8 Business Mistakes Freelancers Make: Tips from Ilise Benun

HOW Design Live

What NOT to Do As a Graphic Design Freelancer

Ilise Benun is not your average marketing guru. She has been called the ‘fairy godmother’ of marketing for the graphic design freelancer among others who have benefited from her insight. With her magic wand, Benun has written 7 books on making money and self-promotion, including The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money and The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing. She also works as a marketing coach and runs a bi-weekly newsletter called Quick Tips from Marketing Mentor.

Among her other accomplishments (yes, there’s more), Benun has products like the Simplest Marketing Planner, a pdf that helps creatives break down marketing tools to a simple three-step plan. She is also the host of the HOW Design Live podcast.

Speaking of which, Benun is speaking at the upcoming HOW Design Live conference, which runs from May 7 to 10 in Chicago. Her talk is called “Want Better Clients? Cure Their Pain!” which is all about identifying client’s ‘paint points’ in order to get a better (read: higher paying) clientele.  

Ahead of her talk, she spoke to us about the biggest mistakes a graphic design freelancer can make. Here are her secrets of how not to sell yourself.

1. They Focus Too Much on Themselves

“One of the biggest challenges a graphic design freelancer and creative professional has when they’re marketing their services, is that they focus on themselves and not the prospect or the client,” says Benun. “They talk about what they know how to do, but the client is thinking about it from their own perspective.”

2. They Don’t Learn to Listen

“The designer has to learn and listen what the client thinks they need and speak that language,” she says. “Those needs manifest themselves as problems that need solutions, or ‘pain points’ that you can cure. There are universal pain points and more specific ones that an industry may struggle with and how you can help solve them. The better you know a particular market, the more you can help. That’s the goal and that’s what gets you on board with a particular project.”

3. They’re Not Patiently Persistent

“Another problem is unrealistic expectations of what it really takes to get someone’s attention in the first place,” says Benun. “What it really takes to build that relationship with a client, it actually takes time for people to sign on the dotted line to get the project going. Often, people lose interest or get distracted. If you’re not patiently persistent with your best prospect, you may get discouraged and drop off the map by the time they are ready. Timing is really important.”

4. They’re Afraid of Asking Stupid Questions

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, for the first 15 years, I was trying to give an impression of knowing more than I knew,” she admits. “I wasn’t comfortable with my own ignorance. Obviously, I didn’t want to look stupid so I didn’t ask questions I wanted to ask. I encourage any graphic design freelancer (anyone, really) to acknowledge their ignorance—which doesn’t mean you’re not an authority—or expert at what you do, ask the questions that will give you info to do a good job.”

5. They Don’t Realize Content Marketing is a Long Game

“It takes time to build and develop, its not to put something out there people will review and love the first moment,” she says. “It’s a mistake to think everyone loves it. That’s not how it works. Two goals for content marketing: to attract your ideal client and secondly, to put content out there that appeals to them. You have to put it out there in places where you know they’re going. Being a guest blogger, for one, then letting them find your blog. It positions you and shows them you know what you’re talking about. The content has to be relevant to them, which takes strategy. I wrote these tactics, connected to the big picture strategy and the goal, which people need to find time for.”

6. They Network Without Specific Targets

“It’s not networking where you go to a business card exchange where people are looking to get business for themselves,” says Benun. “It’s more about knowing who you’re looking for, what kinds of people are best suited to help and you go where they go. One client attends annual conferences to people who work in fast technology and creates contents and disseminates it to people who weren’t there on his blog.”

7. They Don’t Know Who the Right “Targeted Outreach” Are

“As a graphic design freelancer, you want to make sure you don’t waste time on people who aren’t a good fit for you,” she says. “For example, I have been speaking at the HOW Design Live conference since 1993 because designers are my audience. That’s why I’m there every year.”

8. They Don’t Pay Attention to Future Trends

“This year’s theme of HOW Design Live is ‘future forward.’ A lot of designers are at risk of being replaced by robots and AI,” says Benun. “You have to know what’s coming and how that affects your career. You can’t just shut your eyes and hope it doesn’t affect you. I recommend you should come to see what’s happening and how to best prepare for the future.”

For more insight from marketing expert Ilise Benun, be sure to secure your spot at HOW Design Live, where you’ll have front-row access to this industry leader and insightful business mentor on topics that concern you!

HOW Design Live

Image courtesy Ilise Benun.

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