Articles about marketing, including social media, networking, advertising, and other forms of customer outreach.

Job Hunting Tips for Graphic Design Graduates

Job Hunting Tips for Graphic Design Graduates | Strategies for new graduates to find graphic design jobs and improve their chances of landing interviews | Jenn Wells Design

This blog post is coming in from way out of left field. I know it’s not all that relevant for my usual readers, and if you don’t need job hunting tips, feel free to skip this one.

Sometimes you get an idea, and it’s not necessarily the best idea you’ve ever had, but it burrows its way into your brain and refuses to leave. This is one of those.

7 years ago I was a recent graduate. After some initial success snagging contract positions, it felt like all the opportunities fizzled out. I moved back home to Delaware from the exciting, potential-filled DC area to save money and concluded almost immediately that there were “no jobs” in DE.

This overly hasty conclusion ended up being a fantastic thing for me, because it spurred me to start my own business. But somehow, now that I’m not looking for design jobs, I see them popping up all over the place. Ironic, right?

Not really. It just so happens that a lot of the actions I’ve taken to find clients and referral partners are also helpful in finding job opportunities. And since I’m not going to be making use of this knowledge, I want to pass it along to someone who can use it!

Let’s cut to the chase. Here’s my job hunting tips…

1. Network

Maybe freelancing isn’t your thing. But getting out to networking events and meeting people is never a waste of time. Even if you don’t book any projects, the more contacts you have, the more likely someone is to bring up your name when a job opens up at their friend’s company. Or that they’ll pass along a job listing to you. However, I’d urge you to be open-minded to freelance work as well, because it establishes you within your field AND it gives you something concrete to put in your portfolio. Oh, AND networking will force you to become comfortable with small talk and delivering an elevator pitch, both of which will come in handy during interviews. Like I said, networking is never a waste of time even if the benefits aren’t as direct as meet people => people buy your services.

2. Use Social Media!

Recruiters cost money, job listings cost money, everything costs money. But you know what’s free? Posting a job on social media. So where do you think companies will post their job openings first? I was foolish and it never occurred to me to follow design companies until I started running my own company and wanted to check out the competition. Since following all the local designers, I’ve seen at least 3 jobs within the last 6 months. Instagram is where I’ve seen the most, but if you hang out more on Twitter or LinkedIn, check out which designers are on there. Follow them and interact. The more often they see your name, the more likely they’ll feel some sort of connection to you when it comes to interview time.

3. Put Your Portfolio Online

I know it can seem daunting as a new graduate to pay to host your own website. But there are tons of other options for having an online portfolio. You can use Behance or Coroflot. Throw some samples up on LinkedIn! And who said websites have to cost money? Try one of the many free website builders like Wix, Weebly, or WordPress.com. The point is, you need to have a way for potential employers to view your work that doesn’t involve them trusting your email attachment or putting forth any more effort than a single click. People are lazy and employers are busy. They have no incentive whatsoever to go to extra effort for you.

4. Be a Student of Your Industry

Just because you’ve graduated doesn’t mean you’re done learning. None of us are! The only way to stay relevant is to keep up with industry trends and constantly hone your craft. The easiest way to do this is to immerse yourself in that world. Follow blogs, get magazines, listen to podcasts, read books. Whatever your preferred intake method, keep learning and keep finding ways to use those new ideas. Every time you learn a new skill, you make yourself more hire-able. Bonus points for looking at job postings and using those to help you decide what new skills to learn!

5. Improve Your Job Hunting Skills

It is a skill, just like editing photos or creating logos is a skill. And schools don’t necessarily set you up for success here, because they’ll give you outdated or just plain bad advice. Ask a Manager has some fantastic job hunting advice, along with advice for regular office scenarios. I recommend browsing through the articles on interviews, resumes, and cover letters. Here’s my quick summary of things to know:

Resumes

  • Name, email, phone number, qualifications summary, experience, education, and maybe a skills or volunteer section if your resume is a little light. That’s it!
  • You do NOT need an objective, your address, or any clubs or volunteer work unrelated to your field. Oh, and no soft skills like communication or organization. Sorry.
  • Keep it to one page unless you’ve been in the field for a long time.
  • Designers: we get to be a little more creative than most fields in our resume design. Make it unique but don’t sacrifice readability just to be creative. Infographic resumes are risky – a lot of people really hate them and some bigger companies use automated scanning systems to pick out keywords, which won’t work with a graphic.

