If you’ve ever purchased organic food from a grocery store or farmer’s market, you know that it can be, well, pricey. Some people report as much as a 300% increase in their grocery bill when they buy organic versions of their regular groceries. And is it worth it?
Staunch fans of organic living claim that it is. They say the flavor is superior, the food contains more nutrients, and the fact that it’s supposedly free of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and other intrusions of modern agriculture means that it’s better not only for your health, but for the environment as well. Is any of this really true?
Well, to those who feel that organic food is the best, the answer is: it doesn’t really matter. Those who enjoy an organic lifestyle see immense value in paying a premium for organically grown foods.
This same kind of attitude – that the value you get from something is the most important thing, regardless of cost – is what we as designers want from our clients. If you’re a freelancer, your objective is to find an “organic” type of selling point; you want your clients to see the value in the services you provide. People who are satisfied with the value they believe they’re getting will pay a higher price without qualm, and are generally less trouble than those who are looking only for the lowest price they can find.
Naturally, you want to be actually providing your clients with the most value you can for the money they’re paying you. But – and I’ll probably offend some people by saying this – value, especially in a design context, is subjective. What one person finds valuable, someone else might consider utter garbage, and vice-versa.
The fiasco caused by the redesign of the Tropicana orange juice brand a few years ago is a prime example of the subjectivity of design.
The firm responsible for the redesign obviously thought it was successful, and they were certainly no obscure, fly-by-night operation, either. However, it proved to be a marketing disaster for Pepsico, who subsequently hastened to redesign the redesign to appease the howls of protest they were receiving from consumers.
Getting What They Paid For
So, let’s do a little roleplaying scenario. You’re about to become a parent. It will quite possibly be one of the most important things that will ever happen in your life, and you need to start shopping around for a crib for when your new baby arrives. When you’re at the crib store, or wherever one buys baby cribs (obviously, I’m not a parent, but bear with me), what will you be looking for?
Most likely, you’ll be looking for something that will hold your baby safely without any risk of breaking or coming apart at the wrong moment. It’s highly likely that you won’t be looking for the absolute cheapest crib you can find. Why? Well, because it’s your baby, of course. You want your baby to be safe in its crib, and you’ll probably splurge on the highest quality option you can afford. A cheap crib might not put your mind at ease, because you know that, the vast majority of the time, you get what you pay for.
As a designer, your job is to convince your clients that their brand identity or business is just as important as a crib for their new baby. If you can provide potential clients with the value they need for their brand to be as profitable as possible, you need to convince them that value is worth paying a premium for.
Just as you wouldn’t purchase a crib for your child based purely on how cheap it was, a client needs to know that design also falls under the ‘you get what you pay for’ umbrella. The cheapest options are rarely the best.
Your clients might realize this when, after declining to pay your fees the first time around, come back sheepishly to invest in your services after a designer who was “cheaper” left them with a serious branding mishap.
They are now in need of a designer they know will provide them the value they need to rebuild their brand successfully. Try not to snicker too loudly as you take their money.
Know Your Niche
I’ve talked at length about finding your niche as a designer and exploiting it in order to optimize your client base. If you only work with clients whose target markets you innately understand and can accurately design for, and you market yourself properly, you’ll find yourself with more business than you can handle.
It’s extremely important to conduct research on your ideal clients, and the markets they serve – this extra bit of work at the beginning of your freelancing career can mean huge dividends years, or even months, down the line.
You can find out the most about your ideal clients’ markets by talking to them. Email them, ask questions, find out what they’re looking for in a website, a brochure, an advertisement, etc. Research isn’t about selling, so people are typically more willing to provide you with information when they realize you’re not trying to sell them anything.
Call and set up appointments with people in your spare time; take them out to coffee and find out what you need to know. Make it part of your job to collect data on the markets you want to serve. Become an expert on your clients’ markets – let them know that you genuinely care about the needs of their consumers – and they will be falling over themselves trying to offer you money for your services.
Tell Them Why They Should Care
The less you charge each client, the more time you’ll have to spend marketing yourself to new clients in order to make ends meet.
This results in less time given to each individual client, which, of course, will result in subpar work in your portfolio. Subpar work rarely gets the attention of high-level clients, which means you will be stuck in a vicious cycle of being overworked and under-compensated.
Therefore, it’s important to express the value you bring to each prospective client in a way that they will understand and care about. This means refraining from talking about your skills and expertise as though it were simply a laundry list of qualifications.
That’s boring – no client wants to hear about that. They only care about how your skills are relevant to them and their business. Focus on providing your clients with an experience that suits their individual needs, rather than a pile of features that aren’t that important to them.
Providing value to your chosen client base will strengthen your design sense for your chosen market. You can’t design for everyone, but those you can design for will be grateful for your expertise, and will continue to come to you with high-paying work.
Position yourself as a designer who caters specifically to your clients’ needs, and no one else’s.
What Do You Think?
How do you provide your clients with unique value? Do you have an “organic” type selling point to get to the heart of what your client base really wants?
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