The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


Daniel Will Harris

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 help.

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 obligation.

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 eyes.

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 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 free meals.



My Wife and Times by Daniel Will HarrisIf you would like to read more fabulous stories such as Moms Online, you need Daniel Will Harris’s My Wife and Times. The 148 page book contains stories that are conveniently short, perfect for bedtime reading, or between airport friskings. Price: $15 postpaid and is available for purchase online at or on



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