The Sandoval Signpost (Web edition) is pleased
as punch (diet punch that is) to bring you the humor
and insightful human observations of Daniel Will Harris,
author of My
Wife and Times. —Ed].
How I find work
By Daniel Will Harris
The question I'm asked most often in e-mail
is, "How do I find work?" That's a very good question,
and being a "practice-what-you-preach" kind of guy,
I'll tell you what I've done to find work.
My secret: I give it away, and then people pay for it.
I know it sounds like I'm contradicting myself (something
I like to do in my spare time, just for fun), but it's actually
practical advice. I start by going to small local businesses
and looking around (chain stores and franchise restaurants
won't work). I see which areas of their design and graphics
need work, then I go home and redesign them. I don't redesign
something I think is already good, just the stuff that needs
This can work for just about any kind of product or service
where you can see how someone else's business can be improved
by using what you've got. It works whether this is your full
or part time business, and it's great for getting started.
The key is not "how can I get more work," but "how
can I help someone else's business," because that's what
really leads to more work.
When I'm the one looking for work, I do this "On spec"—meaning
free, until they buy it. If they don't like it, there's no
Once I have something I think is good, I go back to the business
and I talk to the owner (and only the owner). I explain why
what I've done will help them. I leave them with samples,
contact info and a URL where they can find out more. Then
I let them think about it. I'm not pushy. I avoid telling
them how bad something they're doing is (even if it is). I
just let them know why what I'm presenting them is better.
Since I only go to businesses that I think are good to begin
with, I can honestly say, "Your business is good and
I just want to help you make it better." That's flattering,
true, and positive.
If they don't call me, I call them (or better yet, visit)
in a few days. If they like it, I can now negotiate. In exchange
for the final version, setting it up on their computer, or
even training them how to use it, I'll get a fee, or something
in trade (trade is easier at first).
Restaurants are especially good for this, because you can
work in trade for food—that's basically how my wife
and I were able to eat out for two years when we moved to
a new town.
This works 10,000 times better than going in cold and asking
if they want something because you are showing them the results.
They don't have to "imagine" it (if they could,
they'd probably already have done it). They don't have to
wonder if you're any good. They have proof, right before their
Not everyone will like what you've done. You can explain
it to them, but if they don't get it fairly quickly, chances
are they aren't going to get it at all, so move on. My wife
will tell you I tend to take rejection personally—but
I've learned not to (most of the time), because most of the
time it's not personal, it's business.
This is especially true about design. Some people appreciate
it, some don't. The ones who do will see why what you've done
is better. The ones who don't never will. They're "design-blind."
And the ones who've designed things themselves tend to think
what they've created is genius, no matter how bad it may actually
be :). Finally, there are also those people who like what
they have, and since it's their business and choice, you have
to respect that.
So try not to take it personally—even if they say no,
you've had valuable experience, and you've created something
you can use to build your portfolio and promote yourself.
Once you've made one sale, you can use this at the next business
you try. Again you do the work in advance and show it to the
owner. Only this time you can say, "I just redesigned
the menu at the Station House Cafe, and..." and now you
have more credibility. I can say from experience going to
local businesses works. It also introduces you to new people
in new cities.
If you do good work, these people will tell other people,
or they'll be happy to act as references, or give you quotes
to put on your web site about what great work you did, how
fast and professional you were, etc.
As you're doing this, you're building a portfolio of designs
and/or happy customers. Add all this to your site. A web site
can reassure people that you've done other things and other
people like them. Your customers appreciate being on your
site—especially if you link to them, because then you're
promoting them as well as yourself. You can even use the designs
and pitches that people didn't want as portfolio pieces. If
you're an experienced designer, you know that clients will
sometimes choose a version you didn't think was best—add
it to your site anyway to show the variety of your work.
If you're just starting out, get quotes from your friends.
Just make sure the quotes are true and you can deliver what
they say. Create projects for them so you have something to
show. The first job many people get (including professionals
like architects, lawyers and designers) are for their parents.
It's just the way the world works. Your parents should give
you a break and be willing to forgive the mistakes you make
(your mileage may vary).
I've even followed this route with web sites (though carefully,
and only for sites that clearly needed a lot of help). For
example, I noticed that a site that sold wonderful and unique
architect-designed watches had a terrible site. Their products
were great—their site was not. So I sent the owner an
e-mail with a design sample of what their site could look
like. He saw the difference and I redesigned his site. (You
can read more about this here.)
And even with little jobs one thing can lead to another.
If you've done a good job, then you'll do more work for these
people over time. In the case of http://www.Projects-us.com
I'm now designing watches for them (more about them when the
watches are ready for sale).
So starting small can lead to big things. Not to mention