Get Talking: Freelance Success In a Tough Market

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How can we succeed in what some might term a ‘cynical market’?

It’s definitely not easy. Having spoken to numerous companies of various shapes and sizes about the effects of world events on the US and global economies, some businesses feel that Web ‘design’ is not a necessity. Still more clients simply want to see the real value of what they invest in.

We all feel the residual effects of a lackluster economy, especially those of us trying to make a living in the Web industry. Slowly, however, things have begun to turn around. But if you’re impatient like me, you don’t want to wait until June 2002 for the economy to pick up again!

Ask an Expert…

Tom Short, President of iDEA MACHiNE of Calgary Alberta, shares his insights into the current economy:

"The market isn’t really cynical: the market is finally demanding that their money be spent wisely so that they can realize a real and measurable return for their efforts. That doesn’t mean solutions have to be expensive, complex or bleeding edge — just appropriate, well-executed and effective. That’s not easy, and it’s the reason why we’re seeing so many companies disappear from the landscape.

"Clients aren’t cynical, they’re simply holding this industry to a standard it should have met from the beginning. My advice is not to other DSPs or agencies, but to clients. Know what you’re buying: select a company with a track record of effective solutions, and with a team that understands the big picture when it comes to business, communications, and technology, in that order."

The question is, what can we do now to generate business and renew faith in the value of good design?

Tips for Renewed Faith and New Business

1. Network

A good plan in any economy is to make new contacts, and maintain or renew old ones. Get the word out to people you know or have worked for about the services you provide. Freelancers are in demand at the moment, as companies prefer to outsource on a per-project basis rather than pay the wages of a permanent employee. Word of mouth is often underrated as a promotional tool, and a solid, professional portfolio will help you make a good impression.

2. Establish Partnerships

I’ve recently signed a contract with a business that mainly completes network and hardware repairs. They don’t specialize in Web design, but have noticed a growing demand for it within their existing client base. Now their sales team can offers this extra service every time they meet with clients, both old and new. Make a good impression now, and it may work for you in the near future. If business suddenly booms, wouldn’t you want clients to think of you first?

3. Design and Re-design

At least half of the sites I’ve worked on have been re-designs. Not all were huge contracts, but companies with existing Websites often like a new look, or upgrade to their content and site features. It’s surprising the number of people you talk to who suddenly realize: "We definitely have to do that!" If you can sit down with past clients for a meeting, your ability to demonstrate professional design may well help win them over.

4. Show Them The Money

Though it may not always be on the top of their list, I’ve found that once a client actually sees the difference between a clean, well-designed site and one that looks as if it were made in 10 minutes, they realize the value of such an investment.

I once met with a client for half an hour, and by the end of the meeting he’d doubled what he’d initially budgeted for the project. Why? Because he saw and understood the difference between a ‘cheaper’ site and a professionally designed one!

5. Diversify Your Skills

When times are tough, it’s a good idea to take stock of everything you can offer a client. You might be a great Web designer, but perhaps you can also design for print. For instance, I recently designed a newspaper ad for a client, which has led to another print project with the same company. Are you well versed in a programming language? Do you have strong writing skills? Make a list of your skills and then summarize how they can translate into real services.

Hone Your Approach While Others Fail

There’s an endless list of things you can do to make sales in a down economy. Sharpening your client approach is one you might consider. For instance, you could incorporate the many strengths of a well-designed Website into your client presentation, making it clear that a site:

  • Can assist in providing vital information about a company
  • Can help instill confidence in potential clients
  • Can help a business learn from client feedback generated on-site or from email

I’ve heard that when your competitors cut back on advertising dollars, you should take advantage of it and do the opposite. So get out there and fight the economic slump! Talk to people and invest a little time in yourself, and your value to clients.

Scott SargentScott Sargent
View Author

Scott has been a designer for over 2 years and holds a Diploma in Multimedia Production from Confederation College and a Degree in Political Science from The University of Western Ontario. He promotes a passion for design, and a better understanding of the Web through education. View his Website portfolio here.

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