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I’m Jacob Cass, the founder of JUST™ Creative. I’m a multi-disciplinary graphic designer, working with clients all around the world. My specialty is logo & brand identity design. JUST™ Get in touch.

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7 Ways Designers Can Get Their Foot in the Door

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This is a collaborative guest article between Jamie Wayne* and I.

Whether you’re a graphic design student or a young professional, getting your foot in the door is not as simple as it sounds. Taking the first step requires initiative, patience and some wisdom too.

Thankfully, there’s always a way to make it in and this article will provide seven different ways for you to get your foot in the door.

Foot In The Door

1. Network at Conferences & Events

Networking at design conferences and professional events can be a good way to get meet new people and build a professional stronghold. From conversing with other graphic designers to developers, copywriters, and business owners, exposure from these events can lead to great opportunities. With this said, walking into an event blindfolded may set you up for trouble as first impressions are everything. It’s imperative to keep a few things in mind when making your first impression – be admirable and memorable.

Be Admirable

  • Plan ahead for networking opportunities by polishing up your portfolio & business cards.
  • Be presentable for the occasion. Is it casual or formal?
  • Ask questions and be interested (or act it) in every discussion.
  • Don’t try to oversell your skills or services. Tell don’t sell.

Be Memorable

Small talk & elevator pitches are common within these arenas, so listen well, show courtesy and thank those you talk to for their time. Don’t be afraid to smile and lighten up the mood a bit. Offer your business card as you close the conversation and you’ll most likely get the other person’s card in return. Keep the card in case you want to follow up with this person in the near future.

2. Follow Up, Use LinkedIn & Other Social Sites

LinkedIn is a great tool for building networks and getting clients, however it’s also a very handy tool to follow up with those you have briefly conversed with. A quick search of their name should yield a number of results. Before you contact them, think of the best way to contact them? Would they prefer an email rather than a LinkedIn connection?

3. Seek a Mentor

Having a mentor is a great way to learn the ropes. You will learn things such as how much to charge for design, the pros and cons of freelancinghow to improve your creative process, recommended tools, how to present your work, and much more.

It’s important to understand the relationship between a mentor and mentee. Like a relationship between a couple, the mentor/mentee is also a two-way commitment that requires trust and honesty. Help them and they will help you. Ask for advice, seek out new opportunities & if you have to get the coffee, do it with a smile.

Mentor
How do you find a mentor?

It all depends on the scenario however there are a few methods of finding a mentor;

In Person

Once you’ve connected with someone and got to know them and have established some trust, it wouldn’t hurt to ask if they have the time to show you more of the ropes. Let that person know you’re interested in learning from them and see what they have to say. Be flexible with them, as it’s them doing you a favor.

Online

If you’re breaking the ice online, take extra care in crafting your approach, as it can be very difficult to convey personality through written communication. Always let them know you appreciate their time. If the person doesn’t have the time available, then it wouldn’t hurt to ask a few questions. At the very least, seldom communication may lead to a slowly growing relationship. Get them on your radar, and keep them there without being a pest.

4. Take Up Pro-Bono Work

Taking up pro-bono work will not only help a special cause, but it will build up your portfolio which will help you land more projects & strengthen your credibility in the long term.

Pro Bono Work

Before taking on pro bono work consider the following; Is there enough time to make the commitment? Are you financially capable of accepting a pro-bono project? What kinds of organisations would you do pro-bono work for? Make sure you are suited to take on pro-bono work before endorsing a false commitment.

5. Get Your Work or Portfolio Reviewed

Sharing your portfolio with seasoned professionals and asking for a review can help you gain new insights on the execution of your creative ideas. Constructive criticism is encouraged and you should always aim to take away new ideas and possibilities. Follow the motto; seek criticism, not praise.

Sharing your work will also allow other designers to observe your style, thought process, and results. This will allow others to lend you advice, which may lead into a steady stream of communication.

6. Start a Blog & Guest Author

Don’t overlook the benefits of starting a blog. In conjunction with social media sites, a blog can help establish your online presence, as well as be the frontier of your voice and portfolio.

While some authors write on their own blog, others will contribute their articles elsewhere as a guest author. Guest authoring is a great way to share your voice with audiences elsewhere and connect with others on an international scale.

Im Possible

While each one of these ways can help you gain more exposure, utilizing several, if not all, will maximize your chances significantly.

7. Take Action

As a last piece of advice, I want to recite a few words, courtesy of my mentor, Chase Talon, that inspired me to push myself through the doors.

