1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
Kind of by accident. I was in school for Landscape Architecture, but spent more time designing the development signage & pitch decks rather than making sure my landscape designs actually worked! I was doing graphic design without even knowing it. I’d heard of it, but I think it was maybe “graphic arts” back then.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
I think the biggest hurdle that still gets thrown in front of us from time to time is getting out of our own head. Learning the ropes, doing the work, getting clients, learning to deal with clients – all of that is the easy part. For me, it was always overcoming self-doubt. “Am I good enough?” “Should I be doing this?” “Is this even good” “So and so could probably do this so much better”… Those things will wear you down. Learning to push past that and have confidence in yourself makes it much easier.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
It’s about neck and neck between word of mouth & Instagram. I appreciate both, so I make sure to nurture them both. I always treat my clients with respect and a positive attitude (even if that relationship isn’t always reciprocal). We’re essentially in a service industry and should treat it as such. Instagram has been rapidly catching up. I curate my feed very carefully to attract and show the type of work I’ve done that I excel at and want to do more of.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
That kind of book ends the above question. Treat them right, do quality work for them and help them solve their problem rather than just moving a mouse or pencil around to their command. They’ll respect you for that and appreciate what you bring to the table. For the past year, I’ve begun working with 2 partners that I’m immensely thankful for and we’ve successfully implemented a retainer model that we try to work exclusively from. That helps a ton too!
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
I’ve been fortunate enough to only have that happen twice in 11 years. *Knocks on wood* I was young though and not assertive enough. I’ll let you know if it happens again!
6. What does your typical work day look like?
Wake up, run, shower, coffee (this routine has helped my day sooooo much more than when I used to just wake up and open my computer). After coffee, I’ll hop on Slack and check the day/week’s schedule. Then I tend to try to tackle things in order of importance or due date versus what I’m most excited to work on. There’s also the occasional partner or client meetings that get peppered in.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
I spent too many years of my career staring out of the metaphorical window wondering why I wasn’t getting the jobs I wanted to get. It took me a long time to realize that there’s a very big difference between saying and doing. Don’t just say you want to work on this type of project or for this type of industry – actually do it. Even if that means assigning yourself a project to get your feet wet or getting out of your comfort zone and reaching out to those you want to work with. Sometimes you just have to make your own luck.
Matt Dawson is an American graphic designer with over a decade’s worth of experience in branding & identity design. He’s worked with clients large & small from across the world. Additionally, he is the founder of Crop & PopUp Crop creative conferences and a partner at The Ash Collective. You can connect with Matt on Instagram.