Whether you are just starting out in the design business, or you have been around awhile but few people have ever heard of you, there are potentially great benefits to growing your reputation and establishing yourself as an authority in your field. The global design community is an amazing network that is becoming increasingly accessible thanks to modern technology and social media. It behooves every designer, no matter what specific focus or skills they have, to plant both feet as firmly as possible in the midst of this community, for reasons that include learning and sharing among peers, client referrals, and more. In this post I will share some of the things I have done that have helped me to transition from an unknown freelance web and graphic designer to a relatively respected and known member of the design community in less than a year.
Before we start, here are the disclaimers:
- I am no expert, nor am I claiming to have discovered any secrets, but my experience over the past year has changed my life for the better and I believe it can change yours. Your results, however, will definitely vary because each of us is a unique individual with a variety of strengths and weaknesses.
- Establishing your reputation and authority does not make you a better designer. I will be the first to admit that there are plenty of designers with more talent, more authority and stronger reputations than mine. Still, growing my own reputation and authority has helped me improve as a designer while simultaneously expanding my business. I believe it can do the same for anyone.
- It is important to remember that this is a process. It takes time, a bit of work and patience. It also may stretch you outside of your comfort zone. But if you make the investment and your results are anything like mine, you will be glad you did.
Webster’s defines an authority as “an individual cited or appealed to as an expert”. While there are an abundance of people claiming to be experts in various fields, one of the surefire ways you can drive other designers and potential clients away rather than toward you is to start calling yourself an expert. I once heard someone say, “If you have to walk around telling everyone you’re ‘the man’, you’re probably not ‘the man’!” I believe a far better approach to building your authority is to establish credibility and relationships among your peers and in your circle of influence, allowing their word of mouth to form the foundation and expansion of your reputation.
Begin With Blogging
If you don’t already have one, why not? Sure there is an overabundance of design blogs, but there is a reason: they are successful in many different ways, from advertising revenue to the purpose we’re discussing. A blog is an excellent way for others to get to know more about you, your skills, your interests, your experience and more, and it can provide much more of a vehicle for this than the status updates and brief interactions of social media channels.
I started my blog specifically because I enjoy writing as a creative expression, and I’ve found that it is an excellent way to share more about who I am, my professional and personal insights, and to strengthen my authority as a designer, writer and social media explorer.
The key to creating and filling a blog with content that will build your authority is to identify those topics that will demonstrate your unique strengths. What are your passions, skills and interests that you can share with others? Rather than creating another design blog and filling it with roundups of the latest fonts or top designers to follow on Twitter, find your own unique contribution and build your blog around it. In my case, my blog has evolved into a place where I talk about my experiences in social media, my thoughts on certain hot topics, my personal inquiries and examinations of design philosophies, and things of that nature. This has connected me with other designers and social media personalities that I quite possibly would have never otherwise communicated with. It has also provided another forum that I can share and learn from others as they comment and discuss these topics with me. The benefits have been immeasurable!
Cultivate With Comments
This is another easy way to get yourself, your brand, your personality and your input out there as much as possible. The more others see your name, face, icon, logo, etc. the more you will become a familiar and even expected part of the design community landscape. Take some time each day to go through design blogs and comment on those that speak to you, inspire you, challenge you, or spark some other type of response. This will allow others to hear and see your thoughts about various issues as well as potentially get them to check out your own blog or social media channels.
I’m not suggesting randomly commenting on every design post you can find. I’m just saying that you should contribute to discussions where your own experience, skills and insight could be valuable to others. The more you can do this, the more others will begin to recognize you and your strengths, building upon your reputation as an authority in your niche.
Saturate With Social Media
One of the primary resources you can and should use in your quest to build your authority is social media. Whatever your favorite tool or network(s), there is a design community on it. I started using Twitter and quickly found it to be a fantastic tool to connect with other designers. Even more interesting was how I learned to use it to establish my reputation as a resource for the latest news. This may not be your bag, and that’s okay. But use whatever social network(s) you’re comfortable with to begin getting your name, thoughts, ideas, latest work, blog posts, portfolio and whatever else you can think of out there. Be sure not to simply become a broadcast channel, the equivalent of standing in the middle of a mall with a sandwich board and a megaphone telling everyone to pay attention to what you have to say. Instead use social media to find and form relationships with other designers, share and discover resources, and make other valuable connections. One thing I’ve learned is to be open and accepting to any and all possibilities and people – you never know how that connection may benefit you in the future, or how you may be of assistance to them.
I highly recommend utilizing Facebook and Twitter, at the very least. Set up your accounts and get busy finding other designers to follow and friend. There are tools to make this easier, such as WeFollow.com and Mr. Tweet for Twitter, where directories of members of the design community are ready and waiting for you to sift through and befriend your peers. Visit your favorite design blogs and connect with their social network accounts – most will have links to theirs easily accessible on the front page specifically for this purpose. Don’t be afraid that you’re not worthy or that these better known designers will laugh when they receive your friend request. The truth is that most are extremely friendly, down to earth people just like you and I, and they would balk at the thought that they are anything ‘special’. Social media has somewhat leveled the playing field and made it much easier for the unknown to strike up a conversation with the most popular. The distance between the two is diminishing every day, which makes social media a primary tool for building and growing your reputation and authority.
Tend With Time
No matter what you do to build your authority and reputation as a designer, it will take time. There is no way around this, and the more time you invest, it stands to reason the less time will have to pass before you see results. Looking for shortcuts or quitting before waiting long enough will usually end up in lesser results than just doing what needs to be done in the time allotted. Start out knowing that you will have to be patient, and rather than anxiously looking for immediate results, enjoy the journey. The contacts, relationships, education and other benefits of the process may even become more valuable to you than the end result, so don’t make the mistake of missing out on them by looking too far ahead.
What are some ways that you have built you reputation and authority as a designer? Have you had successes or failed attempts with some of the ideas presented here? Please be sure to share your comments, thoughts, questions and experiences. Most of all, for those of you who are just getting started or in the early stages, I wish you the best of luck. Please let me know if I can assist you in any way. And don’t forget to connect with me on Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else you can find me!
Image Source: ShuterStock