Kaiser Sosa is an Argentine visual/UI designer with more than 25 years of experience in offline and online advertising. Since 2007 he works as a freelancer from his home office in Buenos Aires. Read this interview to learn how to get U.S. design clients.
How did you get your first U.S. client?
My first U.S. client contacted me through my (old) online portfolio. It was back in 2010. I’m still working for him.
How much of your business is made up by U.S. clients?
Up to the end of 2013 I divided my time between local and U.S. projects – about fifty-fifty. This year I started to work exclusively with the U.S. market.
My biggest concern with working only with U.S. clients was how to manage the U.S. summer lull. During their summer it's winter in Argentina, and I’m supposed to be working full time. Luckily, I managed to keep my schedule booked. It was due to many small clients who work all year around and clients doing seasonal marketing campaigns.
Why, and when, did you start working with U.S. clients?
Thanks to the exchange rate between U.S. dollars and Argentine pesos. I can offer very competitive rates.
In 2009 I started to upload web and graphic design templates to the Envato marketplaces. I got my first U.S. clients that way. However, most of my Envato clients were other web designers. Those kind of marketplaces didn’t give me the chance to do custom designs directly for agencies or studios. That came later.
Do you target a particular type of clients in the U.S.?
I usually work with small and medium sized digital agencies and studios. As a visual designer I’m only interested in the creative/design part of a project. The agency can handle the rest.
Now and then I work with final clients (with “final” I mean working without any intermediaries.)
What kind of jobs do you usually do for U.S. clients?
Since 2001 digital is my core business. Before I also did print design. I'm not a coder, so I only deliver UI/visual work. That means website design layouts, concepts or comps in Photoshop format.
I also do logo design, icon design, illustration and GUI/app design.
Are there any types of jobs that are especially easy, or hard, for an offshore designer to get?
An easy assignment is a home page PSD comp, which I can do within 24 hours. It's harder to take part in an app development team. A medium or big in-house UX/UI team often iterates on a daily basis.
Which objections, fears or worries does U.S. clients have when hiring an offshore designer? How do you overcome them?
When a US client contracts an offshore designer their biggest fear is to lose control of the project. Can I reach the designer when needed? Will he meet the deadline? How much time will he take?
All these ghosts disappear when I work with the client for the first time. In most cases a new client first gives me some small gigs to test me. Then they are giving me bigger assignments.
It's important to note that I don’t know any of my clients personally. If I haven’t found them through Facebook or LinkedIn I might not even know how they look. However, they always come back satisfied.
What are the two top reasons why a U.S. client choose Kaiser Sosa, and not an equally skilled/experienced U.S. designer?
- A good price for top notch design work
- The quick turnaround time.
On the contrary of what most fellow designers think, a designer is not only hired for being good, but also for being convenient – economically speaking.
What cultural differences should an offshore designer know about when doing business with U.S. clients?
The careful attention to business language and forms. The formalism in daily interactions is the key.
You cannot say “Hey, buddy” to a U.S. client. At least not before you have gained their trust, usually after working many years together.
In Argentina I go by the nickname “Kaiser,” which is a well-known name in the interactive industry here. So is my brand “KaiserSosa.com.” My brand name is inspired by “Kaizer Soze” – a character in the film “Usual Suspects.” However, most of my US clients prefer to call me Alberto.
English isn’t your native language. How much of a problem is that? How do you handle it?
My written English is better than my spoken, so I always prefer emails or to chat by Skype when interacting with clients.
If a client need to talk by phone or video, my wife (who speaks perfect English) participates from time to time. She is helping me as an interpreter. This happens only a couple of times per year. Most of the time email is good enough.
When a U.S. client finds YOU first… How does that typically happen, and what do you first do when they approach you?
New clients contact me after visiting my online portfolio. Usually they ask me about rates and availability.
I've a project list ready to share with them. I've sorted the list by project size (small, medium and large.) It includes links to a few mockups, the cost of each project and the turnaround times. The information gives them a ballpark estimate.
I do, with a spontaneous self-introduction by email.
If my first attempt doesn’t succeed, I'll contact the prospect again. I wait until I have some news to share, like the Mashable article that you found.
How do you find new U.S. clients?
I search Google for U.S. agencies and I look for opportunities in job lists like Behance or Dribbble.
Once I know which agency to target, I browse LinkedIn to find a manager working there, e.g. a creative director or a project manager.
If I can't get the email address I write to the “[email protected]”-account. In such cases it’s important to name the targeted person in the subject line. However, and this is very important, if you send an email to an “[email protected]”-address it will have less chance of response than an email sent to an individual agency member.
How do you approach a new, potential client?
I always prefer to send emails one by one, to a specific individual (no batch emails.) I avoid international phone calls or in person presentations for obvious reasons.
For the email I focus on two things: 1) getting the email opened and 2) getting a click-through to my online portfolio. The second click is the hardest one.
To get the email opened the subject line must pique interest. Be industry-related. I write a custom email subject line with no intrusive or spammy words or phrases. You can't use “cheap” or “proposal” or any other suspicious words. Such words will immediately send your email to the junk folder.
In the email itself I tease prospects to click through to my online portfolio. My email always includes two things:
1) a role description, years of expertise, and brands I've worked with.
2) my hourly rate
The hourly rate is the main reason for working with an offshore designer, so this number needs to be very competitive.
What do you focus your website on?
It’s not about showcasing an interactive thumbnail gallery that displays zoomed in screenshots.
There are thousands of freelance designers that work remotely like me. An U.S. agency that places a job opportunity in some job list may receive more than 400 applications from all around the world. The massive competition reduces the reading time per application to a minimum. The average time a prospect spends on screening an applicant's online portfolio may be as little as 30 seconds.
To get on the client’s shortlist your must use those 30 seconds to tell a captivating story.
I've made my online portfolio from scratch. You need to raise client's curiosity with creative content, not just screenshots. Many don't invest the time. They just use a ready-made template.
What are the key points you always try to tell? What's the “Kaiser Story?”
If the prospect clicks through to my website from my email, I know he is attracted by my rates.
Now, in 30 seconds your website must do the same job as a lengthy, traditional job interview.
In 30 seconds my website must highlight my values, my experience, my seriousness and confidence. The website must show confidence and instill trust in the prospect. It must do this as well as if I was standing in front of him or her. Though I am a complete stranger whose face he or she will never see.
The prospect must feel OK with giving me an assignment. Also to make the upfront payment. Though he doesn't know, at this point, if he will get the job done in return…
Once this client is on my website, I need him to look closer on my portfolio, and then email me for a quote or further information.
Any other advice to fellow offshore designers on how to get U.S. design clients?
Besides being good at what you do, a designer must have the ability to describe and explain his idea to the client – only using emails sometimes.
Your persuasive power and costs advantage are as important as your talent for design. Offshore designers are good for a U.S. client because we are cost-effective. Never forget that.
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