One thing that Go Media has done ever since we we put our first site online back in 2003, is tried to appear bigger than we were. This can have its pros and cons, but to the designer just starting out, it has more pros. Let me explain. The idea of looking bigger simply means that by portraying an attitude of success and professionalism, you will earn those high paying jobs with bigger clients.
Most designers just starting out have lofty goals in mind. They want to be doing the “big” projects and get the “big” clients. They want their name to be synonymous with the term “design.” Go Media started out just the same way. There are always the designers that start small and want to stay small and have no desire to attract bigger clients or higher paying work. But for this post, I’ll focus on the majority that want to get bigger and more successful. I’ll offer a quick rundown of the pros and cons of looking bigger than you actually are.
Pros of Looking Bigger
1. You get bigger clients and bigger jobs
2. You get treated with more respect
3. You become the envy of all your peers
4. You attract other successful people
Cons of Looking Bigger
1. You may get more work than you can handle
2. You risk disappointing your client if you cannot live up to your expectations
3. You risk appearing dishonest if you aren’t truthful in how you describe yourself
4. You may be perceived as “too big” and scare off some nice projects
So How do I “appear bigger?”
There are a few things you can do. I’ll speak from my personal experience. I discovered Go Media in 2004 after I saw their site. I looked on their contact page and they had a map of the USA with markers in a few major cities and multiple phone numbers. I thought to myself, man these guys are the real deal! I want to work there! They have offices in southern California and New York? They must be doing something right. So I sent them an email and eventually met up with the owners. It surprised me that it was just literally two young guys working out of their apartment.
So were they lying? Not exactly. Those other numbers were friends of theirs acting as sales reps in those other cities. Someone could call them and request work and then Bill and Chris would eventually hear about the job and follow up with the lead. Their buddy would get some cash for helping them out. However, one downside to this might be that your friend isn’t always going to answer his phone by saying “Go Media, this is ______” and may be taken off guard. It could backfire.
Answer your Phone Professionally
Speaking of answering the phone, if you post business hours on your website, make sure when you answer the phone you answer it with your studio name. If you don’t have one, make sure it’s professional. Like “Good afternoon, this is Jeff Finley, can I help you?” Or “Thank you for calling Go Media, this is Jeff…” Your callers, even if they’re your best friend calling about getting together that night, will take you seriously. This helps make the smallest studio or freelancer “feel” bigger than they actually are.
Speak and Write like a Pro
Another effective tool to appear “bigger” is language. The way you speak on your site, on the phone, or in an email, really shows off how professional you are. If you speak in conversational English and ignore grammar, people will assume you’re small time and not capable of handling bigger projects. You can be overly technical and “commercial” on your website, but you run the risk of being too “salesman-like” and can turn off potential clients. It depends on the people you’re talking to. A lot of bands would be turned off if I kept calling them sir or madam. But the trick here is just to not act like an idiot. Be mature and know your client.
For most designers, putting up a client list of people you worked for seems like a no brainer, but if you list bigger clients, you’ll attract bigger clients. Usually of the same breed. If you list lots of bands, you’ll probably attract bands. If you list some major Web 2.0 startups, you’ll probably have tons of new Web startups emailing you for work.
So these are some ways to compete with the “big boys” while staying small.
Don’t lie about anything. Be honest.
Avoid using “we” if you’re a solo designer. If you’re a solo act, one thing to avoid are the words “we” or “our company.” I’ve seen countless individuals try to act bigger by claiming they’re some big company with multiple employees, when in fact they’re not. For one, that’s dishonest. You can avoid it by saying “Studio X can help you by doing this…” or “Studio X can handle almost any project…” Don’t say “we can handle any project.” That’s not right.
Posting “pitch” work in your portfolio. The next “trick” to looking bigger is a bit questionable. You might see a freelance designer’s portfolio loaded with work for big name clients. Some fancy illustration with Reebok’s logo on it. Don’t be fooled. A lot of times, that designer wasn’t actually hired by that client. It gives off an impression that Reebok hired this designer when in fact they were not even aware that this work was ever done. Now some people would say that’s not ethical to put work like this in your portfolio. On the other hand, the designer DID spend the time to create the design and is most likely proud of it. It’s cool that he wants to show it off. However, if you’re going to do something like this, you should make it clear that the project was just a personal experiment.
Mislabeling Clients is a no-no. This is a bit of a grey area. When you get hired by an Agency to do an illustration for a large corporate brand like Nike, list your client as the Agency and not Nike. I can see the temptation that by listing Nike as your client, you give off the impression of being bigger and more important. But try not to do that. We’ve been in trouble for listing the brand as the client, when in fact it was NOT them who was paying us, it was the Ad Agency. The Ad Agency was upset that we listed their client as ours, when in fact they were simply subcontracting the work to us. So our client is technically the Ad Agency. A good way to figure out who your actual client is to ask “Who paid me?”
One Last Note: Your Portfolio
None of these “tricks” will work unless you have a portfolio that backs up what you say. Your portfolio of work must be comparable to the “big boys” if you ever want to start obtain work like they do. You aren’t going to get those jobs if your portfolio is filled with school projects. People like to see real work for real clients.
So just to recap. If you’re small-time, you must start acting bigger to get bigger jobs. The way you speak to your website visitors on your portfolio site is a major indicator of how “big” you are. One important thing is try to avoid lying for the sake of looking bigger. It’s one thing to tell a big client you can handle their large project (if you know it will be a struggle for your small company) but to blatantly lie about your capabilities or the clients you worked for is going to bite you in the ass. Don’t overstate what you can do unless you plan to back it up 110%.
Some Final Tips
1. Get high quality business cards, letterhead, etc.
2. Network with leaders in your industry
3. Go to Trade Shows and schmooze with the big boys
4. Copy the techniques that the big boys use in their marketing (don’t flat out steal, just see what they’re doing that works and do it yourself)
5. Read Freelanceswitch.com. It’s got a ton of great articles for small time designers looking to get bigger.