Tag Archives: Business & Marketing

5 Tips To Jump-Start Your Post-College Design Career

5 Tips To Jump-Start Your Post-College Design Career

‘Tis the season for graduation! But beneath all the anticipation and excitement, I have been receiving a number of nervous emails from freshly minted design grads looking for ways to carve out their post-college careers. Most of us have been in that boat as well and I know how stressful it can be so I’ve compiled some tips to help make the transition smoother.

1. If full-time work is your goal but you don’t have a job lined up, try placement agencies.

I’ve worked with both Aquent and 24 Seven in the past and have had fantastic results with both. Placement agencies are great for a number of reasons. If you’ve never been to one, here’s what happens: first, you’re interviewed by an agent and they review your portfolio in-depth to determine your skill set. From there, it’s their goal to place you in jobs that they feel are the best possible fit. They have a good reason for wanting to keep both you and your employer happy: for each hour you work, they earn a commission.

Through placements, I was able to get into a number of boutique design studios and even Nike. The experience I gained was incredibly valuable and by moving around, from the tip of corporate America all the way down to 10 person studios, I learned a lot about how the design industry functions in a really short period of time. By trying on different hats, you become much more adaptable to varying management and design styles and I would argue, more valuable as a designer.

With placement agencies, since the work isn’t consistent (unless you get offered a contract), you tend to get paid substantially more than you would at a full-time position. I had times where I would get booked for two days but I can tell you that if you’re a good fit, they will find a way to make room for you. One particular short-term gig I had turned into an entire year! And if the company loves you, there’s a chance that they will offer you full-time employment.

Placement agencies are a great way to test the waters, especially if you’re still finding your way and settling into a niche. You’re able try out a variety of places and determine what works best for you (Agency or in-house? Digital or print? Design or production?) And if things don’t work out, that’s okay, too. Your agent can help you with parting ways gracefully and it’s a lot less painful than quitting a full-time job.

2. Before you reach out, whip that portfolio into shape!

When I graduated in 2008, print portfolios were absolutely mandatory. I know that since then, a lot of job seekers have switched over to digital portfolios exclusively to showcase their work. While I do use my iPad for supplementary work, I still have a print version. Maybe I’m old school but I know that a lot of the people I meet with are older than I am and appreciate the time and energy it takes to put together a print portfolio. I limit mine to 10 to 12 projects max and then share a larger variety on my iPad if they request more samples. If you’re curious, here’s a peek inside the last print portfolio I did.

While my print portfolio is very tightly edited, my digital portfolio is much more broad. I love Cargo for its ease of use and very reasonable fees. The pre-made templates are fantastic and with a little CSS magic, you can refine them further. I’m working on a full website to house my projects (more on that later!) but in the meantime, Cargo has treated me well over the last two years. Also, Squarespace has some beautiful template options, too.

3. Nail the interview basics.

We’ve all heard tips for nailing a great interview from friends, family and industry professionals enough times to feel like they’re one big cliché. Show up on time! Dress the part! Act enthusiastic! We know, we know! UGH!

But seriously, all of these small things combine to make an unforgettable impact. I’ve been on dozens of interviews and can vouch that most run incredibly smoothly — most creative staff were once in your position and remember that nervous, uncertain feeling well. As long as you move through your portfolio quickly, they are usually incredibly accommodating.

But, there’s always those curveballs when we least expect them and that’s where practicing these tips comes into play so you can remain graceful under fire! There was one interview that I’ll never forget: it was so intense that I felt like I’d been transported to the O.J. trial. I kept thinking, “I’m being interviewed for a job so why does it feel like an interrogation?!” Even so, I made it through, smiled, shook the interviewer’s hand and thanked him for his time. And then quickly left. Always keep your cool! My 11 tips for acing your next design interview can help you get started.

4. Knowledge Is Power.

I’m always reading books about my field in an effort to stay current with design trends, strategy and business. My top three picks for highly valuable insight on breaking into the industry are:

A. How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy

I found this book to be hugely beneficial when I was first starting out — it’s simple, relatable and immediately applicable. And that’s exactly what I needed.

B. Work for Money, Design for Love by David Airey

I love the smooth flow of this book, from beginning to end. It’s so rare that hugely successful designers open up and share the inner workings of their businesses along with detailed insights of their processes.

