Specialize as a Creative Freelancer
There are many reasons to specialize as a creative freelancer: Clients trust experts, word of mouth works better, and your marketing becomes more straightforward.
For your inspiration, and to give you a little push to specialize, I interview freelance graphic designers, illustrators and web designers who already have chosen their niche.
This time: Sean Turtle. Sean is a part-time UK creative freelancer gaining reputation for his wargaming designs. Sean designs websites, logos, packaging, posters, rule books and point-of-sale materials for niche clients like Mantic Games, Warlord Games, Army Painter, and Battlefront Miniatures.
Hi Sean, what's you niche?
My niche for graphic design is the wargaming industry, and by that I mean tabletop wargaming (individual or groups of painted miniatures used on a (usually 6×4 foot table) for battle.
Why, and when, did you choose this niche?
I worked for Games Workshop for six years, three of which I spent working on their magazine White Dwarf, and three working as a Project Lead Designer, running one of two teams responsible for the company’s packaging/rulebook design.
I think one of the reasons that it’s so enjoyable is that for a niche market, it has huge diversity. I can be working on packaging, rulebook design and websites for one client, all at the same time. It really does keep things fresh from a design point of view.
I was asked by miniature sculptors Alan and Michael Perry (two big names in the wargaming world) to design them some packaging for a new range of miniatures they were releasing (in a freelance capacity of course!), and it all started from there to be honest. Having such a high-profile client from the beginning certainly helped!
Nowadays, how do you find new clients in this niche?
My work tends to come from referrals, though I have had a few clients contact me directly through my website. I’ve been very fortunate in not having to chase clients.
What are the top things clients in the wargaming niche are looking for in a designer?
I think knowledge of the industry is a must (as customers have such a strong interest in products and their quality). As such, being able to appreciate the products themselves is also vital – you’ve got to know what customers want to be able to see and learn about a product before purchasing.
It’s not a requirement to play the games per say; although I enjoy the odd – and all too infrequent these days – game myself, I wouldn’t call myself a wargamer. But I can appreciate a good miniature, and a well constructed game.
What's your personal USP in the wargaming niche? Why do wargaming clients choose you over other designers working in the same niche?
I’d like to think that my objectivity in terms of not being a wargamer has helped to a certain extent. I approach projects objectively from a design perspective first and foremost. My passion is for the packaging to sell the product, rather than the product itself.
I don’t. I work full-time as a Senior Designer for a design agency in Nottingham, UK, and my freelance work is supplemental to that. But you never know, one day…
Working freelance in addition to your main job has its own pro’s and con’s. It’s great to have even more variety of work in addition to your main job (and the extra money always helps!) but you have to be meticulous in terms of time management and ensuring that you don’t overload yourself with work in your spare time.
Are there any significant disadvantages working in your niche?
If there is, I’ve yet to encounter it.
In which other ways has choosing a niche affected you as a professional?
I think as I’ve established myself, it’s nice to be considered as a dependable resource for people looking to establish themselves in a busy, thriving market.
What advice would you give a fellow freelance graphic designer about to choose a niche?
I think it’s vital that you know the market you want to operate in. I was fortunate to spend six years working for the world’s biggest manufacturer of war-gaming products. Games Workshop are at the forefront of the market and invest in both technology and their employees to a very high standard, and the fact that wargamers are a very friendly community makes it easier to understand what can be a complex environment.
Learn everything you can about the industry in terms of honing your craft – don’t feel you have to cater for every eventually – your quality could suffer as a result.
Do you want more examples of niches actually picked by creative professionals? Check out these 170+ real-life examples!