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Sure, you need a certain minimal viable level of design skill prowess if you want to have a successful career as a designer. But a lot more than that goes into it, too. Think about how many people you know who can cook amazing food but who would never last five minutes in a restaurant kitchen during the lunch rush.
It would be great if we could just sit down, design pretty things, and go home. Or better yet, just chill in our home studios, creating. Unfortunately or not, design is a business just like everything else, and that means you’re going to have to put time, effort, and sometimes money into cultivating the soft skills and business side of your design career.
This means managing your time well, marketing yourself, building a brand, experimenting, maybe launching a side business, and generally just putting your name and work out there for people to find.
These days, it’s not enough to have a portfolio. That’s just table stakes. You need to plan out your whole career — with the understanding that plans change.
Let’s look at some of the things you need to do to develop your career until you’re basically the next Jen Simmons or Jeffrey Zeldman.
Get Your Communication Skills Flowing
Communication skills come naturally to some, and not so naturally to others. In both cases, those skills are rather drastically affected by the people you have to communicate with most. Most of us find ways to convey our thoughts and intentions clearly to our friends, and also to people in our industry and hobby communities. We learn the lingo, we learn which topics encourage discussion, and which are best avoided.
Writing for anyone who’s not a part of your immediate community, and especially writing for people who don’t know what you know, is hard. Speaking to them in person can be harder, depending on how you, as a person, prefer to communicate. But, all the same, you have to.
Even if you work in an agency amongst other designers right now, there will inevitably come a time when you have to pitch clients on the benefits of your work, explain to a newbie the processes you use, or defend your decisions to developers who push back, or to other people who just don’t know what you know.
If there’s any single thing you take away from this article, focus on your communication skills. It will affect your career more than anything else on this list. If you’re looking for a place to start learning those skills, CopyBlogger always has you covered — at least for the writing side of it.
Branch Out into Side Businesses
Some side projects are great, strictly because they allow us to get out of our comfort zones, try new things and regain a sense of creative discovery.
Others may overlap with the activities you’d use to build a personal brand, which we’ll get into shortly, with the added benefit that they can bring in extra money while you’re establishing yourself as an expert in the field.
Here are some of the more popular ways of doing this.
Sure, you can throw some tutorials onto your blog, or onto YouTube, for free. And you probably should. But if you want to make a side business out of teaching others what you do, and further your career in the process, you’re going to need an actual product. This is where courses come in.
Quality video courses, which are quite popular these days, can be expensive and time-consuming to set up. It’s gotten easier, though, now that you can use all-in-one course development and delivery services like Kajabi. This platform can help you manage everything relating to your premium educational content and running the business around it.
You can create membership sites, host live events, create automation funnels, upsells, maintain a blog and manage contacts all in one place, so it’s not as hard as it used to be. However, you still have to get a half-decent camera, a half-decent microphone, and ideally learn some basic video editing skills.
This is a side hustle I’d frankly only recommend if you’ve got some time on your hands, and a bit of extra money for some beginner hardware. It can be quite rewarding, though, so don’t dismiss the idea out of hand.
2. Live Streaming
I mentioned live events in the last section, so I thought I’d mention streaming as its own thing. Streaming doesn’t have to be educational, although education is probably the best way to sell your expertise. You could just sit there and share designer memes on Twitch if you want.
The problem is mostly that the requirements for video and audio haven’t changed, and depending on how you set up your stream schedule, it can be even more demanding than making video courses.
Then again, if you don’t mind not making a lot of money, and want to do it for fun, it’s still a great way to “meet” new people, and to be seen.
3. Paid Newsletters
Now this is an option I’d save for when you’ve already built a bit of an audience by other means, such as social media and/or blogging. But Substack has made it easier than ever for people to pay writers directly.
If you’ve got wisdom to share, and if you think people would be willing to pay to have that wisdom beamed straight into their inboxes, go on and have at it.
4. Make Stuff for Other Designers
Plenty of designers and agencies have kept up a healthy “passive” revenue stream by making resources for other designers.
Be it a template, a WordPress theme, a Sketch UI kit, an icon font, or whatever else, if it’s valuable to you because it solves problems that you have, then there’s a good chance your peers will be willing to pay for it. Just don’t forget to also give stuff away once in a while. Gratitude goes a long way in the design world.
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