C. Design Student Handbook by Computer Arts

Looking for a guide that covers all the nitty gritty of prepping a killer portfolio and breaking into the design industry? The Design Student Handbook is for you. I wish there was something like this on the market back when I graduated!

5. Blog about your projects. Always.

When I was first starting out, I used my blog to share all of my new client work. The good, the bad and the ugly made its way up for the world to see and each project I shared brought in new prospects.

Getting comfortable with sharing my work was hugely beneficial in getting my foot in the door at a number of design jobs because I’d already developed my voice and style very publicly. It can be scary putting your work out there but it’s something you have to get accustomed to because you never know who’s reading it. A good example: In 2009, I was three days into a Nike contract when I got called into my department manager’s office. I thought I’d done something terribly wrong and was getting fired! Instead, he said he’d recognized me from my blog and wanted to know if I’d be interested in permanent positions.

If steady work doesn’t pop up right away post-graduation, your blog can be a great way to drum up freelance work. And who knows, you might be so successful at it that a full-time job becomes a fading memory. Oh, and don’t forget to share those in-progress snippets on dribble and your glowing final outcomes on Behance.

Graduates, I know it’s not easy but view each opportunity (no matter how small) as a learning experience and with time, your path will unfold. Good luck on your new, exciting journey!

2 Game Changers I Learned in Entrepreneurship Class

Game Changers

Last week, I completed a two-part entrepreneurship workshop, So You’re The Owner of a Million Dollar Company and You Don’t Even Know It! While the whole class was jaw-droppingly good from beginning to end (really, it takes a lot to keep business chit-chat interesting and Stephanie Lynn sure delivered), I thought I’d share my top two takeaways. While it’s never a walk in the park running a small business, these two points were huge eye openers for me:

1. To overcome your fears, put them on a shelf. Literally.

Hear me out: we all have fears when it comes to running a business / blog / etc. and I have a lot of them. If you’ve met me, you’ll know that I’m confident, a hard worker and I’m never afraid to seize new opportunities but at the same time, I also value stability. There’s a really fine line between craving a stable life and playing it too safe.

In class, we were asked to write a list of everything we were afraid of. I quickly scribbled down half a page of notes without a second thought. Easy enough, I figured. Fear flows out freely if you let it and glancing down at that paper, I was holding onto much more of it than I realized.

Next, we were each handed a Ziploc bag and told to place that list inside, zip it closed, take it home and place it on a very high shelf. It was time to put away those fears, once and for all.

I know this exercise sounds simple but sometimes the act of physically doing something is such a powerful thing. Just writing that list wasn’t enough — how many times have we each written those same lists when we’re scared? But the symbolism of physically putting those fears on a shelf really inspired me to finally let go and move on.

2. For your business to flourish, you MUST understand the difference between price and value.

No matter how fabulous your business is, there will always be people who come along and ask for a discount. There will always be people who want something for nothing. But if you’re not benefitting, don’t be afraid to say no. It’s hard but most of the time, these are not your ideal customers anyway.

Your ideal customers do value your offerings enough to pay you what you’re worth. They respect your talent and your experience. These customers aren’t the easiest to find at first but I promise you that they’re out there.

One of the keys to convincing your ideal customers that your product or service is worth the price you’ve set is to back that value up with a story. For instance, Stephanie used the example of her business, Sweet Spot Skirts — her story is that all of her products are manufactured in the U.S. and she provides jobs for unemployed women. She clearly outlines her commitments here.

Any time someone balks at your prices, reaffirm the value they are receiving from doing business with you. Do not lower your pricing unless you have very specific reasoning for doing so (such as a holiday sale, anniversary and so on).

If you have sales all the time and offer up a discount to anyone who comes along, you’re diluting your offerings and once you’ve gone down, it’s a tough climb back up.

Thinking back, I had come across these two concepts at earlier points in my life but sometimes it takes a certain teacher outlining specific experiences to bring them to life. And when they finally click, they’re lessons you’ll never forget.

Brushing Up On The Basics: The Ultimate Small Business Guide

The Ultimate Small Business Guide

As any small business owner knows, running a company isn’t always pretty. Yet blogs and social media tend to gloss over a lot of the most unflattering aspects.

