Lovegrove Design & Photography, Tiverton, Devon My Student Guide to Building a Career in Design and Photography |
My Student Guide to Building a Career
Mar 2012 19

In the beginning there was spray mount!!

Work experience is key and I was 13……keen as mustard and naive!

I wouldn’t be where I am without taking on lots and lots of work experience. As valuable as education is…real hands on experience in a functioning business is crucial in my opinion.

I first ventured into work experience like most school children at 13 when choosing my options, but I didn’t stop there. I returned every chance I could, back into the design agency that was kind enough to accommodate my enthusiasm and I got my hands dirty.

I gladly took on any task that was given to me, whether that be making the tea or using equipment that is now obsolete.

My perseverance ensured that when the time came that I needed a job I was already known with agencies in my area and I had already proven my commitment.

Get to know YOU and the industry you have chosen.

Work experience is also important because you may have lots of preconceived ideas about the industry you would like to work in..and what part you want to play within that industry.

I always wanted to get my design degree and work in an advertising agency with all the preconceived glamour that commanded in my head.

The reality was soon to be proven very different and I later changed my tact..I remained in the design industry but decided to concentrate on print design by working in the design studio of a large Exeter Printers.

This choice also enabled me to get to know my industry better.

Conceptual design is only one part of the responsibilty of a designer.

Just as an architect has to know the drawings he creates are feasible and can be translated by tradesmen into a workable home or business, I need to know that when I send a finished design to press it will work and deliver the client the best possible product.

I spent over 13 years working alongside print minders, absorbing their knowledge like a sponge so that I could have confidence in the work that I was creating.

Knowledge that has proven invaluable…especially now I am out there on my own.

Going out into the big bad world

Don’t pigeonhole yourself and be a jobsworth!

I have gained many valuable things from my work experience placements and my ensuing jobs and most of those things have been about far more than coming up with good design.

It’s important to gain as much skill and knowledge outside of your specialist field in order to be as flexible and employable as possible.

Client Liaison

All of my jobs have involved dealing with clients on a number of levels and this is a crucial skill to learn.

  1. Building good relationships. A good relationship means a long term client. It’s hard to find new clients so ensure you keep the ones you have. Plus of course they will hopefully recommend you to other potential new clients that are like minded.
  2. Communicating well to obtain a good brief when a client is clueless and drawing the information I need out of them.
  3. Resolving issues…..there will always be issues and being able to calmly liaise with your client will help to protect your client book.

Understanding your value and worth

When you go out on your own you have to know what your time and expertise is worth.

Understanding how my skills were charged out by employers helped me to place a value on myself and set my pricing structure in a manner that was realistic and fair.


Working with others whether that be clients or colleagues helps you organise your time and juggle the expectations of people around you.

In the commercial world time really is money and deadlines aren’t set to challenge you..they are set to suit a client’s requirement. Never start a project assuming a deadline can be moved but be honest about your capabilities.

If a client has an unrealistic deadline expectation, then be honest and strong enough to negotiate at the start…. missing a deadline is hugely damaging to a designer/client relationship.

Understanding Business

Absorb all you can from your employer.
Make it your business to follow a project from start to finish. Understand all the processes involved from quoting, materials, production, despatch and invoicing.

If you wish to run your own business in the future considering yourself as just and designer or photographer will pigeonhole your ability to learn skills that may prove invaluable in the future.

Learn by others achievements and mistakes and don’t be afraid to take on new challenges to broaden your skill set.

Building a business

It may be a cliché but it’s’s bloody hard work building a business, especially in a recession. You must eat sleep and breathe your self promotion and not let a single opportunity pass you by, even if it seems insignificant on the surface.

No matter how busy you are, make a promise to yourself to complete a positive marketing task every day. It may just be a tweet or a facebook update..but never take forgranted that work will arrive in the inbox the next day.

Not everyone is your client.

It‘s misplaced energy to try to attract everyone. It only leads to unsatisfactory client relationships and will make your working day harder than it needs to be.

If you love what you do..then work with clients that you love, because it’s impossible to please everyone.

