Our intrinsic value as people is what sets us apart from the rest. After all, David Beckham didn’t sign a $250 million deal with LA Galaxy after leaving Real Madrid for nothing - it was his un-disputable value that saw him rake in those astounding dollar signs.
Designers most likely are not going to pull in $250 million deals, but there are still the metaphorical Beckhams and amateur league equivalents in the design world. What sets them apart is their perceived value – by clients and their wider community.
Solopreneurs are intimate with the importance of personal brand as a freelance designer. When you are the sole person responsible for generating work and repeat clients – your brand is everything. Nicole Macdonald, the founder of January Made Design, has been a solopreneur for over seven years, so it’s safe to say she knows how to build brand credibility.
For any burgeoning solopreneur, it’s wise to remember good things take time, and you can’t build a stellar freelance brand overnight. Yet there are some steps you can take to make the process quicker and more fruitful.
Believing in your own worth is the first foundation needed to build a brand, as Nicole reflects. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else? Sure, confidence doesn’t always come easily – it is something that most of us need to actively work on, but for business, it is worth it.
Small habits such as celebrating your achievements, no matter how small, or practising your elevator pitch on your family might seem futile but they all add up. Clients can tell when you believe in your value and your services and will be much more inclined to bite.
Nicole recommends that designers “identify their point of difference” in order to establish their brand. This may be a strong skill or experience level in a particular area of design, such as animation or website building, however, it’s much greater than just hard skills. Your point of difference can be likened to your spice, the flavour that makes you unique.
If you’re at a loss as to what this is, take a look at yourself beyond just you as a designer. Do you have a stand-alone creative flare? Perhaps you have a hobby that translates into brand design – if you love outdoor sports, you will most likely intrinsically understand the needs of sports companies, if you love wine and food, you’ll get what a hospo business wants to convey to its audience. Our cultural and ethnic identities come into play also, if you speak another language you will be able to communicate much more effectively with clients from your culture and understand their brand more deeply.
Ultimately good design communicates to its intended audience, and target audiences can be broken down into subgroups of people. From environmentalists to fashion-lovers, craft-beer aficionados to cultural groups – what we love and who we are gives us unique insight into these sub-groups.
Of course, our value as a designer isn’t all soft skills – the quality of the services you provide is also incredibly important. Nicole recommends scoping out the competitors around you, seeing what other services solopreneurs are providing and for what cost can inform the relative value of your services.
It’s smart to always upskill, technology evolves rapidly and keeping on top of new tools will ensure you don’t get left behind. Keeping your finger on the pulse of trends is also useful, social media and brand design often go hand-in-hand, and engaging with social media will allow you to keep up to speed with the changing aesthetic landscape.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is keeping your creative flair alive. Designers are artists at heart, and there’s no doubt we do our best work when we love what we do. Your value is linked to this creative passion, which can often get sucked dry under the pressure of deadlines, tricky client negotiations, and the general headache that comes with running your own business.
It's crucial to make time for your creative practice, be that working on projects or being inspired by the work of other artists you love.