Freelancing: The Art of Defining Your Specialty

by in Articles on 18th Nov 2010 · Comments

An important part of being a freelance designer is defining your specialty. You may have a lot of versatile skills that will indeed make your work marketable to a larger audience. However, it is important to focus on one or two specific areas that you can make your own.

Freelancing: The Art of Defining Your Specialty
Image credit: Andrew

We know who we are but know not what we may be - Hamlet

By zeroing in on your area of specialization, you can also zero in on who your target market is, how to connect with them, and what you'll need to do in order to grow your business.

Sometimes designers can assign themselves a specialty and sometimes a specialty gets assigned to them through a slow sneak attack method. If you don't know yet what your area of expertise is, there could be a good chance that you're already doing it and just haven't realized it.

There Is Nothing Either Good Or Bad; But Thinking Makes It So

Gathering your thoughts is an important part of defining your specialty. Designers everywhere are constantly asking themselves one question - "What do I want to do?" This question relates to all projects, all client interactions, as well as a larger and more generalized life goal.

Good or Bad
Image credit: just.K

One of the biggest attractions to working in the design industry is that the answer to this question is constantly changing and that can be exciting! However, it can also be very hindering. The constant change can sometimes lead to confusion, frustration, and a lack of feeling grounded.

Thinking things through is great! But getting those thoughts out of your head is better. Write things down, make notes, draw pictures, whatever you need to do to turn your thoughts from those floating phantoms in your head into something that is visible to not only you but also others will help give your thoughts weight.

While you are thinking things through and writing them down, keep in mind that there is no right or wrong answer. This is about you, how certain areas of design or clients make you feel, what infuses you or what drains you, what you're bad, good, or even great at doing, and how your wants and needs will be effecting and effected by your decisions.

Answer those questions and you are on your way to defining your specialty.

To Be Or Not To Be

Experimentation is the next part of figuring out what your area of focus could be. How are you going to know what may or may not work for you if it is something that you have never tried? However, the best way to do this is to do it on your own time with your own personal projects and not the project of a paying client.

Experimentation
Image credit: . : : v i S H a l : : .

Trying new things is great, but wasting your time or the time and money of your clients is not. So, if there is an area of design that is new to you that you think you might want to try, start with following some free on-line tutorials.

Afterward, move on to creating pieces for your portfolio. Then, do it again and again - because like TV momma always said, "Practice makes perfect."

When it comes time to work with the real clients, keep this advice in mind: Be realistic about what you are attempting, call for help when you need it, and above all else, learn from the experience.

More Matter With Less Art

Keep in mind that you're going to need to do what pays the bills. By doing what pays your bills, you are taking care of the one person in your business that matters most - YOU. For the longest time I was taking on any project that offered payment. It wasn't always easy but I was keeping my bills paid.

Non Profits
Image credit: bitrot

Then a funny thing started to happen. Word of mouth started to bring me new clients, and then those clients lead to me working with non-profit groups. Although I never started out with the intention of working with non-profits, I have found that I really love doing it and because of that, I have made it one of my specialties.

Also, sometimes a "specialty" isn't just about the type of design work you are doing, but also about the kind of people you are surrounding yourself with. People, groups, and companies come in all different shapes and sizes. Some will have messages or mission statements that will mimic your own and those groups will bring about a certain feeling of comfort.

It's important to keep an eye out for how working with certain groups makes you feel. By doing this, you will be able to find a group to become involved in, and that in turn will help you grow your business because you will be able to specialize in working with that target market.

To Thine Own Self Be True

Once you pick a specialty, give it your own spin and really make it yours. Every designer brings a personal touch to his or her projects. Whether it is your own personal look, an extra service that you add on for free, how you interact with your clients, or a combination of everything - your design habits are going to be the fingerprint of your business. No other designer will have a fingerprint just like yours so be sure to really take the time to craft it.

Own Self
Image credit: Mio Cade

Once you have it crafted to be something that you are proud of, and then market the heck out of it! In the beginning, you'll need to do a lot of your own shouting. Messages of "Hey I'm awesome! Come check me out!" are going to need to be said by you and often.

However, after a while - and if you really are awesome - people will start to do your shouting for you. When this happens is the point where you can then take the time to go back over your design fingerprint and make improvements.

The Memory Be Green

By taking the time to discover your specialty, and really making it your own, your business will grow quite fast. If you do, unlike Hamlet, it will certainly lead to a happy ending.

Firgs has been an independent designer for over ten years, specializing in Photoshop art. Her favorite areas of design includes photo-manipulation, illustration, and creating web graphics. Currently, she is working as a freelance graphic artist in Chicago, IL.