dimensional (Solidworks) design and external signage planning application jobs. These are two areas that I feel are my strongest two fields, and I also happen to enjoy them!

Once I figured out my niche, I was able to build up a relevant portfolio. I then had to decide on where I could obtain this kind of work from. Personally, I tend to research signage companies and companies that incorporate Solidworks within their business, I then either phone or email the company with an attached CV, portfolio and covering letter (These are just 2 examples of how I find work – there will be a follow up blog on how else to do this.) 

Once you have decided on the type of work you wish to be achieving, the next step is to start applying for it. Look out for my next blog to find out how!

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