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Be a Successful Creative in an Economic Downturn

Be a Successful Creative in an Economic Downturn

Mike Lenhart

We’re in a so-called economic downturn. More like a recession. I don’t want to name names, but I think most of us know who caused it. ‘The fish stinks from the head’ as I was told when in undergraduate school. If you don’t quite know what that means, think about it, or email me and I’ll explain.

Anyway, what is an artist to do when hit with a sudden or prolonged drop in business? It can be very stressful if you’re a freelancer or run a design firm. I’ve been through this before and I can share a little bit of my limited experience with you. These ideas may not suddenly catapult you back in the stratosphere of business, but they may ease the pain a bit and pay off for you when we get out of the pit – at least until November (can we say ‘Election’?).

Contact the people you know. This would mean getting a hold of the clients you’ve worked with in the past, preferably the satisfied ones, and do some schmoozing. Maybe there’s some work needed that they’ve forgotten about or put on the back burner for awhile. It’s good to stay in touch with clients anyway, and this is a good way to do that and fish for business. Remember, always ask for referrals if your client can’t help you right now. It may also be a good idea to contact your friends and colleagues in the business. Other than getting a pulse on what their business is like right now, there may be an opportunity to collaborate on a project or get something farmed-out to you. Good for them if they’re one of the lucky ones who are busy right now.

Look for some free or low-cost sources for business leads. Just beware, you’ll have to weed through the weirdos and those who want things for free. I always posted in the Graphic Design and Small Business Services categories. Also, if you’re a freelancer, check out the creative talent placement agencies. You’ll have to go in to show your resume and portfolio, but you also may get a short-term assignment or two. If you can handle working on your clients’ projects as well as a temp gig, it may pay-off real well. Paying the rent is always a good thing.

Gotta newsletter? If not, now’s the time to design and implement a one-page, email blastable newsletter to send out to clients and prospects. Send it monthly or quarterly and think of a few helpful design tips you can put in the copy that will help the client and, hopefully, leave them wanting more. Make sure your contact information is clear and easy to access and have a link to your Website or portfolio. Of course, it should go without saying, but make sure your site or portfolio is current and shows your best work. Take advantage of the downtime and get it done. If you’re a fine artist, now’s the time to send out some samples of your work, via mail or in person, and give your prospective clients a reason to contact you. Sales, discounts, tradeouts, whatever, just make it worth your while, and theirs, to make the deliveries.

What about blogging and writing articles? There are many design-related Websites that ask for bloggers and writers for contributions. You may not necessarily get paid, but, you get your name or firm’s name out there and it can only help build your presence and credibility. If you’re an illustrator or photographer, why not contact some of the industry Websites and offer your services, and art, to be used for a masthead, home page, etc.? If there’s not any money available for this, at least get proper credit and a link to your portfolio. You could also get on the (gasp!) stock photography list.

A lot of this stuff I mentioned above are things that we should be doing throughout the year anyway. Face it, we don’t have the time to update our Websites or write design articles when we’re swimming in business. But, now that we’re not, why not take advantage of this pit and produce some high-quality self-marketing pieces? This strategy doesn’t always work in the short-term, but can, and many times does, pay off handsomely down the road. Remember, nothing lasts forever.


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