Finding your Niche as a Freelancer


December 2016—Sometimes freelancing chooses you. That was the case for faculty member Bram Meehan in 2011 when his job as a creative director at Christie’s International Real Estate moved to New York and he stayed in Santa Fe. The question is how to make it a success.

Faced with that turning point, he launched his own marketing communications consultancy, started Bram Letters to provide lettering and design for independent comics publishers, and partnered with a printmaker to produce handmade prints via 12 Tons Of Letterpress. At SFUAD, he taught a course about creating comics and teaches and leads the student marketing team for Greer Garson Theatre.

Here, he shares his advice for aspiring and veteran freelancers.

Be patient. One of the biggest lessons about freelancing is how long things take. We’re used to instant gratification and quick responses, but I have projects coming to fruition now that started as conversations when I first became a freelancer. Networking is vital, but you don’t get introduced to someone and have a giant job three weeks later. It might be years later when that person mentions you to someone else. You have to plan for that mentally and financially. There will be times when it seems like you aren’t making progress, but you can’t stop. There are more opportunities than you think. They just aren’t necessarily where you are looking or expecting.

Be findable. I’ve found that success in freelancing depends on word of mouth, and when someone new is interested in hiring you, they need to find a professional website that pops up first when they search for your name. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. However, spelling counts and so does having an email address that ends with your URL, not someone else’s. Your potential client is looking for someone they can trust with accuracy and details. Websites don’t need to be expansive, but need to be current and accurately reflect what you’re capable of doing.

Be self-aware. When a project is over, ask yourself, “What was it like working with that person?” “What was it like working remotely versus in person?” This is how you find your niche. You might start with the idea to march in one direction, but once you realize what’s out there, you have to adapt. I started meeting with sole proprietors, startups, and small businesses, thinking here’s my market. It turned out they were looking for a different kind of designer, and I was looking for a different kind of client. By putting yourself in various situations, you figure out your affinities and what people appreciate about what you do.

Be more. I encourage my students to be aware of the larger goal and figure out where they can be a problem-solver. Designers who can make pages look good are a commodity. Designers who can do that and organize the whole project so that it gets done and makes their client look good are the ones who get hired again and again. Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do things that are outside of your core artistic skills. Sometimes designers need to write or manage logistical details. You can’t retreat to the safety of saying, “I’m a graphic designer; I don’t have to do that.” I was recently hired to design a fundraising brochure, but that led to creating an advertising and promotion campaign for the year. That happens when you consider not just the project in front of you, but the outcomes an organization is looking for. You have to expand your thinking and maximize your role on projects so you are prepared for new opportunities. —Eric Brosch