Cover Letters

  • Use the job description to write it. Pull out 2 or 3 requirements and then describe how your experiences or work samples fulfill those requirements.
  • There’s a fine line between boring and bizarre. Try to find it. I’ve strayed too far to both sides, so I won’t try to give too much advice here.
  • Try to avoid bullshit and repeating too much of what’s on your resume. Don’t waste anyone’s time.
  • SPELLCHECK!!! This goes for your resume and especially any initial contact emails, as well.

Interviews

  • A lot of this is common sense and experience. Dress slightly nicer than you think the position requires, arrive early, be polite, etc.
  • Practice common interview questions ahead of time, especially if you’re someone who has trouble coming up with answers on the spot.
  • Always follow up to thank the interviewers for their time. Never argue with their decision. Don’t burn bridges.
  • You don’t have to take a job just because it’s offered. Don’t ghost, because that’s a burned bridge, but you can very politely say that you’re going in another direction or whatever.

And don’t just take my word for it. Research online. Here’s a starting point for resumes, cover letters, and interviews.

6. Be Open to Non-Job Opportunities

I have lost track of the number of aspiring designers who have emailed me hoping for a job. I almost always respond to let them know that I’m a one-woman show, so there’s no opening at present, but would they like a portfolio review? No one ever takes me up on this or even responds. Guys. A portfolio review is ALWAYS a good thing! A) You get eyes on your work and if you make a good impression just maybe that person will pass along your information to someone who IS hiring and B) You get feedback that you can use to keep improving, which you’ll need to do to eventually get hired. It’s also good practice for interviewing and a chance to pick a designer’s brain for job hunting tips. Not responding is a huge waste and, like I said in the last point, burns a bridge.

If I could only give you one piece of advice, it would be this: You are responsible for your own continuing education. School doesn’t teach you everything and the best way to keep improving is to actively seek out learning opportunities. Read, watch, listen, and seek out connections with people who can give you advice. You never know where any one particular opportunity will lead.

That’s it! Good luck out in the field!!!

For the more experienced job-seekers among us, what has worked for you? Or if you’re in a position to hire, what do you look for in candidates?

, ,

3 Biggest Business Mistakes I’ve Made in the Last 3 Years

My 3 Biggest Business Mistakes | The top 3 things I did wrong in my business and how to avoid them | Jenn Wells Design

It’s easy to forget that success is all relative. Sometimes I feel like my business is so tiny it barely counts as a business. I compare myself to the business owners whose blogs I read or podcasts I listen to, with their 6 figure income and 7 figure goals. It sounds impossibly distant and unreachable.

But then a friend or acquaintance will offhandedly say something about how impressive my business is. They congratulate me for taking the leap and quitting my part time job. They’re impressed when I host a class or speak on a panel. Somehow, in my head, each of those achievements is a one-off. It’s a stroke of luck, or a fluke, or not really THAT big of a deal. But I think we all think that about ourselves and it helps me stay grounded to hear from business owners who are still in the side-gig phase. I’ve come a long way.

My business has gone from 2 or 3 side projects per year, to several projects a week. From a tiny trickle of revenue that the IRS didn’t care about to headaches at tax time. From 3 total clients to 3 monthly clients, a handful of annual or sporadic clients, and too many one-offs to count. In the past couple years, it’s grown a TON and I can tell you why. But it’s more fun to talk about failures, so instead I’ll tell you the biggest mistakes I made and how overcoming them led to where I am now.

