Specialize as a Freelance Graphic Designer
There are good reasons to specialize as a creative freelancer: Clients trust experts, word of mouth works better, and your marketing becomes straightforward. To inspire you to specialize, and to give you a little push, I interview freelance graphic designers who already have picked their niche.
This time: Elliot Cardona, a UK freelance graphic designer specialized in packaging design, print design and theatrical creatives for the film industry.
Hi Elliot, what's your niche?
Design for entertainment, more specifically, film.
Why, and when, did you choose film as your niche?
Shortly after I finished University in 2004. I wanted a job in the design industry, but I didn't have a niche back then, I decided to try and get a job that combined my skills with another passion of mine. That was either going to be football or film.
How did you break into the film industry? What was the most important thing that allowed you to grow your business?
After failing to get a job at FIFA, I stumbled across an online ad for an in-house designer at Optimum Releasing (Now STUDIOCANAL). I had no experience in the film industry and my work at the time was mainly corporate identity and retail orientated. I came up with the idea of creating my own film poster to take to my interview. I created and fictional war movie poster called ‘Optimum Target' and even mocked up a DVD – it got me the job!
I worked there for nearly 5 years and that's where I carved my niche. It was a wonderful experience, I learnt so much about the industry and about design for film from the inside out. Most designers or agencies don't have that experience. The fact I was able to work with fantastic people and maintain good relationships has been the most important factor in enabling me to grow.
What's been your most successful way of getting clients?
Word of mouth is how I get lots of my work, the film industry is very incestuous and if I've created something that people love, companies normally get in touch. I still send the odd email to potential new clients pointing them to my website to see my work, asking if they'd consider hiring me. I've had the most success doing it this way.
Social networks can also be good, but very hit and miss. You can get a lot of time-wasters through things such as Twitter, although it's becoming increasingly valuable especially with exposure of work.
Top 3 things film industry clients are looking for in a freelance graphic designer?
Apart from just being a skilled designer I'd say you'd need to be responsive, versatile and good value.
You have to be instinctively creative and quick to respond as the industry moves fast and the workloads are high. Clients want to be able to send an email and not wait a day or two for a response. Versatility is a great asset as films come in all shapes and sizes, if you can design a kids DVD one day and then a Zombie horror the next, then client is more likely to send you work. Being good value is essential given the tougher climate in recent years. Like anyone, companies are always looking to save money, I'm always fair with my costs and I won’t sacrifice quality, no matter how big or small the job is.
What's your personal USP in this niche? Why do clients choose you over other designers working in the same niche?
Don't get me wrong, sometimes I'd love the luxury of weeks or even days on some projects, but that's not always possible. My time working at Studiocanal taught me how to handle huge workloads, with very little time. I'd be asked to produce things in a few hours that I later found out agencies would get days to produce, with teams of people. To create a poster some agencies start with concept artists, then move on to finishers and retouchers. It put me in good stead as the work produced by agencies was always my benchmark, I pushed myself to get closer and closer to their standard.
Are there any significant disadvantages working in your niche?
There’s always disadvantages to working within a niche market, especially if you pigeonhole yourself to a point where you’re solely reliant on the success of the industry you’re in.
The film industry is constantly evolving, it moves extremely quickly, so being on your toes the entire time is essential, but ultimately it can be tiring. I’d like to be able to say I’ll be designing DVD covers and film posters for the rest of my career, but I know that’s not going to happen. I need to diversify and evolve as the industry does by offering more and learning new skills.
In which other ways has choosing a niche affected you as a professional?
It’s affected me in many ways, it’s enabled me to meet some amazing people, including actors and directors. But the main things is that it’s forced me to work well and efficiently under high pressure. Oh, and it’s also given me a huge film collection.
What advice would you give a fellow freelance graphic designer about to choose a niche?
It’s a cliché but do what you love. As my Nan would say, ‘Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life' – not strictly true, but you get the gist!
Not figured out what to specialise in yet? Read Finding Your Niche: When Graphic Design Really Pays Off! Yes, the film industry is on the list… Or check out this list of 170+ creative professionals who already have found their niche!
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