There are good reasons to specialize as a creative freelancer: Clients trust experts, word of mouth works better, and your marketing becomes straightforward. Meet Justin Page Wood., a Californian freelance creative. Justin is The Minimalist Website and Graphic Designer. He is active in many creative fields, but he is mastering them all the minimalist's way.
Hi Justin, what's your niche?
The words that I've found best describe my design work are: minimalist, luxurious, & elegant. My clients understand those descriptive words.
My target clients are the wine industry, luxury goods, and e-commerce websites. But I end up also doing a lot of design for real estate and corporate firms.
I mostly do website, e-commerce, print, and logo design.
Why did you choose minimalist design as your niche?
When I started my business, I started out with minimalism from the beginning.
I learned graphic design on my own when I was about 12, and doing all the complicated design stuff, like gradients, and shadows, and textures were too hard to figure out on my own. So I stuck with the really simple stuff.
After a few years, I started to refine my work, and studied Architecture in college, so the modernist/minimalist aesthetic influenced my work a lot. I just stuck with it.
What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
Having a good portfolio, working on SEO, sticking with the same business for many years, and doing the best job I can on each project, which usually leads to some referrals. The most important thing in my business growing was sticking with clients that wanted the same aesthetic, instead of trying to work with everyone that asked for a quote from me.
For SEO, I've used Google Analytics, Google's Keyword Planner, MozSEO's keyword research tool, and similar stuff like that, including reading up on all the theories on how Google searches works and all the little tedious things that go into it.
But, basically, I've just tried to get better at what I do each year, and that helps the business grow slowly over time.
What unite clients wanting minimalist design?
The industries that like minimalist design the most are wine, hospitality, luxury goods, architecture firms, interior designers, and luxury real estate. Those are my favorite industries. Mostly because they already have the same aesthetic in mind before we even start communicating.
Are clients interested in minimalist design less price sensitive?
My target clients seem like they are as price sensitive as any other aesthetic. The worst is clients who claim they have “high-end” or “luxury” products, as they tend to be the most limited in their design budget.
Top 3 things clients are looking for?
Every client is different. But usually budget, timeline, and making the project successful.
What are the main pains you solve for your clients?
I usually go into consulting way beyond just design. I try to give my clients good business advice. Like how to generate conversions, get more sales, marketing ideas, and the like. Such advice is far more valuable than just a good design.
What’s your personal USP in this particular niche?
My main USP is minimal, elegant design.
Most clients who come to me say that my work is exactly what they're looking for.
It sounds like there aren't a lot of other designers they are able to find who do the same work, maybe because it's hard to find them.
Besides minimalist graphic and website design you also compose piano music, sketch, paint, take photos, even design furnitures. Do these activities support each other?
I just love designing, so if I can find a way to make money from it, I do. But, really, graphic design, photography, and web design have been the only ones that pay well.
Playing piano and drawing are fun, but I haven't figured out a way to turn them into profitable businesses.
I think of music and sketching as totally independent from my design stuff, but for my paintings and furniture, I try to keep it all in the same style. I just enjoy the really simple stuff.
Do you find it hard to handle all these different things simultaneously?
It was actually a really bad marketing technique to try to do everything, so about 2 years ago, I decided to keep it to graphics and websites. I did get a lot of furniture, painting, and photography inquiries, but the time investment into those things was far greater, and less profitable, than graphics and websites.
It helps to specialize and get really good at only a few things. I used to try to do too much and got burnt out, and so now I just prefer to keep getting better and just a few things.
How important has choosing a niche been to your business?
Very important! It's best to stay focused, and limit your scope.
I have a family, a wife, and son. I can't afford the time to go everywhere and do everything, and I would rather spend time with them than work. So, I try hard to specialize, and get better at the things that pay off the most, and then I can be with my family instead of work crazy hours and travel too much.
Are there any significant disadvantages working in your niche?
I really enjoy it. I can't think of many disadvantages.
What advice would you give a fellow freelance graphic designer about to choose a niche?
Do the style that you are best at and enjoy the most. Don't try to do everything and be everything to all potential clients. If you build a good brand, then your best clients will find you.
Finally, if you had to pick another niche today?
If I could, I would find a way to write solo piano music full-time instead. I love playing the piano, but doing minimalist graphic design is my number two preference, so I am still blessed to be doing what I love.
Not figured out what to specialize in yet? Read Finding Your Niche: When Graphic Design Really Pays Off, or check out The Niche Notebook: 170+ Real-Life Examples of Specialized Creative Professionals!