Back in December, I picked up The Ultimate Small Business Guide, hellbent on brushing up on the basics before the new year hit. I had good intentions but as projects began to pile up, I pushed it off to the side…until this week.

In truth, this was partly because I tend to gravitate towards more light-hearted, philosophical quick reads when it comes to business and productivity (my favorites are Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite and It’s Not How Good You Are, Its How Good You Want to Be, both by Paul Arden). But I kicked myself into gear because I realized that I was lacking a solid book of business basics in my personal library. I wanted a source I could depend on outside of endless googling (and questionable results).

I’m not gonna lie, this book is a heavy read; it’s solidly informational and not something you can just fly right through. But if you’re wondering if you have what it really takes to run a business, if you already have a business but need to create brand awareness, if you are curious about the basics when it comes to staff planning and employment law and if you’re interested in brushing up on trademarks and intellectual property, this is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s covered in fine detail in this book.

Too often, we get excited and jump too quickly into a new business without really stepping back and doing the proper research so I particularly loved that this book starts out with a chapter quizzing you on if you really have the drive to be an entrepreneur. Instead of building you up, The Ultimate Small Business Guide makes sure you’re faced with the cold, hard truth and then takes you through the process of understanding everything you’ll be responsible for. It’s all this un-fun stuff that often gets overlooked in the pursuit of the perceived glamour of being your own boss.

At the end of each section, there’s a column dedicated to what to avoid. Once again, it digs into the sticky situations we can find ourselves in if we’re uninformed. It’s important to keep it real, even when the real can be scary.

The book ends with something we’d rather not think about: how to properly wind down a business and put it to bed. Once again, this is a topic that’s not on a lot of small business owners’ minds when they’re full of passion in the beginning.

The Ultimate Small Business Guide won’t be for everyone but it is an enlightening look into what it takes to be a responsible business owner. I’m so glad this book covers the good, the bad and the ugly because it’s good to know what you’re in for and how to handle those really difficult decisions. The more informed you are moving forward, the easier the whole process will feel.

I’m on the hunt for some more solidly informative business books. Any favorites you’d recommend?

Rock n Roll Bride: A Brand New Website & The Big Picture

Rock n Roll Bride Website

I am so happy for my good friend Kat Williams because after many long months of hard work, the brand new design of her wedding blog Rock n Roll Bride has launched!

This has been a huge labor of love and part of a string of projects we’ve been working on for two years now. Kat and I met through a mutual friend in 2010 and perhaps the most ironic part of our design relationship when we began working together is that I was completely clueless about weddings. COMPLETELY. At the time, I’d never bought a wedding magazine or read a wedding blog. Looking back, in a way being an outsider turned out to be a benefit because I wasn’t weighed down with expectations of how her brand should look.

Creating A Brand You Believe In Doesn’t Happen Overnight

When Kat approached me needing a rebrand for her business in 2010, the typical wedding finery didn’t particularly link up with what I had in mind for her. I thought she was much too badass with her pink hair, attitude and all to go down that road — and with a name like Rock n Roll Bride, I was way more inspired by one of the original sources for rock and roll news, Rolling Stone. My gut was to embody the the timeless, rock and roll vibe that they had but with a purposely feminine twist.

Rock n Roll Bride Website

Differentiation is Key

When creating a brand, while it’s important to do market research and see what’s out there, don’t be afraid to add that unique twist and think outside of the box. Instead of thinking about what makes you the same as your competition, ask yourself what makes you different. Early on, it might seem safe to do what your competition is doing when it comes to your branding in the hopes that you can ride on their coattails and get some of that recognition too but then you’ll just be second best. Remember that if a bunch of brands are put into a lineup, the one people will usually remember is the one that’s different from the rest. With Kat, the differentiation we created with her identity by doing less wedding and more rock and roll is what makes her stand out.

After the identity, we did new headers for her blog, a media kit for advertisers and then, we went a step further designing a 40 page print magazine for her to take to a wedding fair (1,000 copies flew out the door). All that was a great platform for where she saw her brand going but looking back, I didn’t think it was polished enough yet. After all, the wedding industry has high standards and deep pockets — there’s no denying that a tight, polished image plays a huge role in staying competitive.

