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.
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.
- 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.
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 freelancing, how 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.
How do you find a mentor?
It all depends on the scenario however there are a few methods of finding a mentor;
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.