When I started my career as a freelance designer, I did everything right. Or so I thought.
I read articles on freelancing, built my portfolio, networked with clients, and perfected my invoicing. I was proud to support small businesses with whatever design projects they needed – big or small.
I gained a level of success, but it came at a personal cost. I was working 12-hour days every single day. When I compared the amount of money I was making to the amount of time I spent working, my eyebrows shot up.
I couldn’t continue like this forever. Something needed to change.
The Best Business Decision I Ever Made
After several years of continuing on that path as a freelancer, I found myself teetering on the edge of burnout.
Every time I took on a new client, I spent a significant amount of time researching their industry. I bent over backwards to accommodate strange requests and compete on pricing. My portfolio included an assortment of designs that didn’t go together: a hospital website here, a jewelry brochure there, and a smattering of business cards and product labels.
Like most freelancers, I had heard that I should find a freelance niche and focus on solely working with one or two industries. I ignored that message for years, but in moments of exhaustion that advice started to intrigue me.
I still had some resistance to the idea, but I had to try something. Every day it was becoming more clear that the path I was on wouldn’t lead to long-term success and wellbeing.
So instead of continuing as a freelance jack-of-all-trades designer, I started working exclusively with health & wellness businesses.
Once I picked a specialization for my freelance business and stuck to it, I started working with less clients per month and making significantly more money per project. It was the best business decision I ever made.
Here are the 5 most important things I learned after I found my niche as a designer:
1. Other designers are not your competition
When I was a general freelancer, I saw other designers as my competition. Without a specialization it was extremely hard to stand out from them.
I didn’t have a solid answer when potential clients asked why they should choose me over other designers, so instead I lowered my prices. I attended networking events and started blogging to showcase my knowledge, but I still felt overwhelmed and behind.
Now that I focus solely on health & wellness brands, I see other designers as my colleagues and friends. I don’t worry about them “taking business from me” because unless they focus on my same niche, we do different things. I even started sending referrals to them!
Since I now have a certain type of client in mind, the process of creating a portfolio, blog, and social media presence has become so much more targeted and fun. I write about wellness topics that attract the attention of my ideal clients, and they contact me after reading my content. Specializing was the catalyst for me to truly enjoy my business and the design industry again.
2. Targeting a smaller niche brings more sales – not less.
I recently found a note I wrote to myself four years ago that says: “I think I should specialize, but I’m not sure.” My fear at the time was that if I only focused on one niche, I would lose potential clients in other industries.
For designers who haven’t specialized yet, I understand your hesitation. But I’m happy to report that after picking a niche and sticking to it, I have had the complete opposite experience.
After specializing, I receive about the same number of inquiries as before. What changed is the type of inquiries. The new leads come from people who believe in my expertise and are willing to pay more for an expert on branding in their industry. They don’t see me as a general and replaceable designer who can just create something for them.
My sales process has also become smoother. I set the pricing, there is no haggling, and clients respect my rates because they know I have helped others in their same industry.
3. You get to improve your craft.
One of the coolest and most unexpected things about focusing my efforts on one specialization is that it has made me a stronger designer.
Since I solely work with health & wellness brands, I no longer need to start from scratch with each new client. I have the time to observe trends, themes, and best practices in my niche which fuels my design ideas and adds to the value I can give.
When prospective clients reach out to me, I’m already familiar with their industry so we can dive right into discussing how their designs could stand out from the competition.
This would not have been possible in the days when I was scrambling to secure small design projects here and there.
My niche is still a fairly broad umbrella, so depending on the day I could be working with various types of products such as protein shakes, sleep masks, candles, Himalayan salt lamps…. it really depends!
I get to experience the variety of interesting projects that freelancers crave, but I have more satisfaction and income along the way.
4. Specializing is more profitable.
When you’re perceived as just another general freelancer with nothing to set you apart, your pricing is a major factor that clients consider.
But as soon as you specialize, you can charge more per project because clients see you as an authority in your field. Businesses are willing to pay more when they know you are a valued expert who can solve their problems.
In addition to specializing, I highly suggest offering brand strategy services if you want to make more money as a designer. This allows you to get paid for the research and brand development work that you’re already doing but packaged in a way that brings added value to your clients.
5. Your clients achieve results.
All designers know that design isn’t just about looking good. Well-crafted designs help your clients stand out, attract more customers, and visually express the personalities of their businesses in a memorable way.
That’s the real value of your work. You aren’t just designing a logo: you’re creating a visual experience that helps your clients grow their businesses and make more money.
When you position yourself in this way, the game changes. You can charge a premium, work with less clients, and focus on the intricacies of each business in ways that weren’t possible when you were selling one-off logos.
You can help your clients dive into the strategy behind their brands and create websites, business cards, billboards – anything that will help them grow! In turn, your clients are more likely to apply your guidance to their businesses because they trust you.
When they start seeing an uptick in sales and inquiries because of their new branding, it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
As soon as I selected a specialization for my business, my career changed for the better. I’m now making more money, working far less hours, and feeling creatively fulfilled every day. I only wish I had done it sooner.
When you put limits on the types of businesses you work with, at first it may feel like you’re blocking off the flow of potential clients. But in reality, a specialization is what allows you to say yes to the right clients – the ones that will value you and treat your work with the respect it deserves.
If you can break through your fears, trust the freelancers who specialized before you, make the decision to find a niche, and see where it leads, you will find a world of new opportunities on the other side.
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