“There is one thing and one thing alone that leads to success. That is action. Make a decision on what you want and begin moving forward with an unwavering, unrelenting, incessant vigor to see your goal to it’s end. Never letting fear guide you. It’s an illusion. All fear, and negativity are, is a test to prove how bad you want something.”

Wish it, want it, do it.

Have you got any other tips on how designers can get their foot in the door?

*Jamie Wayne is a graphic designer for Ad Force Creative in Northwest Indiana, a webmaster & graphic designer for the Center for Innovation through Visualization & Simulation at Purdue University Calumet, and a member & writer of the Northwest Indiana Creative Professionals. Photos from BigStock.

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19 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • craig Reply

    some good tips there, which I am going to take up. unfortunatly, i didnt go the education route with graphic design – so i have no ida where to start, apart from offerig my services and portfolio out to anyone i can think of!

  • Eismont Designs Reply

    Very nice list of ways for beginning designers to get work. I teach graphic design class that deals with professional development. I will definitely share this. Thank You.

  • rupam { xhobdo } Reply

    Great to read the post. Thank you so much.

  • Janna Hagan Reply

    Some really awesome tips here. I especially like the networking and social media tips. As a student designer, connections are everything. If you can maintain and foster those relationships with other designers, you will find a lot more doors open for you once you begin your career.

  • Rick Reply

    You’ve put together some real insight here. I really like the tip # 7 “Take action” and the influential words that follow.

  • Roz @ 411 Brand Reply

    I admire your mentor for what he’s told you! I strongly agree that when you’ve figured out what you wanna do, you should start making steps toward it right away. Baby steps are fine. Otherwise you won’t ever achieve anything yourself.
    Thanks for the motivational boost, it reminded me what a lazy procrastinator I am :D I should get active, as should anyone who has a goal, whatever it may be.

  • Jann Wilt Reply

    Don’t be afraid to smile and lighten up the mood a bit. Offer your business card as you close the conversation and you’ll most likely get the other person’s card in return.

  • Sergiu Reply

    I have to admit, I never thought anything about networking, but the last weeks I’ve meet some people at some local meetings that just blew my mind!

  • Alisha Madariaga Reply

    Great Article. I am about to make the leap from freelance web graphics design to full-time in house print design. Needless to say… a big change bound to ruffle my feathers at first.. I will definitely utilize these tips. Thanks

  • Stanley Parrish Reply

    Great information. Will definitely use this. thanks

  • Courtney Reply

    This is very helpful. I’m a recent graduate, and very shy one and networking is something I’ve only recently been made aware of (as they really do not teach this in college). For me it is painfully difficult to reach out to people and ask them to help me get a job. It makes me feel low and I don’t know why because I know this is how many people gain employment and there’s nothing wrong with it. I worked full time in college and as a result didn’t get to make friends or participate in extracurriculars. The few college friends I made live far away, so I’m pretty much on my own. I joined one meet-up group, and am looking to join one more along with doing pro-bono for a local non-profit. Wish me luck! Thanks for the tips.

  • Glenda "Patricia" Pruitt Reply

    I think that these are 7 very helpful guides to use as a Freelancer and a Graphic Designer seeking work. I know I already use at least 5 of the ways listed and they have really paid off.

    I plan to use the other two methods as well. The digital portfolio is really important and a blog post could certainly attract attention.

    Pro Bono work might start a few people just wanting you to work for free. In any case if it is a reputable company or charity it could lead to more paid assignments or land a permanent gig.

  • Jamie Wayne Reply

    Thanks for all of the great feedback everyone!

    Craig,
    I started by looking at examples and taking note of how other professional creatives presented themselves both online and in person. If you get the opportunity, ask questions! That has provided me with not only a clear direction but helps build a new relationship with that person.

    Thank you Roz! I admire Chase for everything he’s done for me as a professional mentor. Honestly, there were times where I felt “unworthy” or unready to do something I really wanted to do and he’s always told me to just go for it anyway and don’t give up. His motto “Fail Harder” has definitely taught me that no matter how many times I fall down, ONLY I can stop me or keep going.

    Courtney,
    I can relate. Community College didn’t prepare me to network either and I had to learn that on my own after I graduated. Fortunately, in a creative community where most people are very passionate about helping others, it’s not as scary to get out there as one might think! Trust me ;)

    Good of you to use a blog Glenda. That’s where I started and that’s actually how I learned more about my trade. I’m sure I could speak for all creative bloggers and Jacob when I say having a blog does motivate you to see who else is out there, learn more about the design community and encourages you to write your own insights!

    Thanks for reading everyone!


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