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From One-Shop Freelance Designer to
Creative Agency Director

How to expand your freelance design business and offer
full creative agency services

by Shaun Crowley

The tips I reveal in this article show how you can double, treble, even quadruple your regular income by presenting yourself as a business rather than an individual.

Your 'offer' is the thing that can set you apart as a business. What can you offer your clients that others can't? What added value do clients get from using you? Think in these terms and you're acting more as a business director than a lone creative -- and on course for building your very own business empire.

Offer something unique
You are most likely to be competing with other freelance artists in your area who offer a similar service and charge a similar fee. The fact that you might be better than them doesn't guarantee regular work or considerable fee increases. You need to offer something unique to stand out in an increasingly crowded freelance arena. The idea is simple: offer something unique about your service, and clients will remember you; they will also be prepared to pay more for a specialized service, so you can charge a bigger fee.

A unique aspect of your service might be a specific skill you specialize in or a layer of service you provide that others don't. For example, if you are a graphic designer, your unique selling proposition may be one of the following:

• Specialize in fast turnaround; i.e. newspaper advertisements designed and sent in a day

• Ability to work across media (Leaflet design, Animated presentation design, 3D design, web design)

• On call evenings and weekends: 24/7 design service

• Quick response promise: will respond to all emails and enquiries within 10 minutes

• Accuracy: a free proof-reading service before artwork handover

• Specialize in a particular style; i.e. exceptional picture research, Asian-appeal design, children's design, etc

Specializing in one particular aspect of your job doesn't mean you need to narrow the choice of services or design styles you can provide. Indeed, one unique aspect of your service could be its very broadness; that you can do everything from illustration to 3D design.

Even if you offer a highly specialized service, you can still market your general talents -- you just make sure that the unique aspect of your offer is in someway highlighted, either when you phone potential clients, or written in your marketing materials.

A unique layer to your service will attract new clients and allow you to charge more. Once you've got new clients, you can offer a more general service too, resulting in maximum client lock-in. And of course, you'll be offering your general service at a higher price for those new customers.

Communicate the unique aspect of your service online
Once you have isolated your Unique Selling Proposition, present it upfront on your website. By repeating your unique offer several times within your copy, you'll increase your chances of your website being tracked by web-crawlers, boosting your chances of being found on the first few pages of the major search engines.

If you want to explore search engine marketing to market yourself on the Web, you need to start by choosing niche keywords in order to increase traffic to your website. www.wordtracker.com is a useful tool that enables you to see what keywords people are typing into the search engines, and how many websites are competing for the same keywords. It costs around $8 per day or $250 per year.

Find a profitable niche
It's no good offering a unique layer of service if people aren't interested in it. The key to finding new customers is to offer a specialized service that lots of people are looking for, but that other artists in the area don't offer.

If, for example, you offer a highly specialized service like "ancient coin photography", your number of potential clients will be small, thus limiting your profitability. However, if you offer a more general service such as "book cover photography", you compete against other freelancers and agencies offering the same service, thus reducing your chances of finding work.

To find a profitable niche, offer a high-demand and specialized service to a lucrative segment of the freelance market where there is little or no competition.

To do this, you need to 1) Target the most lucrative market, 2) Research the market, and 3) Offer a specialized service that responds to the needs of your market.

1) Target your most lucrative market.
Suggestion: focus on marketing departments
The most profitable freelance artwork jobs are found in the marketing communications sector. If you can design (or provide artwork for) direct selling promotional material such as brochures, adverts, and websites, you can charge higher fees than designers who work mainly in other sectors such as publishing.

2) Research the market.
Suggestion: get to know the promotions controllers
Freelance designers with an understanding of marketing and copywriting are usually favored above designers with no marketing knowledge. That's because today's promotions controllers are likely to be project managers; intermediaries between copywriters and designers, and not necessarily creatives themselves. Today's publicity designers often have to work harder at interpreting what the client actually wants, and a knowledge of marketing communications often comes in handy.

Promotions controllers increasingly rely on copywriter-artist duos to conceptualize, write, and design direct selling promotional material, thus limiting the need for them to get involved unnecessarily mid-project. As a result, designers need to work more closely with freelance copywriters, and copywriters prefer to work with designers who are more in-tune with their way of thinking. How do you get in-tune? Simple, learn the basics of copywriting.

3) Respond to the needs of your market.
Suggestion: integrate copywriting into your artwork service and offer full marketing agency creative services
Copywriting and design services have become interlinked in today's creative freelance arena. Briefing a copywriter-designer duo is a much more persuasive proposition for promotions controllers than briefing a copywriter, then briefing a separate designer.

However, copywriter-designer duos are really only found in expensive agencies. This leaves a gap in the market; where freelance copywriters and designers can get together to offer full marketing agency creative services, without charging full agency prices. If you are prepared to try a few new tricks, you can get yourself established in this profitable niche market.

How to offer a copywriting-design service...
Find yourself a copywriting buddy!
Buddying up with a copywriter is a good way of offering a copywriting service without doing the copywriting yourself. A copywriting buddy benefits you in two ways: Not only can you offer a cheap copywriter-designer alternative to expensive agencies (a much more persuasive proposition for clients -- they know they can hand the whole project to you at a fraction of the cost compared to using an agency), your copywriting buddy will also keep you in mind to design any assignments he or she finds from other clients.

You'll get to know freelance copywriters as you work on freelance projects. Alternatively, do a Google search for copywriters in your region. Once you have identified a good copywriter, get in touch, send samples of your work, and ask if you can add their service onto your own website (and vice versa).

Why not offer full marketing agency creative services yourself?
Copywriting is a craft that can be learnt, and there's no better person than you to have a go. With the help of a good teach-yourself copywriting manual, you can pick up the techniques to the point of competency in time it takes to learn a new piece of design software.

Writing as well as designing publicity makes perfect sense for freelance designers.

1. It makes life easier for your clients, because they avoid the time-consuming project management, briefing time, and service searching they would have to put into finding a separate designer and copywriter.

2. You'll offer a consistency of message and aesthetic look that neither freelance copywriter nor artist could achieve on their own.

3. You'll effectively offer the same service as an agency, but at the fraction of the cost. The result... more clients, happier clients, greater client lock-in, and up to four times more money.