Assess quickly if an enquiry is suitable for you and don’t be afraid to turn work down if you think you won’t gel with the client. There are many ways to do this without leaving a negative impression…be nice but be brave!

The Importance of Branding

We are all affected by marketing messages and businesses large or small should not underestimate the importance of a strong clear branding solution. Your branding will convey to prospective clients the expertise they can expect from you and getting it right will ensure you attract the sort of clients you wish to work with. Getting it wrong will devalue your skills and attract the wrong kind of client.

You are an integral part of your brand.

Remember you are an integral part of your brand. When you are out in public remember you will be judged professionally as well as personally.

Use your social skills to your advantage. People will work with you if they like you, so get out there…socialise, tell people what you are doing, always been keen and excited. Your excitement will be infectious so friends, family and acquaintances alike will help you spread your message.

Understand your ethos…be true to what you want to achieve and then you will be convincing to a client……Don’t BULLSHIT!

We are often lead to believe that a bit of blagging goes a long way and in some instances that is true but it can also be a huge trip wire if you aren’t true to yourself.

Don’t be afraid to take on a challenge outside of your comfort zone, continuous learning is one of the pleasures of working for yourself, but you have to be confident that you can fulfil your promises.

Whether you are offered a design or photography commission the principle is the same. Be confident you can perform and pull it off…if not, be helpful and refer elsewhere. Honesty never damages a hard earned reputation but bad service and poor performance does.

Know your competition…but don’t be intimidated. Accept competition and then confidently jog on!!

Competition is often regarded as a negative in the professional world but that isn’t the case.

Get to know what your competition is doing, what services they are offering and at what cost…but don’t let what they are doing influence your approach. Every client has a list of different requirements and what may work for Joe Bloggs down the road may not work for you.

Be yourself…stick to your strategy and be strong with your marketing messages.

Everyone is a photographer these days

We live in a society of DIYers where everyone thinks they can have a go at being a designer, mechanic, photographer or builder. There’s no point pretending that we aren’t all guilty of this to some extent. Leave the DIY folk to get on with it, don’t waste energy on it and instead concentrate on promoting your skills.

Be proud of your abilities and make sure the world knows it. Don’t confuse confidence for arrogance however. The latter will earn you enemies rather than alliance.

Marketing Essentials

You don’t need a big budget to successfully market yourself. There are a whole host of business directories where you can have a free entry and drive traffic to your website…oh not got a website? Then that has to be task number one….if you don’t exist on the web, you don’t exist in business.

With the increase in social media networking there is a golden opportunity to build relationships with prospective clients and gain a multitude of recommendations. Whilst free, these methods don’t come without cost though. Social media networking takes a great deal of time and patience before it starts to pay off.

Networking online or at events can be hugely beneficial but you must be disciplined with your approach. Too many hours spent shaking hands virtually or otherwise can be a catastrophic waste of your precious time and keeping up an online presence can turn into a full time job.

Likewise not being generous enough with your time and character so you just become purely a sales machine can actually be damaging to your business reputation.

No one likes aggressive sales tactics!

Finding the right balance of personality, confidence, expertise, friendliness and professionalism is the recipe for social media success.

Give your time away but not too much!

As a jobbing photographer or designer it’s good to donate your time and services. Get yourself involved in local events in order to get your name out into the community, but be wary of giving away too much.

Your time always has a value, so assess the benefit of shooting a friend’s wedding for experience or designing a website for a charity and ascertain the return you are likely to gain.

If that friend has a number of younger sisters then you may pick up referrals…but be aware that mates rates often lead to mates of mates rates and before you know it you have devalued your skills. It’s easy to knock prices down but much harder to build them back up again.

And can never know too much!

It’s a good mantra to remind yourself that if you don’t go forwards you will end up going backwards and this is something in business I truly believe. I love to learn new things and I always believe that someone, somewhere is doing all of this better than me. Some may consider that a negative, but I think it keeps me grounded and keen to advance my knowledge and ability.
So always be looking to learn new skills and refine the ones you already possess. It will make you a better designer, photographer, employee and person.

I’ll leave you with an exerpt from a speech given by my business hero Steve Jobs at Stanford University

“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

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