How to Compete With CrowdSpring, Elance and a Sinking Graphic Design Market

First of all, let me say that I am neither for nor against spec work or cheap design help. And this audio clip isn't meant to bolster the fodder of either side - in all honesty, I am sick and tired of hearing both sides talk about it. My goal is to help creative freelancers out there - many who are friends that struggling right now. And it doesn't matter to me who does and doesn't participate in these online bidding sites - I don't care either way. If you want to learn, I want to help.

In trying to decide on what side I fall in this argument, I am reminded of what Treebeard, a character in Tolkien's book the Lord of the Rings, "I am not altogether on anybody's side, because nobody is altogether on my side..." yes, in addition to being a designer I am also a nerd...I know, let's move on.

I am not against sites like Elance, CrowdSpring, guru and the likes. While I am not overly thrilled with how they've changed the design industry, these guys have as much right to offer services to the public as I do. They've forced the design industry to change and evolve, so what? Change in business, as it is in life is constant - you can complain, or cry foul but you can't stop it.

If you're a freelancer out there trying to make a living I feel for you, but it's time you change.

At the same time, I am not against the AIGA or organizations like NoSpec - I appreciate these guys wanting to preserve the integrity industry, but I don't agree with their tactics. I think they are a bit misguided for example: if you've even bought inexpensive stock photography, if you hired a college kid to cut your lawn, bought stock or securities online through etrade instead of a broker, took an online course instead of a state college or had a friend of a friend fix your car instead of taking it to the dealer aren't you hurting other professionals...aren't you?

I don't know, it just seems hypocritical that some people vehemently condemn the cheapening of their industry but aren't so concerned about professionals in other industries. I am not directly accusing anyone here, just suggesting that we all look in the mirror before pointing the finger (either the index or middle finger) at others.

If you feel it's your right to condemn or regulate how someone else runs their business (like doing spec work), or how much they charge, you are dangerously moving towards the slippery slope of authoritarianism. Regulating others of course is really a good deal...until someone tells you what to do and not do...that's not so cool is it.

Try as these organizations will I can't help but feel they're fighting a losing battle. If you take an honest look throughout history...even recently events, you'll see that industries are constantly needing to change to keep up with the times and that stopping change is like trying to stop a Buick with a flyswatter - just look at how the internet has changed telecommunications, the newspaper industry and stock trading.

If we strip away all of the hurt feelings and the superfluous posturing and boil it down to the facts, here's what we have.

  • Forbes magazine reports 80,000 graphic design freelancers in the US alone
  • Almost all of them are priced cheaper than you, and many are willing to make close to nothing just to say they are a graphic designer
  • Some astute professionals have already pointed out that, "The problem is simply a result of an upside down economic model where the artificially high supply of designers is pushing the pricing downwards."
  • This shakeup has happened to the photography industry (with digital cameras, online tutorials and istock, etc...), now it's happening to design.
  • Low cost designers and spec work are on the rise, and they aren't going away no matter how much industry leaders debate or complain about it.

So, those are the facts, at least as I see them. Here are your options:

  • Cry
  • Debate about it, hoping that intelligent dialog will make it go away
  • Complain, try to form a graphic union to stop it...sort of like the recording industry did to stop file sharing (That didn't work too well, did it?)
  • Scour the message boards and internet for free info that you feel the other 80,000 freelancers don't have access to
  • Learn to farm or pick up some other vocational skill
  • Or accept that you're going to need to change your strategy and do something about it

If you plan on doing anything but the last option, stop this audio now and close down your web site, look for a job on monster and save yourself a lot of future aggravation.

If you're ready to change, and you want to compete with cheaper online options out there. here's what I'd recommend:

  • Focus on your personal branding, sell yourself to clients as a person rather than a faceless company
  • Get out there and meet people: networking, social events, etc...there are still clients who only do business with people they like
  • Expand your service offerings, maybe look to offer photography, copywriting or something else that your clients may need
  • Stress response time, outstanding personal service, the ability to meet face to face and accessibility (let them know that when they need you you'll be there) when clients want to compare you to online options
  • And the best thing you can do is to show how your design has made past clients money and brought in more customers. Move away from saying I do good design and start tracking the results your creative projects have had on your client's bottom line. If you can help clients make money, you will always be able to find work.

Whatever you choose to do...choose quickly. The industry is changing by the minute. And by the way, if you choose to just sit there and do nothing - you've still chosen. You've just chosen to hope it all goes away, and it isn't going to that.

* Wish you had more referrals coming in?
* Confused about how to price your work?
* Feel like clients try to take advantage of you?
* Wish you knew what to say to clients and how to say it so you sound more professional?

Truth is, freelancing is not an entry-level job that you're going to find success in by learning as you go, searching for free info on the Internet and having a good attitude.

I won't help you with Photoshop techniques or color theory but I can sure as heck help you run a more profitable, enjoyable freelancing business. I've been in the field for over 10 years, I know what it's like to struggle at first, and I know what you'll need to know to become successful.

If you aren't you satisfied with the money you're bringing in or the clients you're getting and the success you're achieving visit my blog at and learn tips you can use today to help grow your business. Also check out my breakthrough books "Being a Starving Artist Sucks" and "Verbal Kung Fu for Freelancers" in print on and on your iPhone/iTouch on Apple's App Store. Both books have sold in over 20 countries; find out why both aspiring and experienced freelancers are raving:
* "How I wish I'd had such a wonderful resource as this book when I first started my freelance business. This book can easily be the new freelancer's Bible"
* "One heck of a book to help the wanta-be freelance design professional create an awesome business plan and marketing plan!"
* "This book should be passed out to every design student as they graduate"
* "I usually roll my eyes when someone labels a purchase as an investment, but that's what this book is. Seriously, Kudos"

Author: Jeremy Tuber
Article Source:
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