Independent modeling designers are a mash-up of an engineer, creative artist, geometrician, and businessperson. This creates some opportunities, some confusion and also some hurdles that go above and beyond your design skills
But by understanding these difficulties facing designers, you will be able to not only survive, but thrive in today’s competitive market.
Issue #1: Business Skills
A business person — yes, you are one whether you call yourself a consultant, freelancer or independent designer — needs to have his or her back-office systems in place to run efficiently. While most model designers are creative first and foremost, having your business hat on will help you turn those skills into a profitable design firm.
- Create a business plan. Know if you will work in a particular niche or industry. Will you charge hourly or by the project? Even if you have a business plan, or have been in business for years without, the process will make you better at your business.
- Set budgets and financial goals, billing and spending. This includes either hiring financial people or using software like Quickbooks or Freshbooks to keep you on track.
- Automate your invoicing and collections as much as possible.
- Set your rates. This is the tough part for many independent designers. Search the competition or look for rates guides on the web to make sure you are competitive, but profitable.
- If you don’t use software for accounting, or if the one you use doesn’t have time tracking, get time tracking software such as Toggl or Rescue Time. This helps to ensure you are earning what you are worth for the time put into the projects.
- Take it a step further and invest in project management software — especially if you work with a team.
Issue #2: Marketing and Selling
You don’t have to like to market and sell, but you had best be ready to do it. People come to independent model designers for several reasons: they don't have the time to come up with a solution, they don't have the people, or they don't have the expertise. But they have to find you among the masses. Unfortunately, many design consultants aren’t the best at this. To compete, you need to be proactive in reaching your target market.
- Set up a website. You’d be surprised how many don’t.
- Blog about topics that your customers are interested in and show them solutions to create awareness and drive leads to your website.
- Showcase your best work in a gallery on your website.
- Get customer testimonials and post them on your website (Have you noticed a trend?).
- Network online and off. Utilize LinkedIn, and join local groups such as BNI. Make sure to attend conferences and tradeshows in the markets in which you specialize.
- Ask for business. Don’t be afraid to sell. You offer a special skill-set that a business needs, and they will pay you for it.
Issue #3: Clients’ Expectations
Often design consultants think they can do it all. What’s worse is that prospective clients believe that you can do it all yesterday — especially if you don’t tell them you can’t. Manage clients’ expectations from the beginning to protect reputation, which is your strongest selling tool.
- Start by making sure your bids are realistic. Don’t let the heat of competition or desperation to fill your schedule move you to overpromise.
- Execute an agreement for every project that includes a timeline, with contingencies.
- Communicate with clients. There will be changes, revisions (sometimes they’ll be drawings on the back of napkins), and issues, it is important that there are regular meetings and calls to keep all parties on track.
Issue #4: The Right Tools
Whether you design for consumer goods, the automotive industry, aerospace or any combination of those and countless other industries that need your modeling design skills, you’ll need some basic tools to get the job done. Of course, you know geometry. Sure, you are a creative enough to see the client’s vision (and revision), but you are only as good as your tools. Make sure your CAD software allows you to be quick and profitable by looking for some basic features such as:
- Allows you to import and work on files from other programs.
- Quickly make changes on the fly.
- Ease of use and short learning curve.
- Available continuing training.
- Easy avenue to communicate changes.
- Know the cost of upkeep.
Issue #5: Work-Life Balance Image: chanpipat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This is a significant issue, especially if you are a solopreneur. A driving force for striking out on your own, be it after 20 years on staff at a company or right out of college, was to be in control of your time and your destiny. Unfortunately, as with most entrepreneurs waking a work-life tightrope, keeping your balance isn’t always easy. You may be pulled by family in one direction, colleagues in a different direction, clients in another and friend in yet the opposite direction; this makes the work-life balance for an independent designer perhaps the hardest thing with which to keep a good design.
- Set firm office hours, even if you work from home.
- Build enough lead time into projects for life events.
- Delegate the easy stuff, even if you don’t have a staff. If it costs less to have someone do it than you make an hour on a project, hire someone – even if it is for stuffing envelopes or mowing the lawn. This will free up your time for more worthwhile endeavors.
- Appreciate the little things. A 15-minute coffee break with a friend. Hugging your kids when they get home from school, etc. Then get back to work.
The rewards of working as an independent designer are numerous. But the challenges faced are equally as plentiful.
What challenges do you face in your day-to-day work? We’d love to hear!