Join Lauren Bacon for an in-depth discussion in this video Focusing on your niche, part of Planning a Web Design Portfolio: Growing Your Freelance Business.
- Designers often talk about work as problem solving, and that's true. We use our creativity and design tools to tackle all kinds of problems. When we're hanging out with other designers, we tend to assume that there's more or less no limit to the kinds of problems we can tackle. From improving on a piece of furniture to tweaking the UI of a mobile app or laying out a restaurant menu. There are a few design challenges we won't weigh in on. A typical client, though, doesn't see things that way. They won't look at a portfolio of restaurant menus and assume that you can also design them a website or a sectional couch.
Clients tend to like see evidence that you've solved similar design problems to the ones they've got, and not just in an abstract, philosophical way. If they need a logo, they want to see your logos. If they need ads, they want to see ads, and so on. That's one angle you'll want to cover in your portfolio. Showing them the range of deliverables that you're capable of producing or services you offer. For web designers, that might include showing both web and mobile versions of websites you've designed, social media assets, logos and branding, perhaps digital products like ebooks, and so on and so forth.
Basically, you want to show the full range of services you offer so that perspective clients can quickly understand what you're capable of producing for their particular needs. But there's more. Clients also tend to look for evidence that you understand their market. The you demonstrate that is by showing them work you've done in their industry, or at least, for a similar market. Let's say you're trying to attract clients in the restaurant industry. They'll probably want to see that you either worked with restaurants or hospitality clients before. Or that at the very least, you've worked with other businesses that serve the kinds of people who come to their restaurant.
Maybe customers with an affinity for supporting the local economy, or with a sense of luxury and adventure. It's not just that clients want to know that you understand their business, that's part of it of course, but they also want to feel like they're in expert hands. When you focus on a specific client niche, it increases your value in the eyes of your clients. This is counter-intuitive for a lot of us because we like to think that our flexibility is what makes us so valuable. But in fact there's a lot of expertise you can only gain by going deep into a particular niche.
For example, I worked almost exclusively with clients in the non-profit sector for most of my web design career. The knowledge that I gained about the idiosyncrasies of non-profit organizations meant that I was able to position myself as a leader in that field. Not only that but once my agency decided to focus it's marketing efforts exclusively on non-profit clients, we had far greater success in attracting the right clients. Don't be afraid to target a specific niche. It's often a stronger way to position yourself in the market, and you'll have a much easier time getting the right clients to say, "Yes." You'll save yourself a lot of wasted time trying to land clients you don't actually want.
So if you're considering building a particular niche, a good place to start is by looking at the projects where you feel you've done your best work. What do they have in common? What do you love about working with those clients? Odds are, if you have an interest in a market niche, it shows in the caliber of your work. It's easy to build on your successes. You can always deepen your expertise by following blogs and other publications that target the same niche. Attending relevant workshops and conferences and talking with experts. My web design career focused strongly on non-profit organizations so I immersed myself in learning about that sector from as many angles as I could.
One additional note, it's often not enough to show clients one example of relevant work, so whenever possible, I prefer to err on the side of showing variety. We'll talk more about this when we get to the subject of range.
- Understanding what clients are looking for
- Gathering relevant experience
- Reviewing results
- Building trust
- Conveying personality
- Demonstrating range
- Avoiding pitfalls