There are easily thousands of articles scattered across the internet that dish out the advice that your portfolio should be specialized. The thought process is that if you focus in on promoting the projects you want more of, more of the same will flow in.
Specialization and zeroing in on what you’re passionate about is great and I never disagreed with that advice because it makes complete sense. The tricky part for some of us is when exactly we should start specializing. After all, if you focus in too narrowly before building your clientele and audience, it may be harder to make a living.
When I started freelancing 10 years ago, I cast my net really wide for a few reasons:
1. I was still building my client base and audience.
2. I was hungry for experience in a variety of areas. The best way to learn is on the job.
3. I needed the extra income since I was still in school / working retail.
Over time, I did start to specialize and drop projects from my portfolio that I didn’t want more of but really drilling down was hard because I still wasn’t sure who my audience really was.
When I started Branch, I’d just ended a stint working on a branding team at a large agency so I was still trying to find my design style away from heavy art direction. I admired the work they did and their clean, crisp style felt familiar so I used that as inspiration when I built out my own brand.
That was fine because in the first year of business, it’s best to not overthink things. Just go with what you know and start moving forward. Everyone says you should just launch and learn and I agree because you may think you know who your audience is — but it could be completely different than you expect.
Over time, your audience will subtly let you know what it wants. Certain projects will bring in tons of new inquiries while others fall flat. It’s hard to say what that mix is and the only true way to figure it out is through trial and error. Also, your aesthetic and interests will change and that style tends to be present in the work you produce. The more work you do, the more your style comes through.
Going into my third year of business, I finally feel like it’s time to fine-tune the look of my design studio and be more picky about the projects I choose to share. I’m now asking myself what I love and focusing in on that mix — creative businesses with a heavy focus on lifestyle and beauty brands. It’s good to get specific about what you want.
As a creative, what kinds of brands, services and products are you naturally drawn to? What brands share your aesthetics? Once you figure that out, your brand will naturally start to evolve. Once I’d decided what niches were my focus going forward, I felt comfortable softening up our overall look because I now had a customer in mind. The orange went from 100% opacity to 80%. Blacks and dark grays were replaced with creamy carrara marble. Hard geometric patterns were replaced with a halftone image of an orange tree I’d photographed over the summer.
The truth is, things are still a work in progress. Business has literally doubled over the last year and it’s been harder to get all our content switched out. If you’re struggling with the same thing, I feel ya. Treat your own brand as you would a client. Make changes in manageable phases.
After I started implementing changes in the brand and what we shared earlier this year, the impact was near-immediate. The kinds of brands that I’d coveted for a long time started reaching out. As this has been happening, it reminded me of some simple truths:
Your brand is up to you to define.
It’s your job to decide exactly what you stand for.
Ask yourself, “What do I want more of?”
Ask yourself, “What do I want less of?”
Once you know where you stand, you can make changes. As I’ve gotten more focused on what I want and have seen the positive shifts happening in my own business, it’s been a great reminder that anything is possible; you just have to be willing to step up and be clear about who you are and what you want.
Check out even more Creative Chronicles posts here.