Rock n Roll Bride Website

Rock n Roll Bride Website

Rock n Roll Bride Website

Rock n Roll Bride Magazine Issue #2, 2012

Momentum really built in early 2012 — I met Kat for the first time in February with a proof for her fully redesigned 80 page magazine inspired by Elle, W, O and Martha Stewart Weddings. I’d dug deep into my favorite fashion magazines (and finally a few wedding ones too!) and this was the turning point for her having a more refined image. Remember, her blog had been going strong for many years by this point. This branding evolution takes time!

Rock n Roll Bride Website

Rock n Roll Bride Website

Rock n Roll Bride Website

Digital Media Kit #2, 2012

Kat is relentless and I admire that about her. Once her print magazine was done and the site comps were delivered, she wanted me to redo her media kit to match the more grown-up, editorial feel of the mag. We finished that in the Fall. Finally, things had come full circle.

The Final Piece of the Puzzle: The Site Redesign

Rock n Roll Bride Website

Rocknrollbride.com, 2013

Kat’s website launch is the final piece of her brand revamp we’d been slowly chipping away at. We finally finished the site comps over the summer and in the the next few months, the deceptively simple looking design came to life. Kat’s husband Gareth does all the development (he’s my hero) and I know how hard he worked to make many of these features come to life. Even when I was building the layouts, there were many times where I said, “Are you SURE you want me to do this? I’ve never seen it done before!”

Rock n Roll Bride Website

One of the features I’m most excited about is the header area. When you visit Kat’s site, it’s all white with just her logo (see above). But, if you click into a wedding feature, the logo shifts upwards and the space reloads with an image of the bride. In this way, every featured bride becomes a cover girl! I also like the use of the drop caps (something we used throughout the print magazine).

Rock n Roll Bride Website

At the end of each wedding post is the Supporting Cast, also styled very similar to the magazine. I like that all of the resources are consistently called out in one spot. I’m sure this is a huge time saver for brides-to-be.

Rock n Roll Bride Website

Another interesting point is that Kat skipped over the usual sidebar fare. In an effort to make the site less about her and more focused on the weddings, she’s saved much of her personal content for an extended footer at the bottom, freeing up much of the sidebar for valuable advertising space. It’s an uncommon move but because her brand is so recognizable in the wedding blog niche, she’s able to take some chances.

In Closing

I’ve shared much of this in an effort to remind you that brands take time to build; nothing will be perfect overnight. Take time to let yourself evolve and invest in pieces of your collateral when you can. And, while it’s good to plan, that one project that comes out of left field may actually shape the way things go. At the time, we didn’t know that Kat’s print magazine would end up driving the way her blog and media kit looked. She was already established online but it took that fresh look at the offline to realize this was the way to go.

Kat has a successful brand now but it took years to build, piece by piece. This is often the reality. And that’s okay. Don’t wait for the perfect everything, perfection is a myth when it comes to branding. Instead, think of it as an ecosystem of interconnected pieces. It should shift, change and grow with you.

Getting Serious With Facebook!

Nubby Twiglet Facebook

Come join me on Facebook!

I stayed away from setting up a business page on Facebook until now because I already had a personal Facebook page anyone could add me on and the thought of keeping up on yet another social media profile made my stomach turn. I’m sure you can relate…

When I start something, I like to follow through and I wondered how in the world I’d keep up with Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, my personal Facebook, The Blogcademy Facebook, my blog and a Facebook business page. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I needed to stop making excuses and just pull the trigger and get on with life!* Though I’m more of a Twitter girl myself, there are plenty of people out there who prefer Facebook and plus it’s a great place to create a community feel and share more work in progress photos. It’s a chance to have a different kind of conversation than I do on Twitter.

So, enough blabbering — I FINALLY have a Facebook page for my business. Come “like” me and introduce yourselves! And if you want to follow along on my personal account as well, I’m still there…though sometimes the dialog with my family can get a bit embarrassing. Haha.

*Note to self: Sometimes, you can make all the excuses in the world about why you shouldn’t do something but then realize you should do it anyway. Don’t be so stubborn.