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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

After 21+ years of working for a very large company, I've decided to plunge into the world of small business and form my own graphics & design company. I'm home-based as of now and am fully equipped with the latest hardware and software that's available. I don't want to limit myself to only certain areas or types of work, but my major talents lie in the fields of point-of-sale and retail advertising. I would rather design the work and let someone else fabricate it on the outside. I'm having a real hard time finding business, even with people that I created for in the last 21 years and I have a good reputation for being talented and knowing this end of the business. I need help fast!!!!!

Answer from our Guest Expert Mark Bower of Aberdeen Mobile Home Repair


Welcome to the kitchen of the self-employed! And I understand your frustration. For over 20 years, you worked hand in hand with many of your former employer's clients, who obviously thought very highly of you. Yet now that you're on your own, those same clients won't give you the time of day. Why is that?

Business Image

No doubt your previous employer's clients know you're a talented graphic designer. However, running a successful graphic and design company requires more than just good graphics. When customers choose a business to work with, they also look at its track record. How long has the biz been around? Will it be around tomorrow? Does it have good management and do quality work? What other biz connections does it have that may help them?

Right now, your home-based company is probably suffering from an initial image problem. It's not that you don't do good work, but some larger businesses may shy away from doing business with a start-up, home-based biz. It just isn't their "usual" order.

The former clients who know you may respect you as a graphic designer, but they may have other opinions about you as a biz owner. You seem to know these former clients very well, so why not take a couple of them out for coffee or lunch, and ask them their opinion on your new business? (If this isn't kosher with your situation, then look up other businesses with similar backgrounds and needs -- who weren't former clients of your employer. Ask to talk with their purchasing or advertising supervisor.) Don't try to sell them anything, just ask and listen to what they look for in graphic/design businesses.

Once you learn what appeals to these prospective clients, you can begin working out a plan of action to ease any misgivings or concerns they may have and attract their business. Once you tackle some of these stumbling blocks, your list of clients will rise like home-made bread dough!

Sales and Marketing

As a one-man show starting out, your main job isn't being a graphic designer -- it's being the sales and marketing person. For the time being, graphic designing will play second fiddle to your marketing efforts. Plan to spend 30-50% or more of your time selling and marketing.

Your best sales tactic will be to knock on doors. Big businesses are tough nuts to crack. So focus on smaller and medium-sized businesses at first. However, they may require different needs, so you may have to do some more homework there. You can approach small biz by simply leaving a brochure describing what you do and how you can help them. Many small businesses will have no idea why they would need a graphic designer, or even know for sure what a graphic designer does. A well-designed and informative brochure with no graphic-designer lingo will help educate your prospects on what you can do for them.

Ask for referrals & Create a Portfolio

Whether talking to family, colleagues, possible prospects, or current customers, always ask if they know of anyone else who could possibly use your services. Get permission to show your customer's work to others.

Then, assemble a portfolio. If customers give you permission to use the work you did for them, include their name with the sample. This adds credibility. Until you have enough customers to fill up a portfolio, add some of your own work to it. Your portfolio alone may spur current customers or prospects into remembering someone who may need your services.

If your budget is limited, I wouldn't spend a lot on advertising. Your best technique for getting business will be to go out and meet the people you wish to serve. When meeting prospective customers, learn to ask a lot of questions about their needs. You may just then discover a new market niche that may have never occurred to you. Joining the local chamber of commerce wouldn't hurt either! You can network and get referrals there once you meet and mingle and make a name for yourself among local businesses.

A Final Morsel of Advice

Here's another thought. Until you build-up your clientele, would your former employer be willing to out source any overflow work to you? Of course, this is assuming you didn't burn any bridges. Or perhaps their competition could throw some work your way? Wouldn't hurt to ask.

Good Luck!

Mark Bower, Guest Biz Expert

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