THE WELL-FED E-PUB – JUNE 2005 ISSUE

ADD GRAPHIC DESIGN TO YOUR PLATE?
Wisconsin FLCW (Freelance Commercial Writer) Boosts Marketability Through New Design Skills (Strictly Optional!)

Last year, I got a most interesting note from Mill Creek, WI FLCW Mike Klassen
(mike@mikeklassen.com, www.mikeklassen.com), about his experiences with AWAI’s Graphic Design Success Course and his application of his newfound skills towards his commercial writing practice. Frankly, I was skeptical. As I’m fond of saying, I am living proof that you don’t need to learn graphic design to be successful as a commercial freelancer. And that’s absolutely still the case. Precious few folks do both well and, more importantly, it’s not expected.

In any case, I went to visit Mike’s design site (http://design.mikeklassen.com) and was actually quite impressed. Yes, as Mike says, “I won’t be running other graphic designers out of business, but you can see what someone with ‘no talent’ in design managed to accomplish in a short amount of time.” Note he’s just made up many of these samples (text is often “greeked”) – a perfectly acceptable strategy when you’re starting out.

This definitely opened my eyes to a possibility. Yet, echoing Mike, let me say this: Don’t think you’re going to learn enough in a year to compete with professional graphic designers. You won’t. Their knowledge level goes far deeper than you can imagine. With that said, it appears that the skills you can learn with AWAI (or in any decent graphic design course) would likely be more than adequate to service the needs of smaller, less demanding clients. And that could nicely enhance your marketability. It’s nothing you SHOULD or NEED to do, just another possibility. Here’s an article Mike put together. Take note of how he’s finding work. Geography really IS becoming irrelevant.

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I used to joke that I couldn’t draw a stick figure to save my life. And what I saw in design magazines was way over my head. But, then I came across AWAI’s Graphic Design Success course, which gave me hope that I might be more artistic than I thought. While the course is specifically about the layout of direct mail material, the skills you learn can help you in any design project. It was well worth it.

Terms like “leading,” “X-Height,” and “kerning” were new to me. I had no idea what the preferred fonts were for text in different situations or the most effective number of characters in a line. But now I understand these and other considerations, and how to use tools in desktop publishing programs to design pieces that attract attention. While many of the things you learn in the course can be found in a variety of books, I haven’t run across anything so complete and specific to designing for the direct mail industry.

And, yes, it’s just the starting point. I can certainly do things I couldn’t do just a few months ago, but I understand that this course has simply laid a solid foundation for continued study. Most importantly, it’s offered me an opportunity to provide new services to my clients who need more than just writing. One of the attractions of being a freelancer is the ability to increase my value by developing new skills that fit with my core business.

In the last couple of months, I’ve had a few jobs that averaged out to $100 an hour. Not bad for someone who couldn’t design his way out of a paper sack just a year ago. The design jobs have been relatively simple while still paying well: a couple of 3D ebook cover requests and a couple of mini-websites that are common in the direct response industry. In all cases, the jobs were for people in other states and most communication was done via email. Not much work was done to get these clients, either. In most cases, I was simply sticking my nose in some forums and was contacted from there. Another client called me after I emailed him and let him know what services I offered.

At the start of this year, after attending AWAI’s Graphic Design Bootcamp (where I discovered that my skills, while good, still weren’t to the standards required by the big boys), I decided to focus on the design side of my business. Of course, as soon as I did that, writing jobs appeared out of nowhere. Funny how that works.

While I haven’t had a client who wanted both my writing skills and design skills on the same project, I think any writer who has even a small amount of curiosity about adding design to their mix should look into available options.

PB Note: For more information on AWAI’s Graphic Design Success course, visit:
http://www.thedesignerslife.com/findoutmore/