Hello, I was wondering about referring work and clients. I am a very good graphic designer but I know that I am not the “best”. I occasionally get work from clients that I think friends of mine could do a better job on. Should I refer the job to them or not? I’m afraid that it will look really bad to the client when I can’t deliver the best possible outcome. Help!
This is a fantastic question and brings up a much larger issue. As creatives and humans, we’ve all had those moments of self-doubt and feeling like we’re not the best. Well, I’ll let you in on something that will hopefully shift your perceptions: in almost any field you go into, there’s always going to be someone that’s better than you in some way.
So, take a moment to free yourself from those self-deprecating feelings and move on. Let go. Instead of wallowing in self-doubt and contemplating whether you’re good enough, focus on the big picture of your career. What have you accomplished and where would you like to go? Are the clients you’ve done work for happy with your output? Think about it: if your clients are happy, you’re definitely doing something right.
Self doubt is normal but be realistic.
Design is an extremely competitive field and I remember the self-doubt I felt during my first agency job fresh out of school. All of the designers on my team were much more skilled (and in my mind, that equated to way more awesome) than me but you know what I quickly realized? I was comparing myself to designers that had 5, 10 and even 15 years more experience! I was a fresh graduate trying to be as good as them! Obviously, I was setting myself up for failure with the “I’m not good enough” mentality. Once I realized that I’d been comparing apples to oranges, I was able to relax, put my guard down and go with the flow. I was aware enough to realize that everyone on the team was friendly and willing to help me when I asked — I was the one with the issue.
“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” — Anaïs Nin
Back to your question — clients are coming to YOU. I’ve always felt that if someone is choosing you out of the hundreds, even thousands of options they have out there, it’s because they admire your work. They want to work with you. Go above and beyond and most of the time, you’ll have a return client.
Know when to say no.
At the same time, if you feel very strongly that you’re not the best fit for the job, refer that client to the best person you know. After all, it’s better to be really amazing at something versus a jack of all trades and master of none. For instance, I’ve done my fair share of print and web design and feel confident in these areas but I’m aware of my limitations when it comes to retail environments. I can concept and whip up production files for banners and second-surface graphics for store windows but developing the entire look and feel of a full retail location or trade show booth is beyond my scope. If you feel like a project is way over your head and far outside your comfort zone, don’t commit. In the end, nobody will be happy!
One of the hardest things to admit is that as individuals, some projects are bigger than us. Some of the work I’m most proud of was created with teams, often including an art director, a copywriter, a producer and multiple designers. The client had a big vision and a team was needed to pull it all together. So don’t beat yourself up if you’re not seemingly awesome at everything! Remember that a lot of the big campaigns and projects you admire often weren’t the work of a single individual; they were the work of a team.
Surround yourself with the best.
Finally, consider this: if you feel that others around you are “better,” this can actually be a good thing. Strive to surround yourself with successful people. They give you goals to work towards and a reason to push yourself further. If you truly felt that you were already “the best,” would you work so hard? Probably not. Remember though that the people around you should be as supportive of your efforts and goals just as much as you are with theirs. It’s a two-way street.
The bottom line.
Put in that extra bit of effort to always deliver work that you’re proud of. Knowing that you’ve done your personal best (even when a project has dramatically shifted from the initial brief) is important. You may not want to put every single project in your portfolio (trust me, there’s campaigns I’ve spent two months of my life on that nobody’s ever seen) but knowing that you gave it your all is what’s important. If you’re good at what you do, your clients will notice. And remember that confidence is built over time, as we gain experience. We’re all a work in progress. As creatives, we all want to be better and do better. Take comfort in that.
“There are no short cuts to any place worth going.” — Beverly Sils