Do One Thing and Do It Well

This is a guest article contributed by Jennifer Moline*.
The old adage, “jack of all trades – master of none,” can apply to the graphic designer who tries to do it all: web development, letterhead design, logo creation, coding, etc. While designers who promote themselves as able to handle everyone’s needs may get a lot of inquiries, their work could suffer as a result.

Just recently, I went out to dinner at a place that serves macaroni and cheese. Sure, the restaurant has a couple of side dishes such as salad and veggies, and it makes its desserts in-house, but as far as entrees go, your options are about 10 different takes on the classic comfort dish. When this restaurant opened a few weeks ago, I thought, “What a great business model – it has a limited number of ingredients to purchase and doesn’t require a huge staff to prepare different dishes.” That got me to thinking: Perhaps more small businesses would succeed if they didn’t stretch themselves too thin.

A lot of freelancers think they need to cater to all potential paying clients. “You want an Asian-inspired logo? I can do that!” “You want an interactive website designed from scratch? No problem!” While I’m sure plenty of folks are capable of meeting lots of customer demands, there’s something to be said for the “expert,” the go-to person for, say, poster marketing, such as Wes Wilson, who is known for his psychedelic concert posters. And while Internet marketers are quick to claim that print is dead, that declaration means magazine and newspaper designers can be protective of their niche.

I’m not saying you should hunker down and exclusively create logos. Rather, instead of doing a mediocre job on a whole bunch of different types of projects, become really good at a smaller field of design work. Become a purple cow. For example, one of my Internet pet peeves is horrible restaurant websites – the ones where you have to download menus and the homepage is in Flash so it can’t be seen on a smartphone. That seems to be a restaurant-exclusive design issue. I’d love it if a web designer stepped in and set the standard for legible and easy-to-navigate restaurant sites. Or what about direct-mail marketing? I get postcards sent to me that are so crammed with text that I just toss them. Surely, a savvy graphic designer could corner the market on direct mail with eye-catching art that teases recipients to look into the company.

Owning one’s own freelance design business is challenging enough with all the bookkeeping, IT and marketing demands – that’s a lot of hats to wear. By narrowing down your field of expertise, you may get more job offers through your reputation rather than through hits from an all-encompassing Internet search.

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