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Travis Tom is an award-winning independent designer, illustrator and icon specialist in Augusta, GA. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a BFA in graphic design. His work has appeared in PRINT, PRINT's Case Books and HOW Magazine. He is founder of the Creative Postcard Club; a group of professional designers, illustrators, design students and creatives around the world.



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Pitching and Winning Assignments Online
by Travis N. Tom
As an independent contract designer, it's unsafe to place all of your proverbial eggs in one basket. Thinking one or two clients will keep you afloat is a risky move. What happens if your client drops the ax with budget cuts or they decide to transfer all of their marketing and design needs to another agency? You should be proactive in marketing yourself for the next client or assignment. There are alternative solutions to broadening your client base outside of your local area via the web.

It's now possible to pitch to clients out of state, across the country and even transcontinental with a simple inquiry. There are several resources and job sites for an independent to tap into. Here are a few ideas and resources for landing your next client online.

Have an online portfolio
The client has instant access to your work and capabilities and can assess if you are a good fit for their project. A digital portfolio created as a pdf could come in handy as well. Selecting 5-10 of your best pieces should be adequate. A simple approach is fine, but with today's pdf technology you can create a unique digital portfolio with a great look and feel that the end-user can experience as a finished design piece. The user-interface should be easy to navigate with a consistent layout making it easy to read and view work. Another advantage is that it can be modified and updated on the fly. Although meeting a client in person is preferable, there are many occasions where I have never met my client. By using pdfs and jpgs for the approval process, it's very easy to complete a job entirely via email and the web. Some clients still prefer printed hard copies and final artwork mailed on disk.

Use caution with online bidding sites/spec work
I ditched several years ago when I was first starting out because you bid against other designers (some hacks) charging logo prices for $50. If the client likes you, then they choose you, usually based on the lowest bid. I am really against spec work when the job lister wants to see preliminary concepts and finished logos before hiring the designer. I also have a problem with a system where any designer can pay a fee and get a higher ranking or listing. The owner of eLance personally e-mailed me when I asked to be removed from their service asking me why I wanted to be removed–my response listed the above reasons.

Where to look and are good resources for finding high-end design studios that use contract work. The Creative Hotlist section on Commarts will have some occasional contract listings. With contact information in hand, I send an e-mail to companies I think could be a good match with my style and ask if they hire contract designers. Sometimes I send a printed self-promotion piece in the mail. This method has not been very successful in attracting new clients or interests. There is a good article on by Ellen Shapiro on PDF portfolios. is truly one of the best resources out there as far as job posting sites go. While working from a home studio in Atlanta in 2000, I picked up a few small assignments from clients in California and Chicago. I began actively browsing the CraigsList job section listings under Art, Media and Design and the Web and Info design sections. The economy began to go into recession in early 2001 so work was definitely hard to come by with fewer job postings on the site.

There are many listings in key cities like Los Angeles and New York. The idea is to go through the listings, then send an introductory e-mail if you are interested in the project. It might be an apparel designer looking for a brochure, a small tech company looking for a logo and Web site, a personal entrepreneur or small business looking for a logo and stationery system, a start-up looking for print collateral and etc. There are the listings for "Do my logo for $50" which I automatically bypass. One time I e-mailed and asked if this was an hourly rate...ha...ha. You never know if one of these listings is the next up-and-coming venture or even a well-known Fortune 500 company in disguise. It's not far fetched. is a digital staffing agency with only an online presence and requires a monthly fee ranging from $35-$110 a month to be an active member. I have worked with, and which are all creative staffing agencies with satellite offices around the country. ArtSource placed me with Netscape and CreativeAssets placed me with PeopleSoft on icon assignments when I lived on the West Coast.

My experiences
In the spring of 2003, I responded to an ad on CraigsList in San Diego. I got a response from the job lister who happened to be a designer himself and we negotiated a per project fee based on his budget. The logo project was completed with three rounds of revisions. Early in 2004, I completed another logo and real-estate brochure, yet we still haven't met in person. So, there are some instances where you might be working with someone or an agency on an on-going basis if they like your work well enough.

I made another connection via CraigsList in the fall of 2003 with a client in Atlanta who I actually met with in person to sign paperwork. We've worked on a couple of logo projects and business cards for his start-up ideas. I worked with another client from CraigsList in early 2004–a logo project for a chiropractic group based in Beverly Hills, CA. They narrowed their choice between me and another designer and decided to go with a local designer. I left the door open by saying if it doesn't work out, then they could contact me again. A few days later, I received a phone call from the client and landed the project. Keep in mind some of these clients are on limited budgets and you'll have to decide for yourself on how much to charge and what you can live with. Being in a tight market, I've almost had to reduce my fees by 50% or more for logo work. However, I do limit my concept sketches to a lower rate.

Another successful bid was recently completed with a new start-up in New York City. While searching through the art and design CraigsList listings in NY, I spotted an ad for an iconographer. I responded by sending the company my brief introductory letter with a link to my web site. A few weeks later, the company project manager called me out of the blue and asked me what my availability was. They needed someone to dedicate their full attention over the next 3 to 4 weeks to meet a tight deadline for a product launch. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of a three-month contract job as an inhouse designer for a financial group. It didn't look like I was going to get the project. A few days later, I was browsing CraigsList again and noticed another ad for an iconographer–it didn't occur to me that it was the same company because the ad was worded a little differently and requested rates. I responded and submitted my availability and rates. The same company called and we discussed the project further. After a quick chat with the rep and CEO, we decided that we would work together. The start-up company flew me up to NYC in mid-May for a personal meeting to sign contracts and discuss the scope of the project.

The project consisted of a set of 22 icons which were designed in three different styles totaling 66 icons with over 120 concepts developed. The icon project was completed in late May. The product is expected to launch in the fall of 2004 and will be beta phase tested over the summer. Both the client and myself are pleased with the end results. Imagine designing within a 14x14 pixel space–definately a big challenge. The client provided written permission to include the icons in self-promotion, competitions and a forthcoming book idea about iconography. I hope to pitch the book concept to publishers in the very near future.

I hope this article will help jump start your awareness and show you the value of marketing yourself via the web. Remember to be prepared with your online portfolio (only your best work), initial inquiries (grammar and clear message) and professionalism (completing work on time) to give you the edge in landing the project and making new contacts. Best of luck in all your prospecting.

About the author
Travis Tom is an award-winning independent designer, illustrator and icon specialist from Augusta, GA. He graduated from The University of Georgia with a BFA in graphic design. His work has appeared in PRINT, PRINT's Case Books and HOW Magazine. In September 2000, he founded the Creative Postcard Club which is a group of professional designers, illustrators, design students and creatives alike from around the world who enjoy corresponding through their own postcard creations. The group recently completed Round 23 Dots. Tom has been a contractor for the past four and a half years, and he is currently in a three-month contract job as an inhouse designer for a marketing financial group--with hich he is considering going full time this summer. Tom aspires to break into the publishing industry by authoring and concepting design related books.

Travis N. Tom
designer/illustrator/icon specialist
2436 Apricot Lane | Augusta, Georgia 30904 | m: 706.495.8664
email travis
2004, author's copyright here
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