Mistake #1: Inactivity

Starting out, I was thrilled whenever I did get a new client. But I didn’t know how to get more. I tried networking – once. I had a website. Magnets on my car. And then…

I read a lot of books. I made a list of marketing things to try maybe one day. I waited. People would find me, right?

After 3 months of inactivity, I finally realized this was a losing strategy. I started poking around to see what opportunities there might be. I applied for a mentorship. Learned how to code responsive websites. Researched marketing and decided to give networking another go.

I didn’t always pick the right action. But doing something is always better than doing nothing. You can’t learn from your mistakes if you aren’t making any, and by doing nothing, you sure as heck aren’t doing anything right either. Inactivity is the surest way to stagnate.

Lesson: Do something. Even if you don’t know what to do. Research, ask peers for suggestions, try new things.

Mistake #2: Inexperience

What? But everyone’s inexperienced until they get some practice in. True. My mistake wasn’t just that I was inexperienced, it was that I didn’t take steps to rectify that.

When I said I read a lot of books up above, I’m talking fantasy. Fluff books. I didn’t read anything related to business, or research, or follow experts in my field. I tried to just work with what I had and learn the rest on the fly.

This is a huuuuge mistake! Think about the number of small businesses that fail. 80%. Each of those businesses failed for a reason and that’s a lesson you could learn and avoid. The much smaller number of small businesses that succeeded have even more important lessons to share. By learning things secondhand, we can save ourselves massive amounts of time and effort.

Lesson: Be a sponge! Read business books, listen to podcasts, follow blogs. There’s so much free information available.

Mistake #3: Introversion

You can be an introvert and run a business! But you’ll have to do a lot of things that push your comfort zone.

The book Networking for People Who Hate Networking (see? reading) taught me that fear of “being pushy” or “annoying people” is an introvert trait. We try to respect other people’s space because we don’t like having our own space invaded.

But introverts can take this too far. If you’re going to run a successful business, you will have to do some form of sales. It can be cold calls, or content marketing, but you’ll need to be comfortable telling people who you are and what you can do for them. You’ll need to be comfortable leaving humility behind to elaborate on your strengths. And you’ll need to talk to people. Probably a lot more often than you want to.

You don’t have to network. It works for me, after a lot of practice and forcing myself to get comfortable small talking strangers. But you have to do something. I hated networking the first several times I did it. It made me feel stressed and anxious and I felt like we all just traded business cards and accomplished nothing. It is now my 2nd biggest generator of new clients, after referrals.

Lesson: Sell, sell, sell! Pick the sales tactic that makes you feel least uncomfortable, and then become an expert at it. True introverts will probably be more comfortable with soft selling.

What mistakes have you made in your business and how did you overcome them?

,

Social Media – Why You Need [Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/LinkedIn]

Social Media: Why You Need It | Social media is a tool that can benefit your business in many ways: marketing, branding, sales, networking, and so on. Are you getting all the benefits from your social accounts? | Jenn Wells Design

 

I was reading an article that said the term “social media” is outdated because users don’t think of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as a collective. People don’t say, “I use social media” they say, “I like Twitter.” Or Snapchat or Vimeo or whatever.

I don’t fully agree – I think the term “social media” is out there often enough that it’s not confusing anyone. BUT it is true that no one needs to use every social media network there is. Nor is that possible.

While we can’t be present everywhere, we do all need to be present somewhere. Rather like networking, your target market is probably not at conferences, marathons, volunteer events, AND the bar. But they’ll be at one or two, so it makes sense to visit once in a while and get to know them.

Let’s talk a little more about that.

Read more

,

Does Race Have a Place in Marketing?

 

Does Race Have a Place in Marketing? | Pros and cons of using traditional demographics | Jenn Wells Design

I recently read an article from ProPublica explaining why they “had to” buy racist ads. After my initial reaction, it ended up being a really eye-opening look at the marketing segmentation options on Facebook.

