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.
Pitching and Winning Assignments
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
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
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.
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
I ditched eLance.com 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
Commarts.com and Howdesign.com 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 Commarts.com
Shapiro on PDF portfolios.
Craigslist.org 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
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.
Sologig.com 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 Aquent.com,
ArtSource.com and CreativeAssets.com 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
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
or an agency on an on-going basis if they like your work well
I made another connection via CraigsList in the fall of 2003
with a client in Atlanta who I actually met with in person
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
me and another designer and decided to go with a local
designer. I left the door open by saying if it doesn't work
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
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
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.