Did you know Facebook allows you to select custom audiences for ads and promoted posts? Makes sense – an ad for baby shower cupcakes isn’t going to be very effective if it’s sent to people who aren’t expecting. But the fact that these selectors include things like religion and ethnicity is a little disturbing.

Read more

,

My Objections to Multi-Level Marketing

Multi-Level Marketing | My objections to the business format and sales tactics used by MLMs | Jenn Wells Design

“Isn’t that a pyramid scheme?”

You can imagine how enraged a coworker was, after I naively asked this question about his wife’s new business.  He gave me a rundown on multi-level marketing which, frankly, left me a little confused about the difference between the two, but gave me the verbiage I needed to not offend other MLMers.

My personal opinion has wavered.  Initially I was wary, and maybe a little frustrated at the explosion of advertising in my Facebook newsfeed by family and friends.  Then it started to seem like a good opportunity to get into entrepreneurship for people who might not have the initiative or capital to strike out on their own.

And now…

Read more

, ,

My Business Ethics Manifesto

Business Ethics Manifesto | The values and beliefs behind our business | Jenn Wells Design

People often say they want to make an impact, make their mark, effect change, etc.  But what does that actually mean?

The actions each individual takes may differ but the underlying desire is the same.  To leave the world better than we found it.  People who want to create change in the world see a problem and then take steps to improve it, instead of complaining and continuing on about their day.

I recently read an amazing article over at Yes and Yes about building ethics into your business.  I’ve had some vague ideas about values that were important to me, in and outside of my business, but I’ve never vocalized it or built it into my mission statement.  Remedying that now!

Read more

Sales Tactics for Soft Selling

 

Sales Tactics for Soft Selling | How to sell your products and services without being sleazy | Jenn Wells Design

I’ve read lots of blog posts with titles like, “How to Sell Without Being Icky.” I agree that selling and sales tactics can often feel sleazy, or “icky,” and it doesn’t always have to. But I’ve also drawn a line at what I will and will not do, morality aside.

I had someone refer to my business persona as a “soft sell” and I kind of like that phrasing. I’m not on Facebook posting in groups every day about my super special deal, available for a limited time only! I’m there to get to know people and I post when the topic interests me or I know the answer to someone’s question.

Honestly? I’m much more active in my graphic design group than any others because I personally have more fun there. It’s a side benefit that I learn a ton about how to more efficiently run my business.

So when I make decisions about how to promote myself, I always ask, “What would I, as a consumer, think of this if someone else did it?” It’s simple, but having that small check before I try out some kind of promotional tactic makes me feel more confident in my business’ integrity.

Read more

, ,

Website Content – What Should You Put on Your Website?

What Should You Put On Your Website | How to decide which pages your website needs and what content to write on each | Jenn Wells Design

Your website is being built, everything is going smoothly, the design is beautiful but… What on earth should you put on it?

It can be overwhelming to stare at a blank page (or screen) and try to dredge content from the recesses of your brain. For yeeeears, my website had just 5 pages and most of them were practically blank. But in the past year, I’ve been really working on building and refining my business and now I’m up to 9, not including the blog. What’s more important, those pages have information on them that is useful for my readers and helps to guide them through my service list and consultation process. Plus my SEO is much better!

Yup, content = search engine optimization. But it has to be meaningful, which is why we’re going to talk about what makes sense for your site content.

Read more

,

Why You Need a Website

 

Why You Need a Website | Websites are fast becoming a requirement. You need a website to build community, credibility, advertise, and provide information to your clients | Jenn Wells Design

This is a difficult post to write because it seems so intuitive to me. But I realize not everyone thinks or uses technology or even runs a business the same way. So let’s talk about the value of websites.

1. Websites Give You Credibility

I hate that this is my number one reason but it really is. It’s not compelling, it’s not a promise of guaranteed clients, or even guaranteed interaction from potential customers. But you still need to look like a legitimate business. And, these days, that involves a website and at least one social media page – preferably Facebook.

Speaking as a customer and not a designer, the first thing I do when I hear a business recommendation from a friend is to look it up online. If they don’t have a website, oftentimes I won’t go there. This is both because I’m looking for one central place to find the answers to my questions (location, hours, services, etc) and because not having a website makes it feel like that business doesn’t know what its doing.

Read more

How to Define Your Target Market

How to Define Your Target Market | Why it's important to narrow down your audience and which factors to consider | Jenn Wells Design

 

First off, Happy New Year everyone! I have a post on goal setting planned for the 16th, but today I want to start the new year off in the same place as your business: target market.

Your target market is your client base or your ideal customer. All too often businesses think they can market to “everyone” or “everyone who likes/needs ___ product.” But that’s a strategy that simply doesn’t work.

Have you heard the fable of the old man, boy, and donkey? Like many of Aesop’s stories, there’s a moral at the end, “Please all and you will please none.” Or, as I would put it, you can’t please everyone. It’s simply not possible.

By trying to create a brand or a product that works for everyone, what you end up with is a bland non-entity that doesn’t appeal to anyone in particular and isn’t memorable. You can accomplish so much more by choosing your market and setting out to give that demographic an experience tailored to them and their needs.

How to Define Your Target Market

There’s a few different things that come into play and it’s certainly not as simple as “old men” or “rich women.” I’ve broken it down into 3 different categories of information.

Demographics

This is the obvious, easy-to-assess category. It’s also the one to be most wary of. You should absolutely consider age, gender, income, culture, and so on. And then you should reconsider to make sure that you’re not excluding people based on a statistic rather than the feel you want for you business.

For example, if your preferred customers are tech-savvy, it would be easy to use a blanket category such as “young people” but are 20-somethings really better with technology than 30 or 40-somethings? Do some research and see how each age group uses the kind of technology associated with your business and then make your decision based on that.

It’s also possible that you’ll have outliers. In this case, the majority of people who use/are interested in your product might be millenials, but there are also a few customers in their 60s with those same skills. This shouldn’t change your overall strategy – go ahead and continue to appeal to whichever group is the largest or has the feel you want for your business. BUT don’t necessarily make it exclusive to that group.

For example, it’s fine to have a mission statement like, “Business organization tools for millennial entrepreneurs” that clearly states your ideal customer. But you wouldn’t necessarily want to limit the experience to that group by doing something like selecting a social media network that is popular among only that demographic and then requiring that for sign-in to use your website.

Psychographics

This category is so intangible I had trouble coming up with a name for it, but apparently the word I was looking for was “psychographics.” Basically think about how different brand names make you feel. If you picture a Red Bull commercial, you can logically deduce that their target demographic is young, active, adult males, which is fairly exclusive. BUT the “feel” is active, badass, energetic, and fun-loving. So if you go by psychographic it could be a much wider group of people, while still allowing the company to have a very defined brand and market effectively.

When trying to find your voice, consider how you want to speak to your clients. What tone would you want to use in marketing messages or in your blog. Do you want clients who are more formal or informal? Will they prefer a look that is more classical and sophisticated, or youthful and artistic?

Keep in mind that certain design styles are associated with different qualities. So if you decide you want to target wealthy customers and for your brand to have a luxury feel, you won’t want to use wild fonts and lots of cursing. Choosing an emotional tone for your brand is difficult, and I suggest heavily considering your own personality in the process, especially if you happen to be a solopreneur. You’ll find much more connection to your business when it appeals to you and you can write naturally instead of trying to assume mannerisms you don’t already possess.

Motivation

Digging even deeper into the psyche of your ideal customer, you’ll need to think about why they do what they do. You can’t solve someone’s problem without knowing what their needs are in the first place. And good business is based on what you can provide for your customers and how it makes their lives better.

Again, this is multi-dimensional. You’ll need to consider your business and your products, and then think about who needs them and why. If you find yourself struggling, you might need to reassess whether your product or service is really something that will sell.

But if you can tap into this motivation, you’ll have a great head start on writing your product descriptions and marketing material. Because you already know who you’re speaking to and how you can help them.